Surprise!

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Sunday Readings for November 17, 2019. 

My two year-old is obsessed with Lemons. I know we aren’t supposed to let him have them because of teeth or enamel or something like that, but I pick my battles, okay? The other day he whined when he saw a lemon slice in my water. As I acquiesced and handed him the lemon slice I said, “Now, you know it is sour?” 

Immediately he popped it in his mouth, took a big bite, and then made the sourest, squintiest, puckeriest face of all time. Then he looked at me in total surprise like I had tricked him in some way. I laughed. He laughed. It was all fine, but I couldn’t help but think, “What did you expect?”

Sometimes I think good Christian men and women are surprised when we get the short end of the stick from the world. We are surprised when we actually follow Jesus, that we might get putdown, ignored, and dismissed. I won’t speak for anyone else, but I often think I can follow Jesus and still be fully, comfortably, completely embraced and loved by the world. Consequently, when someone thinks I’m a religious weirdo who is “way too into church,” I’m surprised and disturbed. 

Jesus promises us we will be hated – not only disliked or disapproved of, but straight up hated for our belief in God and our following of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the king of good news (life over death, all sins forgiven, unconditionally loved by God, etc.), but Jesus also reminds us that there are forces that oppose the gospel and those forces will encourage hatred of all who seek to do the will of God. 

The question we must all answer as followers of Jesus is whether we are willing to be hated because of our love for Jesus. the truth of the matter is that we answer that question with our actions and our words.

Live It: Turn off the radio or podcast or music for 1 drive this week and think about the question “Am I willing to be hated for my love for Jesus? Am I willing to endure hatred for how I share the good news of Jesus Christ?

An honest reaction.

Sunday Readings for September 15th, 2019.

I want to direct a short film which depicts the 3 lost parables of Luke 15 (spoiler alert, kal-visuals-6JNdQAitqWU-unsplashthis is the gospel for this coming Sunday.) 

The reason I want to artistically represent these parables is because I think most people’s reaction to hearing them is fake, lame, and personally dishonest. It’s not our fault really. We’ve heard these parables so many times that I think we tend to ignore their je ne sais quoi. I think we easily dismiss them as a lesson in acceptance and general nice-ness.

When it comes down to it I want to show the part of the story that Luke leaves out – namely, the honest and real reactions of everyone listening to Jesus. 

When Jesus says, “What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it?” and then have one of the Pharisees say, “Hey Jesus. No one. Not a single one of us would do that. That is stupid. That man is a bad shepherd. Why are his sheep in a desert anyway?” 

Then when Jesus describes the woman who loses a coin and throws a party to celebrate the finding of said coin, I want catch on film, the emphatically confused and questioning glances shared between Scribes (and maybe between the disciples too). Why waste more money than the coin is worth celebrating finding it? Please someone with a finance background talk to this woman about retirement planning. 

Then when Jesus really goes for it and tells his audience about the dignified Jewish man who gives away his inheritance and then runs (like a common slave) to meet his now gentile son (you know – the one who not only wasted his financial inheritance, but also his very identity as a Jew), I want to see half the audience roll on the ground laughing at the wildly unlikely story while the other half shout with great support for the righteous older son. 

God’s mercy is crazy. It doesn’t make sense. We don’t deserve it. But he offers it to us. God gives it freely because we don’t deserve it. The moment we think we don’t need God’s mercy is likely the moment right before we do something that proves our need for mercy.

I need mercy and need it badly. I need mercy to be excessive and irrational and free. I don’t just want God’s mercy and love – I need it. Without it, sharing a trough with a sounder of swine would be a dream. 

Do you need God’s mercy? Why? How do you know?

LIVE IT: Go to Confession. There is no greater moment of mercy than a full, rich, specific, honest, life giving Confession and the absolving of sins. Even if you’re not sure you have any mortal sins on your heart, go and receive the grace given in the sacrament. 

 

Are the Avengers, real?

Sunday Readings for August 4th, 2019.

clement-m-JIOP2qvo8yk-unsplashIn addition to long walks, running through sprinklers, and late night bonfires, my family has been watching all of the movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe this summer. Good versus evil, superheroes, mostly quippy dialogue, self-sacrifice – everyone in my family finds something they enjoy in these films. 

Last night we watched Avengers. In the middle of an intense battle scene, Captain America jumps between two uneven pieces of the flying Helicarrier. When he lands and then saves the day, both of my daughters snickered. They giggled. And I heard their eyes roll in unison (I’m a dad, I can hear eye rolls). 

I asked them why they were snickering and almost in unison they both replied, “Ha, well, that isn’t real.” I ignored for a second the desire for reality while watching a movie about superheroes, interdemensional travel, and Norse gods, and I asked them why they thought it wasn’t real. My older daughter said that it just didn’t look real. Like you could tell it was computer animated. It just didn’t look authentic. 

