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 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. 

You are not enough.

Oct 7th Sunday Readings.

A good friend of mine likes to say, “Either a man is humble or he is about to be humbled.” jose-morales-571859-unsplashThis friend should know. He was a highly touted, high draft pick, professional baseball pitcher (Mets, Royals, Twins, etc.). He was told all his life that he was the best of the best and that he had a real chance of making the big leagues. He had one major league win and then was sent to a Japanese team for cash considerations. He knows what it’s like to be humbled. 

I like this quote because it is clever and smart and sounds like something I should believe. However, the reality of this little turn of phrase is frightening. In reality it means that if in fact I am not currently humble, then humility is coming my way. Generally, growing in humility is painful. It’s painful because it is a correction of a wrong. It is painful because it is my mind conforming to reality. It hurts to let go of our misconceptions and embracing reality.

For me, at least, the primary way in which I am not humble is my belief that I can do it all. Most days I believe that if I just work a little harder, if I just gave a little more effort, if I just push myself, I can be perfect, I can save myself, I can be everything that my wife and children need. 

This is a lie. I am not enough. And here is the harder thing for me to say – You are not enough either. I am humbled almost daily because of my persistence in believing that I can do it all. I have a plethora of evidence to prove to me that I am not enough. Yet, I persist in my pride. 

In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus tells his disciples that if we want to go to heaven, we have to become like little children. Little children are helpless. They exist totally dependent on adults to care for them. They need someone else to change their diapers and give them hugs and cut the crusts off of sandwiches for them. And here is the key – they are okay with it. For the most part, very little children are okay with being dependent on others for even their most basic needs. 

Only someone humble enough to be completely dependent on another is ready for heaven. If we want to go to heaven, we have to be completely dependent upon God. We are not enough and that’s okay, because we are loved by a God who is so much more than enough. God is more than adequate. God’s love is unconditional, unlimited, overwhelming. 

Live It:
Tonight when you go to bed, pray like a child. Get on your knees, on the side of your bed (even if your spouse thinks this is weird), and pray, “God I need you.” 

Flight Madness

Read the September 23rd Sunday Readings

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Something about airline travel turns the kindest, most generous people into absolutely selfish monsters. Every time I fly, I seem to encounter all kinds of human selfishness and entitlement. There are moments of generosity and selfless gift, don’t get me wrong, but I amazed at the number of “me first” moments I witness while flying. 

Oh, by the way, I am 100% talking about myself. I’m the monster. 

A couple months ago I flew a certain airline that lets passengers choose their own seats. I actually like and appreciate this model because it appeals to my sense of fairness. If you check in early or pay a little extra you get to board first and every seat is yours to choose from. 

I boarded early and sat in an aisle seat in the 3rd row. Hundreds of people boarded after me and poured towards the back of the plane hoping for a “not middle” seat. Alas this was a nearly full flight. The seat next to me was still open as the plane filled and I secretly hoped it would remain so. Finally the last few souls entered and after stowing bags one standing passenger exclaimed, “Wow this is full, where is there an open seat?” 

Did I raise my hand? Did I call out, “Oh brother human, over here! Please take your rest next to me.” No. I kept my head down and hope against hope he would sit behind me? Absolutely. Why? Because I wanted to be comfortable. I wanted the open seat. I wanted to be first. 

Jesus doesn’t mince words in the gospel this Sunday. Jesus says, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” I don’t know about you, but I want to have my cake and eat it too. I want that open seat on the plane and I want to follow Jesus too. I’m okay not being first, but I sure don’t ever want to be last. 

Jesus makes it abundantly clear again and again in the gospels, there is a choice between serving ourself and following Jesus. No middle ground exists. Either we follow Jesus and serve others or we serve yourselves. 

How do we do totally give up serving ourselves? First, we need to totally rely on God for the grace to do this. Left to my own devices, I will never offer the open spot next to me to the person looking for it on a plane. Second, we look to help people who can do nothing for us. We need to look to serve the helpless. Only by God’s grace can we hope put ourselves last. 

LIVE IT:
First of all, this week’s Good Word was particularly challenging to me. I constantly fail at this. So the Live It is most important this week. Turn to God each day from now until the next Sunday and ask God for the grace to be last. 

On my own!

May 13th Sunday Readings.

“NO! I want to do it on my own!” Could very well be the motto of 4 year olds everywhere. child-542146_1280If you’ve ever tried to tie the shoelaces or put on an inside out coat of a 4 year old then you know what is like to be denied the ability to help. Just a little bit of learning and competency seems to embolden preschoolers maybe past their true ability. 

Of course, the same is true of us. A little bit of success in loving well or practicing faith and most of us are quick to say to Jesus, “Lord don’t worry, I’ve got this.” In my experience, that phrase whether uttered explicitly or lived implicitly always directly precedes a spiritually humbling moment which reminds me of my need for a savior. 

Mark’s gospel tells us this Sunday about Jesus’ commissioning of the disciples to go out and spread the good news of Jesus Christ. This call extends to all of us. We are all invited to renew our efforts to spread goodness, love, and joy that can only truly be found in and through Jesus. If each new generation is a new continent to be evangelized, we still have much to do. 

