Offended.

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Sunday Readings for November 24, 2019

A good friend of mine once told me, “The Christian should never be personally offended by a private critique. Either what the other person says is true and we should receive it as correction or it is false and we should dismiss it as inaccurate.” Whoa. 

That was hard for me to hear and has been even harder to live out since then. How do I not let my feeling be hurt when someone says something negative about me, even if it is untrue? At the same time, maybe it is worse when someone critiques me and I know what they are saying is true. Admitting that someone knows my faults and shortcomings is difficult.

We hear in the gospel this Sunday that while Jesus hung on the cross, he was accused over and over of the same thing. He was mocked for what he had preached about himself. First the rulers, then the soldiers, and then even a convicted criminal all accuse Jesus of the same thing – being the Christ, the chosen one of God and the savior of the world. 

Of course, we know that they were right. They mocked him and asked him to save himself. The rude thief asked Jesus to save both of them. The reality is that Jesus was doing exactly that by dying on the cross. 

Who spoke the truth about Jesus while he suffered on the cross? Jesus’ enemies. Who named him Christ and King? Jesus’ accusers. They didn’t know the truth of their sneers. They didn’t know the accuracy of their description of Jesus’ mission. They thought Jesus was delusional and they ripped him for his claims. 

I think this scripture calls us to two things. First, we’re invited respond to sneers, jeers, and reviling critiques like Jesus. We accept what is true, ignore what is false, and stick to our mission. Secondly, I think we would do well to imitate the good thief in asking Jesus to remember us. In other words, we are called to depend completely on Jesus because he is God, he is the chosen one, he can save us from death and sin, and he can bring us to Paradise. Jesus remember me!

Live It: Reflect on the last time someone insulted or critiqued you. How did you react? How would you have preferred to react? What would relying completely on Jesus look like in that moment?

How to get found

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Sunday Readings for Nov. 3, 2019

Some of the best advice my mom ever gave me was, “If you ever get lost, put yourself in a position to be found.” When it came to getting lost in a JC Penny when I was 5 years old and bored with shopping for school clothes, it meant to sit down and stay in one place until I was found. When it came to getting lost in the woods outside of my neighborhood it meant following the creek until it passed under a road and then hiking up to the road and finding my way home. 

In the spiritual life I think this advice is even more valuable. We get lost. Whether it is because we hitch our wagon to someone or some people who lead us away or we make our own way through sin and selfishness, humans seem to get lost regularly. Sometimes it’s a simple couple steps back on the path. Other times we need a major intervention to find our way home. 

In the gospel, Jesus encounters the sinner Zacchaeus who is a thief and exhorter and short fellow. When Zacchaeus can’t see Jesus, Zacchaeus climbs a tree and in the process puts himself in a position to be found. When Jesus dines at his house, Zacchaeus repents and promises to make restitution. 

Christianity is different than all the other world religions. Religion is sometimes defined as man’s search for God. But for Christians, our religion is actually God’s search for us. For while we were still a long way off, God sent his only Son to become one of us, to live like us, and die like us so that we too can be saved. 

Jesus came searching for you and for me. 

The good news is that all we have to do is put ourselves in a position to be found. 

LIVE IT: Go to Church. Come sit a pew. Whether it is for Mass, Confession, or just some silent time, come and put yourself into a position to be found. 

Not Even the Bare Minimum.

Readings for Sunday Oct. 6th, 2019.

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I sleep pretty well. But every once in a while, when my head will hit the pillow and I am just about to drift off, my brain brings up some huge mistake from my past and I am wide awake again with worthless, unnecessary worry. No sleep for me.

One of those burdensome worries comes from my time in grad school over ten years ago. I had an experiential learning assignment at an elder care facility. My final assignment was to gather a list of potential actives and field trip opportunities for the residents. I started the process but never finished. I told my field supervisor that if he signed my form, I would complete the assignment after the semester was over. I never did. 

Oh man, even writing about this makes my skin crawl. Most of us aren’t the kind of people who dodge assignments or fail to complete at least what we are told. 

In the gospel Jesus gives an example of real faith is. servants who do the bare minimum, and just do what was commanded do get special rewards or extra thanks. No they did was they were supposed to and that is good, but it isn’t extraordinary. 

The reality is when it comes to our faith lives, we rarely even accomplish the bare minimum. When it comes to following Jesus, we so infrequently do even the simple things Jesus asks of us. Most of the times we aren’t even unprofitable servants, we a servants who fall short of the bare minimum. And that is why we need mercy. We have a God who is love and who loves us so much that even when we fail to do only what was commanded of us, Jesus completes the rest, forgives us, and still invites us to dine with him. Will you receive God’s mercy?

Live it: Go to confession. I know, this is the “Live it:” like, at least 4 times a year. That’s how important God’s mercy is. So just go. What is keeping you from God’s mercy?

There are good people in hell.

Sunday Readings for September 29, 2019

steve-knutson-lQ2BzDNmnHE-unsplash.jpgThere’s nothing wrong with being a good person. Being good is just fine. The problem lies in what we define as a “good person.”  For the most part, I think we label someone as a good person if they don’t upset someone else. Stay in your lane, support the status quo, keep your eyes ahead and don’t rock the boat. A good person is good to their own family, mostly, and does just enough to leave a good impression. A good person is someone who is nice and polite. 

