Saturday, December 25, 2010

That's What She Said

Earlier this week the Gospel reading was Mary's Song. To those unfamiliar this is a simple prayer of thanksgiving that Mary offers after being greeted so graciously by her cousin Martha. It's a wonderful prayer...honest and humble. It got me thinking about how significant Mary is in Jesus' life...and how she should be in ours. She was there at the beginning of Jesus' Earthly life...and there at the end. And she was there afterward...when He rose again. But it occurred to me...that for all of her significance...we only hear her speak three times.

The first time Mary speaks we hear her offer her complete and unwavering obedience to God (Luke 1:38). The second time we hear her speak it is the prayer of thanksgiving from the Gospel reading I mentioned earlier. She sings of God's holiness and of His mercy. The third time she speaks, we hear her instructing the servants at the wedding feast to "do whatever He tells you (John 2:1-11). So there you have it. Jesus' mother speaks only three times in the Bible and we get three messages: 1) Serve God...His will be done, 2) God is holy and merciful, and 3) we should do whatever He tells us.

As I think about it...that's pretty good advice. And its not advice from some scholar living in a lofty tower, it is advice that was lived out in Mary's life. She is not only our teacher...but our example. Service, worship, and obedience. It seems to me we can do alot worse than apply these "sayings" of Mary to our own life. Maybe this we pause to thank God for the His precious Son, we should pause to think about Mary...about how she lived...and about what she said.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Shout with Joy!

Sometimes I am surprised by my reaction to Scripture. It so often convicts me...nearly always teaches me...but for whatever reason it is a rare occasion (though I dare say it is becoming more frequent) that it moves me. Today's reading from Zephaniah was one of those rare occasions.

From the first line I could feel something stirring in me...this bubbling...almost like a boiling sensation within joy overtook my soul. How could my soul respond otherwise? Here our God shouts to us through His prophet: "Rejoice! I have wiped away your sin! I have removed the judgement against you. You are free! You are saved! There is nothing left to fear!"

As I read it again I hear it echoing the joyful consulation that the angels brought to the shepards:
"Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people....Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests." Luke 2:10,14

Rejoice! And again I say rejoice! God is with us! And God has saved us! How can our bodies contain it? How can we not exclaim it to the world? For God so loved us...that He sent His Son to the form of a ransom us from fulfill His promise at the dawn of Creation...that we will have life...and have it from everlasting to everlasting!

There is no greater greater gift. Let us then celebrate...let us live with a song in our heart and His praise on our lips. This is no season of silence (with all do reverence and love for hymns like Silent Night) is a time to shout....and shout with joy!

Monday, December 20, 2010


God opened my eyes this morning to the realization that I want things to be easy. I wouldn't have thought this about myself I don't think. But it became pretty clear. You see I was lamenting to God that I have trouble staying focused when I pray the mind gets distracted and then races from one thought to another completely seamlessly. while I was at it, I shared with Him my frustration that despite my proclamation at the beginning of Christmas that I wanted to live this Christmas season as if it was the only one I would once again seems to have rushed along to where there are now only a few days left. I hadn't had an special experiences. I don't feel any new or special feelings. And in fact, I feel a bit distant from God. This definitely hasn't been the extraordinarily Christmas I had wanted. And that's when I smiled.. I smiled because I think I heard God chuckle a little bit. " you want it easy, John...." I had to admit...I guess that's true. Of course that's not how it works. Faith is something that grows through use...through struggle...through exertion...just like the muscles of our body. And just like our body, we can't waive a magic wand and suddenly be in shape. We have to work at it...we have to be persistent...we have to pursue it. And it's in that working out that we find the extraordinary.

I heard a great sermon this weekend. In it, our deacon laid out the Christmas story from Joseph's perspective. It was a powerful message...and I guess I should have seen this "it's not easy" message coming...because it sure wasn't easy for Joseph. I mean here was this guy who had worked and saved, built his business, arranged for a wife, and paid the dowry. Things were finally lining up. Finally he was going to see the fruit of all his labor. He would have a wife, start a family, and begin to build a real life for himself and his family. Only then he finds out, that Mary...the woman to whom he is pregnant. She insists she has not been with another man, but there really isn't any other explanation available. You can almost hear Joseph sigh. "So much for my plans. So much for finally getting what I had been working toward for all these years. So much for easy."

Now the law states that Mary should be taken out to the public square and be stoned to death (Deut. 22:23-24). And Joseph was a righteous man. He was a good man...and he obeyed the law of God. But amazingly, Joseph seemed to appreciate the heart of the law...the heart of God...more so then many of the leaders of his day...because he decided he would not publicly humiliate Mary...and he would certainly not have her stoned. But neither could he endorse her seeming adultery...and he could not live a lie...acting as if the child was his. So he decided he would divorce her quietly. Easy enough.

But of course as we know, God had other plans...and Joseph had a dream. In the dream God reassured Joseph that in fact Mary had not been with another man. That the baby she was carrying was God's child...and that he and Mary should name him Jesus...and raise him as their own. So that's what Joseph did. He took Mary as his wife.

Now I can imagine after that dream, Joseph was probably on a spiritual high. I mean talk about a mountain top experience! An angel appearing in your dream and giving you a message from God...that has to pump you up. Plus God was entrusting you to raise His Son. I mean talk about a vote of confidence. And so it is easy for me to imagine that Joseph must have expected that from here on out...with God watching over His Son...things would be...well...easy.

But then there was the census...and the trip to Bethlehem....and on top of that...there wasn't any room for them in they had to stay in a stable. [Imagine...your first act as the stand-in dad for God's Son is failing to find a warm, clean room for Him to be born...and instead having to settle for a stable.] And then there was Herod...and the flight to Egypt...and then Jesus getting "lost" in the temple...and so on. I think any idea that this would be easy....that God would roll out the red carpet of ease and miracles for them...was quickly shattered. But that should be no surprise to us. we've seen...strength comes through struggle...through work...and yes even through stress. And God wanted His Son...and his adoptive be strong. Just like He wants me to be strong in my faith.

And so I need to abandon this idea of easy....of wanting things to be easy. I need to recognize, appreciate, and embrace the fact that it is through the struggles and frustration and challenges that I grow closer to God. Not only...and not usually...through mountain top experiences or angelic dreams. It's through life...through the humdrum...through the mundane...that God meets me...and teaches me...and grows me...if I let Him. And so I need to let Him. I need to accept and believe that He is directing my path (Jeremiah 10:23). I need to abandon my plans...and simply let God direct my life (Jeremiah 29:11). I need to let Him work...and let Him work on me (Psalms 139:23-24). Then...if I let myself see it...I'll find that my ordinary life is actually quite extraordinary...not just at Christmas...but all year. It's really as simply as that. In fact, it sounds kind of easy.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas Present

This weekend I watched a documentary on the life of Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan (Road of Hope). Amidst being humbled and inspired by this truly hope-full and joy-full man of God, I was moved by a conscious, willful decision he made during his 13+ years of imprisonment in Vietnam (of which 9 were in solitary confinement):
"I decided I would not wait. I would live the present moment and fill it with love. For if I wait, the things I wait for will never happen. The only thing that I can be sure of is that I am going to die. No, I will not spend time waiting. I will live the present moment and fill it with love."
What an incredibly powerful and liberating statement. Here is this man enduring long periods of darkness (literal and spiritual)...feeling helpless and unimportant...being abused and belittled...and somehow he opens his mind to God's truth...and he hears the secret of life. I mean what a beautifully simple compass for one's life...for my life. "Live the present moment...and fill it with love." I knew as soon as I heard it...that is what I want. That's how I want to live.
So I started thinking about Christmas, because that's where I am right the middle of Christmas...and I didn't want to wait to try and implement this new found direction for my life. Each year seems to be a whirlwind of parties and get-togethers and visits and encounters. And when it is all said and done...I inevitable feel like it all slipped by too fast and I never got to really talk to or be with anyone (except my wife and daughter...and sometimes even that seems rushed). So I started do I fill each of these moments of Christmas...with love?

I began with the basics...just trying to understand what love really is...what it means. Love is a least as Jesus intended it. It's not a thing that you fall into...or lose. It's not a feeling or emotion (although you can feel things because of love.) is a's an action. And love is outward, not inward. Love is about others...not yourself. It's something you give...not something you get. So from these two basic elements of love I knew that filling moments with love meant doing something (or several things) for others. It had to be about what others felt and took away from their encounter with me. Somehow I had to become God's hands and feet and voice and somehow make His love real in the lives of those I came into contact with. I had to make god's love palpable for them. But how do I do this in fleeting conversations and short visits? How do I deepen the time I have with each person...when that time is so short?

