Successful Advent.

December 9th Sunday Scripture.

When it comes to success in the world, we often believe that it depends more on talent than anything else. If you’re like me, you’ve read enough blog entries and business books to know that talent and luck matter, but not as much as hard work and fast failure. You’ve probably seen the “What people thing success looks like vs. What success lookslike” drawing.Cmv8o6sWYAAVaz8.jpg

Rarely do I think we apply these same principles to our spiritual growth. I wish I could tell you that as soon as you give your life to Jesus everything will go smoothly and be easy-peasy – that’s just not the truth.

In the gospel this Sunday, the gospel writer explains the ministry of John the Baptist using the words of the prophet Isaiah. The prophesy says there will be one who will make straight the paths, fill in the valleys, lower the mountains, all so that the messiah can come. 

The first and most important thing to recognize is that the road is rough. There are valleys and difficult mountain passes. The road of the Messiah is challenging. 

Our faith journeys are challenging. The road is rough at times and there will be setbacks. If you are serious about your faith, I’m sure you could name a time that you’ve had a faith setback or a particularly difficult climb. 

When it comes to faith, we run out talent. Faith isn’t a matter of luck. And, unlike the business world, it actually doesn’t rely all that much on hard work either. Instead success in faith falls on the shoulders of two things: persistence and docility. 

It isn’t so important that we add more and more to our faith practice, but that we try faith again. When we get knocked down either by sin or by daily life, we choose to get back up and try again. When the road gets rough, we may slow down, but we always keep going. 

Docility is as simple as being supple and humble and easily formed by the Holy Spirit. Are we open to God’s word and God’s work in our lives? When God speaks, do his words find a soft landing spots in our hearts? Faithful people are docile to Spirit. Docile people receive God and then answer with their lives. 

No matter where you are in your faith journey this Advent, God wants to make straight and smooth the paths to your heard. May he find a persistent and docile heart when he arrives. 

LIVE IT: If you are in the midst of a rough road, don’t take the next exit, but stay in the roughness and let Jesus come rescue you. How? When your temper flairs, when you inclined to selfishness, when you doubt God’s love for you, when you get anxious about shopping and baking and everything, when the work hours spill into family and faith time – take 3 deep breaths and invite God in. Acknowledge things are rough and let God love you right where you are. 

The Sun will die.

November 18 Sunday Readings.

william-malott-721211-unsplashLast winter in the middle of a 4 day period where the high temperature in Minnesota was below zero the entire time, my thermostat stopped working. We had installed a new fancy, smart thermostat, but the intense and lasting cold was too much for it, and it’s software malfunctioned. A thermostat isn’t something I think about too often, I just expect it to work. In fact, I would go so far as to say that we depend upon it working without really worrying about whether it will or not. 

In the gospel Jesus says, “In those days after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” The sun is another thing we just depend upon for light and heat. Without it, we would die. We don’t think about it too much and I think even fewer of us worry about whether or not it will rise in the morning. Yet, when it is darkened, it is a big deal (see total eclipse from 2017). 

Jesus says that the very things we depend upon every day, the very things we rarely think about but depend on for our very existence will be go away. On the one hand that is a horrifying prediction, but that’s not the whole story. jorge-vasconez-285707-unsplash

What Jesus is really saying is that even when something as necessary and as basic as the light from the sun and moon is taken away, he will still be there to save us. The light and heat from the sun is something we can’t imagine living without. Yet, Jesus promises that at the end of time, if that will be taken away and we will be okay because he will come to save us. 

In other words, do we put more trust in the sun or in Jesus? Do we depend more upon the heat and light of the sun than we depend on the saving love of Jesus Christ? It’s a crazy thing to ask ourselves. But that is the radical call to faith that Jesus asks of us – Depend on and trust more in Jesus than even the sun or the moon or the stars in the sky. The celestial bodies can’t save you, but Jesus will. 

