Sunday, August 20, 2017

Our Struggles and God's Plan

Genesis 45:4-8 (NRSV): Our Struggles and God’s Plan
Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me.” And they came closer. He said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God.
We often suffer setbacks and disappointments. And when our lives take a turn for the worse, it is hard to gain perspective. Faith is key, however. If we recall the many moments in Scripture, like this one with Joseph, we can see that God has a clear plan for all creation. Even when our lives are at their lowest, when we are feeling the deepest difficulty and cannot see past the pain, God has a plan for us.
Joseph is the favorite son of Jacob. Due to jealousy and mean-spiritedness, Joseph's brothers first plan to murder him, only later agreeing to sell him into slavery. After being bought, Joseph flourishes in the Egyptian Potiphar’s house. Soon, however, Joseph suffers hardship again through the false accusations of Potiphar’s wife. Imprisonment, human trafficking, false accusations, humiliation, separation from family, and betrayal are all pains that Joseph suffers at the hands of his brothers. And Joseph could have fallen into anger and rage, taking revenge on his brothers. His brothers, moreover, even expect it. Joseph, instead, sees that God has a greater plan for his suffering. Joseph says to his brothers, “God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God.”
Our lives are no different. Not one of us can say that life has been perfect. We have all suffered at one point. And if we can predict anything about life, suffering and setback will be part of our future. How do we handle hardships when they come? Scripture poses this question. Joseph has the right answer. He sees God’s hand in the good and bad moments of his life. St. Paul, furthermore, writes in his letter to the Romans that “... all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (8:28). The greatest example of sacrifice for God's purpose is seen in Jesus offering His life on the cross. Christ’s suffering and sacrifice liberates the world from perishing in sin.
Through God’s grace, we, like Joseph, can turn away from the bitterness of our life’s breakdowns and toward the light of God’s purpose. So let’s reflect on the difficult spots in our lives -- past or present -- and see with the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, and in the context of faith, that those difficulties have purpose and serve a greater good for others and ourselves in Christ.
Loving God, let us see our struggles in the greater light of Your purpose. Let our lives preserve those around us in Your love. In Jesus Christ we pray, amen.  
Have a blessed week!

Stan

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Giving ourselves to God

Matthew 22:19-21 (NIV): Giving ourselves to God
19[The religious leaders] brought [Jesus] a denarius, 20 and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”
21 “Caesar’s,” they replied.
Then Jesus said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
While my family and I were driving the other day, my daughter was curious about a song that was playing, “Love Bug” by Raffi. Her question stemmed from the following lyrics:
Everybody’s got a love bug, deep inside.
Everybody’s got a love bug for their own.
Love bug — where the hugs come from.
She asked, “What is a ‘love bug,’ Daddy?”
And I formulated an imperfect answer about God’s presence in each of us. “A ‘love bug,’ sweetie, is God’s spirit working in us. God’s spirit lives in our hearts and gives us the ability to love others,” I said.
We are made in God’s image and likeness. And it is no mystery that we were created to be vessels of God’s love. But there is a choice we must all make, and Jesus reminds us of that crucial choice in the above passage. Like the Roman denarius that bore Caesar’s image, Jesus likens us to coins of great value. The image that we bear, however, is that of God. And although it is our free choice, we are called to be ambassadors of God’s love.
In a very real way we all contain God’s “love bug” inside of us. We bear his image, and as Christians, we are privileged by grace to offer ourselves to God through the love, hope, and mercy we offer to others.
I pray that God’s holy “love bug” branches out of us to everyone with whom we come in contact. Let our lives reflect the loving image of God in all we do. Amen.
Have a blessed week!

