Is This Going to Help?

“Take note: even if I were never actually to perform an evil act, but still willed what is evil, then sin would be as much in me as if I had carried out the deed.” — Meister Eckhart

This quote from Eckhart ties nicely into yesterday’s post about what we entertain internally and its effects on our outward presence in the world. It should also, however, make us think about our intent in what we do or want to do.

In Matthew 25:31-46, when Jesus is addressing the righteous ones who cared for “the least of these,” it is interesting to note their intent. They respond to Jesus’ praise with the question of when they ever served Jesus in the way he describes (verses 37-39). This means they weren’t striving for a reward, nor were they attempting to serve Jesus. They chose to serve the down-trodden because it was the right thing to do.

Especially in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus gives some indication that the “last will be first, and some who are first will be last” (Luke 13:30). In Matthew 6, Jesus even criticizes the seemingly righteous for their self-aggrandizing piety. Being faithful isn’t about reward or honor, but about doing what is right because it’s right. In short, our intent matters just as much as our actions.

In today’s world, many seemingly selfless efforts are enacted as an indirect means of self-service, from mission trips to charity organizations. Likewise, many failed efforts at changing the world come from a rrue desire to help. Further, many things are said and done on a daily basis with veiled intent, but because the “front” is palatable, we don’t mind.

For example, I live in the southern U.S., which is “bless your heart” territory. If you have any southern experience, you know that the phrase “bless your heart” is typically a veiled insult that represents southern passive aggression.

If we care about intent, though, as Jesus certainly does in the Gospels, it might be best that we clean up such niceties.

For me, the message God is giving to me is to judge every word, deed, and intention by the standard of whether or not it will help.

Will this help shine the Light of Christ?

Will this help my neighbor?

Will this be an act of love and help the situation, or will it be an act of spite only to make things worse?

I am convicted by these questions, and, if we are honest, most of us probably should be. Conviction is good, though, assuming it leads to change. I pray you will join me in honestly trying to be a helpful force for love, good, and light in this world.

Just a thought.

Peace be with you!

Guided By The Spirit

Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the lawLuke 2:27, NRSV

We live in a world that is entrenched in its ways. Everyone has their political party, their religion or philosophy, their opinion, their tribe. Humans tend to like a fixed way of thinking that informs all the other aspects of their lives; a “home base” if you will.

The problem with this is that inevitably, our tribe becomes our idol. We close ourselves off to new ways of thinking or being because those novel opportunities scare the part of us that needs “home base.” As a result, we miss the chance to be a part of what God is actively doing in the world today.

This is where Simeon from Luke 2 comes into play. Simeon was “looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him” (2:25). Simeon’s connection to God’s Spirit enabled him to be guided by it, allowing him to see God’s salvation (2:30) when so many after him would be too blinded by their own expectations to experience God’s movement in the world.

For us today, Simeon’s lesson is all the more revalent. Our religious, political, or social “certainties” might make us feel safe and “right,” but they also narrow our sphere of influence and understanding. This in turn prevents us from loving our neighbor as Christ commanded, because the love of Christ defied the boundaries of the world in the first century and continues to do so today.

Jesus is the path of salvation no one saw coming (and by “salvation,” I mean unity with God). A poor carpenter’s son of no real worldly value or standing is actually the embodiment of the love of God and perfect unity with His will. To follow this Jesus is not to stake one’s self to a singular understanding of God.

Instead, discipleship is the acceptance that God is the One who said, “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:14). As such, we must be ever on the lookout for God’s teachings and activities, dismissing nothing (and no one) out of hand, for we don’t know where He may appear. This is what it means to be “guided by the Spirit,” and it’s the only way we can break our narrow-minded bonds and experience firsthand the unity with God that Jesus exemplifies.

Let us free ourselves from “certainty” and open our minds and hearts to each other. In doing so, we allow God’s Spirit to do its work and guide us to the places we need to be in order to do what we need to do. Is it scary? Yes. Uncertain? Of course. Worth it? Without a doubt.

Peace be with you!

God, Help Us

Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.Hebrews 2:18, NRSV

Believe it or not, you’re being tested. So am I. All of us are.

