perspective

Wednesday’s Words: Turning Points

 

No one could distinguish between the joyful shouts and the crying, because the noise they made was so loud that it could be heard for miles. Ezra 3:13

 

When the rebuilding of the Temple began in Jerusalem, some people shouted for joy. Others wept. Perhaps they remembered the lost glory of the original Temple or the hardships endured in exile before being allowed to return and rebuild.

 

Turning points can be bittersweet. First time parents joyfully welcome their newborns while missing the freedom of less responsibility. Accepting a new job—even if it’s a great opportunity—means leaving behind the security of the familiar. A graduation ceremony is also called a commencement ceremony, marking the completion of one phase of life and the start of a new one.

 

Every new beginning can be traced back to an ending of some sort. Every ending has the potential to lead to a new beginning.

 

In times of transition we can trust God—no matter what we’re feeling. The Last Supper became the First Eucharist.

 

Prayer: In joy and sorrow, blessed be the Lord.

 

Reflection: What endings have you experienced in your life? How have they become opportunities for new beginnings?

 

Wednesday’s Word: Service


 

Jesus sent two of his disciples on ahead with these instructions: “Go to the village there ahead of you. As soon as you get there, you will find a colt tied up that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. And if someone asks you why you are doing that, say that the Master needs it and will send it back at once.”  Mark 1:1b-3

 

Who returned the colt? Jesus gave his word that he would send the colt back at once. Who got the job of bringing it back? The people in Jerusalem gave Jesus a red carpet welcome, the equivalent of a ticker-tape parade. Jesus’ followers got to enjoy the enthusiastic reception—all except for the disciple who had to take the colt back to its owner.

 

Somebody had to leave the festivities and make his way, donkey in tow, back to the little hick town where nothing was happening. I wonder how that disciple felt. Did anybody notice he was gone? Did he get any credit? Did he realize that his service was a sermon? It demonstrated that Jesus keeps his word and that God is to be trusted.

 

We all have opportunities to serve. Often, those opportunities are behind the scenes. We don’t have to be religious leaders, eloquent speakers, or charismatic personalities to carry God’s message. How we do our daily tasks speak volumes about what it means to follow Christ, who came not to be served but to serve. Respect and consideration for others silently carry the message of God’s love. Service, no matter how lackluster, helps spread the Good News, whether or not we get credit.

 

Prayer: Lord, grant us willingness to do your will, whether or not we’re in the spotlight.

 

Reflection: Who is working behind the scenes in your life today? Why not thank them for their service.

 

Wednesday’s Word: Character

 

 

 

Gold is tested by fire, and human character is tested in the furnace of humiliation. Sirach 2:5

 

 

It’s easy to think we could be saints—or at least a whole lot nicer—if we didn’t have to deal with certain individuals. Some people seem to bring out the worst in us. But the truth is, if they bring out the worst in us, that “worst” is in us to begin with. It belongs to us, not them.

 

We have a way of judging others using ourselves as the standard. As George Carlin observed, “Everybody who drives slower than you is an idiot. Everybody who drives faster than you is a maniac.” Of course, those drivers might be thinking the same thing about us. It’s easier to focus on the faults of others instead of our own.

 

A friend once told me that the people who annoy us are jewels, because they help us see the truth about ourselves: our impatience, our self-righteousness, our lack of charity. Accepting this truth might not make us any less annoyed, but it might help us see beyond our annoyance. Then we can redirect our attention to the place it can do some good: changing ourselves. What have we got to lose?

 

Prayer: God of Truth, help me trust your love enough to face my own imperfections.

 

Reflection: Think about the difficult people in your life today. What do they have to show you about yourself?

 

 

 

Wednesday’s Word: Compassion

Tell them not to speak evil of anyone, but to be peaceful and friendly, and always to show a gentle attitude toward everyone. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, and wrong. Titus 3: 2-3a

 

It’s so hard to keep from judging others. People do some stupid, infuriating, hurtful things. So how do we begin?

 

We might start by admitting that if we’re looking at others’ failings, it doesn’t mean we don’t have any ourselves; it just means we aren’t paying attention to them. So when we find ourselves looking down on others, it might help to call to mind the times we’ve done thoughtless, hurtful things. In fact, the things that annoy us most about others are often the very traits we have ourselves. You spot it, you got it, as they say.

 

We don’t have to beat ourselves up over the poor choices we’ve made. We can be honest about them and still offer ourselves some compassion. Prostitutes and tax collectors flocked to Jesus. He welcomed those who were well-aware of their own shortcomings. We tend to be open and receptive to those who are friendly and welcoming.