Stan

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Our Need to Detach

Matthew 19: 21-22 (NRSV): Our Need to Detach
21 Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
The story of the rich young man is one so familiar that we often pass it by without much thought. The man is rich and wants to inherit the kingdom of heaven. He asks Jesus what, besides following the ten commandments, he needs to do. Jesus hits him where it matters, his wealth. The man is told to sell what he owns and give it away to those who have nothing. But the man, as the sacred writer points out, owns much and, grieving, refuses to give up his wealth. This parable is not only for the rich; it is a parable that points to all of us who have unnatural attachments. We should ask ourselves the following question: Do the people, possessions, and habits in our lives thwart our walk with Christ? If so, we need to detach.
Many readers take this passage to mean that we must be like the disciples and give up all of our possessions to truly follow Jesus. And that might be true for some people, but it is not the universal here. For example, one biblical scholar states the following:
Actual renunciation of riches is not demanded of all; Matthew counts the rich Joseph of Arimathea as a disciple of Jesus (Mt 27:57). But only the poor in spirit (Mt 5:3) can enter the kingdom and, as here, such poverty may entail the sacrifice of one’s possessions.
Poverty of spirit, therefore, is the matter. And this rich man lacks the spiritual emptying necessary to be fully devoted to God. His money and possessions get in the way.
In applying Jesus’ teaching to our lives, we may not see money as the false god that gets in our way. Instead, there may be something else in our lives that forms that barrier to Christ. It might be that our habits, the people with whom we associate, or the places we like to frequent form the hurdle to our own poverty of spirit. The spiritual struggle, moreover, might be our own lack of faith.
My own spiritual barriers, for instance, relate to my lack of trust and over reliance on self. People who are close to me know that I am intense when it comes to subjects that occupy my interests. This intensity quickly becomes a hurdle for me, breaking down my trust and faith in God for the things I both cannot understand or control. As he does to the rich man, Jesus poses the same maxim to me: Detach from those things that get in the way and trust in God.  
We should inventory our own lives and look for the “many possessions” that thwart our spiritual poverty. Once we identify them, let’s pray that God gives us the grace to detach from them and draw more closely to him.


Have a blessed week!

Stan

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Jesus, The Model of Self-Giving

Matthew 14:13-14 (NRSV): Jesus, The Model of Self-Giving
13Now when Jesus heard [of John’s death], he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.
Living in the modern world is not easy, for we are stretched in many ways by busyness, stress, and exhaustion. In this context, it is challenging to help others and be supportive. Jesus experiences the same human challenges in Scripture, however. And his example is one we should notice. Christ’s moments of self-giving love shine during his most difficult human challenges.
In the above passage, Jesus receives the news that John the Baptist is dead. This is significant to Jesus on many levels -- John was Jesus’ cousin and the herald of his mission among the people. Learning about John’s senseless death at the hands of Herod would have been devastating to Jesus. So what does Jesus do? He does the same thing most of us would do in this situation, grieve and pray: “[Jesus] withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself” (13).
Throughout Scripture, however, Jesus always puts others first. And this moment is no different. Through his humanity, Jesus experiences every human emotion, even the grief and loss of a dear friend and family member.  Jesus, moreover, models what self-giving looks like. Instead of isolating himself in prayer and dealing with his grief and deep sense of loss, Jesus sees “a great crowd; and he [has] compassion for them and [cures] their sick” (14). Jesus never misses a moment to serve others, even in the depth of his human emotional weakness.
As disciples, we are to learn from and imitate Jesus’ love in the world. How does this moment prepare us to better serve others and imitate God’s love? There are times when we, too, experience trial, grief, and emotional emptiness. But the world does not stop needing our love, our healing, and our care. As educators, parents, family members, and friends, we are called to love in the midst of our personal suffering. We are called to imitate Jesus in the small things we do by putting others first.
I pray that we follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ by loving others even in the depths of our own pain. And in giving ourselves away in love, we may find that our pain, too, is healed by the reciprocated love of others.
Have a blessed week!