And so I started a list of little things...things I can do in each encounter, each visit, each moment during Christmas to let someone know they are valuable...they are important...they are loved. Here's what I have come up with so far:
  • Find time for "everyone"...even if only a few moments.
  • Make eye contact...and really see the person I'm talking to.
  • Ask about their life...and uncover what is important to them.
  • Express to them their value in your eyes...and don't hold back.
  • Make physical contact...whether a hug or handshake or pat on the back...physical touch helps make God's love real.
I realize these are not earth shattering. In fact, I expect they are some basic tenants from Communication 101. But I also realize how seldom I really do these things, especially with some people...such as the relative I have nothing in common with, or a niece's new boyfriend who has his nose pierced and a sleeve of tattooed skulls down his arm, or the elderly neighbor who talks endlessly and in detail about her maladies and problems, or...and especially at some moments...such as when I'm tired, or I'm ready to go, or I'm hungry, or the game is on, or... Yes, the sad truth is there are so many things always going on...that I get distracted from the moment. And not only do I fail to fill these moments with love...but I fail to fill them with anything...because I'm not there. I'm thinking about how to get out of this conversation or about what I am going to do next. I guess that's why time sees to go so quickly sometimes, because I am often racing to the next moment before I've appreciated the current one. But this Christmas, I want to start to change all that.

Admittedly this sounds somewhat pollyannaish. I haven't even gotten to the first moment with this new perspective yet (or I have and I missed it), but already I am worrying if it's even possible to do this. Can I really focus on the other person I am talking to...really stay there...centered on them...and let God's love fill that moment through me? Can I really tune out all the other distractions around (and within) me...and be with that other person in the moment? I guess time will tell. But if I can....if I can move this lesson from my mind to my heart...if I can live in the moment...and fill those moments with love...then there can be little doubt that a season of moments filled with love is about the best Christmas present one can hope for.

Cardinal Thuan, please pray for me...that the joy and hope you found through living each moment and filling it with love will also find me. Amen.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Adam's or Mary's?

Where are you? An interesting question coming from God. At the time He posed this question, there were only two people in the whole world...Adam and Eve...and so it's not as if God lost Adam in the crowd of people (and besides God is omniscient afterall). So it makes me wonder what God was really asking Adam....and what He is really asking me.

We know that Adam had just sinned...for the first time...the first sin. He ate the fruit that God had forbidden him to eat. And apparently eating this fruit (from the tree of knowledge of good and evil) opened Adam to a host of fears and paranoia and emotions...and knowledge. Adam's initial response to God is probably what we would all do...he answers based on his geographic location, though not getting too specific, and throws in a bit of a justification for why he is where he is (again forgetting or ignoring the fact that God knew where he was and knows his heart).
“I heard you in the garden;
but I was afraid, because I was naked,
so I hid myself.” Genesis 3:10
To this feeble answer, God asks another that essentially amounts to, "What did you do?" He is calling Adam out...encouraging Adam to confront and admit his sin.
Then he asked, “Who told you that you were naked?
Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” Genesis 3:11
What continues from here is a spiraling blame game where Adam blames Eve, Eve blames the serpent, and God holds all of them accountable.

Now this reading was obviously selected because of it's connection to Mary (the new Eve) on the feast of her Immaculate Conception (not Jesus' conception). However, what leaps out at me when I consider all four of today's readings is the contrast between Adam and Eve's disobedience and Mary's complete assent and submission. One the one hand, we have ourselves...fallen, sinful, ashamed...and on the other hand we have who we are striving to be...humble, obedient, faithful. And in the midst of all this, God is asking...where we are on this continuum.

Our first instinct (much like Adam's) might be nonchalant...trying to respond as matter-of-factly as we can, but also trying to explain or justify why we are where we are. But we can see where that got Adam. No...if our true desire is to move closer to become like Mary...then we need to face our failures. We need to bravely examine our lives...our actions...our failures to act...and confront those times when we fell short of what God wants of us (and what we want for ourselves). We can only grow, if we learn from our mistakes...and we can only learn from mistakes if we recognize and acknowledge them. So God asks where we are...not so he can hear our answer....but so we can hear our answer. C.S. Lewis notes that prayer doesn't change changes us. And that is what is at play here. God requires that we examine ourselves and confess our sins...not because God needs us to do this...but because He knows we need this.

If we can be this honest with ourselves...and this honest with God...then we can "sing a new song unto the Lord" and then can we hope to achieve (though not through our own power...but God's) what God called us to from before we were born.
...He chose us in Him, before the foundation of the world,
to be holy and without blemish before Him.
In love He destined us for adoption to Himself through Jesus Christ,
in accord with the favor of His will,
for the praise of the glory of His grace
that He granted us in the beloved. Ephesians 3:4-5

And so on this feast of Mary's Immaculate conception, let us consider the incredible example of her obedience...and answer for ourselves...where are we? Is our relationship with God more like Adam's...or more like Mary's?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Gotta Have Faith

On Friday, the Gospel reading told of two blind men who cried out to Jesus to heal them. When He approached them He asked, "Do you believe that I can do this?" I think as Christians, we confront this question every day. And rather than being the easy, throw-away question that it seems, I believe it can challenge the very core of our least is does mine.

The easy answer to whether God can do something is simple intellectual assent. Of course God can do this...or that. God can do anything. He is Omnipotent...He is without equal. There is nothing God can't do. But while this is all true, it is an answer in the abstract. It is something we believe because we are suppose to believe it. It is just logical. If Go dis God, He can do anything. But it is one thing to say that you believe in a chair...and a wholly other thing to actually sit down. The challenge comes when we are believing in our own life.

When I first read this passage, I immediately started running through all the really challenging areas in my life. I recalled the places where I struggle the most...the areas that get most of my prayer time...the situations where I am the most frustrated and/or have the least hope of it getting better. And then I asked myself this question. Do I think God can do this? Do I believe God can fix this? Do I believe He can make this better? And as my mind darted to the easy answer, I forced myself to go beyond the literal words of the question...and get to what I think is the heart of it. Do I believe God will do I believe He will fix I believe He will make this better? When I ask that question, I am forced to admit, my faith is not as strong as that of the blind men in Jesus' story.

You see if I believe God will fix my most difficult situation...if I believe God really will relieve this burden...if I believe He will make things better...then why do I despair? Why do I worry? Why do I feel hopeless even thinking about it? Despair, worry, fear, hopelessness...these are not markers of Faith. So I'm left with the admission that I don't really believe God is going to act in some of the situation sin my life. I don't really believe He is going to make things better. And that scares fact it shakes me to the core.

Why don't I think God cares enough to act? Why don't I believe that He is faithful...and will answer my many prayers? Why don't I think God wants good things for my life? It's such an odd question to contend with...because the Bible is full of evidence to the contrary.
For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11
And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. 2 Corinthians 9:8
"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life ? "And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matthew 6:25-34
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

Clearly God loves us and clearly God loves me. Sometimes I think my doubt stems from feeling unworthy. Who am I that God should love me? I mean it doesn't take too much to rationalize that there are more important issues and situations in the world. Or as Brooks & Dunn put it, that God must be busy. At other times I think my doubt is really just my selfishness. Because God hasn't fixed the situation yet, I presume He is not going to. Since He hasn't moved according to my timeline, I figure He isn't going to move at all. He must not care. And at still other times, my doubt really stems from my own realization...somewhere deep down...that the resolution to the situation already lies within me. I already have the power to change fix make this situation better...but I don't. So my unbelief in God's actions are really my not believing in my own willingness to do what needs to be done.

But whatever it is that impedes my complete trust in what Jesus can and will do, the end of the story gives me every reason why I need to fight through it.
“Yes, Lord,” they said to him.
Then he touched their eyes and said,
“Let it be done for you according to your faith.”
And their eyes were opened.
You see, God chooses to move according to our faith....and so I can limit God (because He allows me to). I can not live up to my potential...I can get mired down in hopelessness...I can live in constant frustration and doubt. I can do all these things...if I choose. But that is not God's desire. He desires to heal and transform and deliver. God desires to be in every situation in my life. And He'll act in every situation...if I just trust Him. If I believe not only that He can...but that He will act...then miracles will happen. I just gotta have Faith.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Worth Fighting For

So I heard a story yesterday about a grandmother who threw her 2 1/2 year old granddaughter off a 5th floor walkway at a mall...killing the little girl...and I How could someone do this? But no sooner did the question form in my mind and I also had the answer: evil. What else could be the source of such awful, despicable, tragic events? The devil exists...and we see him everyday.

