Monday, January 24, 2011


God hit me with two things today...both of which point to the key to the essence of what it means to be a disciple.

First, in listening to a message from Joyce Meyers, God shared with me the the importance of not having rules without relationship. For me, this immediately rang of all my attempts to structure my life in a certain way...and fill it with certain order to move deeper in my relationship to Christ. I didn't take this to suggest that these attempts are wrong, only that they must be infused with an honest and earnest pursuit of a relationship with Jesus....with getting to know Him...and allow myself to be known by Him. Otherwise my saying of the Rosary or daily Bible reading...or even writing a blog just busy work...that may have a net positive impact on my life...but that can't be truly life changing...heart changing...without the personal knowledge of Jesus.

The second thing God hit me with was today's devotional from the Oswald chamber blog: My Utmost for His Highest. In today's post, God reveals that in order to truly realize the vision He has for our lives, we have to have a "vivid, personal, overpowering relationship" with Jesus....just as the Apostle Paul did. His dramatic Damascus Road experience was not simply a conversion to a different way of life, but was the launch of a super-charged relationship with Jesus Christ Himself. Jesus appeared to Paul and asked for nothing less than His whole Chambers paraphrases...He asked to "overpower and subdue" everything. And when Paul assented...that vision...that promise of completely and radically transforming Paul's life would not have happened...were it not for the intimate relationship Paul forged with Jesus himself.

So the bottom line is that while all my tools and methods may be good...all my structure and organization may be helpful...if I want to realize God's plan for my life, then I need to get to know Him....not as an object...but as a a personal Creator. If I want to see His vision for me come to life, then I need to live my life with Him. The with so much of relationship.

God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever in heaven. -- Baltimore Catechism No. 1, 1885

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Sometimes...we're the plate

I think when many of us think of service, we think of doing something. We imagine ourselves as waiters or waitresses bringing God's love to those around us. We aspire to be God's instrument, to act on God's behalf, to do His work. When we think of serving, we think of doing something...even if it is something as simple as giving some money to the homeless guy on the corner or letting someone get in front of us in line. But I am realizing that sometimes, rather than be a role is closer to that of the plate. In other words, sometimes I serve God best, just by being there.

In the grand scheme of a meal, the plate is very easily over looked. We touch and use the silverware, the glasses, the salt and pepper shakers. We are appreciative of the chef or loved one who cooked the meal. We consciously thank the host(s) or wait staff who bring us the food (often with a gift or tip). But the plate? The plate just sits there. The only reason we even notice it (if in fact we do) is because it holds the food and so we can't help but see it when we look at what we are going to eat. Yes the plate's job is a simple one...hold the food...keep it from running all over the table. The focal point of the meal is almost always the food itself. The plate is really just a prop.

But actually...that might not be fair. After all, the plate is holding the most important part of the meal. And the plate is what allows the meal to be enjoyed (imagine how much less enjoyable it would be if everyone's casserole, quiche, salad, or pasta was just dumped on the table). Yes when we think about it, the plate actually does play a very important role in the just being there. It doesn't have to do anything...other than to be sit there and let itself be used. It's important, not because of what it is, but because it allows us to focus on something else. It serves by lifting up another. And sometimes, I think that's all that God wants us to do.

I was reminded of this very poignantly this long weekend. Our daughter has been under the weather the past few days with a relatively high temperature and sore throat. Though there were moments when she was her usual, energetic, joyful self...most of the weekend saw her lying on the couch, curled up in a ball beneath her favorite blanket, not really wanting to eat or drink or do anything but watch The Sound of Music or Toy Story. But one morning, while Mommy was off getting ready for the day, my daughter summoned her strength and pulled herself over to the other end of the couch, where I was sitting...and she climbed into my lap. I, of course, had been lamenting to God how helpless I I wanted to take her sickness away but there was nothing I could do. And both an answer to prayer and a daughter curled up in my lap. She didn't say anything...and quickly resumed her absorption into the TV. But I knew that for that moment...being there in my lap made her feel better than lying in nearly the same position just a few feet away. God showed me through this precious moment that I was able to help this case my daughter...simply by being there. I didn't have to do anything or bring her anything. There was no action I had to take. I wasn't waiting on her in the traditional sense. No...I was able to serve love her...simply by being holding lifting her up. I was able to love and comfortable and help...just by being present to her...and letting her use me. So now whenever my pride starts to clamor about the next big thing I can do for God, I am going to remind myself, maybe God doesn't need a waiter...maybe He just needs a plate.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Our Souls Demand It