Stan

Sunday, July 23, 2017

God is the Only Just Judge

Matthew 13: 29-30a (NRSV): God is the only Just Judge
29 But [Jesus] replied, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest . . .”
I am fascinated by Christian-themed tattoos, and in my recent Googling, I unearthed an interesting trend. Many Christian-themed tattoos include the following words: “Only God can judge me.” Initially, my thoughts centered on the personal baggage of the tattoo bearer. Their life struggles may invite the judgment of others. Then, however, I considered the message itself and the truth therein: We are often tempted to judge others, which is hurtful to all involved. No matter who we are, our lives are a mixture of virtue and vice.
Jesus’ parable of the weeds and wheat points to God’s mercy and gives us hope. When the sower of the seed tells the slaves to not gather the weeds and wheat until the harvest, we are reminded that God has the power to judge us at any moment. However, God gives us the chance, through grace, to choose and develop the way of self-giving love (our wheat-ness) over the way of self-serving sin (our weed-ness). As flawed humans on the path to discipleship, we are both weeds and wheat, for to uproot one is to uproot the other. To elaborate, the late Jesuit scholar Frank Doyle states:
Each one of us is a combination of wheat and weeds. In each one of us there are elements of the Kingdom and elements that are deeply opposed to it. Paul recognised that struggle within himself (cf. Romans 7:21-25). So we need to learn how to be tolerant with our own weaknesses. God told Paul that it was precisely through his weaknesses that he could reveal his glory. “My power is made perfect in [your] weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
We know through Jesus’ teaching and Paul’s struggle that we are given the grace to grow stronger in Christ. And God cultivates us through time to bear good fruit in his name. The temptation, however, is to pass judgment on the “weeds” of the world, and that we all harbor our own “weeds” gives us no right to judge others. Instead, we should mirror the mercy of God.
The image of the tattoo resonates: Only God can judge any one of us. And his way is that of mercy, love, forgiveness, and grace. Can we, like the loving sower, practice mercy, refusing to uproot the wheat and the weeds?
Let us pray:
Heavenly Father, we pray to choose the path of love. And in choosing that path, we pray for the grace to mercifully forgive others as you forgive us. For you, dear God, teach us that we can only receive forgiveness when we give it. Cultivate each of us to be the loving, fruit-bearing wheat in your Kingdom field. In Jesus Christ we pray, Amen.

Have a blessed week,

Stan

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Conquering the Enemies of Discipleship

Matthew 13:19-23 (NRSV): Conquering the Enemies of Discipleship
19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23 But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit . . .
Jesus teaches us to beware of three common enemies that thwart our Christian living: Doubt and skepticism, trouble and persecution, and the world and lure of wealth.
The first enemy is the “evil one,” Satan himself. As much as we try to laugh off the existance of the devil, he is very real and does exist. Most of his work is done in stealth, worming his way into our subconscious by encouraging our doubt and skepticism. Skepticism and doubt, moreover, snatch away God’s truth that is sown in our hearts (19).
The second enemy is “trouble and persecution” (21). When we are threatened and made to feel uncomfortable as Christians in public, the temptation to back off, grow tepid, and fall away is very real. Many Christians living in ISIS occupied countries, for example, confront this same enemy daily. And although we hear about the martyrs who have kept their faith and paid the price with their lives, there are many who have fallen away or renounced their faith due to the threat of violence to themselves and their families.
The third enemy, “the cares of the world and lure of wealth” (22), dissolves our internal motivation toward loving God and neighbor by replacing it with a motivation for wealth, power, and notoriety. This enemy banks on our pride and ego and encourages us to build a tower of personal accomplishments that yield temporal comfort in this world. The pursuit of world and wealth, moreover, leads us into a trap of false thinking: All that truly matters is what we have and gain for ourselves in this world.
Doubt and skepticism, trouble and persecution, and the world and lure of wealth are imminent, but often ignored, threats to Christian discipleship. However, I continue to experience each one of these threats in my walk with Christ. Earlier in Matthew 13, Jesus tells his disciples that they have been given a great gift: “But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear” (16). We, too, are given the gift of open eyes and ears to God’s word, but we must combat the threats to our taking in, being changed by, and acting on God’s word in love. When, through grace, we combat these enemies and cooperate with God’s will in our lives, we reach the “good soil” Jesus mentions (23), hearing and understanding God’s word. But even more than that, we bear and yield good fruit by imitating God’s love and mercy in the world.
I pray that we both recognize and combat the comfortable enemies of doubt, persecution, and worldly gain. And in that victory we stand in the light of Jesus Christ, radiating his word, mercy, and love in our world.
Have a blessed week.

Stan

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Unity is Without Limit

Matthew 11:28-30 (NRSV): Unity is Without Limit
28 Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”
We are in the middle of a beautiful ecumenical Christian movement. Most Christian denominations are seeking to reconcile their differences and be unified as one in Christ. For instance just a few days ago, the World Communion of Reformed Churches agreed to the 1999 Catholic-Lutheran agreement on Christian salvation. This may seem too theological, but the question of salvation was one of the main dividing points during the Reformation. And now, most churches agree that we are unified by God’s grace and our faith in Christ. Unity is a beautiful thing.
Jesus never meant for his love and forgiveness to be a difficult burden. However, some theological purists make salvation and Christian love burdensome and limited. Jesus reminds us that his teaching is that of inexhaustible love, unity, gentleness, and humility. He calls us to shirk off the limitations of a legalistic approach to faith and instead to take on his easy, light way of love.
I pray that we all be unified in the beautiful mystery of God’s love for each one of us.
Have a blessed week!

