Tag Archives: Spirituality

FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT: Gentleness

Read Galatians 5:22-26

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out all the people buying and selling animals for sacrifice. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves.” (Matthew 21:12 NLT)

In his letter to the church in Galatia, the Apostle Paul is writing to a community that is divided over the issue of male circumcision: should new Gentile followers of Jesus be counted as a part of the Jewish covenant without being circumcised, or should they have to be circumcised just as all of the Jews are circumcised. Being that Christianity at the time wasn’t a religion, but a sect of Judaism, this was a VITALLY IMPORTANT question. While Paul is opposed to making Gentiles be circumcised, he also is against divisive behavior regardless of which side it is coming from. In response to this division, Paul describes to the Galatian church what he calls, “The Fruit of the Spirit.”

FruitOsp_GentlenessFRUIT OF THE SPIRIT: Gentleness. In a recent trip to California, I stopped by what used to be the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove. On the grounds of that beautiful work of architecture is the memorial garden in which stands two statues of Jesus. One is of “The Lost Sheep”, with Jesus holding a lamb on his shoulder and sheep looking eagerly toward him. The other is of “The Smiling Jesus,” with Jesus playing with children. While these were both familiar and beautiful images of our Lord and Savior, does the “Gentle Jesus” image show us who Jesus really was?

I think the honest answer is both yes and no. We like to think of Jesus’ Gentleness in idealistic ways. One of the ways we do this is by picturing Jesus in such ways that match up with the images illustrated above. Then when we get angry, we often guilt ourselves because we view that anger as not being of God. We view it as the antithesis of gentleness. Yet, when we look at the big picture of Jesus’ life, he was not always grinning and gentle either. Just look at the “Cleansing of the Temple” account in Matthew 21 and also to Jesus’ reaction to his opponents in Matthew 23-24. Even Jesus, sometimes, got angry and he certainly was not ALWAYS gentle.

Yet, the moments where he was not gentle also have a context to them. They were moments that called for righteous anger and Jesus used it both to stop what was happening, to hold people accountable, and to teach them a better way. With that said, Jesus had a gentle nature about him overall. He loved all people, he cared for people who needed care, he instructed people who would be his followers, and he saw the image of God in all people.  Even when he was angry and/or displaying anger, he was always doing so with the intent of instructing, as well as with the intent of putting an end to the harm he saw certain people inflicting upon others. So even his anger was driven by his gentle heart.

It would be easy for me to simply say that we are to “strive” to have Jesus’ gentleness; however, that would be inconsistent with Paul’s understanding of the fruit, which by now I am hoping you can see for yourselves. Jesus didn’t strive to be gentle…HE WAS GENTLE by the nature of his relationship with God. He was filled with the Holy Spirit and gentleness (along with the other fruits) were born through that relationship. The same is true for us. If we have a deep and committed relationship with God, if we are receptive of and filled with God’s Holy Spirit, then we will bear the fruit of God’s gentleness. This is nothing we earn or strive to do on our own power…but something that happens as a result of the power of God in our lives. If you are not gentle and do not bear the fruit of the Spirit, then it is time to check where you are in your relationship with God. We all fail to maintain that relationship, and none of us are perfect in it, but those of us who have a relationship with God and are receptive to the Holy Spirit, are being perfected in God’s love and are bearing the fruit that comes from that.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength.” – St. Francis de Sales

PRAYER
Lord, fill me with your Holy Spirit so that I may bear the spiritual fruit of gentleness in my life. Amen.

15 Ailments of the Church #8: Suffering from ‘Existential Schizophrenia’

Read John 17:17-14

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these.” (Galatians 5:19-21a NLT)

imagesWhen Jesus commissioned his disciples to build his “church”, he knew that there were going to be bumps along the way. He knew that divisiveness, bitterness, jealousy, infighting, politics and other things would creep into it. How did he know that? Because those things affected his disciples while he was he was with them. If that was a reality with him there, it would surely be a reality when he was no longer there to guide them. The truth is that humans so easily lose sight of their calling, as well as to whom they owe their allegiance. We get so caught up in our own self-interests that we end up serving ourselves as Lord as opposed to Christ…but we do so in the guise of serving Christ. Hence Pope Francis I’s next Ailment of the Church.

