Not what I thought you meant.

Have you ever had two people say the exact same thing, but, in fact, they are talking about completely different things? The best example from my life is the word, “soon.” One time in particular we were driving home and one of my children had to go potty. My wife said, “Just hold it if you can because we will be home soon.” I was flabbergasted, we were no less than 15 minutes away from home. Miles away and my wife still used the word “soon” in regards to when we would be home.

So I asked her (I know, a mistake), what she thought was too long for something to be soon. She saw through my gambit and accused me of attacking her use of the word. She wasn’t wrong. For me, soon is like right around the corner or just a couple minutes. The kids agreed and now they ask, “Is it “mom soon” or “dad soon”? When we tell them something is soon. Smart kids. 

Same word, different meanings. You get what I’m saying. 

In the gospel this Sunday we hear of a similar “same words, different meaning” moment. James and John ask if they can be made leaders in Jesus’ kingdom. They want to sit at Jesus’ left and right. They literally want to be Jesus’ right (and left) hand man. Jesus asks in reply, “Are you sure you can do this?” He asks specifically if they think they can drink of the same cup and receive the same baptism as he is about to receive. Of course, they say yes.

What they are saying yes to, in their minds, is the cup of an earthy king – choice wine in abundance. The baptism they anticipate is the like the Roman baths of Herod – luxurious places of comfort. 

What Jesus means by cup is the cup of his Passion. What Jesus means by his baptism is the baptism in his own blood on the cross. While James and John want leadership in an earthly way with comfort and abundance, Jesus means leadership in the heavenly kingdom which will take suffering and total self gift. This is a kingdom they can’t imagine. 

Jesus goes on to talk about servant leadership and what means to lead in the Kingdom of God. In the Kingdom of God, leaders lead on behalf of and to benefit the people. More often than not earthly leadership benefits the leaders and not the people. Servant leadership, heavenly leadership takes the total gift of self from the leader on behalf of the people. Leaders in the Kingdom of God serve the people.

When we are at our best we adhere our leadership to this model. Whether it is at work, in our families, or even amongst our friends, when we are servant leaders we glorify God. When the Church is at her best, our bishops and priests act as selfless servant leaders. We all know what happens when they don’t. When we are in positions of leadership, let’s do it as servant leaders.

LIVE IT: Do one of the following two options: 1) Return a misplaced shopping cart either to the store or a cart corral (one that isn’t yours) OR 2) Pick up a piece of trash off a the floor somewhere it isn’t your job to clean. When you do one of these things, say a prayer offering up that act to God and asking to be made a better servant leader. 

Justice for All (as long as it’s not me).

Justice is sweet. When I am driving down the highway and someone cuts me off or blows past me driving erratically with no concern for their speed or safety, it is pretty awesome when, a couple miles down the road, I see them pulled over by law enforcement. We all love justice when it is happening to someone else. We want people to get what they deserve. 

When it is us, well, we love mercy. We desire leniency. We want to scoot by and maybe even get a free pass. 

In the gospel this Sunday Jesus says, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God.” Where I work and the community I live in is a place of wealth. Our neighborhoods our comfortable, our schools are excellent, and we have an abundance of natural beauty. Targets and coffee shops on every corner – you get the idea.

When Jesus says it is difficult for those with wealth to go to heaven, he is talking about us. 

This statement is radical and, in the first century, was subversive. Jesus was saying those who have wealth aren’t blessed but, in fact, will have trouble being close to God. That is the exact opposite of the first century notion of blessedness. In the first century mind, those with financial, physical, familial health are the blessed. Those who are poor, sick, and broken are cursed. Whether we want to believe it or not, we certainly behave the same way today. The “haves” are blessed, the “have nots” are cursed. 

Jesus contradicts this conventional thought. The disciples were shocked and go on to ask if even the most well off struggle to get into heaven, who can make it? This is when Jesus drops truth that is both hard to hear and hopeful. No one can earn heaven. No one is good enough. No one can make it on their own. BUT for God nothing is impossible. 

This is what takes this message about justice and makes it a message about mercy. While no one is worthy of salvation, God can overcome the impossible and bring us to heaven with him forever. Wow, this is awesome and radical. You aren’t good enough and God still wants you. You can’t earn heaven, but Jesus would die to get you there.