C.S. Lewis suggests that our needs and longings are evidence of something that can fulfill them.
A man’s physical hunger does not prove that man will get any bread; he may die of starvation on a raft in the Atlantic. But surely a man’s hunger does prove that he comes of a race which repairs its body by eating and inhabits a world where eatable substances exist. In the same way, though I do not believe (I wish I did) that my desire for Paradise proves that I shall enjoy it, I think it a pretty good indication that such a thing exists and that some men will. A man may love a woman and not win her; but it would be very odd if the phenomenon called “falling in love” occurred in a sexless world.
For example, the fact that we feel hunger is evidence that we need to eat and that need is evidence that food must exist (even if we had never seen food...the need implies it must exist somewhere). In a similar way, our restlessness and emptiness on this earth is evidence that this is not our home and that there must be something, or someone, else who will fulfill us. (Certainly there are enough examples throughout history of people who "had it all" but whose lives ultimately ended in tragedy because true and lasting fulfillment does not come from this world.) Also similarly, a longing or desire stirring inside of you to serve others...and to serve evidence of a calling God has for your life.

Anyway, it occurred to me while taking a walk this morning that the reverse of Lewis' argument must also be least in some instances. You see as I walked and drank in the simple beauty of the sunrise and felt the sharp but invigorating chill of the morning air on my face, I recognized how worthy God is of our constant praise. His majesty and omnipotence, His mercy and grace, are evidence that He is worthy of all praise...of our praise...and so we must praise Him every moment of every day. The only problem with that logic is that it doesn't work practically.

God created us...and He created us a world where we must work for our survival. He created us with needs and longings and provided the means to fulfill them...but we have to work for them (we have to cultivate the land for it to produce food, we have to build in order to have shelter, etc.). And so while God may be worthy of our constant praise, it would seem He left us very little time to do it.

But that's when I started to recognize that somehow both must be true...and that's when it hit me...our lives must be lived in praise of our Father. It's true that we can't fall prostrate before an alter 24/7...that we can't participate in Mass every hour of every day. But that does not eliminate the need...and certainly doesn't diminish God's worthiness. So somehow...someway...our daily lives...filled with all the humdrum and mundane activities...must somehow sing praise to God.

So the question do we do that? How do we live and do all the things we have to do each day...and yet do them in a way that praises God? I imagine we all have to find that answer for ourselves. There is no magic formula. No one size fits all. No...the answer is likely as unique as each of our lives is unique. But it's an answer we must find. God demands it...and if we listen closely...our very souls demand it.

If you ask why we should obey God, in the last resort the answer is, 'I am.' To know God is to know that our obedience is due to Him. ~ C.S. Lewis

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Cross of True Disciples

We often hear people talk about or preach that we have to carry our cross...or maybe our crosses. But it occurred to me that when we say that, we often miss the true meaning of what Jesus was trying to tell us.
Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. Luke 9:23
And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.Luke 14:27
I think if we truly want to understand what it means to take up our cross daily...we need to consider His cross.

It seems people often focus on what the cross is...rather than what it does. Certainly the cross was a burden. It was heavy. I've seen references suggesting the upright post was 6ft-8ft tall and the cross beam 5ft-6ft long. The crossbeam itself likely weighted well over 100 lbs by some estimates. So it is easy to see how we could come to interpret "carry our cross" to mean we must accept the heavy burdens in our life...and forge onward despite them. These burdens are often seen as things like challenging relationships, or poverty, or poor health, or whatever it is that makes this life difficult and challenging for us. Now I'm no suggesting there is no value or validity in understanding Jesus' command this way. But I do think there is more to be gleaned...and possibly something that is more important than this.

