Monday, October 31, 2016

How Finding True Peace is Through Faith and Trust in Jesus

Psalm 131:1-3
Lord, my heart is not proud;    nor are my eyes haughty.I do not busy myself with great matters,    with things too sublime for me.Rather, I have stilled my soul,Like a weaned child to its mother,    weaned is my soul.Israel, hope in the Lord,    now and forever.

“My heart is not proud; nor my eyes haughty” (1). The Psalmist busies himself not with “sublime” or “great things”; instead, he focuses on the one truth that brings the soul peace, the Lord. “In you, O’ Lord, I have found my peace” (ref). When we focus too deeply on the questions of existence, history, theology, and the world, our inquiry quickly becomes unmanageable, bringing on doubt and unhealthy skepticism. And in this we become distracted, easily forgetting an informed, grace-filled faith in God. This Psalm points to that truth. Pride, haughtiness, and being busied by the world’s demands and questions, distracts us from the truth of Jesus Christ’s love and our filial relationship with God. When we put our hope in God (3), we have stilled and quieted our souls (2).

Many times in my walk with Christ, I have become side-tracked by the profound questions of doctrine and Church Tradition. These questions have proven “things too sublime for me” (2) and have only brought on distraction and towering the weight of the cross. But when I put the deep questions to God and, instead, focus on the love of Christ and my trust in Him, I still and quiet my soul and find true peace.

Lord Jesus, let me not forget this: You still and quiet my soul and let me find true peace in your love and mercy. Amen.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Why Praying for Our Neighbor Matters

Ephesians 6:18 (NRSV): Praying for Others
Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.

At the end of the passage describing the well-known armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-17), Paul states that the most crucial weapon aligning us with “the Lord and his mighty power” is prayer. But Paul does not mention any run-of-the-mill prayer; he specifically calls us to prayer of “supplication for all the saints.” This means that we need to pray for others, and in that prayer, that spiritual help to which we petition Jesus, we are loving and offering help to others in their struggles.

I read a story once about an hospitalized elderly woman who believed she had nothing left and no reason to continue living. She felt a burden to those around her and couldn’t even use the bathroom without assistance. Her pastor, however, reminded her that she could offer up her suffering and prayers for the good of others. After all, he reminded her, that is what Jesus did during his crucifixion. Offering himself up to the Father, Christ suffered and died for all, even for the people who jeered at, mocked, and pinioned him to the cross. He prayed for them saying, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:24). Although the elderly woman felt helpless, a burden, and destitute, she put on the armor of God and offered supplication for those in need. And in doing that, she gained a new purpose in life -- to serve and love others through the quiet moments of prayer. Her prayers, therefore, made the difference in many lives.

Please join me in prayer:
Loving God,
Please grant that I always remember to pray for others. And help me to remember that in prayer I commune with You while loving my neighbor. Help me, Father, to live an “others-focused” life, knowing that in offering up prayers for the good of my neighbor, I imitate the love of Your Son, Jesus Christ, in this world. Amen.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

How Humility Trumps Pride

Luke 18: 9-14  (NRSV): How Humility Overcomes Pride
[Jesus] told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. . .’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

In our current culture and political climate, it is easy to spot the trappings of personal pride. It brings out the worst in us. Pride tempts us to exalt ourselves above others, to hate those who oppose our viewpoints, and to denounce the character of others in order to put forth our personal agenda. The world is rife with this false behavior, especially as we move toward Election Day. Are we operatives of humility in this world, or do we live our lives exalting our self-interests while denouncing others? Jesus speaks to this flawed part of human nature in his parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector.

Jesus addresses his parable to those “who [trust] in themselves that they [are] righteous and [regard] others with contempt” (9). The Pharisee’s prayer, for instance, masks a condemnation of others under the guise of thanksgiving: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector ...” (11). In contrast, the sinful tax collector presents a picture of humility as he recites the prototype of the “Jesus Prayer” known in Eastern Orthodox circles: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Jesus teaches, then, that the attitude of humility and the realization of our sins are necessary steps to God’s forgiveness. The humble tax collector, regarded as the lowest of all sinners in first-century Palestine, humbly admits his faults and is made right with God. The contempt-filled self-righteous, Jesus implies, are not justified.

Humility is a grace God freely gives us. But are we willing to accept it? Pride runs antithetical to humility and often gets in the way of love. Being human, being American, is indicative of being tempted to pride. Every time we chalk-up a sin or mistake to “well that’s just who I am and there is nothing I can do about it,” we let pride overcome humility. In the moments of our personal choices, we should pause and ask ourselves this question: Am I imitating the attitude of the self-righteous Pharisee or the humble tax collector?