Stan

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Life Change

Romans 6:13 (NIV): Life Change
Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.
When God touches our lives and changes us, we have no other choice but to respond to that change. Being brought into a new life in Christ means abandoning those habits that hurt God, others, and ourselves. When, through God’s grace, we embrace a new life of love, the world changes, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are strengthened to become “instrument[s] of righteousness.”
The Cross and the Switchblade (1962) chronicles the events of David Wilkerson, a young country pastor who answers God’s call. That call leads him to the heart of the New York City youth gang culture. It is an unbelieveable but true story about how God uses one man to begin a revolution in helping the abandoned, lonely street kids whose lives are enmeshed in violence, drugs, and prostitution. This pastor eventually teams up with other people of faith to found Teen Challenge homes across the country. God uses David and his team to love society’s loveless and welcome the world’s unwanted. In the memoir, some of the most hardened criminal gang members miraculously change. They go from being “instrument[s] of wickedness” to “instrument[s] of righteousness” through the power of the Holy Spirit. David’s memoir is a moving testimony to how God can use each of us to change the world.
In Christ, let us pray to change the world together:
“To say that 'prayer changes things' is not as close to the truth as saying, 'Prayer changes me and then I change things.' Prayer is not a matter of changing things externally, but one of working miracles in a person's inner nature."
--Oswald Chambers, from My Utmost for His Highest
Lord Jesus, we pray to be “instrument[s] of righteousness.” For when our lives imitate your love in this world, they not only change the lives of those around us, but more intimately draw our own lives to you. Amen.
Have a blessed week,

Stan

Monday, June 26, 2017

Celebrating the Gift of Life

Psalm 139:13-14 (NRSV): Celebrating the Gift of Life
13 For it was you who formed my inward parts;
  you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. . .
My youngest son, Luke, just turned two. He is beautiful and healthy, the typical two-year-old with a bold personality and curiosity that keeps us on our toes. And it is in the moments of reflecting on his birth and life that I am reminded about the awesome power of God.
Luke was born five-and-a-half weeks early, and Dana was in the hospital for thirty-one days prior to his birth. Every day they were in the hospital, I realized that there was nothing more I could do but pray and leave them in God’s care. Their hospitalization required my surrender. Of course I did everything I could do as a father and husband, but I felt powerless. And powerlessness is a frightening feeling. Fear, however, did not win out; God’s grace did. God gave both Dana and me the grace to persevere and grow in our faith and trust in Him.
This story ends with life’s celebration: God beautifully “knit [Luke] together in [Dana’s] womb.” Our lives have truly been blessed.
Recall a time when God blessed you, and be mindful of it this week. As the week progresses, look for the many other times God presents blessings in your days. Pray for God to show you His presence in the trials and celebrations of your experience, and He will.
Have a blessed week,
Stan

Sunday, June 18, 2017

We Are One Body

1 Corinthians 10:17 (NLT): We are all United in Christ
And though we are many, we all eat from one loaf of bread, showing that we are one body.
In this part of St. Paul’s first letter to the faithful at Corinth, he chides them for their divisive behavior. They are bad-mouthing each other and eating food offered to idols; this went against what Paul (and Jesus) taught regarding love for God and neighbor. Paul gives them a plain reminder of who they are in Jesus Christ -- “one body.”
Division is easy, but unity takes sacrifice. When we put aside our differences and focus on the core of who we are as faithful, loving people, our world blooms with a peace that only God can give. Paul reminds us of this: We need to come together. We need to love each other. We need to celebrate and remember our unity in Christ.
One of the best illustrations of this unity is a recent prayer gathering I attended. As we held hands and prayed, the unity was electric. Even though we all come from diverse Christian backgrounds, we are bound by our faith in Jesus Christ and that is a beautiful thing -- “we are one body.”
Let us pray:
Eternal Father,
Look upon your people with mercy … and give us the Spirit of Jesus to make us one in love.  We ask this gift, loving Father, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Have a blessed week,