Life is an assortment of tests.

When we encounter people with whom we disagree, we are being tested.

When we are faced with the choice of being generous or closing our hands, we are being tested.

When the world is full of hunger and poverty, and when people are suffering at and within our own borders, we are being tested.

Testing from God is often viewed negatively, as though God is waiting for us to slip up. However, according to Hebrews 2, God’s will is to help us in the midst of testing. It’s not that God sends us means by which we may fall, but those occasions come naturally and God, in Jesus, gives us a blueprint by which we may emerge victorious.

God desires for each of us to be successful in the imitation of Christ’s love, especially in those moments where it may be all too tempting to choose a more selfish path. The love of Jesus led Him to the cross rather than saving Himself at the expense of His message that honoring God and all His children is a cause worth dying for. Salvation in Christ is unity with His will, empowering us to follow in His footsteps when temptation strikes.

The faithful are charged with the responsibility of acting differently in the face of adversity. Like Christ, we are to forgive when affronted, and we are to actively care for those whom the world has forgotten or cast aside. We are to love those we’d prefer to hate, and we are to make our voices heard in the face of injustice.

So take heart. Yes, we are surrounded by tests, but God would prefer us to see these temptations as opportunities to witness to the Divine’s insurmountable love. When faced with a choice in which we are tempted to serve ourselves, let us look to Christ and remember that how we treat others is indicative of how we relate to God. I pray we all may fight the good fight by feeding the hungry, advocating for those in prison or immigration detention centers, forgiving our enemies, and trading love for injury.

We have help in God. We are never alone. Let us look to His grace and share it with one another.

This world cannot bear for us to do any less.

Peace be with you!

Up The High Mountain

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. — Matthew 17:1, NRSV

Peter, James, and John are members of the original Christian “congregation.” They meet constantly, receiving Divine teaching from the Messiah and witnessing His works of compassion, healing, and justice. Their understanding of Jesus, however, still has much room for expansion.

As a part of the group, these three witnessed plenty of miraculous and awe-inspiring things. Jesus has healed countless people, fed thousands with a mere lunch, calmed storms, and walked on water. Yet the fullness of His identity as the perfect embodiment of the Law and Prophets of Israel, plus His Divine Sonship, has eluded the disciples until these three were called away “by themselves” in the Transfiguration story.

It’s when these disciples decide to accept Jesus’ invitation to climb up a high mountain alone with Him that they see Him in all His glory. It’s at this point that I find a valuable teaching, because many people striving to be faithful become stifled or complacent with “group think.” This limits their personal experience of God to moments sometimes engineered, dulled, or manipulated by community.

Now.

It’s important to have a community of faith that holds you accountable, forces you to encounter difference, and provides group worship that facilitates God’s movement in your heart and life. Faith is not a solo-only effort. We are communal animals, after all.

BUT.

What tends to happen is people leave their spirituality with whatever the community does or decides, often without taking time to consider whether or not all the facets of that community’s faith are consistent with the truth of God that individual has experienced. Sometimes half the teachings don’t make sense when thoughtfully considered, but we are encouraged to just let that go because “it’s all faith.” The problem is that faith doesn’t have to defy consistency or your own sense of what God has done or revealed in your life.

This is why it is important to also take responsibility for your own spiritual growth.

No priest, pastor, organization, or fun group of people can make up for a lack of intentional pursuit of the reality of God in your life. If you actually want to know God, you’ll have to accept His invitation, climb the high mountain, and learn to recognize Him. This takes dedication and work, often more than many people are willing to do.

But it is worth it.

There is peace and joy in knowing how close God is to you. There is beauty in realizing how sacred all people, places, and moments truly are if we become aware of God’s Presence on it all. Even if you find that your comfort zone no longer suits your needs, that scary pursuit of the unknown becomes infinitely more bearable when you are faced with personally encountering the Source of all that exists.

I hope you will take a moment to consider what you believe and why. I hope you know just how close God is to you already, and I hope you will accept His invitation to follow, recognize, and delight in Him.

Peace be with you!