LIVE IT: While we can’t earn heaven, when we try to get close to Jesus by sacrificing things of this world, Jesus tells us we will be rewarded. Make a small sacrifice this week (one cold shower, no phone use one day, no shopping on Sunday, whatever you want), and ofter that sacrifice up to God. 

Sunday Readings for October 10, 2021.

Almost spilled milk.

My three and half year-old son took the gallon of milk out of the fridge all by himself the other day. His plan was to pour himself a large glass of milk and savor every drop. The kid loves milk. The only problem is that the gallon of milk is about 30% of his body weight. After he successfully got it out of the fridge door, he couldn’t lift it, move it. He just dropped it on the ground and finally decided he needed help. 

He is at that age where he has decided he is a “big boy” and can do anything. Thus, he tries to do everything with various levels of success. I can’t judge him too hard for this as I think every single adult does this same thing at times. Let me explain. 

In the gospel Jesus is teaching about marriage, divorce, and, ultimately, authority. The Pharisees were asking if divorce is lawful. Jesus responds that it is not because what God has joined, humans cannot separate. 

I think we often fall into thinking that we have final authority. What we says goes. ”It’s my life.” It’s my beliefs.” “Its my body.” Fill in your favorite way to make the same statement – I’m in charge and there is no one in authority over me. Some people believe this. Some people think this statement is objectively wrong. Unfortunately, we all live like we believe it at times. 

No matter what we believe about this statement, we all encounter moments when we act like we are the ultimate authority in the universe. Sometimes we act as if the whole of existence depends upon us. 

The truth is that God is God and we are not. God is the author of truth, not us. The sin of Adam and Eve wasn’t just eating a pomegranate (not an apple, FYI). Their sin was disobeying God by trying to be the the author of truth. Their sin was trying to become God, to do God’s job instead of being a fully alive human being. 

When we try to write our own truth, we engage in the same sin as Adam and Eve. When we seek to be God, we aren’t being the beloved son and daughter of God that we were made to be. No matter how hard we try or how it may look, we aren’t the author of truth. That is a good thing.

LIVE IT: If we are going to believe that God is author of truth, we should read his book. Read just chapter 10 from Mark’s Gospel. It’s not long, but it is good. Find it here. 

Sunday Readings for Oct. 3, 2021.

Whatever it takes.

Have you ever pulled an all nighter? For me it was only a handful of times in college (okay, and once or twice since). I would have a major paper due for a class. I would think I was farther along in the writing process the week before, but at about 11:30 p.m. I would discover I still had a long way to go before the paper was done. 

For me, 99% of the time all nighters happened because of poor planning or procrastination. However, some of the time life is such that an all nighter is just the thing that needs to happen to get the job done. Sometimes an all nighter is necessary. 

Doing what needs to be done is what Jesus is preaching about in the gospel this Sunday. Jesus says if a hand or an eye causes you to sin, remove the eye or the hand. It is better to be maimed than to go to hell with your appendages in tact.

Of course, this seems crazy to us. I think it was meant to seem over the top to whomever heard it in the first place. Jesus is seeking to demonstrate that heaven is worth doing whatever it takes to spend eternity there. Jesus is seeking to show us that hell, separation from God, is so wretched that each of us must do what is necessary to avoid it. 

I think many people operate with this guiding question, “What can I get away with and still get into heaven?” This ultimately isn’t helpful. When we think of our faith as a loving relationship, this question does not give anyone the warm fuzzies. What is the least I can do and still be in love? Yuck. 

Rather this gospel invites us to think in the affirmative. What am I willing to do to go to heaven? What are you willing to do to love well?

Live It: I am going to take a wild guess and say if there was one appendage that you could cut off in order for you to become more holy it would probably be your cell phone. At least that is me. The challenge this week is a big one. Put your cell phone away for a week. Sure, carry it around for emergencies and calls/texts, but make a commitment for one week, to not search the internet, check out your fav apps, or look at social media. What are you willing to do for love, for heaven?

I bet you think you are right.

