Are you busy?

May 7th Sunday Readings.busy-full-calendar.jpg

Are you busy? Yeah me too. I can’t wait for summer, but on the other hand I know that with it comes soccer games and running around and kids off school and maybe a different level of personally busyness. I don’t like complaining about busyness because complaining about being busy is like complaining about having too much food at dinner – it sounds ungrateful and not self aware.

If I’m honest, though, busyness is life sucking. Being busyness leaves me exhausted. Also, no matter how busy I am in a day, I still feel like I missed out on something during the day. Busyness leaves me unsatisfied. Somehow I don’t feel like God made me to be busy.

In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus offers us something related to, but different, from busyness. In the very last line Jesus says, “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” Jesus tells us that he came to free us to have an abundant life. Jesus didn’t come so that we could have a busy life.

I’m not sure what the difference is between busyness and an abundant life, but I know how each one feels. Busyness is exhausting and life draining. A life in absence is refreshing, inspiring, and feeling a good kind of tired. Its the difference between “getting everything done” and going on a beautiful hike in the mountains.

Screen-Shot-2013-09-17-at-5.34.05-PMI also don’t feel like it’s just the difference between fun stuff and hard, boring stuff. Sometimes after a full day of work where I feel like I got something done and contributed to the mission, I know I lived abundantly. Sometimes after a day of busy vacation, I’m not any more inspired or refreshed.

I’m not sure how to move from a busy life to an abundant life (If I did, I would have already done it). But I do know this – Jesus wants us to. The God of the universe came to give us an abundant, fulfilled, joyful life. I’m not sure how to make it happen, but I know the first step is to put my busy life into Jesus’ hands.

LIVE IT:
Take out your calendar or your phone or whatever you use. Hold it in your hands, look up and pray these words, “God, I give you my busyness. Jesus I want a life of abundance. Holy Spirit transform my life.”

Run like you’re being chased.

April 16th Easter Sunday Readings.

“Run like you’re being chased!” was a common mantra barked out by my high school baseball coaches. We used to run conditioning laps during the beginning of the season. When shaming us for running “like we had a piano on our backs” didn’t Runningmotivate us sufficiently, our coaches would try to move us with this phrase.

A couple summers ago, I ran my first 5k. I wasn’t being chased. I wasn’t running from anything. Actually I think I was running for something. I wouldn’t say I was running for fun, but maybe for the experience or for my wife because she wanted us to run together. I believe most of my friends who are big runners run for something as opposed to running from something.

In our Gospel, this Easter Sunday, we read the first moments when the disciples discovered that Jesus wasn’t in his tomb. In John’s gospel, Mary of Magdala, when she saw that the tomb was empty and the stone had been rolled away, ran to tell Peter and the beloved disciple. Then Peter and the beloved disciple both ran to the tomb. Mary, Peter and the beloved disciple all ran towards something. Why? What would motivate someone to run to somewhere or someone.

I think it was love. I think they loved Jesus Christ (though imperfectly like us), and they were loved by Jesus Christ (perfectly). I think we run toward the people or things we love.

I don’t know about you, but I want to run towards Jesus Christ. I want to run towards resurrection. I want to run towards ever lasting joy and perfect bliss in the arms of a God who loves me unconditionally. But sometimes, I run away.

This Easter can’t be just an end to Lent. This Easter isn’t just the relief of getting to do the things we gave up or stopping the things we began this Lent. This Easter, I want to continue to run towards Jesus, to the empty tomb, to a soul saved. Where are you running?

LIVE IT:
Running always starts with a decision. Decide now that this Easter is going to be different. Decided now that it won’t be a return to life before Lent, but a new celebration of Joy and Gratitude in the resurrection of Easter.

Minnesota Nice?

April 2nd Sunday Readings.