People may doubt that demonic possession still happens (or ever happened), but I think the truth is that it happens much more frequently than we realize. Of course these "possessions" are not the Hollywood versions (i.e. The Exorcist). Based on outward appearance they are far less dramatic and there duration is rarely longer than a impulse...a nudge. But these possessions nonetheless have horrific consequences.

I don't throw out the idea of possession to suggest the grandmother, or any perpetrator of horrible, evil acts is absolved of responsibility. On the contrary, its the decisions and choices people make in their lives that make them vulnerable and susceptible to Satan's prompting. The Evil we do is absolutely our fault. But I mean when you try to think of how angry someone would have to get to desire to kill her own 2 1/2 year old grandchild...and seems that level of contempt for life...for innocence...must have its root in the Devil himself. All the stories we hear like this...all the atrocities committed...that is what happens when the weakest part of our humanity is let loose. Evil is what happens when we are left unchecked...without restraint...given over to our selfish, prideful hearts. But we find that path with Satan's help. We open the door...he sends the thought right on in. We set the stage...he writes the scene. It's as if there is a weird, perverted form of the power we get from the Holy Spirit to do good...only this power comes from Satan...and it emblazons us to do evil.

As I thought more about the horror of this event (and others like it), I was distraught by the realization that in the battle of that moment...when there was still a choice to be made by that grandmother...Evil won. And then I thought about my own life...and the places where I struggle with my own sin. I thought about all the rationalization I do...all the internal debates I have about whether such and such is really wrong or whether it might be okay for me to do x, y, or z. I mean let's face it...sometimes I struggle with the "why" part of not being allowed to do something. Other times I struggle with my resolve to avoid some particular sin...especially when it seems as if no one really gets hurt by the sin. Then it came to me. Looking at this single tragedy amidst a sea of them...the reason for doing what I should do came to me.

No matter how difficult it might be to resist the temptation to matter how innocuous the sin might seem...I need to not sin so that Evil doesn't win. Not this time...not in this moment. Whatever pleasure I think the sin might bring, however harmless it might appear, no matter how small it might be, I can't let sin win...not here...not now...not because of me.

And while I realize the internal struggle of one person...particularly of seemingly little consequence in the grand scheme of the universe...and Eternity...I find the urge to fight the good fight no less compelling. Without wanting to get too grandiose, this reminds me of a scene from Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. It's the point in the story where Frodo really starts to lose heart...where doubt truly takes hold of this hero...where the weight of his quest is pressing down upon him to the point where it seems he will break long before he will succeed. That is his friend and companion, Samwise, says something that opens his eyes (and all our eyes) to the significance of what doing what should be done...even in the face of failure.

Frodo: I can't do this, Sam.
Sam: I know. It's all wrong. By rights we shouldn't even be here. But we are. It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn't. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.
Frodo: What are we holding onto, Sam?
Sam: That there's some good in this world, Mr. Frodo... and it's worth fighting for.
That is what it all comes down to...that's what the tragic death of this beautiful little girl made me realize. That whatever my struggles, whatever my sacrifice, I can't let Evil win. I can't relinguish a single victory. Though I am small and insignificant in the grand scheme...though there are far bigger and far more important battles taking place every moment of every day...I can't let Satan win my little internal battles. I can't add to the Evil in this world...I simply can't. And though I will surely fail at times...I have to keep pulling myself back up (or let others help me up)...because win or lose...denying Evil another matter how small...THAT is worth fighting for.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Sometimes I find it difficult walking the line between being earnest in self-examination...striving for the right path...and being too hard on the point of being unmerciful. On most days I am much more apt to see what is wrong in me...where I have failed...than to see what I did to please God. Of course when I do feel a sense of happiness and satisfaction in having done something that I think pleases Him, I quickly identify this self-satisfaction as pride and chastise myself for feeling good about doing what I should be doing anyway.

But thankfully, passages like today's first reading (Rom 10:9-18) remind me that I am saved not by my successes...not by my accomplishments...but by my belief in trust in Him. I say this very cognizant of the faith vs. works debate that has long raged between Protestants and Catholics. And to that all I can say (beyond what The Church teaches) is that for belief and trust are work. Everyday I have a decision...and really every moment of follow Him. That decision...that choice is my affirmation (or denial) of my belief and faith in Jesus. My life is recognizably different when I am working out my faith...and striving to please God. Unfortunately, my striving does not always end in success.

But I need to recall the lesson I learned from a fantastic book by Henri Nouwen titled, "The Return of the Prodigal Son. Taking inspiration from Rembrandt's "Return of the Prodigal Son," Nouwen takes the reader through a spiritual journey aimed at bestowing the reader with a radically new appreciation for the life-changing reality that God loves us...He truly loves us. Even though we reject Him and are selfish and take advantage of His blessings and distort His truth and pervert His gifts...He still loves us. St. Paul teaches us this so very plainly in Scripture:
While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8
And so today, in the light of Christ's saving grace...I renew again my pledge to always keep God's love for me and for everyone at the forefront of everything I think and do. Though I will fail today, I am still loved. Though I will give in to weakness today, I am still His Child. And though I will sin...thank God...I am also saved.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Christ Above All

It's always a strange juxtaposition for me...being at the beginning of the Christmas season...and yet reading about the end times...and the persecution that will come because of Christ. Maybe it's fitting...a way of keeping everything in perspective. Of course Christmas is a joyful time...a time of thanksgiving...a time of celebration. But always at the edge of the Christmas season...there is a hint of a shadow cast from the Cross. This Baby who was born to save us all...will save us by crucifixion. He must that we can live. And the same is true for us...we must die...die to our selves...die to our that we may live.

But the thing that really struck me in today's readings was the Gospel. It seems like Jesus is warning us...that when it all comes down to it...all that we'll have is Him. Ultimately, our loyalty must be to Him above all. Not to family, not to friends. Our love for Him must surpass that of even our parents, our siblings, and even our spouses and children. Of course many people are blessed with spouses who are truly yoked together with them...sharing this gift of Faith in Christ. And thank God for all those whose children have grown up and not departed from the way of Faith taught to them. But the truth is...when push comes to shove...when the world hates you...when death is the cost of belief...we can never be sure how anyone will hold up. I can't imagine the feeling of betrayal that would come with being "handed over" by those you love most in this world. But of course, this is nothing that Jesus Himself did not experience.

And so again we find the theme...of holding everything with our hands open. Everything we have here on Earth can be taken away in a flash. All that lasts...all that is Eternal...we find in and through Christ. He will protect what matters. He will restore all that is lost ten times over. I guess it all comes down to Trust. Do I trust Jesus with everything? I mean really...everything? Am I willing to let go of everything...all that I love and hold dear...all that I value? That's what it comes down to it seems. Do I love Christ...really love Him? Do I trust Him....really trust Him? And do I love and trust Him...above all?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Time to Give

A seemingly simple observation...but a powerful teaching. That is what I see in today's Gospel. I mean it is maybe one of the shortest "lessons" Jesus taught...but as best I can encompasses the heart of what we are called to as Christians.
...but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood. Luke 21:4
We are all impoverished. Our sin, our selfishness, our pride...they leave us with so very little to offer Christ. We are flawed and wounded and least we have allowed ourselves to become these things. But even as we are, Christ humbled Himself, suffered and died for our that we might live. And so now that we are alive...His Spirit calls us to offer our livelihood....our everything. Out of our emotional, physical, and spiritual poverty...we are to give to God everything that we are. The good and the bad....knowing that none of it is worthy of Him...but trusting that He can transform it. This humble widow...whose name we don't ever learn...provides a moving, humbling example for us to follow. Whatever we have...however poor it may seem...we need to give it to God. I don't have any excuse to hold on to any of it. Whatever good I have is only through Him...and everything else is the result of my own weakness, but it has been redeemed by Him. So I must give it all to Him....I must not withhold anything. Whatever time I have....not just my extra is His. Whatever energy I have...not just leftover energy from my is His. Whatever resources I have...not just the stuff I don't use any more anyway...they are His. It's really as simple as that. That is our call. That is my call. So what am I waiting for? It's time to give.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

It's not what you see...

I have no doubt there are a million things God can teach me from the Book of Revelation...and perhaps a million from today's reading about the two witnesses . But one of the "lessons" that I walk away that it ain't over until it's over. We see in this excerpt from the last looks as though Evil has won...and by all appearances they had. These brave, powerful servants of God (the two witnesses) were defeated by the Satan...and beaten publicly....seemingly convincingly. Then as if that wasn't enough to shrink the hope of believers....the Evil ones gloated...for three days.
Now if I am a believer in that time...if I am on the side of Good...I have to be feeling defeated...hopeless. The whole world literally seems to be falling apart before our eyes. We've been living through the Great Tribulation...Evil seems to be unstoppable. Pain after pain, injury after injury, loss after loss...and then...finally...two Champions emerge.

