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?”

Born to do it.

November 25th Sunday Readings.

In the early 2000s before we had kids, my wife and I took a trip to visit relatives in New peter-lewicki-411606-unsplashYork City. While there, we saw the hit musical Wicked with most of the original cast. Yes, it was awesome. Idina Menzel wowed the crowed with her vocal range and huge voice. Kristin Chenoweth was a perfect compliment to Menzel and funny in a way that made the audience feel like they were in on the joke. When I watched those two perform, I couldn’t help but think that they were doing what they were born to do. 

When we see someone do something that they both really enjoy and are wildly good at doing, it is inspiring and beautiful. Whether it is watching a MLB infield field a ground ball or a James Beard award wining chef craft a meal or your neighbor cut his grass in a perfect diamond pattern, there is something rewarding about encountering someone doing what they were born to do. 

In the gospel for November 25th, Jesus outright states what he was born to do. Jesus was born to “testify to the truth”. Jesus came to tell us the truth. Jesus mission and purpose was to tell us (and to show us) that God loves us unconditionally and will do anything to get us to return to Him. Jesus exists to tell us that though we are sinners, we are loved and accepted by God. Jesus came to give us the Sacraments, establish the Church, and to create the path by which we all can be saved. 

Jesus was born to testify to the truth. Will we listen?

LIVE IT:
It’s a noisy time of year. Make 1 car trip this week without the radio on. Listen for God’s voice he might just tell you the truth.  

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.”

First thing right.

November 4th Sunday Readings.

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A couple years ago a friend of mine was helping me tile my kitchen/dining room area. We had pulled up all the previous flooring. We had prepped and leveled the floor. We were all set to start the install.

My friend carefully and thoughtfully laid down the first tile. He checked and re-checked that it was square to the room. I was almost annoyed how long it was taking him. Then he turned to me and said, “We have to get this one right. If we get this first one
wrong, well we won’t get any of the rest of the tiles right.” 

When Jesus tells us the 2 most important things in life, he is very purposeful about the order. Jesus tells us that the most important thing in life is that God is God alone and that we are to give him everything we’ve got. Before we learn anything else, before we love or help anyone else, before we do good, or fall in love or change the world – We have to love God with our everything. 

I think Jesus puts the two commandments in this order because if we get the first one wrong, we’ll get everything else wrong too. If we don’t love God with our whole heart, mind, strength, then we won’t be able to fully love ourselves and others. If we don’t put God first in our lives, then we will ultimately put ourselves first and won’t be able to serve, sacrifice, and love well. 

Can you be a good person without God? I think you can do good things without God, but I think we get our identify from God or we don’t. If we don’t get our identity from God, we aren’t as good or perfect or excellent as we could be. 

If we want to be selfless, world changing, doers of the ultimate good, then we must love God with everything we’ve got. If want to follow Jesus, we have to love God with all our heart, mind, and strength. If we get that right, by God’s grace, then we can get loving others right too.

LIVE IT:
Every time you start your car between now and Sunday Mass, pray this, “God grant me the grace to love you with my whole heart, mind, and strength. Help me love others as I love myself.” Then look to see how God shows you how to love him and love others. 

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.