Last week, I got flipped off while driving . I had moved into a turn lane to make a left at a stop light when a TruckCensoredlarge heating and air conditioning truck swerved into the turn lane. I clomped on my breaks and gave a little “honk honk” with my horn to let the driver know I was there and to avoid an accident. I didn’t lay on the horn angrily or scream – just a little, “maybe you can’t see me, fyi, I am here” kind of a honk.

The fellow Minnesotan driving the truck looked at me through his side mirror and proceeded to let me know that I was #1 in his book. This didn’t seem very Minnesota nice. Nor is it wise since his company’s name and phone number were painted on the side of his truck.

To further compound this awkward exchange, we were both heading to Menard’s and pulled into the parking lot at the same time. In a true act of Minnesota nice, we both avoided each other on our way into and while shopping at the home improvement store.

Minnesota has this reputation of being full of nice people. For the most part, this is true. When I told my wife the story of my morning, she responded that it wasn’t Minnesota nice to honk at the other driver in the first place, even if it did prevent an accident. Which made me wonder, is “nice” always good?

Sometimes we use the word nice when really we mean kind or generous or charitable. If those are the kinds of things we mean when we say nice, then by all means, be nice. But I don’t think that Jesus Christ left heaven, came to earth, suffered, and died on a cross just so that we would become irrationally polite.

Our readings for this Sunday teach us that Jesus’ mission was not to make mean people, nice, but to make dead people, live.

In the first reading God says through the prophet Isaiah, “O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them, and bring you back to the land of Israel.” In the second reading Paul writes to the Romans, “If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit dwelling in you.” And the gospel is the beautiful story of Jesus raising his friend Lazarus from the dead. Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”

If Jesus didn’t come to make us nice, but to make the dead, live, then the question we need to ask ourselves when we lay our heads on our pillows each night is not, “Was I nice?” but instead we should ask, “Was I fully alive today?”

Man-Fully-AliveIs being kind, generous, and charitable part of being fully alive? Yes. Is being nice our sole goal each day? No. Being alive in Christ is our #1 priority and purpose each day. Are you alive?

 

LIVE IT:
Right now – Take 3 huge breathes and let the air slowly out of your lungs. Feel what it feels like to be alive. Now make a plan for something you are going to do tomorrow to be more alive than you were today.

She said, “Maybe.”

March 26th Sunday Readings.

When I was sixteen years old, I asked a girl out for the very first time. I didn’t ask herrejected red square  stamp friends if it would be cool ahead of time. I didn’t make sure she was open to it. I just went for it.

She said, “Maybe.” Not a good sign. That maybe turned into a “no” the next day.

I was rejected. To be honest, I wasn’t that upset. Mostly I was just proud of myself for having the courage to ask. Have you ever been rejected?

In the readings this Sunday, we are going to hear about two people who have been mostly rejected by their families, cultures, or communities (find  the readings here). In the first reading, Samuel goes out looking for Israel’s next king. When he comes to Jesse’s house, Samuel thinks he’s found the guy in Eliab, but he’s not the guy. Samuel goes through all of Jesse’s sons and doesn’t find the chosen one. Finally he asks if Jesse has any more sons and that is when David, the youngest, the one sent out to do the worst and grossest job-shepherding, comes and is chosen.

In the gospel, Jesus heals a man born blind. This man is reject by his culture because they believe his blindness is punishment for his or his parent’s sin. They see his affliction as a sign of God’s rejection. In actuality it is that affliction that is the reason he is chosen by Jesus for a sign of God’s desire to heal and restore humanity.

In both cases, God choses the rejected. In the first reading we hear, “Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the LORD looks into the heart.” These are two examples of times that God choses someone that maybe we wouldn’t have chosen for that task.

I’ve heard it said that God doesn’t chose the qualified; he qualifies the chosen.

David wasn’t ready to be king immediately after his anointing, but it is through his time as a shepherd that he is being prepared to shepherd the people of Israel. The man born blind doesn’t know who Jesus is, but he know that Jesus healed him. His witness is simple, but powerful.