LIVE IT:
Whether you are awake in the morning to see the sun rise or you witness the sun set (which in MN is about 4 in the afternoon), turn your mind to God and pray something simple like, “Jesus I depend upon you, more than the sun and the moon. I depend on you.”

The Blind and The Ballplayer

October 28th Sunday Readings.

Jim_Abbott_CannonsWhen I was growing up, there was a pitcher named Jim Abbot. Jim pitched 10 professional seasons on various MLB teams. He threw a no-hitter, as a Yankee, in 1993 and otherwise had a long but unremarkable career. What was remarkable was that he was born without a right hand. 

The game of baseball is essentially throwing and catching. Most players wear a glove on one hand and throw with the other. Jim could throw – there was no doubt about that. When he pitched he would have to quickly put on his glove in case a ball was hit to him. It was incredible to watch. He was one of the best in the world at a thing that he, in theory, wasn’t equipped for. Jim is remarkable. 

In the gospel, we hear about a blind man named Bartimeaus. While begging on the side of the road Bartimaeus calls out to Jesus, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!” Again he called Jesus the “Son of David.” This simple turn or phrase was a title used for the coming Messiah. The prophesies had said that the promised savior would come from the house of David. By calling Jesus, “Son of David,” Bartimaeus was essentially calling him Messiah. 

This is only the 2nd time in the gospel of Mark that a human being calls Jesus, Messiah. It was literally a blind man who saw Jesus for who is he really is. Blind Bartimaeus saw through all earthly disguise and saw Jesus as Messiah, Savior, and Lord. 

Sometimes I feel like I don’t have the right gifts and talents to do what I think God is calling me to do. Sometimes we all doubt whether we have what it takes to live the life in front of us. The reality is that God will provide. When we trust in God and let him lead, the blind see more clearly than anyone else.

LIVE IT:
What is an area of your life that you struggle in. What do you dislike doing because you don’t feel very good at it. Take that thing or moment and offer it up to God in prayer. He just might surprise you with what he will do. 

Impossible Heights

Oct. 14th Sunday Readings.

jef-willemyns-520713-unsplash.jpgI am deathly afraid of heights. I’m not exaggerating when I say this is a paralyzing fear. When I was in high school I went to a high adventure camp which included a high ropes course. It did not go well. I got about 15 feet up the 8 inch wide rope ladder which was the first station of the course and I totally frozen and couldn’t move. I had to quit and come back down. Not only could I not finish the course, I didn’t even really start it. 

I wasn’t the only one not to finish. Some others didn’t make it past the rope bridge or the climbing wall or even the zip-line. Each one of us who didn’t finish found one or another of the obstacles to be impossible for us to overcome.

In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus holds this conversation with a rich young man. By the end of the conversation Jesus tells the man to sell al his has, give it to the poor, and follow Jesus. The young man can’t do it and went away dejected. 

For that man in the story it was his money, his many possessions that were his obstacle to following Jesus. Jesus, with great insight, knew that if he had just asked the man to follow him, that the man would always have this thing that he valued more tugging him back home. Jesus knew that if that young man would really want to follow Jesus, he would need to eliminate that obstacle.

In the decision to follow Jesus Christ, it is likely that we have at least one thing that keeps us from truly, fully following Jesus. Your obstacle that you can’t seem to overcome might be money or security or safety or status. Maybe it is control, pleasure, power, pride or despair. The list could go on. 

If you held this same conversation with Jesus what would he have you remove from your life?What is the thing that you hold on to that keeps you from following Jesus more closely?

Don’t worry if this question isn’t easy to answer. The true answer might be hidden from you. Sometimes it’s hard to know ourselves fully. So if you don’t know, what are you going to do to find out?

Once you figure out what this obstacle is, the next step is to remove it? I bet there is a reasonable change that you would struggle to remove it on your own. Maybe even you don’t want to remove it.

