Faith

Wednesday’s Words: Earthy Glimpses of Heaven

 “Jesus told them still another parable:  ‘The Kingdom of heaven is like this.  A woman takes some yeast and mixes it with a bushel of flour until the whole batch of dough rises.’”  Matthew 13:33

 

Have you ever baked bread from scratch?  I have.  The process is an interesting partnership of activity and rest. Flour can’t rise by itself. You begin by adding yeast to flour and other ingredients, but that isn’t enough.  Yeast is a living organism.  The rising of the dough is a result of the yeast’s growth. In order for the yeast to make the dough rise, you have to knead it all together.  Kneading, which involves pounding and stretching the dough, takes time and effort.  It doesn’t yield immediate results.  After kneading, the dough has to be covered and left alone in a warm place. Only after this quiet time will the dough rise.

 

Jesus tells us this is what the Kingdom of heaven is like.  What this means to me personally is that God’s Presence is like the yeast: a living entity.  Taking it in, whether through reading Scripture, receiving sacraments, or prayer and meditation, is not enough.  If I want God’s Spirit to be active within me and engender my growth, it will take effort on my part.  The kneading is the wrestling between Spirit and Self. Sometimes I feel pounded and stretched. Other times the process feels like a massage.  Either way, I’m pre-occupied and seldom see results during this process. Sooner or later, the effort stops.  I come to the end of what I can do or perhaps circumstances downshift. The quiet comes.  I might seek out the warmth of being with family or friends. I might take cover from my restless thoughts with simple diversions. I go on about my life.  Often when I least expect it, awareness comes. I may notice myself reacting differently to a situation that used to bother me.  Or an insight will occur to me “out of the blue.”  But it isn’t really out of the blue.  It’s just the dough rising.

 

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, thank you for showing us glimpses of heaven in the earthy ways we can understand.

 

Reflection for sharing:  What in your life could use some ‘kneading’ today?  What in your life needs quiet time in order to grow?

 

Wednesday’s Words: Daily Bread


Moses said to them, “This is the food that the Lord has given you to eat. The Lord has commanded the each of you is to gather as much of it as he needs…. No one is to keep any of it for tomorrow.” But some of them did not listen to Moses and saved part of it. The next morning it was full of worms and smelled rotten… Exodus 16: 15-16; 19-20

 

Because they didn’t trust God to continue providing for them, as insurance, some of the Hebrews tried to save the manna God provided. Their leftovers turned putrid.

 

Isn’t that what happens to us? One day at a time. God sustains us, but we can’t stock up on spiritual blessings. An hour at church on Sunday mornings isn’t enough to get us through the week. Relying on our own abilities instead of relying on God doesn’t work. We need the constant flow of God’s sustaining love to meet the challenges we face every day.

 

The good news is that God’s grace is available at all times in all places. Connecting with God through prayer early in the morning can help carry the awareness of God’s loving presence with us whatever the day holds. We will be given all we need and enough to share with those who cross our path because we’ve tapped into an endless supply. God will always provide what we need when we turn to him. It is safe to trust that. After all, hoarding or being stingy with our blessings is not part of God’s plan.

 

Let’s rely on God to give us the strength we need to sustain us day by day.

 

Prayer: Father, give us today our daily bread.

 

Reflection for sharing: How do you need God’s sustenance today? What can you do to open yourself to receive it?

Wednesday’s Word: Reassurance

The protector of Israel never dozes or sleeps.” Psalm 121:4

 

Certain problems seem to slip in right under God’s nose.

 

When it feels like the pain and anxiety will never end, I struggle to engineer a way out of it-only to be frustrated at every turn. I’m simply no match for certain problems.

 

If I’ve done all I can, it’s time to let go and let God handle it—even if he seems asleep on the job. When I do, either a solution unfolds or I’m given the grace to withstand the situation.

 

Usually, when a solution does unfold, it’s not a solution I expected. It’s often something that wasn’t even on my radar.

 

Whether or not it seems like it to us, God’s got everything under control. He sees much farther than we do. It’s safe to leave our problems in his hands—at least long enough to get a good night’s rest.

 

Prayer: Thank you Lord, for lovingly watching over us.

 

Reflection: When have you seen God resolve an insurmountable problem in a way you could not have imagined?