Could it be that God is choosing you for some task? Maybe you feel like the last person God could use to demonstrate his love. Perfect, that’s just how he likes them.

LIVE IT:
Take out your phone and open up the calendar app. Make a daily, repeating reminder to say the following short prayer each morning, “Dear God, whatever way you choose to use me today, I say yes.” Then pray that prayer everyday for 7 days.

I failed Lent.

March 12th Sunday Readings

I failed in one of my Lenten commitments on the Thursday after Ash Wednesday. Yes, Fgradeliterally, on the 2nd day of Lent, I didn’t do one of the things I had committed to do. Part of me was, “Wow, that’s terrible.” This first born doesn’t like falling short.

As I was reflecting more on my failure, I started to feel a sense of relief. No longer was I bound by my desire to “pull off” a good Lent. No longer was it about my “perfect attendance” for my Lenten promises. I was free from having to do a good job, and could just see my Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving for what they were, a means to a end.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I mistake my means for my end. I think this is especially true when it comes to my spiritual practices. It’s as if I celebrate what is getting me to the thing I should celebrate.

In our gospel this Sunday, Peter makes the same mistake. Jesus is transfigured before him. Scripture says Jesus’ clothes turned dazzling white and his face shone like the sun. Peter got a taste of what Jesus resurrected looked like. Experiencing this moment, Peter asks if they can just stay on the mountain.

But Jesus eventually leads them back down to head into Jerusalem and ministry. The transfiguration wasn’t the end, it was the way in which God showed Jesus’ true identity and directly told the key leaders of Jesus’ followers that they should listen to Jesus.

Silhouette of Jesus with Cross over sunset concept for religion,The end was nothing less than Jesus’ death and resurrection and our salvation.

What if Peter had settled for the mountain top?

God used that moment to serve the bigger purpose. In the first reading, God tells Abram that he is going to make Abram’s family a great nation, but that is just a means in order to bless the whole world.

What is the greater purpose for your day to day actions? What are you working and living for?

LIVE IT:
Take 1 day or just 1 hour and every time you make a decision or do something, ask yourself, “Why?” Keep asking “Why?” until you think you’ve reached the end.

If I won the lottery

November 6th Sunday Readings

What would you do if you won the lottery?lottery

I don’t mean a $5 scratch off. What would you do if you won a life changing amount of money today? What would actually change? Some of us would quit our jobs, buy a car or house, or maybe even make a big donation to the charitable organization close to our hearts.

It’s kind of fun to fantasize about the things we could do with nearly unlimited amounts of money. What would I do? 1) Tricked out cj-7vintage Jeep CJ7. 2) Fantasy Baseball weekend in St. Louis watching my Cardinals. 3) Dream Kitchen (that one sounds like decorating, but really its all about the cooking.)

The only problem is that most of us (myself included) would probably end up putting all our desire for joy and fulfillment into that money. We may never say it (or even think it), but it’s likely we would start to act like that money could solve all our problems. I think, without intention or purpose, we would start to put our hope in our bank account.

Why do I think this? Because we already do it. We already say things like, “If I can just get this job…” or “Once I retire…” or “If I can just pass this class…” or “If my team can just win this game…” – “…then I will be happy”. We make our happiness dependent upon the next thing. We put our hope, in things of this world.

The truth is, we will always be disappointed if we put our hope in anything other than God. Even the very best things in life – like our children or friends or our beloved spouses – won’t ever be enough because we were made for more – we were made for God.

The readings this weekend are an invitation for us to put our hope 100% completely in God and in heaven. The brothers killed in the first reading gave their lives to be faithful to God and put their hope in heaven. Paul writes to the Thessalonians a prayer of encouragement to for them to put their hope in God. In the gospel, the Sadducees challenge Jesus’ notion of the afterlife. Jesus responds by sidestepping their question and instead, teaches us that the things of this world matter so much less than our relationship with God.

God desires us to be the kind of forever happy that only he can provide. Are we willing to put our hope completely in Him?