Ailment of the Church #8: Suffering from ‘Existential Schizophrenia’. When we lose sight of who we serve and the calling that has been placed upon us, we fall into what the Pope is calling ‘Existential Schizophrenia’. That’s a fancy way of saying that we end up hypocritically living double lives. On the one end, we claim to be Christians and we claim to be serving Christ; on the other end, we have lost our way and have stopped actually serving Christ. For a Christian, this is an existential crisis.

One of my favorite modern-day theologians and philosophers is Søren Kierkegaard. In his “Concluding Unscientific Postscript to the ‘Philosophical Fragments'”, Kierkegaard (writing pseudonymous as Johannes Climacus) tells a story of a pastor who preaches that one ought “not to depend on the world, and not upon men, and not upon yourself, but only and alone upon God; for a human being can of [him/herself] do nothing.” He then goes on to say that a spy was at the service, heard the sermon and wanted to see if people understood the message. When asked, everyone stated what a powerful and true message was preached on that Sunday; however, each person then contradicted their supposed understanding of the sermon by stating that they were responsible for doing this or that. Even the pastor, when the spy complimented him on his sermon, stated how hard he had worked on it. The spy was perplexed because he discovered that no one truly believed what they were claiming.

Of course, Kierkegaard (of which I captured the essence of his parable…not necessarily the exact parable itself) is using humor to make a broader point. Many Christians claim one thing, but live out something completely different. What’s more, they do so in ways that are far more egregious than a contradiction in belief. For instance, Christians claim to believe that we are all apart of the body of Christ, that we are all equally important in carrying out Christ’s mission in the world, but then they bicker, fight and cut each other down in order to climb the proverbial ladder up the ranks.

This kind of behavior, this kind of existential schizophrenia, is damning for the church and it’s mission to spread the love of God in the world. If we cannot get our own act together, how can we ever expect people to see Christ’s message as Good News? We need to remember who we follow. We, as the church, need to remember Jesus’ prayer for his disciples prior to his arrest. We need to put our self-interests aside and make God’s hope, healing and wholeness our interest. Remember that when you bear a name, you represent that name. If you are bearing the name of Christ (e.g. CHRISTian), then you are representing Christ. Let’s represent Christ faithfully by living and serving AS Christ called us to.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“I invite everyone to choose forgiveness rather than division, teamwork over personal ambition.” – Jean-Francois Cope

PRAYER
Lord, help me to rise above the existential crisis of the church and into the glory of your hope, healing and wholeness. Amen.

Calling it a Spade

Read Matthew 7:21-29

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Let anyone with ears listen!” (Mathew 13:9)

SpadeExcuses, excuses, excuses. This world is filled with them, isn’t it? And we don’t have to look too far to find a boat-full of excuses do we? The truth is that excuses flow from our mouths as much as they fill our ears. As a person, I have certainly made my share of excuses in my life. When I didn’t like a subject in school, I would come up with excuses as to why I COULD NOT succeed at it. In the past, I have excused myself for bad eating habits. I have excused myself for being in a bad mood, for having a bad attitude, for bad behavior and for a host of other things. It’s not that I am confessing something that would be surprising to anyone, whether they know me or not. If we are all to be completely honest with ourselves, everyone of us has made excuses for a variety of different things.

We Christians, it seems, are just as good at making excuses for ourselves as everyone else is. As someone who has both been in the church and has served the church in a host of different ways, I know the kinds of excuses that get made. For instance, when people are challenged to read the Bible more they will often come up with excuses such as, “I just don’t understand it,” or “Gee, I just don’t have the extra time to read it.” I hear excuses for why people can’t be a part of the life of the church, why they can’t lead in this way or that, why they can’t give more in one way or the other, and a whole host of excuses for not doing a variety of different things.

One excuse that really gets me is the one that people often make when it comes to living out the Gospel in their lives. It is quite clear when we read the Bible that Jesus called his disciples, and through them he called us, to live as he did. He calls us to love God with our whole being and to love our neighbors, including our enemies, as ourselves. Any preacher worth their weight in salt will most certainly preach that as one of the key components of the Gospel message and will challenge his or her congregants to answer that call; yet, when pressed, people will say, “Of course Jesus lived that way, he’s the Son of God. He was perfect…I’m not.”