Humility often breeds humiliation and embarrassment, but through the realization of our imperfect human nature and dependence on God’s mercy, we learn that following Christ means offering ourselves in love to God and others.

Every time my pride gets in the way, and it often does, I consider the model of humility that God offers: Did God not humble himself by becoming incarnate in Jesus Christ, a baby born among animals into a poor, working class, non-traditional, refugee family? And did God not love us so much, even in the ugliness of our sins, that he willingly offered himself as a falsely-accused criminal on the cross? Then as a faithful Christian, I should recall Christ’s example and be humble in life, especially when I am tempted to boast or bag on others. After all, everything in life is God’s gift, not something I create.

Let us all thank our great God by humbly grounding ourselves in his mercy and, in turn, doing the best we can to love our neighbor in Christ’s name.

Please join me in prayer:
Heavenly Father,
I love you above all things. But I am a sinner in desperate need of your mercy.  Please grant me the grace to imitate your loving humility in this world. Help me to always remember that Jesus Christ offered himself willingly on the cross for my faults. And in remembering that act of ultimate love, strengthen me to reciprocate good in this world. Allow me, O’ loving God, to always humble myself in service to you and my neighbor and to avoid the snare of pride. I offer this prayer in Jesus Christ’s name. Amen.

Have a blessed week.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Why we Should Persist in Faith-Filled Prayer

Luke 18:1, 7-8  (NRSV): Persistent Prayer
Then Jesus told them . . . about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.
“. . . . And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Prayer is our way to mentally and physically connect with God; it is a way of hearing from and speaking to our Lord. Prayer comes easy when we are in a spiritually positive place or what St. Ignatius of Loyola calls “spiritual consolation.” When we are spiritually desolate, however, prayer can be a struggle. And our lives, sometimes, can become so busy and full of noise that prayer becomes a passing thought or a quick recitation void of meaning. The most challenging aspect of prayer often can be the answers God gives. But our persistence and acceptance of God’s will for us is one of the weighty tests of faith.

In this passage from Luke’s gospel, Jesus teaches us about the necessity for persistent prayer. For God, Jesus poses in the parable of the persistent widow, “will quickly grant justice to [his people]” (8). Jesus calls us to tireless, faith-filled prayer. Notice that Jesus emphasizes the presence of “faith” in our prayer by stating, “And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Persistent prayer, then, requires faith in God, even when we are spiritually bereft. Our faith, moreover, moves us to be patient with God, knowing that in his time, and according to his will, he will answer our prayers.  At the time of God’s answer, we may not like it, or, worse, we may even think he has not answered.

But sometimes the most challenging answer to prayer is God’s silence. In these moments of silence, God gives us the grace and freedom to make tough choices. And these tough choices call us to operate in a constant state of prayer. When Jesus prays in the garden of Gethsemane, for example, he petitions the Father three times to take away the cup of his pending suffering, but Jesus prays to the Father, “Not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). God’s implied answer to his only son is that he must suffer, die, and rise for each one of us. In Gethsemane, we don’t hear the Father’s answer to Jesus’ prayer; we only witness Jesus’ quiet, self-giving acceptance.

In faith, then, we are called to accept all of God’s answers to prayer, even the ones we don’t like. We should persist in prayer like Jesus does in the garden before his Passion, and we should tirelessly commit ourselves like the woman in front of the unjust judge in the above parable. We serve a loving, just God who hears our prayers and will answer them quickly according to his will: Jesus promises this. But we are called, as Jesus reminds us, to persevere in prayer and have faith in God’s answers, even the silent, tough ones.

Please join me in prayer:
Heavenly Father, I am impatient at times and weaker than you call me to be in prayer. But I trust in your love and yearn for communion with you in every moment of life. Please grant me the grace to persevere in faith and prayer so that I can love you with all my heart and be a better witness of your love to my neighbor. I offer this prayer in Jesus Christ’s name. Amen.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Why we Should Live Lives with a Spirit of Appreciation

2 Kings 5:14-15 (GNT): Living with a Spirit of Appreciation
So Naaman went down to the Jordan, dipped himself in it seven times, as Elisha had instructed, and he was completely cured. His flesh became firm and healthy like that of a child. He returned to Elisha with all his men and said, “Now I know that there is no god but the God of Israel; so please, sir, accept a gift from me.”