A friend of mine likes to say, “I’m wrong more often than I am right. But at least I am right more often than everyone else.” I can’t figure out if he is being humble or prideful. Either way it shows the basic human desire to be right. 

No one likes to be wrong. Especially when we are put in a position where we disagree with someone else. No, we want to be right and to show that the other person is wrong. There must be some survival of the fittest stuff going on there. 

In the gospel this weekend, Peter is about as right as person can be. Jesus asks his followers who they think he is. Peter boldly answers that Jesus is the Christ. Wow. He couldn’t be more right. It took a lot of guts to answer at all and much more to call Jesus the chosen savior of humankind. 

Jesus explains that he will have to suffer, be reject, and killed all by the people he is trying to save. Peter pulls Jesus aside and rebukes Jesus for saying these things. What does Jesus do? He turns right back around and denounces Peter in front of everyone by saying, “Get behind me, Satan. You are not thinking as God does, but has human beings do.” Yikes. Jesus says that Peter is so much of an obstacle to accomplish the Jesus’ mission, it is as if Peter is Satan. Rough. No one wants to be that wrong about anything. 

When it comes to being wright or wrong, I think the important thing to remember is that we don’t determine what is right and wrong. We are not the arbiters of truth. The gospel shows that it is Jesus who determines what is right and wrong.

Too often we try and focus on WHO is right and WHO is wrong. This takes truth and makes it subjective to the people involved. 

God is the one and only author of truth. If we want to be holy and happy, then we must submit to the reality that only God determines truth. 

Live It: Open your Bible and read John 8:31-32 ten times in a row. Read slowly and purposefully. Extra credit if you read it out loud. 

Don’t have a Bible? You can find John 8:31-32 here.

Sunday Readings for September 12, 2021.

Hi. I’m Chris and I’m a…

At the center of the dimly lit Church basement a group of flimsy folding chairs were arranged in a circle. Each one was filled with someone who appeared to be happy to be there. It wasn’t so much the space that made these individuals happy, but the fact that they were anywhere with other people. I was new. It was my first time attending this group. 

I was called upon and quickly stood, looked each and every one of the others in the eye and then said, “Hi, I’m Chris and I’m an Extrovert.” Instantly everyone sprang up to meet me, no longer restricted by the social convention of circled chairs. I felt totally at home with a group of strangers. The small talk was exceptional

Okay okay, Extroverts Anonymous doesn’t exist. I googled it and could only find a covid pandemic short film and a twitter account. But if there was an Extroverts Anonymous, you could imagine that the meetings would never really start or end because everyone was too busy chatting. 

In the gospel this Sunday Jesus heals a deaf and mute man with a speech impediment. However this healing story is different than many of the other healing stories in the gospel. Typically Jesus heals in public. This Sunday we hear, “He (Jesus) took him off by himself away from the crowd.” Why?

I think it shows that Jesus knows exactly the kind of healing and ministry each of us needs. While many would be fine to be healed in front of everyone, clearly Jesus perfectly adjusted his ministry to the needs of the man. 

Whether you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert, whether you get your energy from being alone or being with other people, all of us benefit from going off alone with Jesus.  Even when it is exhausting to be alone, the spiritual benefit of one on one time with Jesus outweighs any other cost. There is a reason God kept choosing shepherds to lead his people. Being alone with just the Lord and wide open spaces changes us and grows an intimate relationship with our Lord.

Live It:
Get some alone time with Jesus this week. Whether it is 20 minutes all at once or it is 5 minutes every day for this week. Find some time to step away and be alone with Jesus. (Even if you’re an extrovert)

Ask Big.

Every now and again one of my kids throws a fit. I know, I expected them to be perfect little saints all the time as well. Turns out they are normal kids, kind of a relief actually. 

The other night my son was in bed but kept calling and calling and calling for us. I pulled the short straw and went up to his room. 

When I asked him what we wanted, his huge, overwhelming demand was that I take is water bottle and put it on his night stand. He could have asked for the moon and I would have tried to get it for him. His ask was small in comparison.

In the spiritual life, I think we often ask too small for God. We think we should limit what we ask for in prayer because God will be more likely to answer our prayer. Or we don’t want to seem selfish or demanding so we go small. It could also be that we don’t want to be disappointed, so we only make little prayers. 