I have always been one to call a spade a spade, and so I will be no different here. Not only is that an excuse, it is an affront to the Gospel and it goes against everything that Jesus taught and did. Jesus did not come to “show off” like some entertaining illusionist (though walking on water would be a neat trick to pull off); rather, Jesus lived the life that he was calling us all to join with him in living. In other words, Jesus does not buy our excuses and nor should we. We aren’t fooling God, even if we are fooling ourselves. I believe that, if we search deep down, we’ll find that we are not really fooling ourselves either.

Today’s challenge is to stop making excuses. Call things as they are. If God’s message of unconditional love, acceptance, forgiveness and compassion really move and inspire you, then start living that kind of life. Don’t excuse yourself for not doing it; rather, really start trying to live that way. It’s not about being perfect, but about being sincere. If you don’t want to follow God and live as God created you to, then just be honest and say it. Don’t excuse yourself, for that doesn’t change the fact that you simply don’t want to. If, on the other hand, you love God and want to live as a child of God, then start doing it. Persevere in holy living, in living that is set apart for God, and you will see yourself opened to the transformative power of God and to the hidden possibilities that God has for you.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.” – Thomas Jefferson

PRAYER

Lord, you know all things including the things about me that no one else knows. You know the life I’ve led and the real reasons why I have led it in the manner I have. I am not perfect, but I trust that through you I am being perfected. Strengthen me to be honest with myself and spark the desire in me to live as you have called me to live. Amen.

Cavity

Read Acts 17:26-31

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let Me.” (Matthew 23:37, NLT)

FluorideToothNobody likes going to the dentist. At least, not anybody I know. I just had to go to the dentist today in order to get a cavity refilled. About a week earlier I had felt something wiggling between my teeth and I just knew that wasn’t a good thing, especially since I had been on another juice fast and I hadn’t eaten anything to get caught between my teeth. Plus, the dentist had told me that this one filling was giving way and that we would have to keep an eye on it. Indeed, no eyes needed anymore, the filling is gone.

Why do we get cavities anyway? If God is all-knowing, wouldn’t God know better than to make things that rot or go bad? Now that question may make me sound like I am being facetious and, in some ways, I am. With that said, how many times have we stopped and questioned God over the things that happen in our lives? Whether it be over cavities, our luck, our lot in life or even in the midst of death, we are prone to question God. So, let me ask the original question again. why do we get cavities?

Well, the truth is that we get cavities as a result of poor diet, poor dental hygiene and, on occasion, because of genetic issues. The latter reason is way more rare than the former two reasons, and the majority of us get cavities as a result of the first or the second or even both of those reasons. Believe it or not, diet is a leading cause for cavities. Do you like processed foods? If you eat pre-made foods, cold cuts, junk food and/or spend the majority of your shopping trips in the center aisles of the supermarket, then the answer is that you eat a ton of processed foods. And those types of foods notoriously cause deterioration of our teeth, which is also a sign of deteriorating health.

It is also a known fact that if you don’t brush and floss regularly you will also be prone to cavities and other dental diseases such as gingivitis. The net result of all of this is that our lifestyles and our neglect cause cavities…not God. The same is true spiritually. When in a spiritual rut, we often turn to God and question, “Why?!?!? Why is this happening to me?” We often question God’s presence in our lives and wonder if God has been with us in our time of need, but we fail to stop and question ourselves, and we fail to see ourselves as the culprit of God’s absence.

In fact, it is theologically wrong to say that God was ever absent. The fact is, God is always with us; however, when we’ve spent our time building a wall in the way of our view of God, it is hard to notice that. We spend way too much time prioritizing other things first and foremost and, as a result, a cavity starts to form within our very souls. We begin to ache and throb for help and, only when the pain gets too much to bear, we cry out for God to tear down the wall we’ve been so persistently working on building.

Rather than waiting until moments of pain and despair to cry out to God, let us work diligently on having an ongoing and vibrant relationship with God. Read the Scriptures, pray, read books that focus on the spiritual life, become a part of God’s community of worship with other believers who can be a part of your spiritual journey and you a part of theirs. Serve others for the sake of serving them and become missional in your life. If you do these things, you will begin to promote a healthy spirit and the kind of spiritual cavities that form in a decaying soul. Does it take effort? absolutely! But your health and your relationship with something bigger than you is worth that effort.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“The closer we move toward God, the closer we move toward each other.” – Unknown

PRAYER

Lord, help me to continue building my relationship with you, which will ultimately strengthen my relationships with others. Let me not forget that my relationship with you IS my top priority. Amen.