We are often tempted, even though we know better, to live life with a spirit of expectation. We expect positive life outcomes to happen as we work toward and plan for them. We expect to live our lives according to the neat routines we establish. We expect, moreover, God’s love and mercy to operate in our lives regardless of our attitude, even if it means being less-than-charitable toward our neighbor. Living our lives with the spirit of appreciation, conversely, breaks the confining mold of tepid expectation. Appreciation allows us to live each moment, knowing that every breath, every step, every heartbeat, and every smile is a gift from God.

In 2 Kings 5, a non-Israelite and accomplished Syrian soldier, Naaman, is plagued with leprosy. Any leper during this time, would be ostracized and sent to live away from the established community, and Naaman, in his desperation for healing, considers this fate. An indentured slave girl, one captured during a war with Israel, tells Naaman, her master, that he should seek the Israelite prophet Elisha for healing. Naaman is granted permission to go to Israel and seek the prophet Elisha. Once Naaman follows Elisha’s advice and is healed of his leprosy, his heart is full of appreciation, seeking to give all the riches he has brought on the journey to this powerful prophet. But Elisha, in giving glory to God, refuses to accept Naaman’s gifts. What happens, in effect, is Naaman’s spirit of appreciation converts him. He acknowledges, “Now I know that there is no god but the God of Israel.” Naaman’s faith in God is born through the grace and miracle of God’s healing, and his appreciative spirit is the abundant fruit of that new faith.

In the same way, Jesus Christ invites us to live a life of thanksgiving. For it is through Christ’s salvific love and the gift of faith that we, too, are healed. It is an easy temptation, however, to take this abundant gift for granted, a temptation that I know all too well. If we keep in mind, however, God’s abundant love and that every moment, breath, step, heartbeat, and smile are his gifts, we can live emulating a spirit of appreciation in all that we do. And in that spirit of thanksgiving, our lives become the beacon of hope for others, giving glory to God in the little moments of our lives.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Why we Need to Build on the Foundation of Jesus Christ

Luke 6:47-49 (NRSV): Our Foundation
I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them. That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that house.
We all go through tough times in our lives. At times, we can be challenged at work, or we can be put to trial within our own families. For those we love the most can, sometimes, pose the greatest threat to our peace. The question, however, is how do we meet and persevere in life’s trials? Do we acquiesce and let others walk all over us, do we lash out and destroy the peace of everyone in our wake, or do we act in love doing our best to make each situation work for the other and then ourselves? In this Scripture, Jesus’ discourse implies the same question to his audience and to us.

Jesus reminds his disciples that there are two ways to respond to his words. The first is to act on them, and this implies positive action. The second, conversely, is to hear but not act. In order to illustrate his point, Jesus uses a building metaphor, one that he would know well since he is not only the “builder” of the universe but also a carpenter by trade. And the metaphor is quite simple: Those who take Christ's words seriously and act on them in their everyday lives build a metaphorical house on a solid foundation, a base that no storm or natural force can shake. Those who don’t act on Christ’s words build without a foundation and risk ruin at life’s slightest storms.

When my wife Dana was admitted to the hospital in May of 2015 for thirty-one days, I experienced one of life’s serious storms. She was pregnant with our youngest son, Luke, and suffered from severe pre-eclampsia. This malady posed a serious risk to her and Luke, and the prognosis was difficult to take. I was worried about the possibility of Luke’s too-early delivery and Dana’s perpetual high blood pressure and stressed organ function. On top of this, I had Andy (11) and Lily (4) who needed me to be strong at home. In short, a personal flood of biblical proportions rose and attacked the house that God’s grace built. In the eye and periphery of this storm, however, I prayed more, loved more, and reached out to family and friends more. I contacted the hospital chaplain to schedule daily Communion for Dana, and I continued to cling to Christ’s love and suffering as a model of hope. In the middle of that trail, God flooded me not with destructive water but with overwhelming grace. And it was God’s grace that strengthened me to be a father and husband of loving action. Through those thirty-one days (and the recovery weeks that followed), I experienced the most amazing spiritual consolation and an almost electrical connectivity in my prayer. Make no mistake, my actions were not my own; they were solely due to grace and my willingness to accept it.

Christ invites us to act in love through his word. And, when we are willing to receive it, he gives us the needed grace to act.  I pray that this week each of us not only listens to Jesus’ words but acts on them in simple moments of self-giving love, and that in the small moments of our day, we reach out to God in prayer, allowing his grace to build up our foundation on his love.