I bet the rich man in this Sunday’s gospel was thought of as a good person. Go read the gospel (click here). He doesn’t commit any atrocity. He stays in his lane. He is just a good guy. He does what is expected of him. 

What this parable tells us then is that being a good person is not enough to enter into eternal life with God forever. Being simply good (i.e. nice, polite, not trouble), doesn’t mean a person is on their way to eternal glory. 

While the rich man from the parable doesn’t do anything horrible, he also doesn’t do what he could to care for his neighbor. And this is the crux of the matter. Salvation rests not on being morally neutral, but on being sold out for love. It isn’t enough to avoid evil, we also have to do good. Not because we earn heaven, but because our salvation resides with Jesus Christ. 

We say yes to Jesus with more than our words, but with our lives. We say yes to Jesus when we actively seek to love and to love well. The rich man might be a good person, but he doesn’t love well. To love is to sacrifice for the good of the other, and the rich man fails to do that for Lazarus. 

When it comes to our culture’s definition of a good person, the bar is pretty low. We were made for more. We were made for Love. 

Live It:
Identify and then do 1 thing that serves someone else that you don’t want to do or normally wouldn’t do. When you do, say this prayer, “Jesus, I don’t want to do this. But I do it for you.” 

Squandered.

Sunday Reading for September 22nd.

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Growing up my room was always a complete wreck. Depending on the year I had piles of clothes, dirty dishes, soccer cleats, baseball gear, empty CD cases, books, school papers, and an unnecessarily high number of legos strewn everywhere. It was embarrassingly messy. Even my friends would tell me my room looked trashed. 

Now, no matter what we say and do, no matter what consequences we cook up, my two girls can’t keep their rooms from looking like Old Navy dumped 3 clearance racks in the middle of their floor. They will clean them one day and two days later their entire closets and dressers are emptied onto the floor yet again. 

This summer both girls were home during the day so we tried to get them to clean their rooms during the 40+ hours of absolutely free time. We’d say something like, “Hey kiddos, you two aren’t going swimming at the lake on Saturday with us if you don’t get your room cleans by Friday afternoon.” With grim determination they will tell us that they will be done by Wed. Have no fear. Come Friday at about 1 pm. they will still be tucked away still trying to get things right. 

It wasn’t that they didn’t go try to do it. They would go up each day and turn on some music and start the process. Then each one of them would get distracted by a found toy or a group text the older one needed to respond to. It wasn’t that they ignored our wishes or actively disobeyed our command. They just squandered their time. 

In the gospel Jesus tells us about a steward who is summoned by his master for squandering his masters money. It wasn’t that the steward did anything particularly bad. He wasn’t a bad guy. He didn’t kill or commit adultery or curse or lie. What he did do was not take advantage of the great gift of responsibility that his master had given him. He squandered his opportunity. For that, his master was about to fire him.

I think in the spiritual life more than actively rebelling against God, it is much more likely for us to squander the opportunity to grow in holiness. Choosing reading the paper over reading the Bible isn’t bad necessarily, but it is a squandered opportunity. Watching Netflix until we can’t hold our eyes open any longer and then skipping prayer before bed isn’t some horrible sin, but it is a squandered opportunity. Ignoring the poor and lonely in our midst because we have other responsibilities isn’t always bad, but it is a squandered opportunity. 

The reality is this, the master calls the squandering steward and asks him to make a full account for his actions. What if God called you tonight to make a full account for how you have spent your time, money, and energy this past week? What would you have to say?

LIVE IT:
Identify 1 minute (60 seconds) of squandered time this past week. Give that time back to God this week in prayer or service of other. Make note of it in your calendar. Try for 2 minutes next week. Keep going till you convert 10 minutes a day from squandered to profitable. 

Blue or White or Neither.

Sunday Readings for August 18th, 2019.

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Remember a couple years ago when there was a huge controversy about whether a particular dress was blue and black or white and gold? 

People used this moment to reflect on perspective and how different people see things differently. That’s all well and good. We do see things from different perspectives and we need to be aware of other’s perspectives. Yes. Do that. 
Also, the dress was one or the other. Right? The dress couldn’t and can’t be both. It is either white or it is blue. The dress could actually be a third thing – neither white or blue. However, the thing the dress couldn’t be was both. 

Jesus talked in the gospel this Sunday about how he is coming to bring division. This grates against our general perception of Jesus as nice guy and peaceful guru. Jesus doesn’t mince words, he will cause division. 

The division he causes will flow from the fact that he mere existence is a truth that is opposed. The division flows from opposition to his true and right teaching. Jesus’ mission is to save the world and establish the Kingdom of God, and there are those who work totally and completely against his mission. 

Being a follower of Jesus Christ, doesn’t mean we should seek or avoid conflict and division. In other words, we don’t cause division. However if we do follow Jesus, we are promised division and opposition. 

The question remains for us, what we will do in the face of opposition to our faith? What we will do when we have to pick between following Jesus and unity at all cost?

LIVE IT: Name a strongly held belief that you know is opposed by others? Now pray for them and pray for yourself that God’s truth reign. 

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.