Saturday, September 26, 2009

Live as though you were old—live with the focus on what is real

Following are some words from a wise pastor at the funeral of my husband's cousin, Chad, this past week. He died tragically at the age of 29.

Death usually brings about thoughts of our own mortality. Would we be ready if today was our day?

When we wake in the morning, is there praise upon our lips or groaning?

Do we come, in humility, before those we have hurt to ask for forgiveness and also forgive others?

Are we there to help others when we see them fall?

What lense do we look through - a wordly lense or a Christ-lense? The one we choose makes all the difference in how we live.

What is our goal in life? Are we waking up each day trying to succeed for this world or trying to be faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ and reach our eternal success with Him in heaven?

Who is our Lord? Who is the love of our life? There is only one love that will lead us to heaven.

May God bless you through Pastor Dave's words.

This morning I must ask you to do something odd. And before I do so, please let me lay a foundation for this request.

We live in a youth oriented culture. If that amazes you then I invite you to watch TV for a little while and ask yourself, “Why don’t I see people in walkers advertising the new F150 pickup trucks?” Advertisement – wrinkles, weight loss, cars, even old age is meant to be young (“ever have a ‘going’ problem?”; osteoporosis, dentures). The message is always – youth is the best time of life – hang onto it a long as you can – deny aging or growing old.

Here’s where I want you to commit yourself to doing something odd – totally counter-culture. I invite you to grow old. I would like nothing better than to see each of you grow old before your time. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it is my sincere, devout prayer that I would see you age before my very eyes this morning.

J. Robertson McQuilkin, (former) president of Columbia Bible College, was once approached by an elderly lady facing the trials of growing old. “Robertson, why does God let us get old and weak? Why must I hurt so?” she asked him. After a few moments’ thought he replied, “I think God has planned the strength and beauty of youth to be physical. But the strength and beauty of age is spiritual. We gradually lose the strength and beauty that is temporary so we’ll be sure to concentrate on the strength and beauty which is forever. And so we’ll be eager to leave the temporary, deteriorating part of us and be truly homesick for our eternal home. If we stayed young and strong and beautiful, we might never want to leave!”

Listen to how God says it in the Bible. (2 Cor 4:16-5:1-5) "Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 5:1 Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come."

(1 John 2:17) "The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever."
When we are in our youth and in our strength we center our lives on so many different idols. "Sin isn't only doing bad things, it is more fundamentally making good things into ultimate things. Sin is building your life and meaning on anything, even a very good thing, more than on God. Whatever we build our life on will drive us and enslave us. Sin is primarily idolatry."

Think about how having the wrong goals will cause brokenness and damage:

If you center your life and identity on your spouse or partner, you will be emotionally dependent, jealous, and controlling. The other person's problems will be overwhelming to you.

If you center your life and identity on your family and children, you will try to live your life through your children until they resent you or have no self of their own. At worst, you may abuse them when they displease you.

If you center your life and identity on your work and career, you will be a driven workaholic and a boring, shallow person. At worst you will lose family and friends and, if your career goes poorly, develop deep depression.

If you center your life and identity on money and possessions, you'll be eaten up by worry or jealousy about money. You'll be willing to do unethical things to maintain your lifestyle, which will eventually blow up your life.

If you center your life and identity on pleasure, gratification, and comfort, you will find yourself getting addicted to something. You will become chained to the "escape strategies" by which you avoid the hardness of life.

If you center your life and identity on relationships and approval, you will be constantly overly hurt by criticism and thus always losing friends. You will fear confronting others and therefore will be a useless friend.

If you center your life and identity on a "noble cause," you will divide the world into "good" and "bad" and demonize your opponents. Ironically, you will be controlled by your enemies. Without them, you have no purpose.

If you center your life and identity on religion and morality, you will, if you are living up to your moral standards, be proud, self-righteous, and cruel. If you don't live up to your moral standards, your guilt will be utterly devastating.

This morning I’m asking you to make a decision to give up the idol of your youth and grow old. That you would set your mind on what is real.
“Oh, Pastor Dave, I’ve still got time for that!” (Oh, I’m sorry – I forgot why we were here).

You will bring to your death exactly what you have brought to your life. If you have focused upon the “strength of the physical” and pretty much marginalized God – you will not know how to meet him in your death. And that is a fearful thought.