The good news of the gospel is that Jesus promises that what is impossible for us to remove from our life God can move easily. What keeps us from Jesus and from heaven, God can remove. All things are possible for God, even when we can’t see a way. 

LIVE IT:
Next time you go to Mass, bring with you your obstacle. Think about it during Mass and at some point offer it up to God. Give God the chance to do a miracle and do the impossible. 

Does this hurt?

September 9th Sunday Readings.

Whenever my kids get a minor bump or bruise and they are crying hurt, I have brian-patrick-tagalog-681929-unsplasha particular ritual that I go through to help them. It starts by having them sit down and put their injured limb up on the couch or chair in a unnaturally high way so I can get a better look. Then I examine the affected area. Next I start to poke and prod the clearly unaffected areas while I ask, “Does that hurt?” To which they usually answer a tearful but confused, “No.” Finally I ask them to show me where it hurts and I make a face like I finally see the real problem and give them a remedy of icepack, bandaid, or smooch (depending, of course).

This is all theater. I have virtually no medical training and have no idea what I am looking at. I am 100% sure my older children know that, but still allow for this farce because it seems to work. Somehow by the time I am done with my very serious and very scientific examination, most bumps and bruises feel better, tears have dried, and my kids are ready to get back to it. 

In our gospel this coming Sunday, Jesus is summoned to examine a man who the scriptures call deaf with a speech impediment. Jesus seems to go through a procedure about as effective as my examination except by the time Jesus is done sticking his fingers in the man’s ears, spiting and touching his tongue, and finally crying “BE OPEN!”, the man can hear and speak. The man is healed.

If you or I did the same procedure, I assure you nothing would happen. Why does what Jesus does heal this man? Clearly it’s because it was Jesus who did it!

Jesus has the power to heal our deepest injury. Jesus as the ability to restore our brokenness to the point where we don’t appear to ever have been broken at all. Jesus can save even the most abandoned places in your life. The gospel tells us a couple things about how this works if pay attention.

First, we can ask for healing. In fact, in this story the deaf man begs and his friends beg that Jesus lay his hands on him. When was the last time you asked Jesus to heal your inner brokenness? 

Secondly, Jesus might not heal you in the way you think. Things might get weird before they get good. Jesus will get all up in your face, literally in the gospel, in order to heal you. And Jesus is going to stick his fingers where you would rather they not go. The only way for this to work is to be docile and let Jesus heal. 

marcelo-leal-664865-unsplashThird, when Jesus has healed you the appropriate response is to be astonished. We read in the gospels that Mary is continually astonished by Jesus. She fully knows who Jesus is, but she is astonished because encountering God is astonishing, amazing, and dazzling.

It’s okay to be wowed by God. It doesn’t mean you’re dumb or unsophisticated; it means you actually understand what God has done for you. 

Jesus is asking you where it hurts. Show him. Let him heal you. 

LIVE IT:
Right now, stop and tell God where there is pain in your life. Sometimes that pain is within. Sometimes it is in relationships in our life. If it is something you’ve done, then go to Confession. I promise you’ll find healing there. 

 

It ain’t over till it’s over.

July 1st Sunday Readings.

In game 6 of the 2011 World Series, the Texas Rangers were one strike away from David_Freese_on_April_30,_2010winning their first World Series championship. It was the bottom of the 9th inning and there were two outs. All the Rangers needed was one more strike or a pop up or a ground out. Their championship hats and t-shirts were ready, waiting to be distributed. The champagne was on ice and the Ranger’s lockers were being covered in plastic. 

Down 1-2 in the count, St. Louis Cardinal David Freese hit a line drive over a leaping Nelson Cruz for a triple scoring two runs and tying the game, sending it to extra innings. Immediately in the 10th inning the Rangers scored two runs to go up 9-7 and in the bottom of the 10th inning they were one out, one strike away from wining it all, again. But Lance Berkman hit a single that tied the game sending it to the 11th inning. 

