What should I do?

Dec 16th Sunday Readings.

Three groups of people ask John the Baptist the same question in this week’s gospel, gianna-trewavas-740067-unsplash“What should we do?” The gospel doesn’t tell us if they listened to what he said or liked his answer or if they went and did what he directed. 

What we do know is that after he answered, the gospel says people were filled with expectation and wondered if John might be the chosen one of God. John’s teaching was so radical and life changing that they wondered if John could be Christ.
John’s response is beautiful and powerful. He says that while he purifies with water, the Messiah will purify with fire and the spirit. In other words, the work of Christ will bring about even greater transformation, even more complete purification. 

One way to think about this gospel. This gospel is a formula for how to repent and believe in the good news. 

Step 1: Ask “What should I do?” Be direct. Ask the big question. Expect a response.

Step 2: Listen. Actually wait for a response. God works in mysterious ways and on His own timeline. Ask and and keep listening.

Step 3: Look for the messiah who will cleanse you with fire and the Spirit. Receive the Sacraments. Go to confession. Let the love of God burn up the rough, tough, and gross parts of your life and behavior.

Step 4: Preach the good news. Share what you’ve been given. Every gift of God is good enough to be shared in some way.

LIVE IT: Take some time for an honest and earnest prayer only asking one thing, “God, what do you want me to do?”

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. 

It’s a trap!

December 2nd Sunday Readings.

When I was a youth minister, I once got a speeding ticket with an 8 foot tall, 200 lbs cross in the bed of my truck. I was leaving a retreat house and didn’t notice when the speed dropped 15 mph without any discernible reason. It was no coincidence that an officer of the law was ready and waiting for me to pass at an advanced speed. After politely itsatrapreceiving my ticket and getting back on the road, I did my best Admiral Ackbar impression and exclaimed, “IT’S A TRAP!”

Getting caught in a speed trap has an element of surprise and unreadiness. Traps don’t happen on accident. To set a trap for someone else is a purposeful decision. 

In the gospel Jesus warns us to beware, to prepare because Jesus’ second coming will be a surprise to all. Why do we have to choose to be prepared? Jesus explains that everyday life can be a trap. We can be lulled into the belief that everything will continue as it always has and that our comfortable, if slightly boring, waking and working and sleeping will continue perpetually. 

In the list of 3 things that can distract us from being prepared, Jesus first names carousing and drunkenness, which make sense. Then Jesus names, “the anxieties of daily life” as a thing that can keep us from being ready. Getting bogged down in the drudgery of life as it always is can keep us from being ready for the Lord. 

So how do we avoid this trap? I think the answer is to be outward focused. When we are only focused inward, on our own needs and wants, we grow in anxiety about our own hungers and thirsts. But when we focus on others, I’ve found, we lose ourselves in serving and anxieties of our daily life seem so much less important. 

Beware! Prepare! (by looking to serve selflessly the people you encounter every day.)

LIVE IT: For the first week of Advent, try approaching every person you encounter by thinking, “How can I serve this person right now? How can our encounter leave them feeling happy, holy, or healthy?”

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. 

Be Careful What You Ask For.

Oct. 21st Sunday Readings.

jim-halpertOne of my favorite episodes of the TV show “The Office” is when Jim, the cool, young, “normal” employee is left in charge of the office in the absence of Michael, the strange, self important, unaware manager. While Michael is gone, Jim tries to simplify the office’s process of celebrating birthdays and the whole thing blows up in his face. Everyone is mad at Jim and in the end his changes are thrown out and everything goes back to the way it was.

In nearly every episode Michael makes a puzzling or downright idiotic management decisions and Jim (and others) quietly thinks they could do better if they were manager. At the end of the episode, Michael sits down next to Jim and they share a moment discussing what it’s like to be in charge. It’s a classic example of, “Be careful what you ask for.”

In the gospel this Sunday, James and John ask Jesus if they can hold positions of power and honor when Jesus is finally in charge. Jesus’ response is probably not what they expect. Instead of yes or no, Jesus responds that they don’t know what they are really requesting. Jesus goes on to explain that if they really want what they are asking for, they will have to suffer and die just as Jesus will. 

Jesus wants James and John (and us) to understand that greatness, in the Kingdom of God, isn’t the same thing as earthly power or prestige. In the Kingdom of God, if one wants to be great, they have to be servants or even, as Jesus says, slave to all. If we ask for greatness, we are actually asking for the grace to serve others well. 

Live It:
Do something small this week that isn’t “your job.” Don’t claim credit or fish for a thank you. Just do it. 

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.