From Within

there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defileMark 7:15, NRSV

I’ve always looked at this teaching with an emphasis on the “all foods are clean” thing (Mark 7:19). After all, it means I can enjoy bacon guilt-free and it represents a shift from religious box-checking to a more transformative spirituality. But the last part… the “defilement from within” part… that didn’t truly sink in until recently.

We as humans always look to external causes for our inappropriate actions. It’s never our fault. It’s the unclean “stuff” out there that got us.

We see this when the media crucifies an assault survivor for what they were wearing; we hear it about the victim of a careless police officer for what they may or may not have been doing out so late in that neighborhood OR we see the same logic used to justify the assault on a police officer. After all, there’s this back story…

It’s never our fault.

I’ve done this in my own life. Old habits die hard, and all the more so when changing seems too scary or painful. There was always a reason, whether it be my childhood, my losses, or my depression.

We always look for external sources of trouble and salvation. We don’t want to be responsible for our mistakes because then we might be responsible for fixing them. Jesus rightly criticizes this attitude.

Agreeing with James (4:1-3), Jesus asserts that “it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly(Mark 7:21-22). Our desires and our fears produce the evil we enact in the world. Other people or situations may stimulate or add specificity to these things, but our response is ours alone.

Now this is not a guilt trip or a statement about my own perfection. I am simply indicating that this passage has taken on new life for me because I now understand that I must heal what is within rather than waiting for something from without.

When many of us entered into faith, we are taught that God is a Savior, which is true. But what often follows is the expectation that God will do it all, which is actually a blatant denial of free will. God gives us the means and awareness, and He is with us always, but to change and grow and leave behind our harmful practices is our work. We must desire it, initiate it, and see it through while relying on God’s grace to keep us moving with compassion for ourselves and each other as we all embark on our roads to healing.

For me to change, I have to want it. If any of us have habits in need of changing, it must be us that seek to enter into that process with God. God’s already where He needs to be, He’s just waiting on us to meet Him at the station.

Whatever is plaguing your life, and whatever negative habits or behaviors are manifesting in you, I pray that you will know that it is never hopeless or too late. All that you need to make the change is already with you, waiting for you to find that motivation and get started. Is it your relationship with your family, friends, or kids? Your relationship with God or yourself? Are you simply sick and tired? Whatever it is, may the grace of God light a fire within, and may we all choose to take a step into that transforming Light.

Peace be with you!

It’s Nothing Impersonal

He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.” — Luke 8:48, NRSV

The idea of a “personal God” always baffled me. It’s just something that took time to sink in, probably because of my own lack of perceived “experiences” that lent credibility to the idea. It’s also hard to imaging that the Source of all being in this universe would take interest in one such as myself.

This, however, is exactly what the Gospel teaches us to be true.

The Scripture for this post comes from Luke, my current devotional Gospel reading. In chapter 8, Jesus has been asked to go heal the daughter of Jairus, a leader of the synagogue (8:41), and while on the way, Jesus is touched by an impoverished and desperate woman suffering from “hemorrhages for twelve years” (8:43). Expensive treatments that left her destitute were of no avail, but, as expected, she was instantly healed by the touch of Jesus’ clothes (8:44).

Talk about a strong, moral fabric.

I am so sorry.

Anyway, that could have been the end of the story. Jesus could have went on His holy little way and never had anything to do with this woman on a personal level. The Son of God has places to be after all. At least, that’s how the human world works.

But is that what happens?

The miracle of this passage is not that Jesus clothes healed someone. It’s not. I hate when people focus on the “magic” that is not so strange for a divine being rather than the implication of said act.

By far, the most miraculous aspect of this encounter with Jesus is the fact that He is aware that He has healed, that He seeks out the person who received His power, and that He establishes a relationship with her so that the healing is complete and she can “go in peace.”

Even when the disciples tell Him it was just the crowd, even when He has other things He could be doing, Jesus takes the time to draw out this woman and call her “Daughter.” Jesus teaches us that there is no accidental or incidental healing when it comes to the Kingdom of God. It’s not just the physical aspects of healing that we are to receive, but it is also the emotional and spiritual healing that comes with knowing God and being known by Him.

Further, we are not called “you,” “pal,” or “bud” like we do when we have just run into an acquaintance and forgotten their name. Jesus calls us not as acquaintances, but as children and as family. Talk about personal!