These two witnesses...these two servants of God have power that surpasses anything the evil ones can muster. And so we breathe a sigh of relief and allow ourselves to think...finally...our heroes...finally....Good....finally we will win. But then...then the unthinkable happens. Satan mounts an attack...and he defeats these Champions of Good. He strikes them down...and not only gloats...but displays their beaten bodies for the whole world to see. They even celebrate...and give gifts! How could anyone not start to ask...why did God send us these Champions only to have them defeated? I mean how much worse could things appear. We've suffered loss upon loss....defeat upon defeat...all appears dark. And even though we believe...and even though in our minds we know we can trust God, even though we have heard the stories of His great miracles, and even though we have seen miraculous things in our own lives...this...this seems almost too much. Our hope hangs by a thread. It stands at the precipice of Doubt. Heck, we may even be angry with God. Why is He not protecting us? Why is He letting us suffer like this? Why doesn't He just end this? Even if we still believe God wins eventually...we might still be bitter about the now...and our Faith in the moment might still waiver. Sure...eventually God ultimately wins....but however you look at it...our Faith would be least I fear mine would be.
But then...just when we felt the last bit of Hope starting to slip away...God moves...and He moves Big. He responds so beyond our expectations. Our dead Champions...He raises them. He brings them back to life. We knew He could do it...but we never believed He actually would. Satan didn't defeat God's matter what it looked like. He didn't win. It was all part of God's plan. Satan was never in control...despite how it looked. The victory....our victory...God's victory was never in doubt. Not only did God have the ultimate victory...but He had the victory in that moment. We couldn't see it...but it was there. And that victory...that battle...strengthened endure the next. God will not abandon us...He will not forsake us. God is Faithful...God is True...and we are His children. I am His child. And I can any situation. Sometimes...actually is not what we see...but Who we see. Father, help me to keep my eyes on You!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Enough ain't enough

Sometimes I try to do as much as I can for long as it doesn't inconvenience me. I am willing to donate and tithe...but I don't give so much that I have to do without something. I will help and volunteer...but only if they ask me. I will reach out and minister to those in need...but I don't want to feel uncomfortable. I will pray and lift up my brother and sisters...but if I've already been praying a while and I have stuff I "need" to get started on, I'll catch them next time. And to these bouts of lethargy or complacency or minimalism, my Savior says:
I know your works,
that you have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.
Be watchful and strengthen what is left, which is going to die,
for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Revelations 3:2-3
To my ears, this is equivalent to the admonishment directed at the villian in A Knight's Tale (which is an excellent movie by the way):
You have been weighed.
You have been measured.
And you have absolutely...
Been found wanting.
And of course He is right. If I do "just enough" then I am falling short of not only what God wants me to do for others...but also of what God wants to do for me. If I don't actively pursue all the opportunities God has for me...then I am missing out. I can't disrupt God's plan by my disobedience. Someone else will donate, someone else will volunteer, someone else will minister, and someone else will pray. But I will miss out...I will be less.
Actually, Matthew West conveys all this far more powerfully than I can in his song The Motions.
This might hurt, it's not safe But I know that I've gotta make a change I don't care if I break, At least I'll be feeling something' Cause just okay is not enough Help me fight through the nothingness of life

I don't wanna go through the motions I don't wanna go one more day without Your all consuming passion inside of me I don't wanna spend my whole life asking,"What if I had given everything, instead of going through the motions?"
So that's it. I have to make a change. I have to strengthen what is left. I have to live this next moment, this next opportunity differently. When I feel worn down...when I feel tired...when selfishness starts to rear its ugly head in the middle of serving Christ...I have to keep going...keep pushing...and remember, I am not my own. I was bought at a price. And I am God's servant. He supplies me all that I need...and will not ask more of me than He empowers me to do. So next time, whether its giving, or serving, or ministering, or praying...I can't do just enough...I need to do more than enough...because enough simply ain't enough.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Like Crazy

Not quite two months ago, I completed my Cursillo weekend. Though I went reluctantly, I left inspired. I was inspired to do more for Christ. I was inspired to share with others my now fuller understanding of God's love for each one of us. I was inspired by the men surrounding me that weekend to be more of the man God created me to be. My Cursillo weekend was no doubt a "mountain top" experience.
Unfortunately (or at least so it seems), like all mountain top experiences, I had to come down off the mountain. Very few if any of us can actually live on the mountain of these powerful encounters with Christ...and I am not sure we are supposed to. Our faith needs to be tested...and strengthened...if it is to survive...if it is to carry us to Eternity. And as anyone who has had such an experience is easy to believe on the mountain.
And so here I am...nearly eight weeks into my 4th day (as the Cursillo movement refers to it)...and I can feel the world creeping back in...slipping between all that I learned and realized on that incredible weekend...and pushing it a bit farther away from my mind. I am finding all my radically ideas and "crazy" promises to God about my life are becoming more practical...more "realistic." I am realizing I can't really do "that" and maybe "this" isn't really what God was calling me to do. In other words...I'm losing my nerve. Like a steady dose of Novocaine, the world...and every day dulling the fire and passion and inspiration I brought back with me from my Cursillo weekend. But thank God...I read today's Scripture readings.
Yet I hold this against you:
you have lost the love you had at first.
Realize how far you have fallen.
Repent, and do the works you did at first. (Revelation 2:4-5)
That's what is happening...I am losing the love...the inspiration...the passion...I had at first after my retreat. And maybe I'm not losing it so Satan is trying to steal it (John 10:10). Either way, I need to wake up and remember. I need to remind myself of the certainty of my weekend experience. When the world was held away, I could hear God so much better. That only makes sense. And so why should I doubt what I heard? Why should I question the decisions I made? Yes...they may not seem uncomfortable...or that I am face-to-face with the world again. But that's the point right? Jesus came to transform transform me...and to transform the world. That can't happen if we all stay the the same patterns...with the same "concerns" and preoccupations about what the world will think of me.
There's this fantastic country song, Love Like Crazy, that I think captures the heart of what I feel God is saying to me. While certainly a love song, the underlying message is that when you think about is crazy. It's such a radical deliberately and completely pour yourself out for someone sacrifice your own wants and desires for someone else. But that's what love is...that is how it survives...and grows...and flourishes. So no wonder the things God asks of us on our mountain top experiences...on our retreats...and in our God moments...sounds so crazy when we come back down...this world needs that kind of crazy. Many thought Jesus was crazy. He continually pushed the acceptable beliefs people held until they became radical, life-changing beliefs. And the world will never be the same.
So I get it...I hear you, God. I need to hold on to those truths you showed me. I need to rekindle the passion you set aflame in me. I need to recall the conviction you stirred in me. And as the song says...I need to "never let your praying knees get lazy." But most of all...I need to not be afraid to follow love love You like crazy!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Burn the Ships

There was a time when I was very interested in "the end times." It was around when the "Left Behind" series first came out. I remember getting caught up in these books. It was very exciting to think about...the final cosmic battle of Good versus evil. But I also read other interpretations and ideas about what many Christians refer to as the Rapture or the Return of Christ, and I realized that perhaps the Bible isn't quite as explicit as some scholars have come to think about what will (or will not) happen as the world winds down. For me, I walked away from my own investigation deciding not to become too preoccupied with the when and what of Jesus' return. After all, Jesus Himself said no one would know the time (see: Matthew 24:36)...and it seems as though each generation of believers always thinks it is the last...even Paul seemed to think so (see: 1 Corinthians 7:29-31). I decided that if I was living my life the way I best I could...following God...trying to be like His Son...then that was all I needed to do. And then...I read today's Scripture readings.