Stan

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Remember the Love

Philippians 4:8 (NLT): Remember the Love
And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.
The end of the school year is here, and as I contemplate June and what it brings, I cannot help but experience a flood of mixed feelings. The juxtaposition of wonder and sadness set the backdrop of my thoughts. But in my heart-of-hearts, when I recall the shining faces of the students I serve and the joyful presence of the people with whom I work, I feel the flood of Christ’s peace. Successes, failures, challenges, and celebrations have paved the road of life in Christ this school year. And as I prepare to share these last few days with my dear students, I thank God for His love, strength, and grace. For without Him, I can do nothing.
St. Paul writes to a dear, loving Philippian church that has given him support and encouragement, especially during the time he wrote this letter. For at the time, Paul was imprisoned. In the letter, however, especially chapter 4 where this verse is located, Paul tells the church community, “Thank you.” Professor Jouette Bassler writes that “the Philippians had heard of [Paul’s] imprisonment, and Paul wanted to reassure them of his undiminished joy -- even in those circumstances. . . He wanted to express his gratitude for their gift and for their constant friendship” (2099). Paul, also, reminds his friends to be of a loving mind -- to rejoice in the things that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8). Paul reminds us that our mindset means everything.
I pray that as we end this school year, we, too, “think about these things” and remember the love we share. Let us, with the mind and heart of Christ, recognize and celebrate where God uses us to love, forgive, support, and be an agent of His peace. And let those comforting thoughts draw us closer to the One Who is love. Amen.
Have a blessed week!

Stan

Sunday, June 4, 2017

True Friendship

John 15:13 (NRSV): True Friendship
No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
Sometimes truth is revealed in simple ways, and simplicity is something we often ignore. This weekend, my youngest son and I sat down to watch Sesame Street, and in one of those episodes, I heard a familiar song. This time, however, the song came to life for me and resonated a beautiful truth. The dialogue leading into Bert and Ernie’s “That’s What Friends are For” goes as follows:
Ernie: It's pretty messy in there, Bert.
Bert: Well, Ernie, you're just a little messy. I've learned that. I'm used to it. Let's go to sleep.
Ernie: You know, Bert, you're a real friend. I'm messy and you don't like it messy, but because I'm your friend you don't mind too much if I'm messy.
Bert: Well, not *too* much, Ernie. Let's just go to sleep.
Ernie: But, but that's what a friend is, Bert. I mean, not minding too much because you like somebody. That's a friend, Bert, a pal! Not minding! That's what friends are for!
Bert and Ernie model something very important in human relationships -- true friendship. The line that resonates for me is Ernie’s summation of a true friend: “But, but that's what a friend is, Bert. I mean, not minding too much because you like somebody. That's a friend, Bert, a pal! Not minding!” True friendship is looking past ourselves, past our preferences, to the person we love.
Jesus teaches us that there is no greater love than to give ourselves away for the sake of loving the other person (John 15:13). This giving away of the self begins with forgetting our wants, desires, and prefered ways for the sake of the person we serve and love. To love someone means to look past their faults and into the gift they are as a human being, child of God, and friend. Giving our life away to others begins with loving them, like Bert does Ernie, regardless of their faults and flaws.
Let us pray:
Heavenly Father, true friendship is a gift perfectly modeled through the self-giving love of Your Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Grant, O’ loving Father, that our lives be given away in love to those we serve and that true friendship be something each of us emulates. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Have a blessed week.