In the gospel this Sunday, The crowds ask for more bread. They want to be fed like they were when Jesus multiplied the loaves. The crowds want physical sustenance. They are asking small. 

Meanwhile Jesus is offering the bread of heaven. He is offering them something that will keep them fed forever. Jesus is offering them the Bread of Life. Jesus is offering himself. 

Too often I think we ask small. In our prayer we ask for just the worldly things when God is offering us something much, much larger. We ask for comfort while God offers us greatness. We ask for success and God offers us salvation. We ask for the world while God is offering us Heaven.

There is nothing wrong for praying for our daily bread, Jesus instructs us to pray those exact words. However, praying for our daily bread must not deter us from asking for the big stuff. When we pray, we can and should ask for a God sized miracle or request. The prayer life of the disciple of Jesus is one in which our prayers match our faith. Ask big. 

LIVE IT: Decide on something really, really big – a God sized ask – and then pray that prayer every day for a week. Go Big. Ask God something that is crazy and impossible and then see what happens. 

Need a Break?

Every single one of us is addicted to busyness. Try to convince me otherwise. We feed off the stress of too much. We long for a simpler time when we didn’t run from one thing to the next constantly overcome with stimulation overload.

For some, that time was about a year ago in the middle of the pandemic. Everything stopped and some of us didn’t constantly check our phones because the news was just too much. Most of us won’t admit to enjoying the time when everything was shut down because that time was a period of horrible suffering and financial disaster for many of our neighbors not too far down the road. I’ve heard people express guilt over enjoying last summer just so much. Fair enough.

But in quiet conversations, with close friends who know what we mean and what we don’t, some of us will admit – there was sometime beautiful and good about the world slowing down. 

What were the things we needed a break from? Maybe it was stressful, long hours at our jobs. Maybe it was overwhelming responsibilities in caring for loved ones. But for most of my friends, it was a break from the things we do for our kids and for our leisure. It was a little bit like when someone says they need a vacation from their vacation. We needed a break from the things we do for rest, from the maintenance of our comfortable, leisurely, overwhelming lifestyle. If these sounds like first world problems, well, they are. 

In the gospel, Jesus gives the apostles an emphatic command. He says, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” No parable, no clever question to get his followers to think, Jesus just straight up commands them to take a break.

This is the kind of commandment even the least motivated of Jesus’ followers should be able to pull off right? As a Christian, how good are you at doing things that actually give you rest? That’s what I thought, same here. 

We do a number of things that we think will give us rest, only which actually stress us out further. We want rest, but we turn our hobbies and fun into more work. We want joy, but are so focused on entertainment or pleasure we miss the goodness right in front of us. We want peace, but we listen to and watch true-crime podcasts/shows which unsettle us. 

It would seem to me we live in the era of constant stimulation and productivity. We fail at rest. 

Good news, Jesus gives us the formula for rest. Here are the 3 components that make up Jesus’ formula for rest:

  1. Come Away – The first component is that we must remove ourselves from our day to day. This sounds like a burden or another thing to do, but we don’t have to get on an airplane or take a week off of work to do this. One way is to simply close our eyes. It’s amazing how far away we can go if we just close our eyes and eliminate that stimulus. 
  2. By Yourselves – Jesus says this to his disciples and I think he is speaking in the plural. For us, it may mean we go alone. Being alone and loneliness are two very different things and there is great spiritual benefit to time alone. Consider taking your rest alone if possible. If not alone, then doing this with only the most trusted and closest people in your life is another good option. 
  3. To a Deserted Place – If your home is like mine, I feel like it is full of stuff I need to clean or a person who distracts me from the rest I’m seeking. While we probably can’t remove the other members of our households whenever we feel like, I think it is helpful to carve out a deserted location where we live. One way is to create a sacred space which we reserve for our times of rest. In our house it is a particular couch in a room without screens (and into which we don’t bring our screens), and a wall of crucifixes and crosses behind us. Honestly if we just cut screens that’s probably deserted enough to make a difference. 

When sprinting on the overstimulated, overworked, over entertained treadmill, it’s hard to imagine stepping off ever for a moment, but we should try. Jesus command us to rest. 