In today's Gospel, Jesus once again challenges all that I think I know...or all that I know how to think...about something...and He offers a radical alternative. He says,
...and likewise one in the field must not return to what was left behind." Luke 17:31b
After I read this...and recognized this passage was leaping off the page at me...I saw another perspective. Christ comes to us everyday. Since everyday could be "the day," that makes every day "the day." Christ is right in front of us...always present before us...asking...waiting for us to stop fighting...and simply believe with everything we give Him our all...our everything. And when we do...there is no turning holding on to whatever sin...and lifestyle...and pattern we left behind. Just like Peter...when we take our eyes off of Christ before us...we sink (Matthew 14:28-31). I can't ignore the Revelations and the wisdom to be gained from the "end times." I must keep it Christ is ever-present. It should be a continual reminder...a guide...maybe even a stay vigilant and to run the good race.
Anyway, all of this reminded me of a song by Steven Curtis Chapman, Burn the Ships. From the first time I heard it...this song spoke to me. It embodies how I want to live my faith. It talks about not giving yourself a way to go back to your "old life." When you arrive in the new world...your new...or in burn the ships...your only way back. You commit to it 100%. It's all or nothing...because Jesus asks for our all. My faith can't be half way...or lukewarm...or in between. I have to give Him everything...without regret...without hesitation. When I fail to do that, I am denying Him and calling Him a liar...because I don't believe Him and don't trust His promises to love and prosper me.
So what does this have to do with the end times? Well...maybe nothing. Perhaps these are all just my ramblings. But for me...I guess I look at all the time and energy spent trying to figure out when Christ is coming back...when and what the Rapture will be...and it seems to me that all that time and energy should be spent living for God this moment. It's not like if we knew when Christ was coming that we would have any less formidable a live a life of Christ is holy. But when that moment comes...we should be free to look ahead...with no struggle or strain to look back. We should have already committed ourselves so completely...that no matter what happens...our "fate" was sealed long ago. Christ purchased us with His blood...and so we should sell ourselves out completely to God. We burned our ships...maybe one at a time...maybe one a day...and maybe we are still burning them...but regardless...there can be no turning back. My prayer is that when that day comes...either Christ's return...or my going Home...I pray that I am able to step out and walk to Christ on the water of Eternity. How else could I get to Him...after all...all my ships are burned.

Peace in Him.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Mass in Me

Today's readings peal back the curtain and reveal glimpses of three of God's "homes" -- His heavenly home (the City of God), His earthly home (the Temple in Jerusalem), and His most humble home (Us). I have to admit, the most challenging one for me is the latter. It's hard to get my head around the concept that our bodies are a temple...a holy place. And they are holy not because of what we do...because of how "good" we are...but because we are covered with God's fingerprints. We are His creation...and more than that...God chooses to dwell in us. That is why we are holy temples. We don't bring holiness to ourselves. In fact, it is closer to reality to say that our life is holy despite ourselves.

But the idea that there is literally something...SomeOne in me....besides's just strange to think about. We can't "feel" Him the way we can feel the outline of our ribs or the way we can feel the beat of our heart. But He is nonetheless there. And I believe we can hear Him...though it takes practice.

And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before Jehovah. And, behold, Jehovah passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before Jehovah; but Jehovah was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but Jehovah was not in the earthquake: and after the earthquake a fire; but Jehovah was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. 1 Kings 19: 11-12

I think this is one of the things God is teaching me to better hear him. I feel like He is showing me how to distinguish His voice...His thoughts...from the cacophony of my own thoughts. And as best I can tell just is that still small voice. It is persistent...and true...but it doesn't clammer for attention. Yet when I focus on it...I know it is different from my own thoughts. It is holy.

And when I think still further about all of this...about God speaking to me...and I really dwell on the idea that God is here...with me...all the me...I can't help but think that I should be different. I mean since He is here...since perfection is ever present to me...since holiness is forever surrounding me... shouldn't that change things radically in my life? If I carry the King of the Universe...the source of all that is Good, and True, and Pure...with me everywhere I go...whether in darkness or light....shouldn't my life be different? If I think about it, whatever I eat or drink...whatever I watch...whatever activity I engage in...I am engaging God in all of that with me. Maybe I need to think more about what I put into my body. Of course this reality...of God being in more than a supernatural Nike tagline suppose to motivate us to stay healthy and fit.

This is about intimacy with our Creator. It's about recognizing that this life we have been given is Holy...and I should strive to live a life that lets that Holiness burst through. I shouldn't just be alive...I should live. And I should live with a passion that honors God's Creation. In a way, I feel like I should be celebrating Mass each day through my life. With all my thoughts, words, and deeds I should be praising God, proclaiming His Word to others, sacrificing my self, imploring His Will be done, humbling myself in His presence, and going forth always looking to love and serve. We celebrate Mass each week in God's brick and mortar homes here on Earth...shouldn't I be celebrating it all the more every day in His me?

Monday, November 8, 2010

More than Enough

More. I feel like I am always asking God for more. Not more material blessings...because (thank God) I can at least appreciate how incredibly generous He is to me. No...when I ask for more I'm always asking for something to make me better...something to improve me or my faith. I pray for more strength, or more patience, or more direction. I pray for more wisdom, for greater understanding, for a faster transformation. I ask God to make me a better husband, a better father, a better employee. And I do all this genuinely...wanting so desperately to be the man God created me to be...and knowing I have so far to go. I long to be useful to Him, and so I am constantly wanting more help overcoming all my flaws. But then I read today's Gospel.
Here are the disciples...blessed with knowing our savior in the flesh. They get to eat with Him, joke with Him, walk with Him, even touch Him. And while I realize none of these men started as Saints, I can't help but believe if I got to actually know Jesus in that faith would be through the roof. I would be unstoppable for God. Yet here they are wanting Jesus to increase their faith...asking for more. Are they kidding? What more could they expect Jesus to do?
But as always, Jesus sees through their question (as He does our's)...and instead of answering what we thought we were asking, He addresses the true heart of the matter.
The Lord replied, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed,
you would say to this mulberry tree,
‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’
and it would obey you.” Luke 17:6
When I read this, I imagine Jesus' response to my own requests for more. "You are right to desire want to continue to be transformed into My likeness. But rather than ask me for more, why not ask yourself what are you doing with what I have already given you?" Isn't that what He is saying? The disciples ask for more faith, and Jesus explains how even the tiniest amount of Faith is sufficient. The disciples didn't see what they already have as enough...just as I don't see the strength I have already been given (or the patience or the widsom or the...) as enough. But it must be...because Jesus says it is. In this passage of Scripture I believe He is telling us that if only we truly believed in what we've come to understand thus far...if only we fully acted on the Truth He has revealed to us up to this point...if only we did more with what He has already provided...then we'd realize, we don't need more. He has given us enough. He has given us all that we need. We have Him...we have the Holy Spirit...we have the Saints...we have our Holy Mother...and we have His strength...His wisdom...His Love. He is not going to do the work for us. It is our cross...we have to carry it. But He'll give us the strength to lift it, the wisdom to accept it, the patience to endure it. In fact He already has...that's the point. We just need to use what He has given us. We need to step out in faith...knowing we have enough to accomplish all things through Him. In fact...we not only have enough...we have more than enough.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Man (and God) at Work

I have always liked the concept of "working out your salvation." Don't get me wrong. I like the idea of "once saved always saved." Having made an adult proclamation of faith, both through Confirmation and through Baptism, it would certainly be a relief if I knew with certainty that I am secure...that I have locked up my eternal destination...and so I have nothing left I have to other expectations. But that just doesn't jive with my own heart...and how I understand the concept of free will.

As C.S. Lewis says, each decision we make...each and every moment of each and every day...moves us either a step closer to becoming a heavenly creature, or a hellish one. Our destinies are not literally determined in a single moment (though certainly there are pivotal decisions in ones life that seem to shape everything from that point forward). But just as easily as someone chooses to follow Christ they can sadly choose to abandon Him. And I know for me...the back and forth seems to happen almost daily. One moment I am focused and determined and filled with God's presence in and around my life...and the next I am in the middle of sin...deliberately having chosen to be there.

And so each day...each moment...I am trying to work out my salvation...trying to live out my faith...fighting to let go of more and more in my life...and cling ever more tightly to Christ. And so I believe, that despite the questioning and grumbling that I do, ultimately God is working in me, making me into a light that can pierce through and shine in this crooked and perverse world. As Jesus says...I need to pick up my cross each day...and pick it up whenever I fall...and carry it. Otherwise I am no disciple at all. And if I was no disciple at all (instead of a flawed one)...then all my work...all God's work...would be in vain. And I am simply refuse to let that happen.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Wisdom of Hope

What an incredible set of readings today. This is our hope! This is what our faith is about. As Paul says in one of his letters, it all comes down to this. If Christ did not die for our sins, if He did not rise from the dead....then our faith is in vain...and we are fools. Thank God then for His Son...The Way, The Truth, and The Life.

In today's reading from Wisdom, we have beautifully detailed the truth and meaning of our trials here. But more than that, we have the promise...the utter factuality of our immortality...of our reward...of our forever. As it says...those who die with Christ appear to the foolish to be dead indeed. Their death appears sad or tragic. But it is not so. Those who die in Christ are at peace. And more than that:
In the time of their visitation they shall shine,
and shall dart about as sparks through stubble;
they shall judge nations and rule over peoples,
and the Lord shall be their King forever.
Those who trust in him shall understand truth,
and the faithful shall abide with him in love:
because grace and mercy are with his holy ones,
and his care is with his elect. Wisdom 3:7-9
We will dart about as sparks...bursting with life and light. All because God is Good and Faithful.