So what does this teach us?

For me, I am reminded that actually healing anything in this world requires personal investment. Throwing money in one direction or another isn’t necessarily bad, but it pales in comparison to when our heart, body, and soul go into whatever action we decide to take. I like to stay behind the scenes, but that doesn’t mean I can’t pick up food for the local pantry, co-write an inspirational book with a colleague, or participate in communal conversations/activities for the sake of improving things.

Further, the idea that God is directly invested in me also reminds me that the same is true for everyone else. That personal, consuming love is held for me, for Jairus, for the bold woman of this passage, for you, for those I love, for those I don’t like, everyone. This should, then, inform how I interact with the world, treating all others not as I feel they should be treated, but how God would like His child treated.

This is what I get from this passage, but if you get something different, feel free to comment! I hope you are reminded of the love God has for you, the value you inherently hold, and the value of others. May we all go about this day as children of God, seeking to do His work.

Peace be with you!

Right Place, Right Time, Weird Day

Trust in him, and he will help you; make your way straight, and hope in him — Sirach 2:6, RSV

As an Episcopalian, I read the Scriptures according to the Catholic canon, which include books like the Wisdom of Solomon and Sirach, quoted above. In fact, I was reading this particular quote when a truly powerful moment came upon me at a local Catholic Church. It was a moment I needed, and God, in God-like fashion, provided so much more than I could have asked for.

I have made it a habit to go sit in the sanctuary of this church when I have down time between personal training clients. It’s somewhat “out-of-the-way,” darker, and very quiet. Say what you will about Catholics (unless it’s unnecessarily rude), but they tend to leave the doors open more than anyone, and they also know how to craft a sacred space. On this particular day, I found myself drawn to the Pieta statue, depicting Jesus in the arms of His grieving mother, Mary. I didn’t know why, but I just followed the feeling and took a seat, pulling out my Bible and journal.

I read my “secondary canon” book in the afternoon, so I turned to the chapter of Sirach I was on and read.

For the past few days, I had been vexed. Was I doing enough with my life? Am I really doing anything to change the world for the better? Has my past rendered my present and future minimally effective? These questions had been plaguing me, but as I arrived at the quote above, I closed my eyes in prayer, and a thought came to me.

Jesus didn’t set out to change the world. He focused on what was assigned to Him, what was in front of Him. The only thing I am responsible for is dealing with what’s in front of me in a Christ-like manner, and the rest is for me to entrust to God.

This powerful teaching came upon me, and as I opened my eyes, I kid you not, a woman was kneeling a few rows in front of me, crying. I felt the pull to go and offer to pray with her.

Now.

I also felt the pull to be my usual introvert self and keep to my own business. “I can just meditate like I planned and pray for her from here, ” I thought. But something kept tugging on me, and I realized that this is always the temptation, to help from a distance, not spending too much time actually being with people in their suffering. So, reluctantly, I got my awkward butt up and walked over.

I offered to pray for this sniffling woman, and she immediately broke down and made space for me to kneel beside her. We exchanged names, and without being prompted, she shared a heartbreaking story about the divorce she was suffering through. Many tears and tissues later, we prayed together. She likened her experience to Judas’ betrayal of Jesus with a kiss, and I gently reminded her that this was not the end of the story. We reminded each other that the image of Jesus suffering on the cross is there to remind us that God knows our pain, and we are not alone.

After this powerful moment of mutual ministry, we prayed again, I lit my usual candle (with a new name attached to it), and I left.

The truth is, it is not all up to us to make the world ideal. We are not strong enough to bear the weight of the world on our shoulders, but God is. Our role in this story is to keep our eyes in front of us, as Jesus did, making our way through our lives and interactions with Christ-like love and humility, trusting in God to do what He does best. As Jesus teaches, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow with be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day” (Matthew 6:34).

I don’t know where you are on your journey. Maybe you feel like you don’t have what it takes. Maybe you are wondering if you even matter. Perhaps you’re unsure if you have any bearing on the course of the world or if you have anything good to bring. Allow me to share God’s answer on the subject.

You do.

Peace be with you.