Freese again stepped to the plate where he hit a walk-off home run that won Game 6 and sent the World Series to a Game 7, which the St. Louis Cardinals won. Twice the Cardinals faced elimination and twice they narrowly escaped to play another inning or game. 

Whether you were a fan of the Rangers or the Cardinals, Game 6’s motto was, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

In the gospel this weekend Jesus cures the dying (or dead) daughter of Jarius, a synagogue official. At one point, other officials from the synagogue tell Jarius not to “trouble the teacher” since his daughter is dead. Jesus tells him to have faith. 

The other officials want to throw in the towel, to give up, but Jesus shows us what faith can do. Jesus shows us what it means to keep the faith. Jesus shows us that it’s not over till it’s over for the daughter of Jarius and for us too.

When it comes to faith, it’s not too late for us. If you are reading this, it’s not too late for you. God hasn’t given up on us. As far as God is concerned, we are a game tying single away from changing everything and returning to him. 

Maybe you’re thinking, “I am what I am. I can’t change.” Or maybe you often say, “I’m not a religious person, God wouldn’t want me.” Or maybe you’ve thought, “It’s too late for me, I’ve made my decision about faith & God & Catholicism.”  If you’ve thought any of these things or sentiments like them, let me be clear – you’re wrong. 

The game isn’t over yet. You might feel like there are two outs in the bottom of the 9th and you are down 0-2, but know that even by the skinniest of margins, God can save.
More importantly, God desires to save you. God desires to be near to you. God wants you near to him forever in heaven, and it’s not too late. It’s not over yet. 

Live It:
Admit to God in prayer right now, “God, it’s not over, till it’s over. I know you’re not done yet.”

Sin is Boring. Convention must die.

 

bence-boros-178730-unsplash

Photo by Bence ▲ Boros on Unsplash

June 24th Sunday Readings.

I’m reading a nonfiction book about the rise of ancient Rome (I know – nerd). I recently finished a section that reminded me of the last ten or twenty or fifty years of popular culture and entertainment. The book described the use of shocking behavior (mostly sexual) to get the attention of both the elites and general public. Do something shocking enough – violent, sexually explicit, brutal – and you could rule Rome for a day.

My take away from reading our current culture reflected in that ancient culture was the simple realization that sin is boring. 21st century America hasn’t created any new shocking perversion. We aren’t the first culture to seek to break from the past by brazenly throwing out the previous generation’s moral code or public decorum. We just aren’t that original. 

Each generation seeks to be innovative and new. New generations desire to correct the mistakes of their parents by doing old things in new ways. In some ways, there is nothing wrong with this in principle. However sometimes, we go off the rails.

In the gospel this Sunday, we learn an important lesson in defying custom while listening to God. Zechariah and Elizabeth name their son John seemingly against the wishes of family and friends. They didn’t name John after Zechariah or any of the couple’s relatives. They named the boy John because the angel of the Lord told Zachariah to do so. The lesson here is that submitting to the will of God can sometimes break with customs, but can never break with truth. Or as G.K. Chesteron said, “Break the convention. Keep the commandments.” 

Where I live in Minnesota it is conventional to not “bother” other people. See someone crying in a pew in an empty Church in the middle of the day – don’t approach them, they wouldn’t want to be bothered. See someone wandering the aisles on a busy Sunday looking for a seat – they wouldn’t want me to make a big deal by moving over for them. A coworker asks what you are doing on the weekend – I’ll mention the lake or lawn care, wouldn’t want to bother them by telling them about my church. These are conventions that need to be broken in my neighborhood. 

What are the conventions of your local culture that need to die so that the gospel of Jesus Christ can be clearly and beautifully lived and proclaimed? I’d love to hear your answers. You can find me at Twitter or Instagram.

LIVE IT:
Change something this weekend for church. If you don’t go to church in the summer, go to church. If you have a set routine, break it. If you go to church alone or just with your family, invite someone else. When you do, offer it up to God.