You know I have to admit that I get a little negative twinge when it comes to Psalm 23. I imagine that's because it is so continually associated with death and funerals. But as I read it again today...the Hope within it just pops off the page. My Father leads me, He gives me rest, He refreshes me, He encourages me, and because of Him I have nothing to fear...nothing. On top of that...goodness and kindness follow me...ALL of my days. I don't need to wait for "the other shoe to drop." I don't need to fear the end of all the joy and goodness in my life that I know I don't deserve. They will follow me...all of my days. That's His promise. What more could I ask for...what more could I ever hope to want?

As Paul writes in today's passage from Romans, Hope does not disappoint. We have the Love of God within us. And as Christ Himself says in the Gospel...He will not lose even one of us. He came for us. He came to save bring us back to Our restore us to the paradise He always desired us to know. And so while death is a part of this life...a part that we added...another perversion that we too has been redeemed and transformed. What once seemed like the end (and sadly still does for so many), is really now just a transition. Christ came that we might have eternal life. It is is mine...if only I believe...I follow...I love. That is what I believe. That is my hope.

Monday, November 1, 2010

A Measure of Faith

I had a little revelation this weekend. If I want to know where I stand in terms of my walk with terms of my faith, I just need to ask myself...what do I withhold from Him? What do I cling to....and squeeze hold of tighter when I feel as though it might be taken away? The less I can name, the deeper my faith...the stronger my commitment. As I considered this, it brought to mind the story of Abraham and Isaac (Genesis 22:1-19). God tested Abraham, asking for his son...his only son. And not just asking for Abraham to give him up...but to kill him. That's a serious test.

And here I am...failing the test over and over....and all God asks for is my time (time spent being patient with the older lady driving in front of me), my money (giving that $5 to the homeless man begging on the corner instead of having that hamburger I had been looking forward to all morning), my energy (helping my wife fold the laundry instead of watching the last quarter of the big game), my prayers (lifting up this person struggling with cancer or the other person struggling with depression instead of asking only for strength for myself)...

Why do I cling so tightly? It is all His after all. Whatever I have, it is only because He has given it. That I have come to cherish my time, my money, my energy, etc. is only because He has allowed me to experience and control these things. One word and they could all disappear. And if I knew that...and really believed that...then wouldn't it change how I approach these things? Shouldn't it?

Father, please take my time...I return it to you. Whatever You would have me do today...make it happen. Let me accept every delay, every interruption, every intrusion into my agenda...into my a divine appointment. Let me seek You in each moment...knowing You are there...knowing you brought me to that moment for a reason.

Father, please take my money...I return it to you. Whatever you would have me "spend" it whomever you want me to give it...make it happen. Let me be content with what I have, and not seek something bigger or better or cooler. Open my eyes to the need You see and show me how to help. Let me recognize that each dollar I spend is Your dollar, and that You will want an account of how I spent it....and then remind me of how difficult it will be to be faced with hunger and homelessness and justify why I needed that new suit.

Father, please take my energy...I return it to you. Whatever you would have me apply myself to...make it happen. Remove the sense of urgency I create by stacking up this list of things I "have" to do. Give me clarity to recognize what must be done...on Your list. Push me out of my complacency and laziness. Kindle in me a fire for Your work, a passion for Your will. Fill me with eagerness for Your projects...not mine.

Father, I want to give You everything...even though I don't know what that will require of me. Help me to not withhold anything from you: Not my agenda, not my desires, not my toys, not my job, not my life...and not the life of my loved ones. Change me, Father, so that whatever You ask...whatever You require...I will obey...I will let go. This is my heart's cry, Father...that You would measure me, and find that I am not wanting for anything...but more of you.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

United, Stirred, and Good Enough for Jesus

I found a little something in all three Scripture readings today. First, in Paul's letter to the Ephesians, he reminds me of our connectedness. Wherever we go...when we are among others who believe and declare Jesus as God's Son and trust in Him for their forgiveness and salvation...these are our brothers and sisters. We are connected in a way that surpasses blood relationships. Our very essence...our spirits...are connected and interwoven and united. And so while it can be challenging for someone more introverted like me to feel comfortable in a new group of people, I need to remember that when I am among believers, I am at home...I am safe. No place else will God's spirit reach me as openly and effectively as among His children. He can move most freely among His people...and so I should not go reluctant or hesitant because of new faces...but rather eager because of God's presence.

The second reading...the Responsorial Psalm...just stirred me with its poetic imagery. I love the picture of the fullness of Creation forever resounding with praise to God...always echoing for us His Love and Grace and Mercy.
Day pours out the word to day,
and night to night imparts knowledge.
But I must admit the original Psalm itself is even more moving in its depiction of Nature forever whispering the Love and Majesty of Our God.
The heavens declare the glory of God; the sky proclaims its builder's craft.
One day to the next conveys that message; one night to the next imparts that knowledge.
There is no word or sound; no voice is heard;
Yet their report goes forth through all the earth, their message, to the ends of the world. Psalm 19:2-5
Though there is no audible word or perceivable sound, God's Truth reverberates through all Creation...through us....into us. Despite so many denying that Truth...or so polluted that they can't feel touches us all. God's constant reminder that He is in control, that He loves us, and that all is His.

The third reading is a lesson in decision I still struggle to apply. The time has come for Jesus to choose the 12. It doesn't say how many disciples he had at that point to choose from, but regardless, Jesus obviously needed to discern who the 12 would be. And so despite His "natural" gifts of wisdom and intelligence, despite the gut feeling He probably had, He refused to make a decision without praying first. Once more, He didn't throw up a quick prayer, "Father, guide my decision. Amen." and then simply act on his own instincts. No, Jesus sought the Father. He prayed...and waited on God for a response. He prayed fervently I am sure...but also patiently. He prayed all night. Can you imagine...working all day, knowing you have a big decision coming up, feeling its weight on you, and then getting to the end of your day and deciding not to get some rest...not to sleep, but instead pray...and pray all night...because it is THAT important.

Jesus refused to take a step...until He knew what God wanted. I don't know how much clearer God can be in laying out how we are...and how I make decisions. Seek His will...find out His out His plan. And then...only I move. I find it really difficult sometimes...many times...just waiting. I want to make a decision...especially a big decision...and have it done. Of course I do my research...analyze the situation...think about it nearly non-stop. I generally am not rash in my decisions. (Many would say I over analyze things.) The problem is...that once I feel like I have an answer...I want to move forward. So waiting on God...waiting on the definitive yeah-that's-what-God-wants is a real challenge for me. Or sometimes it is the opposite. The decision is so big with so many potential consequences....that I keep waiting...ignoring that sense inside of me telling me that I already know the answer....and instead apparently waiting for some miraculous vision or a direct message from one of God's Angels. I am so afraid of making a misstep that I don't move at all. Either way...perhaps if I simply committed to prayer...and continued praying until I had an answer...making these big decisions would be less stressful...and more faith building. After all, if it was good enough...and important enough...for Jesus, then it is certainly good enough for me.

Monday, October 25, 2010

I Knew It

I knew I would meet God this morning. I was a jerk yesterday...lost my temper...and said some things I should not have said. Of course I knew not 10 seconds after the words came out of my mouth that I was wrong. Dead wrong. And though I knew it would be awhile before I would have a chance to make amends to this person I love, I knew God would meet me this Scripture. I knew He would be waiting there to reaffirm the truth that I cement the lesson I learned (and obviously still need to learn) this time. And of course he did:
Be kind to one another, compassionate,
forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.
Be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love,
as Christ loved us and handed himself over for us
as a sacrificial offering to God for a fragrant aroma. Eph 4:32–5:2
It doesn't take much to realize that selfishly railing about one's own plans and desires doesn't equate with being kind, compassionate, or imitating Christ. So I knew what I had to admit...again.

Yup...I screwed up, God. But what is new, right? I wish I could understand how I can be so focused on You, Father, at one point in my day...or may even just hours or minutes before...and then so quickly forsake it all for the sake of my "self." It seems to happen so suddenly...I become vehement about what I think I need or want...and feel it is my right...or that I deserve it. And before I know it...I am lashing out at whoever or whatever is in the way of me getting what I "need" or want. And it always starts with a seemingly innocent thought or action...either mine or someone else's. It's crazy to think how many things are said or done that simply move through my mind like the ticker tape. Most don't linger...but for some reason...sometimes...something catches or drags in the forefront of my mind. But even then, I imagine if I stopped there and looked to You...said a prayer...asked for Your help...offered this thought/action to You...then maybe it would be over before anything began. But too often I don't do that. I start to think about what was said or done (or what wasn't said or done). And inevitably my first concern is how that affects me. That is when the trouble begins. Why did he/she say/do that? Didn't they consider how I would feel? Did they say/do that on purpose? Why am I always the one people say/do this to? And the list goes on. Talk about your slippery slope! As soon as I give just one of those questions a moment of seems as though they all are entertained at once...and I start to feel hurt or angry or bitter or all of these or something else. Once that happens, fight or flight kicks in...and I start to defend take what should be mine ("respect," "consideration," "freedom," "an apology," whatever). From that point on, I am no longer thinking about anyone else but me.