 

When we ease up on ourselves, we naturally ease up on others, too. We’re all in this together. Only One is perfect and he offered himself for us and for those we look down on.

 

Prayer: Lord, help me see myself and others with eyes of compassion.

 

Reflection: Who do you look down on? What do you have in common with them?

Wednesday’s Word: Temptation


“I will announce,” says the king, “what the Lord has declared. He said to me: ‘You are my son; today I have become your father. Ask, and I will give you all the nations; the whole earth will be yours…’” Psalm 2: 7b-8

Then the Devil took Jesus to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in all their greatness. “All this I will give you,” the Devil said, “if you kneel down and worship me.” Matthew 4: 8-9

 

God the Father had already offered his Son all the nations of the world. What did the Devil hope to gain by offering  Jesus something that already belonged to him?

 

That’s how temptation works. Who’d be tempted by something false, damaging or undesirable? The devil is a liar whose only chance is to make something harmful appear good.

 

It isn’t always easy to see through the alluring promise of gratification to reality and the long-lasting effects of our choices. Temptation promises a good that evil can’t possibly deliver or offers a temporary reward that, in the long run, demands too high a price.

 

A quick drink, promising freedom from care and worry, might be fatal to an alcoholic. Another spending spree at the mall might be fun until credit card debt takes its toll. Lashing out may provide temporary relief to pent up emotions, but wreak havoc on our relationships. Belittling, gossiping about, or betraying a friend or co-worker might pump up our egos, get us off the hook, or even help us get ahead in the world, but is it worth losing our self-respect?

 

What if we gain the world and lose our soul? All for what? To feel important? Secure? Good about ourselves? The truth is,  we already have all we need to feel good. We are loved by God. We are precious to him. We are important by virtue of the fact that he loved us into being. Can we see that temptation is promising something we already have? Can we see we have nothing to gain but damaged relationships with God, with others, and with our own selves by trying to take a short cut to the good we already have?

 

Jesus saw through the immediate results of temptation to the long view that God’s perspective gives. He accepted the world his Father gave him and chose to love rather than lord over the nations. He saw through the Devil’s empty promises. May we do the same.

 

Prayer: Lord, help me see temptations for what they are.

 

Reflection: What looks good to you right now? How will it affect you in the long run?

Wednesday’s Words: Gifts of the Heart

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  As Jesus sat near the Temple treasury, he watched the people as they dropped in their money. Many rich people dropped in a lot of money; then a poor widow came along and dropped in two little copper coins, worth about a penny. He called his disciples together and said to them, “I tell you that this poor widow put more in the offering box than all the others. For the others put in what they had to spare of their riches; but she, poor as she is, put in all she had—she gave all she had to live on.” Mark 12: 41-44

 

While Jesus was eating, a woman came in with an alabaster jar full of a very expensive perfume made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on Jesus’ head. Some of the people there became angry and said to one another, “What was the use of wasting the perfume? It could have been sold for more than three hundred silver coins and the money given to the poor!” And they criticized her harshly.

But Jesus said, “Leave her alone! …She has done a fine and beautiful thing for me…She did what she could…” Mark 14: 3-6

 

One way or the other, money really is no object. At least, that’s how it seems according to these gospel stories. The widow gave what she had. Her gift of a penny was more than enough, and valued by Jesus. The woman who anointed Jesus gave what she had, too. Her expensive gift was not rejected as extravagant, but also valued by Jesus.

 

In God’s economy, it’s not about how much or how little we have to give, but the love and sincerity behind the gift that counts. This applies to more than material gifts. What about the abilities and talents we’ve been gifted with? We don’t need to worry that what we have to share isn’t good enough. We don’t need to worry that we’d be showing off by putting our talents to use. When we are offering ourselves and our abilities to God, we don’t need to worry about other people’s opinions or comments. We don’t even have to worry about the results. Neither the widow’s penny nor the lavish perfume made a huge difference in the worldly scheme of things, but both were precious and appreciated by the Lord.

 

Every time we overcome shyness, or feelings of inadequacy, or fear that people will think we’re trying to show off in order to share what we’ve been given, we are doing “a fine and beautiful thing.”

 

Prayer: Lord, help me recognize my gifts and share them.

 

Reflection: What are your gifts? Who can you share them with today?

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 Word: Interruptions

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The apostles came back and told Jesus everything they had done. He took them with him, and they went off by themselves to a town named Bethsaida. When the crowds heard about it, they followed him. He welcomed them, spoke to them about the Kingdom of God, and healed those who needed it. Luke 9: 10-11

 

The crowds interrupted Jesus’ private meeting with his apostles. How did Jesus respond? He welcomed the intruders.

