Jesus lives at Starbucks

When I read the words, Ubi tres, ibi Ecclesia, Where three are, there is a churchI imagined us. It’s based on Jesus’s teaching in Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Jesus’s non-traditional notions of “church” were in direct contradiction to the requirements of the Jewish law to have ten men present to make a congregation.

Did he say it just to contradict the teaching of the religious or because there was something far deeper? Christians use this verse many times when praying, but this also contradicts the idea that Jesus is always with us, even when we are alone. 

There is a bigger and brighter idea here. A concept that breaks through all religious notions and rules. There is no number of times a day to pray, no specific place, no time of day. There are no correct words. The concept of two or three is to remind us that even in the midst of the smaller number of two or three, we form a church, a body, a moving being. We don’t need a building, or a denomination or seventy-two ministries to call ourselves Christians. We just need a good friend, an open hand and our loving God.

There is a great treasure to be found in the power of two. It is more than just ourselves. It is another person holding us saying it’s going to be ok. It’s another image of God staring at us. It’s God picking us up when we are unable to pray. It’s creating a congregation in a house, in the midst of a work-space or out here in the abyss of cyberspace.

I have had church in closed-door meetings, the floor of a friend’s house, in front of the Blessed Sacrament on the kneeler. Some of my most profound prayers have been prayed in the most unlikely of places. You don’t have to be in church to lead someone to Jesus, and for me, Starbucks seems to be the place where He appears the most. Maybe there is something about a cup of hot coffee and God. Or maybe it is the place where longer conversations can take place, philosophy still exists and people go to gather and meet and not just sit behind computer screens pretending other people are not there.

Don’t get me wrong, the mass is holy and reverent and the place you’ll find me on Sunday mornings. Not because God makes me, but because my heart implores me. And sometimes the mass contains moments that are prayers without words. Like feeding the eucharist on the tongue to a woman whose eyes are filled with tears, or hands that are wrinkled and clammy and needing His body or blessing a small child who longs for the wafer they are drawn to but know nothing about. For me being Catholic isn’t about the kneeler, it’s about the others on the kneeler with me, looking up at the same crucifix. 

If you are alone today, not religious, not part of a church, there is no need to worry. You are not alone. Grab my hand and let’s pray. Let’s have coffee

Be Happy, God will understand

I recently listened to an interview I found by happenstance of an old acquaintance.  I had always admired her brilliance and tenacity, her quiet way and her commitment to her religion. I don’t think it is important for purposes of this story to tell you what religion she is, it is enough to know that she was devout and humble all at the same time. 

I don’t know what made me think of her, but I was curious to see what she was up to. Last I had seen, she had the perfect career and perfect life, still devout and lovely. But this interview was different. It was many years later and life was not so perfect. Her religion had not changed , but her life had. So she was quick to meld her words to fit her life’s circumstances. My God would understand this, and He would understand that. I have to make myself happy and I cannot worry about what other people think. I was perplexed. Her God had remained the same, her devotion the same, but her life had not. So she fit her God into her life’s circumstances to ascribe to a “Be Happy God will understand” theory which completely blew my mind.

These thoughts were not unlike so many I have heard and areas which Paul has recently explored on Just Me Being Curious where he discusses openly the hypocritical Christian and their unconscious quest to use the bible as a weapon. Paul goes into an in-depth discussion of whether the bible is fiction and other deep-rooted and tough questions, but the message is deeper than that. While my old acquaintance sings a song of “Be Happy God will understand” the song that Paul’s talking about is more along the lines of “The only way to believe is the way I do.” Both schools of thought though steeped in religion are cloaked in secularism. Twisting our way into what “we” believe is right or wrong based on our own selfish notions. What bothered me about the interview was not the fact that she was still devout to her God. What bothered me was that she had made God devout to her.

This is a continued thought in our culture, in our world, where we make God just ours. The bible or Quran or Torah can have only that person’s interpretations, and there is no other room. It is this way or that, no room for exploration or understanding. It is the reason that modern-day religion is more secular than it is anything else.

I look to those who have criticized Mother Teresa’s care for the dying. She a Catholic, speaking to them and praying with them in their own religion, their familiar God. Restoring their dignity in the last breath with a comfort each individual will understand. She has played a great role for me in understanding the human person and Jesus, and the dynamic that exists between the two.