Whatever the physical dimensions of the cross may have been...and however difficult it surely must have been for Jesus to carry after the suffering already endured...I think it's important that we remember what it is the cross actually did...and still does. Quite literally, the cross crucified Christ. It killed Him...killed His body. That's what a cross does. That is why it was kill and destroy the flesh. And really that is what the entire Passion is about. Jesus allows himself to be crucified physically, emotionally, and even spiritually ("My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"). In other words, He allows Himself to be humbled for the sake of others...for our sake.

And so I think maybe, when Jesus tell us we must "carry our cross" daily, He isn't telling us to endure or persevere all the things that annoy, and distract, and make us uncomfortable (such as challenging relationships, poverty, or illness)...but rather that everyday we must seek to crucify the attitudes and beliefs and thoughts within us that lead us to see these burdens as burdens in the first place....rather than as the work of God in our lives. He is telling us that where our flesh rebels against the pain of being humbled...we have to crucify it. Isn't this the lesson of the Saints and Martyrs? Isn't this what we are taught throughout the Bible?
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4
I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. John 16:20-22
Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. 2 Timothy 3:12
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions. Colossians 1:24

Of course this is all easier said than done...but we can't dismiss it or ignore it because it is difficult. It seems to me that this should be our goal. This is what we are to strive toward.

And so when we pick-up our crosses each day, what we are saying we really need to do is pick-up the tools needed to crucify our flesh. We need to destroy those parts of us that rebel against the work of God in us and in the of us like our selfishness...our envy...our pride...our self-righteousness. We need to be prepared to be humbled...and not simply be prepared...but we need to embrace it...even pray for it. This is the cross Jesus refers to...the one that crucifies....the one that destroys the flesh...the one that makes way for the resurrection. If we do this...then I believe we will be that much closer to being true disciples of Jesus.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Hatching Some Resolutions

I've never been big on New Year's Resolutions. It seems to me that whatever would be worth resolving to do at the start of a year is something that I already should have been doing...and so deciding that I was going to start doing it now...just because the calendar changed...well...that just never felt right.

But there is no denying that Dick Clark's Rockin Eve and the dropping of the ball in Times Square do provide a great opportunity for self reflection...for thinking about my life...about how I'm living it...and how I should be living it. Besides, we are linear people...we like beginnings and endings...we like parameters and boundaries...we like markers and milestones. So I suppose, if flipping the page on the calendar...or starting a whole new calendar for that what it takes for us...for finally do the things I need to be doing in my life...then perhaps I shouldn't dismiss the idea of New Year's Resolutions so easily.

So after much thinking...and soul searching...and a little are my resolutions:
  • I will pray more...and I will love more.
  • I will make more time for people...for relationships...and I will love more.
  • I will open myself more to the presence of Jesus Christ in and around my life....and I will love more.
  • I will appreciate more the gift of each moment whether seemingly spectacular or ordinary...and I will love more.
  • I will be more of the man God created me to be...and I will love more.

Now I don't know how far I will get with all of these...I don't know how much progress I will really make...but there can be no doubt about my need to do these things. John spells it out pretty clearly in today's readings:
Beloved, let us love one another,
because love is of God;
everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God.
Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.
In this way the love of God was revealed to us:
God sent his only-begotten Son into the world
so that we might have life through him.
In this is love:
not that we have loved God, but that he loved us
and sent his Son as expiation for our sins. 1 John 4:7-10

I must love...and am only capable of love...because God first loved me. God is Love...and so how can I call myself a Christian and do anything else?

Of course I am still flawed...still weak...still incomplete. But as C.S. Lewis observes so poignantly:
It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.
So despite my sinfulness, I have to press on...I can't become complacent. I can't continue going through the motions...okay just isn't enough. And as Matthew West continues in his song:
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 it's time. Time to decide to be different. Time to decide to be better. If I want to fly...I first have to hatch. Father, please consider these resolutions the first cracks in my shell.