I can imagine, Father, that if it wasn't for the pain these tantrums cause, You might just chuckle at them when they happen. It must be quite a sight to see this creation of Yours so totally dependent on obviously not in control of almost anything...flailing and swinging at the world trying to demand his/her "rights" or to get his/her "needs" met. And all this despite the fact that this creation knows (at least most of the time) that You are the source of everything...that You love him/her...and that You gladly and abundantly supply all that he/she needs. What a sad display it must be when I try to take control of meeting my needs and obtaining my futile and so clearly backwards.

But the joy, Father, is that despite these continual failings on my part...You provide the way out of my self...the way back to You. First, You remind me of the reason for needing to abandon myself: "Christ loved us and handed himself over for us [me] as a sacrificial offering...." We were saved at a great cost. You love us so much, that You didn't think twice about doing whatever it would take. You loved...and so we live.

Second, You pick me up...lift me up...out of myself. You have already forgiven me by the time the request reaches my lips. And not only do You forgive, but You saved me from the eternal consequences of my sin.

You are merciful....You are compassionate...You are Good. You humbled Yourself...for my sake. You endured unspeakable humiliations and deprivations...for my sake. You allowed Yourself....Your be tortured...abused...spit upon...degraded...for my sake. How did You do it, Jesus? How did You restrain Yourself from wiping out all those who dare hurt You...who dare deny that You are God's Son? Surely You could have destroyed them all...and who among us would have blamed You? But that is why Your ways are not our ways.

I can only imagine You did it...You endured all for our sake...not by focusing on Yourself....but by focusing on focusing on Your/Our Father. You decided to serve...rather than be serve. You decided to put us first....rather than demand that You be first (as You most assuredly deserve). You crucified Your own flesh, long before the first nail ever pierced You. And I guess that is what I have to do. I have to be like You. As best I each situation I have to remember...that You endured far worse...You humbled Yourself far more...and so who am I to demand my "rights." Yup...that's what I need to do. That is what I should have done. I knew it!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Worthy of the Call

...lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called...Ephesians 4:1-6

This is Paul's halftime speech. This is his locker room motivation. He's begging...he's pleading with us...just live a life that is worthy of our call. He's not asking us to change the whole world. He isn't asking us to proselytize everyone on the street. He isn't asking us to sell all our worldly possessions and join a monastery. All he is asking is that we live what we believe. That we live our lives as Christians in such a way that we honor that name...the name of Christ Jesus.

God paid everything to save us. He didn't even withhold His Son...His Divinity from us. He entered our dirt and filth and sin...subjected himself to the worst of us...allowed us to place our most vile evilness on Him...and even descended into Hell...all for the sake of saving us...of making a way for us to return to Paradise.

And so when He calls us to our jobs and professions, to our marriages, to our children, to our Churches, to our neighborhoods and communities, to our world...Paul begs us to remember the price God paid...and to live a life worthy of that. We'll never be perfect. But no coach expects his team to be perfect. The expectation, I think, is that we pursue perfection. We strive to be our best...each moment...everytime. That is what I think Paul is saying. Remember you were bought at a price. Remember that you bear His name. Remember that you are God's child. And act like it. Act in a way that will honor Him....that will make Him proud.

Father, I know that so often I fall short. So many times I emerge from a situation and am convicted by what I should have done or should have said. But I ask that You continue to transform me...continue to erase the evil in me...the dirt I have let build up, and fill me with Your Spirit...with Your fruit...that I may share it with those around me. Help me to live the life You have for me...the life You desire for me. Don't let me compromise or take a shortcut. I want to live for you...I want to live out loud for you. I am so thankful for this life You have given me...for your constant blessings. I want to live boldly for You...without fear...completely abandoned to You and Your will. Help me, Father. I can't do it without You. Make me like Your Son...and through Him...make me worthy of Your call. On my own I will always fall short. But with You, through You, In You...I am worthy.

All praise be Yours...forever and ever.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Generation Lost

I have to admit I am thoroughly unfamiliar with today's passage from Luke. Having read the Bible all the way through a few years ago, I know I must have read this before...but it is foreign to me. Maybe that is because I find it so difficult.

I guess I thought by Jesus' arrival we did away with the idea of children carrying the sins of their fathers. That seems unfair...unjust. But this passage implies that our burden...our not just the sins of our fathers, but our fathers' fathers, and our fathers' fathers' fathers. order that this generation might be charged
with the blood of all the prophets
shed since the foundation of the world....
That's a tough deal. BUT...we need...I need to look at this remembering that God is Just.

It certainly isn't hard to see how we are the product of the generations before us. With all our accomplishments...with all our revivals...we are still the progression...or rather regression...of the generations before us. Since the first gift of God...the first Law of God was twisted...we haven't looked back. The distance of time somehow has lessened the tragedy of all our sin. We rationalize and dismiss many of our choices today because "that's just the culture we live in." We are the blame society after all...accountability is all but gone. We seek solace in knowing we are products of society...of culture...of "our time." But that is precisely why we stand convicted...and rightfully so. Why shouldn't the blood of the all the prophets and Apostles be on us. Unless we heed their words...unless we humble ourselves to their are we any different than those who killed them?

But I have to be careful. For God is about conviction...not guilt. Now that I see that I realize my collusion...rather than gripe about it being "unfair" AND instead of feeling overwhelmed and depressed (by the guilt and consequences of all this sin), I need to wrap myself in the blanket of God's Mercy and Grace. I need to follow the simple example of the Prodigal Son. If I just humble myself...acknowledge my sin...and start back to God, He will meet me...He will run to me before I ever get the chance to run to Him. The formula is simple...and has been for thousands of years:
...if my people, who are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14
Call, humble, pray, seek, and turn...that's all there is to it. God has already forgiven us...already paved the way for Eternity without blemish...without guilt. Just freedom and love. But not only are we forgiven, but the future is not yet written. It isn't too late for us. Our generation can still change. We can still honor the prophets and Apostles. All we have to do is obey. And all that responsibility to all starts...with me...

Father, please humble me...convict me of the sin in my life...convict me of all that is unholy. Strip away my pride so that I can fully embrace Your love and forgiveness. And finally, direct my next step, Father. Set me on Your path...and guide all of my steps. Teach me to honor Your servants of brothers and sisters surrounding me. Empower me to humble service. Let me be a light for my generation. Let me be a beacon for Your love...and Mercy...and Grace. I know I am unworthy, Father. But all things are possible through You.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Move Me to Your "More"

You certainly can't read today's Gospel, and walk away feeling anything but least I can't. Jesus doesn't hold back and leaves no ambiguity.
Much will be required of the person entrusted with much,
and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.
Whatever I am doing, whatever good I manage to allow God to do through me, there is more. More that God wants to do in me and through me. More that He's already gifted me to do. And so it begs the question...what's my problem? Why am I not doing more? God has blessed me so abundantly. He has been so incredibly patient with me all these years as I rebelled and struggled and backslid and failed. He has always "believed" in me...and in who I can be. He knows my potential...because He created it...He wove it into me. But wayward as I am...He continues to bless me...continues to call to me...continues to meet me the moment I turn back to Him...and away from sin. And yet...

I can do more...I can be more. I want to do more. I want to be more. All that is left is just doing it. I have to stop making all the excuses. I have to stop procrastinating. All I need to do is take the first step. He will point the way, and open my eyes, and give me the strength I need. He'll do all the hard work. I just need to obey.

Just recently I watched "The Blind Side" again...and again I was moved by the simple obedience...the lack of hesitation Mrs. Tuohy demonstrated. She didn't analyze and plan and weigh the options and consider the consequences. She just acted. She saw the need in this one boy (Michael Oher)...and knew in her soul that she could help...that she should help...and so she did. It was that simple. And that was just one person helping one other person. What if we all obeyed God's promptings like that? All of His promptings? What if we all just "did" and didn't worry about ourselves? What if that is how I lived?