Stan

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Failure Builds Compassion

Mark 14:71-72 (NRSV): Failure Builds Compassion
71 But [Peter] began to curse, and he swore an oath, “I do not know this [Jesus] you are talking about.” 72 At that moment the cock crowed for the second time. Then Peter remembered that Jesus had said to him, “Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.
There are many moments in my life that are celebrations: The birth of my children, the marriage and friendship I share with my wife, the gift of spiritual conversion, my career as a teacher, and many other blessings God has been so gracious to give. But what about the times in my life of which I am not proud, the times when I have sinned and miserably failed? In relation to these failures, I often play a mental game. The scenario goes like this: I remember a time when I made a poor life choice, a choice that was not only sinful, but life altering. This poor choice, moreover, set a certain trajectory in my life. The game usually culminates in a self-posed question: If I could go back in time with the knowledge I have now, would I change the way I did that? I am certain that every one of us has thought about changing our past choices with the wisdom we gained later in life. If we look at our mistakes, however, with a set of spiritual eyes, we see that God is with us during those moments of failure, picking us up and giving us the strength to move to a better place with Him.
Through the gift of free will, God permits our failures. And it is through the proper use of our failures -- repentance, contrition, and seeking forgiveness --  that we strengthen our character and become the person God has created us to be. Peter, for instance, denies Jesus three times, even after Peter expressly says earlier that he will die with Jesus rather than deny him:
30 Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” 31 But [Peter] said vehemently, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And all of them said the same. (Mark 14:30-31)
Peter, the earliest leader of the Christian church and chief among the disciples, miserably fails. I am always taken aback by this. If Peter, one of Jesus’ closest followers and friends can commit such a serious sin against the Lord and be forgiven (see John 21:15-19), then there is hope for me. In a sermon on this passage, John Chrysostom states the following:
The reason God's plan permitted Peter to sin was because he was to be entrusted with the whole people of God, and sinlessness added to his severity might have made him unforgiving toward his brothers and sisters. He fell into sin so that remembering his own fault and the Lord's forgiveness, he also might forgive others out of love for them. (On Saints Peter and Elijah: PG 50; 727-728)
Our failures -- when reflected on with humility, contrition, and repentance -- are grafted into God’s plan for us. Through the power of His love and our cooperation, God can take our worst mistakes and make them important pillars of our character. But we have to be willing to break down and weep as Peter does in Mark 14:72. Peter’s weeping eventually brings him to the beach of Galilee, the charcoal fire, and the three-time declaration of his love for Jesus (John 21:15-19). Through grace, Peter’s failures build in him a stronger foundation of character, leadership, and mercy toward others. And through our failures, God does the same in us.
It is tempting for me to play the game, to fantasize about ”doing it over.” But when I see God’s hand in my life, picking up the pieces of my failures and building me into something I could never achieve on my own, I am amazed. At the tender age of fourteen, for instance, I was a lost cause in school -- disinterested, unmotivated, ill-prepared, and poorly-influenced. And during my freshman year, I even considered dropping out. It took a team of caring teachers, administrators, and counselors to intercede and show me that learning was achievable and fulfilling. I am glad God gave me the eyes to see this then and to be sensitive to it now as a father and teacher. It is God’s love working through those failures that has given me the foundation of who I am as a hopeful-but-flawed husband, father, teacher, and neighbor. God uses our failures as the critical building-blocks of our character.
How do you see Peter’s denial of Christ, and later reconciliation, working in and through your life? Are there moments, choices, or chapters of your life that you, too, wish you could change? Offer them up to God. Through His love He turns everything into a gift and moment of grace.
I pray, Lord, that we all see our life experiences, both good and bad, as gifts that, through Your grace, become the necessary pillars to who we are in Jesus Christ. Amen.
Have a blessed week!

Stan

Monday, May 22, 2017

Love in Action

John 14:19-21 (NRSV): Love in Action
In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.
Last Tuesday, our high school hosted the Greyhound Choice Awards. For those who don’t know, this night gives teachers, staff, and administrators an opportunity to recognize loving qualities and characteristics in students who more often go unrecognized. And as I sat in that audience, I was moved by the presence of love and devotion among my colleagues. I was inspirited by the glowing faces of the students as they received their acknowledgements and awards. I was heartened, most importantly, because I knew Christ was present in every sincere face, thought, gesture, and word on that stage and in that room. The place trembled with God’s love.
In this passage from John chapter 14, Jesus reminds the disciples of His everlasting presence in them if they continue to follow His commandment to love. In John 13:34-35, the great commandment Jesus gives to his disciples is to love (the original Greek is agapao) each other without limit. It is through that highest form of active love, then, that Jesus reveals himself (21). As Jesus’ disciples today, we, too, are all called to give pieces of ourselves away to others: We are called to agapao others. And when we do this, we make Jesus visible in the world.
I witnessed this love, the visible presence of God, Tuesday night on stage and in that room. People got up and gave a piece of their hearts away to each child they honored. Their active love was made tangible in the fondness of their faces, the sincerity of their voices, and the tranquility of their tears. And the students, in turn, reciprocated that love through their joy and thanksgiving.
St. Teresa of Calcutta, a disciple who constantly gave herself away to the poor, said, "If you do your work with joy, you can bring many souls to God. Joy is prayer, a sign of our generosity, evident in our eyes, our faces, our actions." Our joy, our prayer, our generosity, and our actions are God’s gifts to us. Let us joyfully share our gifts through active love -- offer a smile to a stranger, say hello to someone new, write a letter to a distant friend, tell someone close “I love you,” perform a random act of kindness for someone, pray for a person who needs prayer.
I pray that by the power of the Holy Spirit, we all live in the loving light of Jesus Christ and look for the moments in our day when we, too, can offer small acts of self-giving love.
Have a blessed week.

Stan