Monday, January 3, 2011

We Are Not Alone

So I was driving...saying the Rosary...contemplating the Joyful Mysteries (The Annunciation, The Visitation, the Birth of Jesus, the Presentation, and Finding Jesus in the Temple)...and like a slow but steady dawned on me that one of the great messages of Christmas is that we are not alone. In this crazy, non-stop, increasingly impersonal and isolated world...we are not alone. First and foremost, God drew closer to us than He ever had before through His Son.
"The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel"--which means, "God with us" Matthew 1:23.
From now matter what mattered where we were or what we did...God would be present...He would be real...He would be close...He would be with us. But the Christmas story shows that God would be present not in some abstract, ethereal sort of way...but with our lives...bring comfort and reassurance when we needed it. Just look at Mary.

It isn't difficult to imagine how Mary could have felt very alone in her situation. She was carrying a child, conceived not by her husband...or any man...but by the Holy Spirit, and this child was not simply any child...but God's Son. I think it is safe to say that's a pretty unique that most people could not relate to...even if it was possible to tell people about it...which I have to think really wasn't possible. In fact, it seems likely that if she had openly shared her story, the religious leaders of the day would have brought her up on charges of blasphemy...and possibly had her killed. No, this miraculous Incarnation was something Mary would have to endure on her own...or would she?

Mary had to wonder what Joseph would do when she told him her story. Since he was a righteous man, she had every reason to think he would divorce her...and she couldn't blame him. But God intervened...He spoke to Joseph and assured him that Mary was telling the truth...and that He should not fear taking her as his wife. And in doing that, not only did God provide an earthly father for Jesus...and avoid scandal for Mary...but He also assured Mary that she would have a partner...a husband...someone to lean on and to watch out for her. He assured her that she would not be alone.

But of course Joseph was a man...and he could only empathize so much with being pregnant...from a miraculous conception. And besides, he wasn't the one that people were staring at. Despite their keeping their story doubt rumors spread...and you have to think Mary was often the center of conversation...probably unflattering conversation. On top of that, she herself must have struggled with the craziness of it all. Why her? Why a baby? Why would God send His Son to be born here? It was simply too incredible. Who could blame Mary if she had doubts...if she questioned whether God was really going to do this? But Mary wasn't the first time God orchestrated a miraculous birth.

Certainly it was no coincidence that the mother of the one who would pave the way for Jesus....the prophet of God who would cry out in the wilderness and call people to repent...was Mary's cousin, Elizabeth. I mean surely it could have been any woman...but God chose Elizabeth...Elizabeth who was very old...well beyond child-bearing years. And Mary...Elizabeth was called to trust in God's Word. Despite all logic...and against all odds (and biology)...Elizabeth would have a child. There is no question it was hard to believe. In fact, Elizabeth's husband, Zechariah, was unable to speak until his son was born because he doubted the words of God's angel. But God did keep His Word...and their son, John the Baptist, was born. And in so doing, God not only provided this world a prophet...and Jesus a herald, but He gave Mary someone who could understand what she was experiencing...someone who could appreciate what it was like to be trusting God for a miracle. Yes, by choosing Elizabeth to be the mother of John the Baptist, God also assured Mary that she was not alone.

Finally, alone in the stable, with a newborn baby sleeping in a manger, probably shivering from both the cold and exhaustion, Mary and Joseph tried to drink it all in. Here was this promised child...this Holy One of God...this miraculous baby...and they were in a stable...surrounded by animals...essentially invisible to the world. Not the sort of arrival one would expect for the Son of God. What was the point? What were they suppose to do now? Why was this child born? Was this really God's Son? I can imagine all these questions swirling around in their heads. And once again, God reassures. While Mary was going through labor and giving birth to Jesus, God's angels were announcing the arrival of His Son to the shepards in the fields. They proclaimed this miraculous gift God had given the world and told them where they could find this Holy Child. And so Mary and Joseph didn't really have long to toil in their questions and doubts before the shepards arrived. They came and worshiped at the manger. And then they told others...and others came. And soon Mary and Joseph were witness to the first worship service for their son. And not only did God do all this to announce to the world the gift of His Son...but He did it also to assure Mary and Joseph...they were not alone.

And so as we move toward the end of the Christmas season, I see that one of the messages we need to be sure to carry with us is that God is here...He loves us...He is with us...and because of His matter where we matter what situation we find ourselves matter what we have done (or failed to do)...God is with us...and we need not fear. We are not alone.