LIVE it:
Say this simple prayer today, “Jesus, help me put my hope in you.”

I cannot tell a lie.

The Good Word for Nov 22. For the complete Sunday readings click here.

When I was 10 years old a friend and I were kicking a soccer ball against a wall of the outside of my house. On accident he missed the wall, hit a storm door and shattered the glass out of the door. I went my parents and repeated the famous line from George Washington, “I cannot tell a lie.” And then quietly confessed, “Jason did it.”

It seems that honesty in leaders is important. The story of George Washington cutting down a cherry tree is known to nearly every school child (at least it was, when I was growing up.) We called Abraham Lincoln, “Honest Abe.” Nothing is more scandalous to a leader than being caught lying.

I think there is a difference between “not lying” and what the gospel says Jesus came to do, to “testify to the truth.” Avoiding stating falsehoods is avoiding evil. But Jesus just didn’t come to avoid evil; Jesus came to save the world. Jesus came to testify to the truth.

Jesus bears witness to the truth of God. In the gospel, Jesus says this is the very reason he was born. Jesus mission was to not only share the truth about God, but be the very way in which that truth is made manifest. In other words, Jesus shares the good news and is the good news.

This weekend we celebrate Christ the King Sunday. Every year we hold the truth that Jesus is king of heaven and earth and came to establish his kingdom on earth. If honesty is important to leadership, then Jesus’ kingship is built upon the foundation of the greatest truth – that God loves us and died for us so that we could be with him forever.

The last line of the gospel should challenge us to ask, “Do I listen to Jesus’ voice? Do I belong to the truth?”

Live it:
Listen to the song read the lyrics to Here is our King by David Crowder Band.

Better than cake. The Good Word for Oct. 11

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For the complete Sunday readings click here.

Have you ever heard the phrase, “You can’t have your cake and eat it too!” As a kid, I never understood that bit of wisdom. I was always like, “Isn’t ‘having’ cake, just eating cake?” When I got a little older I heard people say, “Well, isn’t that just too pretty to eat.” I didn’t understand that either. No food is so pretty that I don’t want to eat it. It’s food. I guess I’m weird that way.

What both of those sentiments is getting at is that sometimes in life we can’t have things both ways. We can’t hold on to and admire a well-decorated cake and cut it too. It’s like when the Cake Boss yells, “Let’s eat some cake!” and then cuts into this momentous creation that he spent 150 hours decorating. At some point you have to decide if the thing is visual art or particularly beautiful food.

I heard a priest once preach that before about 100 years ago the plural form of the word, “priority,” rarely, if ever appeared in print. The reason being that the very definition of the word priority is “one thing before all else.” A priority refers to the thing that we but before everything else in our lives. In this way, saying that we have priorities doesn’t actually make much sense.

In our gospel today Jesus reminds the man in the story, and all of us, that if we want to be happy and holy and healthy we can have just one priority – an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. No rules will save us. No amount of money can redeem us. Nothing other than following Jesus Christ should be our #1.

Our current culture says that we can have multiple priorities – many first things. We are told we can be young and rich and beautiful and old and have a family and uber educated and powerful and good and selfish and relaxed and stressed and 1000 other things. We can have our cake and eat it and everything else too. The gospel reminds we that every day we make a decision what our #1 priority is. The rich young man goes away sad because he decided his wealth was his priority.

The thing is, every day we choose, whether we do it on purpose or not, what our priority is going to be. Wherever we spend our life, whatever gets our attention and focus, and what we spend our money on demonstrates what our priority is. This is hard to think about because it shows that most of us either have chosen poorly our priority or aren’t very good at living our what we wish our priority was. Even the disciples are discouraged by Jesus’ teaching priorities and heaven and then spend all their time following Jesus around.

The good news comes at the end of the reading. Jesus reminds us that though we will have to give up everything else in our life in order to make Jesus Christ our priority, the reward is no less than 100 times our investment. No matter what we sacrifice to follow Jesus, it will be worth it. God is never outdone in his generosity and will multiply any gift we give him.