 

Wednesday’s Words: Fighting Reality

If what they have planned and done is of human origin, it will disappear, but if it comes from God, you cannot possibly defeat them. You could find yourselves fighting against God! Acts 5: 38b-39

 

Ever find yourself fighting against God? I have. It makes no sense.

  • If God is all-powerful, things will turn out the way he wants. It’s inevitable.
  • If God wills for ultimate good to triumph, why resist?
  • If God is all-knowing, why insist on having things my way? Do I really think I know better than God?

Besides, when I fight reality, reality always wins.

 

Unfortunately, self-will is sneaky and dies hard. A few years ago I attended a four-day writers’ conference, convinced it was God’s will for me. I volunteered for service opportunities, looked forward to promoting my first book and to being interviewed for an ongoing writing gig. Above all, I was excited for the chance to find a publisher for my second book. In my eagerness, I denied my body’s ongoing physical limitations. Less than 24 hours after the conference began, my body rebelled and I was forced to slink home.

 

Apparently, God and I hadn’t seen things the same way after all. It took weeks to work through my disappointment and accept reality. I have disabilities. The symptoms may not be apparent to others, but the challenges are very real. It’s self-defeating to ignore them, no matter how much I want to.

 

Evidently God, who knows all about my limitations, achieves his plans in spite of my willful schemes. Although I could not attend the conference interview, I received the ongoing writing assignment anyway.  Eventually, I was offered a contract for my second book—my new publisher hadn’t even attended that conference.

 

When my conviction about God’s will is wishful thinking on my part, whenever I’m trying to force outcomes, I’m fighting reality. Whenever I accept circumstances exactly as they are, do my best, then let go and trust God with the outcome, I feel peace.

 

Why struggle? Even if things don’t go my way, they can still turn out just fine.

 

Who guessed faith involved accepting reality?

 

Prayer: Lord, help me trust that you have everything under control.

 

Reflection: When have you found yourself fighting against God? What happened?

 

 

Wisdom and Love

 

At that time Jesus was filled with joy by the Holy Spirit and said, “Father, Lord of heaven and earth! I thank you because you have shown to the unlearned what you have hidden from the wise and learned. Yes, Father, this was how you were pleased to have it happen.” Luke 10: 21

 

There’s no IQ test to get into heaven. Most of those called by Jesus weren’t learned. In fact, Jesus seemed to have the most run-ins with the religious experts of his day.

 

While being familiar with scripture and the tenets of our faith is a good thing, it’s easy to confuse knowing it intellectually and living it. Jesus said the most important commandments are to love God, others, and ourselves. A superior intellect isn’t needed to live a life of love.

 

God invites us all to participate in his heavenly banquet. In the parable of the great feast, when the invited guests chose not to attend, the king invited the sick, the disabled, and anyone else his servants came across on the highways and byways. (Matthew 22: 1-14) These guests weren’t given an entrance exam. All they had to do was accept the invitation and respond accordingly.

 

We respond accordingly to God’s invitation by treating our host, ourselves, and all other guests with respect and love. If we have intelligence or any other gift, let’s use them, by all means—not to build up our own egos, but to help us love.

 

Prayer: Lord, teach my heart the wisdom of love.

 

Reflection: How can your abilities help you reach out to others in love?

 

 

Wednesday’s Words: True Confessions

I confess my sins; they fill me with anxiety. Psalm 38: 18

 

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and there is no truth in us. But if we confess our sins to God, he will keep his promise and do what is right: he will forgive us our sins and purify us from all our wrongdoing. 1 John 1: 8-9

 

Where did some of us get the idea we have to be perfect to earn God’s love? Why do we think we have to cover up our imperfections to be acceptable? The Bible’s filled with stories of God’s love and faithfulness—in spite of our sins. We turn our backs on God, not the other way around.

 

God knows our weaknesses better than we do and loves us anyway. What else is Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son about? Or the parable commending the tax collector who acknowledged his sins, trusting God’s mercy, as opposed to the religious official whose prayer to God was a spiritual resume? Or Jesus’ willingness to go to the cross to do what we could never do for ourselves—perfectly obey our Creator? As St. Paul said, if we could put ourselves right with God by keeping the law, then Christ died for nothing. (Galatians 2: 21)

 

Covering up our flaws is the world’s way, not God’s. Denying our wrongs, blaming others, creating excuses, that’s the way of the world. Trying to look good on the outside when we know the truth on the inside creates tension. No wonder the psalmist said his sins filled him with anxiety.