LIVE IT: Try the formula 3 times this next week. Come away by yourself to a deserted place for 10-15 minutes 3 times in 7 days. Don’t do anything. Just rest. If you like it, do it again next week. 

I’m Ignoring You.

I currently have a teenager and a toddler at home. Yes, a 16 year old and a 3 1/2 old. It is exciting times in my house. Any parent of a toddler knows that sometimes the best response to the “hilarious” antics of a “just old enough to be dangerous” little person is to completely ignore them. When I did this the last time I had preschoolers 8 years ago, it usually resulted in changed behavior and everyone just moving on.

This time, I have a teenager in the house. She is truly wonderful (honestly), and sometimes she questions my decisions and actions. Particularly she can’t begin to fathom why I would ignore the toddler’s inappropriate behavior. Shouldn’t I correct him? Shouldn’t I punish him? Shouldn’t I react in some way!? “If we don’t stop him, he’s never going to learn.” 

Little does she know that by reacting we teach him that this particular word or behavior will earn him loads of attention, which, of course, is exactly what he wants. Ignoring the bad doesn’t always work out, but sometimes it is exactly what is called for. 

In the gospel today Jesus learned of the very ill daughter of Jarius. When he heads to Jarius’ home to heal the girl they all hear, “Your daughter has died; why trouble the teacher any longer?” What does Jesus do next? He ignores them. He ignores the fact that the girl has died. It says that Jesus disregarded the message. Then Jesus goes onto explain that the girl is only asleep. He consequently heads into the house and heals her. 

As Christians it would do us well to follow in Jesus’ way at times. We too must disregards messages of death and failure. It would serve us to ignore the voice of the enemy inviting us to sin. We will grow in holiness if only we neglect fleshy temptations and invitations to despair. 

Whether it is our own minds, or the voice of another, we will look more and more like the saints if we too can disregard any message that doesn’t bring us closer to Jesus Christ. Learning to listen to the voice of God and ignore the whispers of the evil one is the life long work of the Christian. 

Live It: Next time a doubt, a moment of despair, or a negative thought enters into your mind, STOP, brush your shoulder off as if you are swiping a little monster off your shoulder and pray, “Not today! Help Lord Jesus Help!” 

Bigger is Better.

“Bigger is Better.” “Everything is big in Texas.” “She is a big deal.” “That was a huge mistake.” “He is a giant in the industry.” “I’m a huge fan of the local sport team.”

Written into our idioms, sayings, and colloquial language is the message that big is good. Not only is big good, but bigger is better, and, in fact, biggest is best. As much as we may want small computer chips, tiny carbon footprints, and minuscule mosquitos, in most things in our culture we want BIG. We desire grand romantic gestures, big wins, and gargantuan personalities. 

In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus compares the kingdom of God to a mustard seed. As Jesus states, mustard seeds are small. There is nothing big, grand, majestic, or huge about them. Mustard seeds are practically nothing. Yet they grow into the largest of shrubs in which the birds of the air can rest and nest. 

Through this analogy, Jesus Christ emphatically states that the Kingdom of God is a work of God and can only be accomplished by God himself. Why? Only God can make something out of nothing. Only God can take something small, meaningless and make it into something large enough for the whole created world to reside within. Only God can take something that wouldn’t even register as worth anything and make it into a world wide phenomenon. 

Isn’t this what Jesus does with the Church? Jesus takes a small group of inconsequential peasants from a forgotten corner of the grand Roman Empire and creates the Church. The Holy Spirit moves maybe the most unlikely group of spiritual leaders into the great bishops, priests, and saints we know today. God takes virtually nothing and makes it world wide, universal. 

The lesson for us then is that God doesn’t need much from us to do great big things. All God needs is the tiny whisper of, “yes Lord.” God doesn’t need our success or our skills or our talents to do something great in our lives. God needs the smallest drop of surrender from us. A simple yes and God can and will do something great. 

Live It: Go into your room and turn off all the lights or go into your car and turn off the radio/podcast. Close your eyes (unless you are driving). Pray this simple prayer, “Yes, Lord.” Whisper it even. But say it out loud. See what God will do with it. 

Sunday Readings for June 13, 2021.