You see if we were really Christians, people would know. We wouldn’t make God live in a bible, or on an altar, or in a Sunday sermon, we would let Him live in us. It’s not a matter of conversion, it is a matter of being. I don’t seek to convert anyone other than myself to be the love that Jesus is or was. I don’t subscribe to the “Be happy God will understand theory” because taken in context that is a selfish way to be. The only way for me to live is ensuring that I am doing my best to invest my happiness in you. More like, “Be happy, invest that happiness, because I acknowledge Lord that it comes from you.”

When we get outside of ourselves and realize that God is much bigger than a t-shirt or a slogan, the real work begins. Because if we’ve discovered that life is not about our own self-satisfaction but rather attending to the needs of someone who will never be able to repay us, following Jesus gets real.

If you ask me if I’m a hypocrite I’ll tell you yes, that I am working on it. If you ask me if I’ll convert you, I’ll tell you I’m too busy working on myself. If you want me to show you God, I’ll try my best. But it will probably involve a cup of coffee, admitting who and what I am and asking for your forgiveness.

Christians, Let Us Remember

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Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you oh Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. (Psalm 19:14)

It is finally the day after, and we all woke up this morning as Americans. Yet we are Christians first.

Some voted (or did not vote) as an expression of anger or protest. Many more of us used our vote as an instrument of principle. Whatever the outcome, our call in Christ is for reconciliation.

Many factions have sought to divide us, have sought to have us focus on flaws and sin instead of mercy and grace. The enemy has infiltrated our hearts, our thoughts, and our words.

“It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” (Matthew 15:11)

handsqueezingheartWe have several choices today and over the next four years.

We can let our shock and disappointment grow fear in our hearts. We can continue to brood, letting our anger simmer until it boils over into a rage that we can no longer contain. We can continue to cast blame, point fingers, and feed our resentment. Either of these choices will keep the door open for the enemy to squeeze Christ’s living water, grace and love out of our hearts.

 

On the other hand, we can choose to accept the results with grace. We can pray for our new President, for all the members of our new Senate and House of Representatives. We can pray there will be (or already has been) a gracious concession speech without bitterness or rancor. We can pray for a peaceful transition of power. We can pray for progress over politics. We can work wholeheartedly to unite our country.

In January, the hand of the winner of this hard-fought election will be placed on a Bible. The new President will take the Oath of Office. We can choose to put behind us the animosity we have lived with the last 20 months and instead, take up our cross and the mission of reconciliation. We can choose to be the light and the mouth of Christ.

You see, the controlling force in our lives is the love of Christ; Christ’s love guides us. He died for us so that we will all live, not for ourselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf. Because of all that God has done, we now have a new perspective; we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. Whoever is a believer in Christ is a new creation. The old way of living has disappeared. A new way of living has come into existence. All of this is a gift from our Creator, who pursued us and brought us into a restored and healthy relationship with Him through Christ.

And He has given us the same mission – the ministry of reconciliation – to bring others back to Him. He reconciled the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And He gave us this wonderful mission of reconciliation. We are Christ’s ambassadors; God makes His appeal through us. (2 Corinthians 5:14-20)

“This church isn’t loving enough!”

Why do you suppose it is that some churches are considered to be “loving” while others aren’t? Maybe a better question would be, “Why is my local church more loving sometimes than it is other times?”

I remember one time several years ago when I received a phone call one Saturday evening from a very ticked off woman from church who spent at least 20 minutes yelling at me because someone else in our church had been rude to her: “What happened to the love in this church?” she demanded to know.

To tell you the truth, I wasn’t exactly feeling the love in that moment either. She abruptly ended the call by telling me that unless I did something pretty darn quick that she was leaving for good.

So often I hear things like this…

Why are some churches “loving” and others aren’t  why is my local church more loving sometimes than it is other times?

I don’t know about anybody else, but I think the answer to these questions lies in the very nature of love itself. Perhaps we can find a clue in the great “Love Chapter” of 1 Corinthians 13…

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (13:4-7 emphasis added)

These are some of the most beautiful and familiar verses in all of Scripture, and I’m sure that if anyone reads these verses and then goes back to the little incident I just recounted, you’ll come up with a working theory on the questions I posed… I hope that before going further, everyone will read the entirety of the chapter for context… Of course, speaking of context, this chapter is in a larger section on spiritual gifts that runs from chapter 12-15 and thus love is a side note. Theologically speaking the real “Love Chapter” in the New Testament is 1 John 4, a very interesting bit of writing to say the least.