 

It doesn’t feel safe to be honest about our liabilities in the dog-eat-dog world. On the other hand, it‘s a relief to be honest about our faults with God and with ourselves. Surely we can find at least one trusted human being we can trust to understand and to keep our sharing in confidence. It’s fundamental to recovery for countless people in Twelve Step programs. The Catholic Church has wisely recognized it as a means of obtaining God’s grace through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It does our hearts good to come clean in a safe atmosphere, and what atmosphere could be safer than God’s welcoming arms?

 

Prayer: Lord, I trust in your mercy and love.

 

Reflection: What secrets are creating tension within you? How can you find a safe and trustworthy way to unburden yourself?

Wednesday’s Word: Clarity

As long as the cloud stayed over the Tent, they stayed in the same camp.

Whenever the cloud lifted, they moved on. Numbers 9: 18b; 21b

 

God led the Hebrew slaves to freedom through desert territory they’d never seen before. They were wise to stay put while the cloud of God’s presence covered them. It makes sense not to travel when you can’t see clearly where you’re going. Sooner or later the cloud lifted. Eventually they were led to the Promised Land.

 

Similarly, God sometimes guides me by allowing my mind to be clouded with confusion. It slows me down. When I can’t see clearly what action to take, I’m forced to wait. That’s when God has a chance to direct my thinking and actions. Otherwise, guided only by self-will, I zip along full speed ahead, impatiently following my own agenda.

 

Like the Hebrews in the desert, it’s good for me to stay put when my thoughts are cloudy. Sooner or later, the cloud lifts and I’m led to where God wants me to be. His plan is always so much better than mine.

 

Prayer: Lord, grant me patient trust in your guidance when I can’t see clearly.

 

Reflection: When has patience brought you clarity?

 

Wednesday’s Words: Fear versus Joy

 

iStock_000003550839XSmall  Then they rejected the pleasant land, because they did not believe God’s promise. Psalm 106: 24

 

Why did the Israelites refuse to enter the Promised Land? They were afraid because they didn’t trust God to keep his promise.

 

When we reject the good God offers us, it’s probably for the same reason: fear. When we reject God’s loving plan for us, fear is probably involved in some way.

 

Let’s look at the seven deadly sins: pride, greed, envy, anger, lust, gluttony, and sloth.

 

  • Pride is giving self-will priority over God’s will. If we believe God is all-wise, all-knowing, and all-loving, why would we ever choose our own way instead of his? On some level, we must be afraid that God won’t do as good a job as we could or that his plan is not as good as ours, so we use manipulation or force to get our way.
  • Greed probably involves fear that we won’t have enough or get enough or keep enough of whatever we feel greedy about: money, things, approval, attention. We grab for or hoard more than we need because we don’t trust God to provide for our needs.
  • Envy might include fear that we aren’t good enough, or that we aren’t as good as others. Resenting what they have fuels our feelings of inadequacy. We don’t trust God’s love for us and the value we have simply because he loved us into existence.
  • Anger, chances are, often involves thwarted self-will. Maybe someone or something threatened our fragile self-esteem, or we didn’t get our way. When our illusions of control are shattered, we get angry. We don’t trust that things can still turn out just fine-even if they don’t go our way-because God has it all under control.
  • Lust, at least in part, may include the fear that we are unlovable or perhaps the fear of true intimacy and the mutual surrender involved in sharing love on a level that goes so much deeper than the physical plane.
  • Gluttony might, in part, be connected to fear of discomfort. It might also involve trying to fill our emptiness in a self-defeating way because we fear that God’s love and his plan aren’t enough to sustain us, that his allotment of our daily bread won’t fill the gaping hole within us.
  • Sloth, laziness, procrastination, might disguise a fear that what we do won’t be good enough. We’d rather not try at all, than try and fail. Underneath may lurk a fear that neither God nor anyone else could love us as we are, that we’ll be rejected unless we’re perfect or successful in the way the world defines success.

 

In all these options, we short-change ourselves. We deny ourselves the joy that comes from abandoning ourselves to God’s loving care and protective power. It’s risky to trust that he does love us, that he knows what he’s doing, that his plans are to build us up and to give us the future we hope for (Jeremiah 29:11), and that he will keep his promise. It’s a risk worth taking.