The Labyrinth

Read Mark 4:1-9

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.” (Matthew 13:16)

The LabyrinthToday was just one of those days. You know, it was a Sunday afternoon, the sun was out and shining, the breeze was gentle and refreshing, and the temperature was perfect. It was one of those days that, despite having a terrible sinus infection, I just could not be inside. So, I decided to take a contemplative stroll through the labyrinth in my backyard. Yes, you read that right, I have a labyrinth in my backyard and I love it!

As I was walking around, though, I started to notice that it had become quite unkempt as things were finally springing to life after a cold, long and harsh winter. So, I got inspired to start moving the rocks, pulling weeds, leveling the dirt and mulch, and placing the rocks back in place. It felt so refreshing, spiritual and serene doing that simple, yet physical work. I felt very attuned with God as I worked at caring for and tending to the labyrinth.

As I was pulling the rocks away, I noticed the some of the grass and weeds surrounding them were very easy to pull out. It took no effort at all. As it turned out, the roots were growing in only a an inch or two of dirt that had collected in between the rock. Once I removed the rocks, I could easily get rid of them.

As I was weeding my way around the labyrinth, a parable of Jesus’s came to mind. The parable where Jesus talks about the seed that get sowed in rocks, in weedy areas, in shallow soil and the seeds that are sown in the good soil. He was saying that if the seeds are sown right, the plants that grows will grow hardily and not easily be removed. This was a metaphor for faith that Jesus was using to instruct his disciples, and those listening, on the importance of being rooted deeply in one’s faith and not just having a surface faith rooted in shallow soil or, worse yet, having a dead faith that never rooted at all because the seeds were tossed on rock and/or hard soil and eaten by birds.

But sometimes, like the weeds in the labyrinth, our faith seems to be rooted deep; however, that depth is no more than an illusion. Sometimes we discover that our faith is actually shallow and only appears to be deeply rooted because those roots and shallow soil are being secured by the boulders around us. Once those boulders are removed, our faith gets tested and shown to be nothing more than weeds that are easily plucked and thrown into the wind.

But there is good news here…there is indeed hope. As painful it is for us to remove the boulders weighing us down, once they are removed and once those shallow rooted weeds are plucked, we begin to clear a path that twists around like a labyrinth that leads us to the good soil. It is there that we begin to realize where our seeds of faith need to be sown. It is there that we begin to cultivate a holy and sacred garden, at the heart of God’s temple!

Christ is calling you to remove the boulders in your life! Christ is calling you to pluck the weeds that are hindering your path. God is calling you to journey further in the labyrinth, plucking and pulling out the shallow rooted weeds until you get to the center, until you get to the place of deep, good soil. Christ is sowing the seeds of God’s love…of God’s hope, healing and wholeness…of God’s Kingdom in your heart. Allow God to nurture and cultivate that divine garden and let the love of God spring forth from you like the well spring of life! God is recreating Eden within you and calling you join him in the Garden! I’ll see you there!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked, in which you can walk with love and reverence.” – Henry David Thoreau

PRAYER

Lord, help me weed my way to the good soil, so that my faith may grow into a luscious, sacred and holy garden. Amen.

It’s Go Time

Read 1 Timothy 4:7-11

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:25-27)

173848134_640This past week I started a new exercise program that one of my parishioners let me called T25. It was developed by Shaun T of “insanity” fame, and each workout is only 25 minutes long. Just twenty-five minutes, five days a week, for ten weeks. Each day is a different workout and the order of those workouts alternate week to week. By the end of it all, Shaun T claims that you will shed weight and gain muscle, stamina and endurance. All in ten weeks time. Sounds easy, right? I mean, all you have to do is workout for twenty-five minutes, five days a week? That’s it? For real?

Well, if you are thinking, “Gee, that sounds too good to be true,” then you are both wrong and right. You see, you are wrong because it is true that the work out only lasts for 25 minutes, and that one is supposed to do those workouts five days a week and that the program lasts for ten weeks. It is true that if you follow Shaun T’s plan you will end up shedding weight and gaining muscle, stamina, and endurance. I have seen what his “Insanity” program has done to my friend, and I trust that Shaun’s newest program T25 delivers just well.