Live It:
Take a peak at your bank statement. Based on where you spent your money, what is your priority? What is important to you and your family? Do you intentionally live with a priority in mind? Explain.

The Good Word for March 1

For the complete 2nd Sunday of Lent readings click here. 

I graduated from high school with just 123 classmates. I went to an all-boys Catholic college prep school in St. Louis, MO. Needless to say, I knew the other guys in my class really well. Except one guy – Dan the man. I can’t remember Dan’s last name and probably didn’t know it in high school either. Dan had big, thick glasses, wore outdated clothes, and was brilliant in Math and Science. In two years of Junior High and four years of high school, Dan probably said six words total. I’m serious. Gym class, lab groups, class discussion, Dan almost never spoke.

That was until our senior class retreat. On the first night of the four day retreat, Dan gave the opening talk. It was shocking. Dan spoke for over 30 minutes. He explained his non-traditional home life. He shared about who he was. And most astonishing, Dan recalled everything he had witnessed, good and bad, in six years of watching us interact as a group of people. For some of us, it was horrible. It was like having our conscious recall all of our sins against each other. Others felt a sense of relief because we weren’t mentioned, but then realized we also didn’t so anything to help others either.

What none one did was deny Dan’s observations because he spoke the truth, but also, because we knew he didn’t waste words. If he was going to speak, he was going to make it count.

In all the gospels, God only speaks twice. He speaks even less than Dan the man. During the gospel this Sunday we hear one of the few times God actually speaks in the gospels. And when God speaks, he doesn’t say much – just two sentences, eight words. So what does he say?

It’s simple. God says of Jesus, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” The message couldn’t be more straightforward. Jesus is the Son of God and God loves him very much. God speaks the truth and the rarity of his words gives us extra reason to pause and really pay attention.

So what are supposed to do? Listen to Jesus. This kind of listening isn’t just to “hear,” but rather to listen and obey. It’s the kind of listening we ask of our children. God is asking us to listen to Jesus, and listen by obeying his direction. Are you listening to Jesus? Are you read to listen and obey?

Live It:
Take 2 minutes to think about how your Lent is going so far. Have you been committed to renewing your faith this Lent? How is your prayer, alms giving, and fasting going? Here in the 2nd week, it is a great time to recommit to whatever Lenten practices we have begun.

The Good Word for January 18

For the complete Sunday readings click here.

Full disclosure, I’m a big fan of Target. I know it is just a store and just where I buy my toilet paper and milk, but there is something I really enjoy about going to Target.

I really like that the question that Target team members ask isn’t “How’s it going?” or “Are you lost?” or “Sir, would you please stop testing the Nerf guns?” Instead the always ask the same thing, “Can I help you find something?”

This question gets to the point, zeros in on why I am actually at Target in the first place, and encourages me to ask for help even when every fiber of my manhood is screaming to just keep walking aimlessly looking for that hard to find item.

In the Gospel today, two of John’s disciples leave him to follow Jesus. When Jesus notices them and turns around, Jesus asks this incredible question, “What are you looking for?” Jesus asks us the same question. What are we looking for in life? What is our motivation for doing what we do? Why do we go to work? Why do we enter into relationships? Have children? Make a home? Go to church? What exactly are we looking for in our life?

I think a big problem is that sometimes we aren’t looking for anything. Time marches on and we do the same thing today that we did yesterday. We lead busy lives, but we never stop to think about why we are doing what we are doing.

By asking this simple question, Jesus is asking us to be intentional about the things we do in our lives. Jesus is inviting us to think deeply about what we are looking for. In the end, Jesus knows that our complete happiness can only be found in one place – in intimate relationship with the person of Jesus.

Live It:
Ask yourself this question: If a total stranger examined your life, what would they say you are searching for? Does that answer match with what you are actually looking for in life?