 

When I’m interrupted, I’m a lot crankier. If unexpected events frustrate my agenda, my exasperation is as plain as the thinly disguised frown on my face. Although I usually rise to the occasion, it often involves working towards acceptance rather than being instantly welcoming.

 

Why is that? Because I forget that my agenda is not God’s agenda. I forget that I was created to know, love, and serve God, as my childhood Baltimore catechism told me. I forget that serving God does not mean flawless execution of my itinerary, however noble my intentions. I forget that God’s definition of success is not my own—or the world’s—definition of success.

 

If Jesus is my role model, success is welcoming others warmly when they interrupt me, sharing God’s love with others—whether that means offering them encouragement, listening to them, or just not snapping at them for getting in my way.

 

Someone—I wish I could remember who—once prayed, “Lord, may I take every interruption as coming from you.” What a powerful thought! Interruptions might be sent by God to jar me out of my prideful, narrow focus. God’s plan is better than mine, but sometimes I need reminding. How about you?

 

Prayer: Lord, help me welcome the people and events you send my way today.

 

Reflection: When we call on Jesus, he’s never too busy to welcome us warmly. Can we pass it on?

 

Wednesday’s Words: Gateway to Heaven

iStock_000003550839XSmall  The twelve gates were twelve pearls; each gate was made from a single pearl. Revelation 21: 21

 

The entrances to heaven aren’t called the pearly gates for nothing. Pearls are created by an oyster in response to irritation. C.S. Lewis said that God whispers to us in our pleasure, but shouts to us in our pain. Could it be that only broken hearts are open enough to let God in?

 

God’s grace can transform pain into beauty. The glorious Resurrection followed the crucifixion. God’s power and grace continue to bring good out of suffering today. The founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, by turning to God and facing their addiction, developed a program that has helped countless thousands recover physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Restorative justice programs invite victims and offenders, under controlled and supervised guidance, to encounter each other so that forgiveness and healing can emerge. God’s power and grace can transform our pain, too, if we’re willing.

 

When we experience pain, we have choices about what to do with it. We can wallow and remain victimized by it or we can surrender our pain to God and turn to him for strength, wisdom, and grace.

 

  • Sometimes pain allows us to recognize our human limitations. Some of us just won’t stop until we’re forced to. It can be scary when we’ve reached the end of our own strength, but that’s when we have no choice but to trust God.
  • Sometimes pain motivates us to change. When selfish behaviors don’t get us into too much trouble, we continue to indulge them. Only when the pain they cause exceeds the payoff do we become willing to give up whatever benefits our self-centered actions seem to give us.
  • Sometimes we have no choice but to simply endure, as best we can. If we’re going to be in pain anyway, we may as well offer it to God and use it as an opportunity to exercise our faith, trusting that we’ll be given what we need-even when we can’t see it.

 

Any of these options can take us beyond the pain to a different level of being, to a different perspective, to a glimpse of God’s heavenly kingdom.

 

Prayer: Compassionate God, who brought good out of the cross, help us trust you to bring good out of our pain.

 

Reflection: When have you seen beauty brought from pain?

 

 

Wednesday’s Word: Blessings

iStock_000003550839XSmallCome and listen, all who honor God, and I will tell you what he has done for me. Psalm 66: 16

 

If we wanted to tell others what God has done for us, where would we begin? We should probably start by telling ourselves. Want to try it?

 

You might make a timeline. Turn a blank piece of paper so the widest part runs horizontally. About half-way down the page, draw a line from left to right across the entire sheet to represent your life from birth to the present.

 

Beginning with your earliest recollection from childhood, write the milestones or other significant memories in chronological order. Note the happy events on top of the line; note the hard times underneath the line.

 

Continue to review your life through your school years, your teens, early adulthood, and so on, noting both positive and negative times up through today.

 

Review your list. The blessings on top of the line may give you plenty to share when telling others what God has done for you, but don’t stop there.

 

Think about the items beneath the line. What got you through those challenges? The support and love of other people? That’s a blessing. The strength and willingness to keep plugging along when you felt like giving up or running away? That’s a blessing. An inspiring word or phrase you read or heard in a song at just the right moment? That’s a blessing, too. You get the idea.

 

Maybe the blessings that come in the midst of our pain are the sweetest. I’ve been richly blessed with family, friends, career, and more, but the consolations I treasure most are the times God met me in my sorrow, fear, grief, and desperation. I know for sure that God’s blessings got me through those struggles because in those dark times I had absolutely no resources of my own.

 

C. S. Lewis said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures…but shouts in our pain.” When has God whispered or shouted to you?

 

Prayer: Loving God, open our eyes to all your blessings.

 

Reflection: What has God done for you?

 

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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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