But you are right in thinking that this sounds to good, to easy, to be true. While these exercises last only twenty-five minutes, they are an intense and grueling twenty-five minutes of high impact, focused interval training (F.I.T.) that get you the same results as an hour long workout. The sweat starts pouring out within the first ten minutes and the workout is over in twenty-five, but those are the longest twenty-five minutes for someone who is not conditioned to it. In fact, I had to do the modified workout because I am not quite used to all of that hopping and jumping around, and it still owned me!

Shaun T. is famous for saying, “You don’t get results by resting, you get results by working hard.” And that is very true. If we truly want something, we have to be willing to put the effort into what it is we want. If we can easily understand this regarding a work out, if it makes sense in our careers, if it makes sense in the things we want to accomplish, why does it seem to be lacking in our spiritual lives? Why is it that we will give it our all in certain things; however, we slack off on stuff as important as our spirituality and our relationships with God and with our fellow human beings. And then we wonder why we feel out of sorts, lost and a profound emptiness in our lives.

Today’s challenge is for you to step up your game, as it were, when it comes to your spiritual well being. It’s time to become spiritually fit, as well as physically and emotionally fit. Join a faith community, read and actively study the Holy Scriptures, pray regularly, partake in the sacramental life of your faith community, observe as sacred day of rest, and invest yourself in works of charity or, as I like to put it, in works of hope, healing and wholeness. If you do this, if you begin to make these a part of your daily/weekly routine, you will find that the results are amazing! It’s go time!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“You don’t get results by resting, you get results by working hard.” – Shaun Thompson

PRAYER

Lord, build me up into a whole person who is spiritually fit. Give me a desire to work for a stronger and deeper relationship with you, one that seeks to do your work of hope, healing and wholeness in the world around me. Amen.

Reading the Signs

Read Matthew 16:1-4

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.” (Luke 17:20-21)

bobcats-12Well, we are certainly in the midst of a cold and snowy winter. The temperatures have been in the single digits and, in some cases, the temperatures has been subzero. Certainly that was the case the other day, with wind chill making matters worse. Just a minute or two outdoors and my ears and nose were ready to fall right off!

As much as I do not enjoy extreme temperatures, and as much as I semi-jokingly carry on about my dislike for the winter months, I cannot say I was not prepared for this harsh winter. In fact, I pretty much knew in advance that this winter was going to be a rough one, not because I am a soothsayer or some kind of super psychic, but because I saw the signs that were right in front of me.

Well, at least the signs were right in front of me on my youngest daughter’s class trip to Lakota Wolf Preserve in Blairstown, NJ. It was at this preserve that I met a couple of elegant and graceful bobcats! Aside from them being absolutely adorable, they also had weather prediction built naturally into their fur.

As it turns out, when ever a cold and harsh winter is approaching, their fur turns from brown to silvery white. And when ever a mild winter is approaching, their fur doesn’t change colors at all! Well, when I met these furry rascals their fur was already turning silver. Once that was pointed out to me by the tour guide, my heart sunk. Nature is ALWAYS right. I knew we were going to have a rough winter ahead of us!

Jesus calls his disciples to be observant of the signs surrounding us. He told his disciples to observe the signs of the times in order to be prepared for the things that are to come. He didn’t tell his disciples when and where these things would happen, but that the signs would be there for us to observe. With that said, Jesus also said to not get too caught up in the signs or in looking for them.

Many Christians have not heeded Jesus’ instruction to be observant of the signs and, as a result, they have missed out on the very presence of Christ, and the opportunities to bear that presence, in those moments. On the other hand, other Christians are overly observant, finding signs, and the end of the world, in everything they see. Jesus warns us against both scenarios.

Today’s challenge is for us to be observant, to be present, and to keep it real. Let us not be among the complacent who are caught unaware by the presence of God. Let us not be complacent and miss the presence of the Lord in the faces of those we ignore and pass by.  Let us also not be overzealous in seeking out signs at every turn. No one needs another blowhard predicting the unpredictable. Remember that the signs will show themselves to us and, when they do, we will be prepared for what God is doing in the world!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“My choices, including those related to the day-to-day aspects of life, like the use of a modest car, are related to a spiritual discernment that responds to a need that arises from looking at things, at people and from reading the signs of the times. Discernment in the Lord guides me in my way of governing.” – Pope Francis I

PRAYER

Lord, open my eyes to the signs of the times and fill me with the urgency to act upon them. Amen.