In verses 1-6 John is speaking about the spirit of antichrist which is afoot in this world and that may seem odd in a chapter about love, yet God’s love in us is the perfect antidote for the spirit of antichrist. John tells us that we have overcome that dark spirit already (4:4).

At first glance vv. 7 ff. appear to be redundant in the extreme. Yet upon closer examination this isn’t the case, for John in these verses is making the case for love itself, and he is doing so in a manner that is simplicity itself: God loved us and sent his Son to die for us, therefore we love Him. God loves our brothers and sisters, therefore so do we. Since all of this is true, anyone who does not love their brother and sister does not love God.

Notice how John links God’s love to us in 4:10 to Christ as “atoning sacrifice”, and recall that it is by his atoning sacrifice that our sins can be forgiven tying God’s love together with His forgiveness. Look carefully and you will see the same approach again in verse 14 where John tells us that by God’s love we have received the Holy spirit and give testimony that Jesus is Savior (by forgiveness of sins). Notice the same linkage in both verse 17 and verse 18 by making reference to the connection between love and forgiveness on the day of judgment. And then go back to the end of verse 17:

In this world we are like Jesus.

What was Jesus like? Jesus was the very embodiment of love in action who brought forgiveness into the world.

The chapter ends with this:

Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. (4:21b)

We are commanded to love one another, and what is plain in 1 John 4 is that love is inexorably linked to forgiveness, and how many times should we forgive our brother, seven times?

Well, I think you already know the answer to that one.

Combine this with 1 Corinthians 13:5… love does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love forgives first and foremost.

“Church” is not an institution. Rather it is a community of people who love Jesus Christ and wish to follow Him. Yet it is the human condition that as long as each of us is imperfect, we will all sooner or later say or do something that we shouldn’t have said or done. If anyone who reads this believes him or herself immune from error, please let us know in a comment so that we might recognize you for your achievement of perfection!

If on the other hand, you like I myself have not quite achieved such an exalted status just yet, them please understand that you will need forgiveness right along with everyone else at some point in time, and that all of us need to forgive if indeed we love one another, for there is no love without forgiveness. Since church is not an institution, but instead is a collection of believers in community, when someone stumbles, it is our place to love them, not to complain about them to others. If they have upset us, then it is our place to forgive them, not to condemn them, and if we feel that our local congregation is not loving enough, then it is for us to love more and forgive more, not for us to complain more and to become angry, for anger and complaining are not the actions of love.

Does that sound crazy to you?

If so, please remember this: You ARE the church; if you don’t love, then who will?

Are We Ready?

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In Luke’s account of the Sermon on the Mount, (The Sermon on the Plain, Luke 6:17-52), he records Jesus telling us to love our enemies and pray for them. He writes of Jesus instructing us to refrain from judging or condemning others. He recounts Jesus reminding us to look at the logs in our own eyes first. (Luke 6:27-42).

I’ve read and quoted these verses many times, yet as I read them again, I noticed a key phrase for the very first time.

The Bible is like that – God’s word never changes, but if we allow it, the Spirit continues to mature us in our faith and transform us in ways we never though possible. Mysteries open our eyes to passages we have never seen before. We have “Aha” moments, and understand the words of the Lord more deeply. We gain clarity in areas of former confusion. We have breakthroughs divergent from long held beliefs.

To you who are ready for the truth; But I tell everyone who is listening; But to you who are willing to listen; But I say to you who hear; If you’re listening, here’s My message: (Luke 6:27)

The quote above is from five different Bible versions. In Matthew’s account (Matthew 5.1) by contrast, Jesus begins by sitting down and waiting until the crowd had gathered around him. Luke, who was a physician and known for his precision in chronicling detailed and accurate accounts, tells us Jesus begins his sermon by addressing those who were willing to hear the truth.

God speaks to each of us, but do we listen? Do we stop to pay attention to His whispers? When we pray, do we make time to listen for His response?

seven-deadly-sins-620x320Do we compartmentalize God’s commands when they don’t fit nicely into our acceptable framework? Do we pick and choose which commands to follow like we choose items off an á la carte menu? Do we prioritize the sins of others as more egregious than our own?

If we commit to follow Jesus, we must follow all His commands. Jesus was sent from God; he is an equal part of the Trinity, and appeared to us as the physical embodiment of the Father to bring us back into our Father’s embrace. We have the Spirit to remind us of his words – words of life – commands to keep us following in his footsteps. His commands keep us together in unity, in understanding and in healing. God wants us to continue to choose life.

“Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! You can make this choice by loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and committing yourself firmly to him. This is the key to your life.” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20)

Are we sometimes too obdurate in our points of view, too inflexible in our behavioral habits, made too intractable by fear or anger to stop and listen, to reevaluate, to consider Jesus just might be right?  

I will make you fishers of men

meadow-lake-fishing-campSunday I was fishing with some friends on a local lake. The weather was beautiful, though a bit hot (87F) at midday. While I enjoy going out with them on our annual trip, they are not the greatest of fishers. As I said, the weather was hot, and so was the water; rather than fishing out in the deeper areas where the water was cooler they kept picking the shallow areas, as a result we got nary a bite, much less actually bringing something in. But, fishing has always been just a reason for us to get out once a year and enjoy each others company while our non-fishing family members enjoy their company at the pavilion. Continue reading

The Rich Young Ruler in Us

‘You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not bear false witness. You must not defraud anyone. (Mark 10:19)

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Money and possessions.

They were the stumbling blocks for the rich young ruler. But let’s begin at the beginning.

As Jesus was starting out on his way to Jerusalem, a man came running up to him, knelt down, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17)

Jesus told us to ask and we would receive; seek and we would find (Matthew 7:7). But just because we knock and the door is opened doesn’t mean we will step over the threshold. When God gives us answers, it doesn’t mean we will respond to His call, for we may not like what He has to say or think we are capable of doing what He asks.

 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked. “Only God is truly good. But to answer your question, you know the commandments: ‘You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not bear false witness. You must not defraud anyone. Honor your father and mother.’” (Mark 10:18-19)

Acknowledging all humans sin and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), Jesus goes on to list several commandments the young man must obey. However, notice one of these is not one of the Ten Commandments: “You must not defraud anyone.”

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus reminds us that although “You shall not murder” is one of the Ten Commandments, he removes the legalism and expands the commandment to include the heart: “But I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot!’ and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid!’ at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill.” (Matthew 5:22)

How many times do we find ourselves angrily calling people names, whether on social media, gossiping to a friend, or just inside our heads?

Here he expands ‘Do not steal’ and ‘Do not lie’ into “You must not defraud anyone.” Could he see into the rich young man’s heart? Can he see into ours?

 “Teacher,” the man replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.” (Mark 10:20)

How often do we, legalistically speaking, comfort ourselves into believing we have kept all the commandments? If we do a heart check, what is our own prognosis?

  • Have we given anger to someone instead of grace?
  • Have we coveted something we don’t need or someone we shouldn’t desire?
  • Have we taken something that isn’t ours to take? If not a possession, someone’s dignity, innocence or sense of accomplishment?
  • Have we lied instead of owning up to the truth? Have we told a lie out of convenience or pride?
  • Have we defrauded someone simply because we could?
  • Have we honored our parents, even if they were not the parents we wanted?

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. (Ezekiel 36:26)

Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him. “There is still one thing you haven’t done,” he told him. “Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

The young man went away sick at heart at these words because he was very wealthy and had many possessions. (Mark 10:21-22)

Why did Jesus feel ‘genuine love’ for this man at this point in the story? Because he knew the rich young ruler actually believed he had kept all the commandments. The young man actually believed he wore the clothes of a righteous man. He didn’t know any better. And because Jesus was about to strip him of those clothes with two sentences, the young man would choose to walk away.

How do we feel when God speaks directly to us? What is the feeling we get in the pit of our stomach when we are suddenly made acutely aware of our weaknesses and offenses and are humbled before God? What do we choose to do?

We have three choices:

1) We can become so mortified and feel so unworthy we feel like a failure. We can decide we have fallen from grace and begin to believe we have to work and perform to get back into the good graces of God.

2) We can become confused, grieved or angry at God for pointing out our faults and simply walk away from Him. We can fiercely hang onto our own ideas, convince ourselves that other people are far worse off than we are and begin to point out their weaknesses and transgressions.

3) We can choose to accept we are human and take an honest look into the mirror. We can lean into Him for strength and guidance, knowing we cannot change on our own. We can accept His forgiveness and mercy which are new every day. We can rest assured in our Father’s unconditional love. We can continue to ask him to search our hearts for anything that is faulty. We can abide in the Spirit who leads us onto the path of doing the right thing and being the image of God.

Looking at [his disciples], Jesus said, “With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:27)