Father, forgive me for doing so little for so long. You have blessed me with so very much. You have continually poured out Your love on me...and I have hidden it under the bushel. Infuse me with Your Spirit...wipe away my laziness. Move me to the "More" You have for me. Let me see where I can share Your love. Open my eyes to how I can obey. Make my life about You...not about me. I know I am weak...but I also know that You are strong...and I am strong through You. Your Spirit has convicted lead me in Your will. From this moment forward I want to live in Your More. Please hear me, Father...this is my heart's cry.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Maybe because Christmas trees are already appearing in stores, or because I stumbled across a Christmas song while introducing my daughter to U2 and Frank Sinatra, but when I read today's reading from Paul, I was struck by the idea of God bringing us "nearer."
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off
have become near by the Blood of Christ.
What does this have to do with Christmas you may ask? Well for me, one of the big of the echos in my soul at Christmas that God Came Near....God is with Us. Such a magnanimous gesture...that our Creator humbled Himself, and came closer to us...He lowered Himself to be closer to us. And now I see...not only did He lower Himself, but He also lifted us up. He drew us closer to Him. And what really strikes how He is doing all the work. Moving us to Him...Him coming closer to us. I mean how much greater of a demonstration of His love for us do we need? How much more evidence do we I understand that God wants me...desires me...appreciates me...loves me...just as I am. We are infinitely valuable to Him...despite our sin...despite our stubbornness...despite our rebellion. God loves us. He will move Heaven and Earth...and even Himself for our sake. Think about it! He asks so little of us...and yet with just a little bit of effort on our part...we move infinitely Him.

Monday, October 18, 2010


Today I felt a familiar sting in Paul's letter to Timothy: Do not be enamored by the present world. It stings because I know I'm guilty of it. I am enamored with this world. I cling to it...I hold on to it....and the thought of leaving it scares me to death (almost).

But my attachment to this world is not about material I expect many interpret Paul's warning. I mean sure I love technology and gadgets as much as the next guy (I could go on and on about my iPad), and I don't pretend that I wouldn't throw a mild tantrum if for some reason I had to give away my iPad or flatscreen TV or car. But I honestly think I could do it if necessary. I mean as cool as all this stuff is...I recognize it's really of little significance in the grand scheme (as I think George Carlin brilliantly (if irreverently) demonstrated). And the same goes for money. I appreciate money...I like having it...I try to be a good steward of it...but I don't think about it too much. I certainly don't worry about it (though obviously much of that is because of the goodness and blessings God has bestowed on me and my family).

No...I am attached to this world...or "enamored" with it at a deeper, and I think more serious, level. I think I see it most clearly when I think about dying. The simple truth is...I don't want to die. I mean I am sure most people don't WANT to die, but as a Christian, shouldn't I be looking forward to (maybe even longing) for the day when I am united with Jesus in Heaven...when I leave this broken world and return home? But if I'm honest, I have to admit I'm really not looking forward to that at all. (Forgive me, Jesus.)

And it's not that I don't want to have an intimate relationship with my Savior...I do...and hopefully I am pursuing that every day. It's also not that I am concerned with how I am going to die...or that I am worried about whether I will get to go to Heaven when I do die.'s really more about when am I going to die...and I guess partly...what happens after we die. [Just thinking about this last issue brings me to the brink of what I imagine would be a panic attack if I let chest hurts...its hard to heart is racing...]

I realized awhile ago (because I've been dealing with this for a long time)...that this desperate attachment I have to this my rooted in my unwillingness to let go of this life. I don't want to die because I have plans. I have things I want to do. There are people here that I believe need me...and they need me here.

When I really think about it, I see that at some place below the surface of my soul, I am unwilling to accept and believe with my heart (not just my mind) that my plans are nothing compared to God's plans...and that I can't begin to realize the first part of any plan without God's help....and that despite how important I like to think I am, there is no need that anyone has (including those of my wife and daughter), that God can not meet either with or without me, and certainly infinitely better than I can. And when I look at it that way, my "love" of this world is really just pride and arrogance.

But it isn't just that, because I also worry about what Heaven will be like. What will we do all "day?" What will we be? To be honest, some of the images of Heaven and eternity that are out there are a bit...unsettling. Is eternity all about harps and church services all day? Are we absorbed into God in such a way that we lose who we are as individuals? Or is it more the way C.S. Lewis describes it...a world not unlike our current one, but more real. (Oh how I hope it is the latter.)

And still if I push further, all of this...all of my pride and fear boil down to me being worried about me. Despite all my failings, all my sinfulness, all my issues...I don't want to lose "me." And that, I'm afraid, is maybe the more dangerous kind of world-enamor, because at the core of loving this world...of worrying about not believing or trusting God.

So here I am...all self-analyzed with he curtain of my soul pulled back. And once again I am confronted with the simplicity of the fix.

If I just believe (not just intellectually, but emotionally and spiritually believe) that God is in control, that He does love me, that He made me, that His Son rose from the dead, that Jesus has gone to prepare a place for me...if I believe all these things (and all the other promises in the Bible)...and I mean really believe them...then I can live life with open hands...letting God put in them whatever He wants me to have and also letting Him take whatever He knows I no longer need. If I really just believed all the things Christ died to tell me, then I would be enamored with Him instead of this world. And if I really was enamored with Him...then my eternal life would begin right now...and Heaven would be here on Earth.

The Prayer of Paul

In the readings on Saturday, Paul is praying for the Ephesians asking:

May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened,
that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call,
what are the riches of glory
in his inheritance...
and what is the surpassing greatness of his power
for us who believe....
What an incredible prayer and what a gift the answer would be. To know the Hope in God's call on my really know what He wants me to do...and to have complete faith and confidence in knowing it will succeed. To behold the riches of His glory as my inheritance...simply because He loves me...and chose me...and accepted me as his child. To live with the surpassing greatness of his live free of of hesitation...because I know I am powered by His Spirit...the force of Life.

Father, this is my prayer for me....for all of us. That I may know you as Paul describes...that you are real and present to me in a radical way...a life changing way. And not just me...but be real and present to all of your Church. Transform us all...into Lightbearers...images of Your Son.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Gluttons for Sin

Earlier this week the daily readings dropped us in the middle of Paul's admonition of the Galatians for doubting...and faltering in the Faith. Interestingly he challenges us not to "submit again to the yoke of slavery"...which is to say sin.

I know I have read this many times...and it may even be one of the pieces of Scripture I could quote (through probably not cite specifically). But I'm just realizing the true nature of his warning here.

He is not warning us about "falling" into sin. He is not telling us to take heed lest we wander into sin or get dragged in by others. No. He is telling us that we must fight against our deliberate, conscious choosing of sin.

Before we came to know Christ, we still had a choice...but we had no power to power to break away and deny those stubborn, evil impulses the world taught us.

This reminds me of a song done many years ago by the group The Newsboys (who by the way have a great new song out right now called "Born Again"). Here is how they described it:

Like a criminal guilty on all counts,
rattling his cage with every ounce
of resolve he never had,
I was convicted.

Then I took the pardon
and the walls came down,
but I must like it here,
'cause I keep hanging around
for a better suit, and an escort,
and a winning lottery ticket.

First we waited for miracles.
Then we needed a sign.
Now we're here to confess
we've wasted the time.

Despite that we have been set free by Christ...despite that we now have the strength and the power (through the Holy Spirit) to resist flee from resist and deny the worst parts of ourselves...we don't. At least we don't all the time...and maybe we don't much of the time.

Somehow, we feel comfortable in our our crud. I imagine it is like the ex-con who was in prison for so long, that he forgets how to live outside of that prison...and so rather than fight through is easier to go back...easier to choose sin again.

I can't begin to count the number of times I've committed the same sin (and THAT is the frustration...its the same sin) over and over again...immediately feeling the conviction of God's Spirit...begging and receiving His forgiveness...and then on another day in another situation being weak...and sinning (that same sin) once again.

Don't get me wrong, I know we all sin...and I know we will never be perfected in this life...sin is a consequence of our collective rebellion. But damn if it isn't frustrating to see myself regressing...and doing so willingly (at least at that moment).

But that's why we need Paul...and the rest of Scripture...and the Saints....and our brothers and sisters here on Earth. We need to encourage one another. We need to build eachother up...and maybe sometimes hold eachother up (i.e.

We need to constantly remind eachother that...We are indeed! We can choose! We can choose to leave our prisons of sin! We can walk through the open door...and into the Life of Christ...the life he has waiting for us in Him. And if we make that decision one moment at a time...if I make that decision one moment at a time...I know I will find Christ with me...taking that step with me...right by my side.

“Free at last; free at last; thank God Almighty we are free at last.”
-- Martin Luther King, Jr.