After Jesus ascends the gospel says that the disciples went out to preach and scripture says, “…while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs.” I love this line. “The Lord worked with them.” The reality is that all that we do that is good and righteous, we do with God. Our actions cooperate with God’s work. And God works with us. 

Following Jesus Christ and inviting others to know Jesus is hard work. Maybe as hard or harder than fine motor skills for a preschooler. The good news is that we don’t do it on our own. The Lord works with us. Don’t try to go alone. Let God help. 

Live It:

Make your first prayer today, “Lord help me to pray.” Make your second prayer, “Lord work with me today.” 

Sleep and Discipleship.

March 25th Sunday Readings.alexandra-gorn-471463-unsplash

When I was in my 20’s I had a Holy Hour in the Adoration Chapel at HNOJ from midnight to one a.m. I really liked this time slot because I was usually the only one in the chapel, which allowed me to really focus. The only problem with this time slot was that it was at the end of what was usually a 12-14 hour work day in youth ministry with a gap between the end of ministry 10 p.m. and the start of my hour 12 a.m.

One night in particular I was so tired and as I knelt down at 12:02 a.m. in the chapel, I prayed that God would use that hour of prayer in whatever way he desired. The next thing I knew, I was awoken by the sound of the outside door unlocking. I bowed my head reverentially realizing that it was one a.m. and I had slept for my entire Holy Hour.

As I left the chapel and the next adorer settled in, I felt tremendous guilt because I could hear the words Jesus says to Peter in the gospel this Sunday, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” I couldn’t stay awake for one hour with Jesus. Terrible.

Later that week, I was confessing this story to a friend. At the end, he simply said, “You’re wrong.” He went on to explain that I had prayed that God use that hour as he desired and the fact I slept the entire time seemed to indicate that the way he wanted to use it was for me to rest. My friend went on to say that rest and laziness are two, seriously different, things.

Rest is an essential aspect to discipleship. Jesus rested. If we are disciples of Jesus and disciples try and follow the example of the master, then we need to rest too. The problem is that we confuse rest with entertainment, amusement, and the satisfaction of our physical desires. Have you ever gotten back from a vacation and needed another vacation? Me too.

In addition, we can get all turned around on rest. Some people “work for the weekend.” In other words, they act as if the purpose of life is entertainment while work is just what we have to do in order to get to the good parts of life. When one lives like this, their “rest” actually becomes their work. And most of their life is spent doing something they despise.

Both of these traps keep us from actually seeking the kind of rest that we need and desire. When we seek amusement, we often don’t get the rest we need. When our time-off is our focus, it is a slippery slope towards constantly seeking pleasure and serving ourselves. Neither end well.

So how do we rest? It sounds overly simplistic, but the answer really is to rest near to God. The answer, like so many things, is to not only give God our work, burdens, and sufferings, but to give God our leisure, fun, and rest. The second thing that I think helps is actually resting. Turn off everything. Block out some time on Sunday afternoon to really, truly rest. (Don’t be ashamed to nap.)

Live It:
Prayer a blessing over each weekend. On Friday when everyone is home from work or school. Or when you are all in the car heading to whatever. Say a short prayer of blessing over your weekend, asking God to help you rest. Here is an example if you need one:

“Generous and loving God;
We thank you for this week of work and learning.
As we turn our attention to the weekend, we ask your Holy Spirit to come and bless us these next two days.
Be present Lord in our play, relaxation, and rest. Help us to rest in your Spirit so that we may love and serve you with our of our strength. Amen.”

Give up.

February 18th Sunday Readings.

What do you think of when you hear, “Repent, and believe in the Gospel”?

For me, I get derek-story-306918worried and scared. I think, “I’m caught. He knows.” Sometimes, I even start to think of the things I’ve done wrong and worry about what Jesus, and maybe others will think once they know I am a fraud and a sinner.

It’s as if I am in a fortress and an invading general is calling for my surrender. It is as if he is calling for me give up, and open my doors so that his troops can come and take me away.
In the gospel and in our lives, the exact opposite is happening.

Instead of being the leader of the invading army, Jesus is the leader of the liberating army. In stead of screaming at the walls of my citadel for me to open my doors and receive my just punishment, Jesus proclaims with joy, “GOOD NEWS! It’s finally safe. You can come out, all will be forgiven.”

We still have to surrender. We still have to admit to my sins. We still have to give up and give in. But instead of surrendering to our enemy, we are surrendering to our savior. As long as the doors are shut to Jesus, the pestilence of sin persists. It’s not only safe to open the doors to Jesus, it is the only way we will survive.

Repent, and believe that when you do, God loves you unconditionally, and Jesus has saved you.

LIVE IT:
Repent! Step 1: make a list of the things you need to turn away from. Step 2: Confess it. (The best way, seriously, is in the Sacrament of Confession). Step 3: Believe the good news that God loves you unconditionally and you are forgiven.