 

Prayer: Lord, lead me to the Promised Land you have in mind for me.

 

Reflection: How is fear blocking you from the joy God has in mind for you?

 

Wednesday’s Words: Forget, Carry, Follow

iStock_000003550839XSmall

 

 

 

 

  Then Jesus called the crowd and his disciples to him. “If any of you want to come with me,” he told them, “you must forget yourself, carry your cross, and follow me.” Mark 8: 34

 

  • Forget: How does one forget oneself? How does one forget anything? Having studied French for five years in school, I used to be able to read and write it fairly well. Nevertheless, I only remember a few phrases. How did I forget all that French? Disuse. The knowledge was there, but I stopped acting on it. Maybe it’s like that with forgetting our “selves”. If you’re like me, self-will often makes demands. We don’t have to pretend it doesn’t, but we don’t have act on those demands, either. Self-indulgence makes them stronger. If we don’t pay attention to them, they’ll probably atrophy from disuse. Then we can better discern how to meet our legitimate needs and wants.

 

  • Carry: Fewer demands on our time and energy leave more inner resources available to determine which crosses are ours and to accept whatever our cross might look like on any given day. We have a better chance of discerning what God is asking us to do—or stop doing. Without ego in charge, it’s easier to recognize our limitations and our need for help in carrying whatever crosses are ours. Sometimes our biggest cross might be developing the courage and humility to ask for help.

 

  • Follow: Freedom from self-centeredness makes it easier to keep our eyes on the Lord. We can’t follow him if we don’t look at him. How will we know where he’s going? If we are self-absorbed, we’ll miss the guidance and promptings of his Spirit. If we’re pre-occupied with our agendas, we won’t have room for his directions.

 

It’s our choice. If, as Jesus said, we want to join him, we need to leave behind our pre-occupation with self, accept the challenges we face, and move, however falteringly, in his direction. We can trust that his grace, not our own strength, will empower us. It’s not all about us anymore.

 

Prayer: Lord, help me forget myself as I focus on you.

 

Reflection: Do you want to accept Jesus’ invitation to join him? If so, what will you forget? What will you carry? Where is he asking you to follow him today?

 

Wednesday’s Words: Not Knowing

 

 

iStock_000003550839XSmallHe said to me, “Mortal man, can these bones come back to life?”

I replied, “Sovereign Lord, only you can answer that!” Ezekiel 37: 3

 

 

It’s okay not to have all the answers. There are some questions we can’t know the answers to, this side of heaven. There’s no shame in knowing what we have no way of knowing.

 

 

Why God asked Ezekiel if those bones could come back to life? God already knew the answer. Surely God also knew that Ezekiel didn’t know the answer. Why ask? Maybe God just wanted Ezekiel to pay attention to the issue, to consider the possibilities, and to do just what Ezekiel did: stand in humble silence and watch God’s power in action.

 

 

At the transfiguration, we’re told that Peter offered to build three shelters for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus, although Peter really didn’t know what he was saying. The proper response when we don’t know what to say is to keep silent and listen. Then we will find out what we’re meant to know.

 

 

If we have questions, maybe it’s because God wants our attention so he can give us the answer or just demonstrate his power.

 

 

Prayer: Lord, help me trust that when I don’t know, you do.

 

 

Reflection: What question does God want you to consider but leave in his hands today?

 

 

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Meditations

But Jesus answered “The scripture says, ‘Human beings cannot live on bread alone, but need every word that God speaks.’” (Matthew 4:4)

 

All Bible quotes are from the Good News Translation unless otherwise noted.

 

It is reassuring that Jesus called fishermen and tax collectors to be his followers. These were laymen, not Scripture experts. It is wise to seek guidance from religious scholars and clergy who have studied Scripture to avoid errors in interpretation. But the Bible is also a gift given to each of us, to use as a basis for prayer and meditation.

 

I’m not a Biblical scholar; I’m an expert only on my own experience. Following the Scripture passage is a brief meditation along with a question or two as a springboard for your own reflections. Please feel free to share your own thoughts or insights on the passage by adding a comment. All comments are moderated, so please allow some time for your comment to be posted.

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