This 2 seconds of video from a 90+ minute movie that is almost entirely unreal was the only time my kids scoffed at how real things looked. When an army of aliens, with 4 thumbs each, attacked New York City, my children didn’t bat an eye.  

We aren’t as good as we think we are at recognizing what is real and what is not. Even in our own lives, we can find countless examples of times we perceived something incorrectly or were tricked into seeing something that wasn’t there. This is the whole basis of the TV show Brain Games. 

In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus warns against greed. Not only because greed rots the soul and drives us mad with self obsession, but also because greed causes us to care deeply about things that aren’t real. Greed puts value on what isn’t ultimately valuable. 

In C.S. Lewis’ work The Great Divorce, when the main character goes to heaven, he finds a place more real than Earth. Heaven is so real that the people who were flesh and blood a mere moment ago are now ghost like. The grass is so hard, so real, that it cuts into people’s now ghost like feet. 

All we take for granted as real, we perceive through our senses. We see, hear, taste, and the rest what we consider reality. 

Jesus comes to tell us that there is something even more real than what we perceive now. Jesus warns us that if we care too deeply about what we believe to be real now, we will put far too much value on what is truly nothing more than dust. When we value what isn’t valuable, we will miss what is truly real and valuable.

My prayer is that each of us grows rich in what matters to God. May we fall in love with that which is most real. 

LIVE IT: Take a screen fast for 24 hours. No TV, no phone for entertainment, shopping, etc., just use it as a phone as necessary. During that time consider praying, asking God to show you what is real. 

3 ways to find Peace.

Sunday Readings for June 9th, 2019.

Last Wednesday was a good day. I worked out in the morning, prayed morning prayer, jordan-wozniak-256456-unsplashgot a tremendous amount of work done, met a friend for lunch, spent time with my children and wife, hit golf balls, cut the lawn while listening to an inspiring podcast, and watched my St. Louis Blues win a Stanley Cup Finals game while sipping a cold beverage. It wasn’t my perfect day, but it was pretty darn awesome. And yet I woke up the next day with a lump of anxiety lodged in my gut. 

I examined careful the rest of the week, but found not a single anxiety producing plan. I examined my conscious to make sure I wasn’t carrying some hidden sin that was pricking my anxious heart. I didn’t but I made a point to plan a Confession time just in case. I even bravely asked my wife if everything was okay, just in case she knew. Nothing. Everything was good. The sun was shining, and I couldn’t find the cause of my fretting. So I went back to reading the news (oops). 

I don’t know about you, but for me, even on my very best days, I can feel pretty anxious. Some of my worries can easily be attributed to a source, and other times I can’t quite identify why I’m worried. Truth be told, when I can’t identify the source of worry, it is usually because I am reading the news or paying too much attention to social media, or am taking on other people’s concerns. It’s almost as if I find comfort in worry in some weird way.

In the gospel this weekend, Jesus offers his disciples Peace. In fact, twice Jesus says, “Peace be with you,” to his disciples. With this Peace Jesus calls them to continue his mission of preaching the gospel and trying to save the world. Then Jesus literally breaths his Spirit into them and gives them authority to do this mission. 

Jesus wants to offer you and I that same Peace. I need it. I want it. Most of the time, I live in such a way that I deny it. Rather than receive the Peace that Jesus offers me, I try to distract myself from my daily stress and, in turn, only stress myself out more. 

If we want to receive and accept the Peace Jesus offers us, what must we do? I think there are 3 steps that will help us know the Peace of Christ. 

  1. Get Quiet – Find a small period of silence in each day. Turn off the car stereo. Hide your phone in a drawer. Turn off your TV. How can we find peace when our day is filled with noise? Maybe even make a news or information fast – don’t read the news or look at social media for 3 days or a week. See if you find some peace.
  2. Receive the Holy Spirit – Jesus Christ offers us the Holy Spirit, the third member of the Trinity (like literally God) to be our guide, helper, and dynamic catalyst. The Holy Spirit will help us find peace if we ask. Invite the Holy Spirit into your life and then ask the Holy Spirit for peace. 
  3. Go on Mission – There could be loads of reasons why we don’t have peace, but one reason could be is that we aren’t doing what we are meant to be doing. Maybe we’re stuck in someway that isn’t God’s will. We are all called to help other know Jesus. Ask a friend how they are doing. Invite someone to Church with you. Start a Bible study or book club. Go on Mission and you might just find peace. 

LIVE IT: Choose one of the three steps above and give it a try. Or be bold and go for all three. Peace! 

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.