What does it mean to focus on the spiritual? Let me tell you that I’ve been through this kind of experience before. Let me explain the psychology of what is going to happen. Some of you will be scared because the armor of your youth and strength has now had a severe chink put in it. So you now want to “get right with God.” And in your emotion and your fear you’ll try to do that – but you’ll try to do it on your own terms. “God, I’ll ‘get right’ with you (whatever that means) – just let me go to heaven – and if you don’t mind, don’t let me have to worry about it for a long time.”

And then when the fear of death begins to subside – because it always does – you slide back into the same lifestyle, the same values, the same idols.
It’s because you didn’t come to God on his terms. Total surrender – new ownership – rebuilding your life according to his blueprint. Jesus said, “FOLLOW ME.”

Please understand – this morning I’m not encouraging you to “come to Jesus” or “clean up your act.” I want you to do something much more fundamental and radical than that. I don’t want you to merely “come to Jesus”, but “to go deep with Jesus”, to let Jesus take over your life to the extent that you are so consumed with him that Jesus just flows out of your ears and fingertips, your words and your thoughts are full of him.

So what’s it going to be? Invitation – how to ask Jesus to be your Forgiver and Leader – forever.

In January 2000, leaders of Charlotte, North Carolina, invited their favorite son, Billy Graham, to a luncheon. Billy initially hesitated to accept the invitation because he struggles with Parkinson's disease. But the Charlotte leaders said, "We don't expect a major address. Just come and let us honor you." So he agreed.

After wonderful things were said about him, Graham stepped to the rostrum, looked at the crowd, and said, "I'm reminded today of Albert Einstein, the great physicist who this month has been honored by Time magazine as the Man of the Century. Einstein was once traveling from Princeton on a train when the conductor came down the aisle, punching the tickets of each passenger. When he came to Einstein, Einstein reached in his vest pocket. He couldn't find his ticket, so he reached in his other pocket. It wasn't there, so he looked in his briefcase but couldn't find it. Then he looked in the seat by him. He couldn't find it. The conductor said, 'Dr. Einstein, I know who you are. We all know who you are. I'm sure you bought a ticket. Don't worry about it.' Einstein nodded appreciatively.

"The conductor continued down the aisle punching tickets. As he was ready to move to the next car, he turned around and saw the great physicist down on his hands and knees looking under his seat for his ticket. The conductor rushed back and said, 'Dr. Einstein, Dr. Einstein, don't worry. I know who you are. No problem. You don't need a ticket. I'm sure you bought one.' Einstein looked at him and said, 'Young man, I too know who I am. What I don't know is where I'm going.'"

Billy Graham continued, "See the suit I'm wearing? It's a brand new suit. My wife, my children, and my grandchildren are telling me I've gotten a little slovenly in my old age. I used to be a bit more fastidious. So I went out and bought a new suit for this luncheon and one more occasion. You know what that occasion is? This is the suit in which I'll be buried. But when you hear I'm dead, I don't want you to immediately remember the suit I'm wearing. I want you to remember this: I not only know who I am, I also know where I'm going."

“And so we’ll be eager to leave the temporary, deteriorating part of us and be truly homesick for our eternal home. If we stayed young and strong and beautiful, we might never want to leave!”

Robert Browning penned these words: “Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made. Our times are in his hand who saith, 'A whole I planned, youth shows but half; Trust God: See all, nor be afraid!'”

Monday, September 14, 2009

Faith in action

"What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well," but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
Indeed someone might say, "You have faith and I have works." Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works. You believe that God is one. You do well. Even the demons believe that and tremble. Do you want proof, you ignoramus, that faith without works is useless?
Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by the works.
Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called "the friend of God."
James 2:14-24

True, Christ redeemed us once and for all on the cross. We can't do ANYTHING to earn His love or make Him love us less. His gift of faith to us has us believe in this.
So what else does our faith compel us to do once we believe and seek that personal relationship with Christ?

According to the St. James in the scripture above, we would be useless without acting out our faith. Our faith and love of Christ drives us to show mercy, kindness and compassion to others. If we didn't, what kind of witness would we be for Christ?

Who would be curious to know Christ if we didn't reflect His goodness and put to death our fleshly desires to serve only ourselves?

Catholics are many times misunderstood by non-Catholics (and many uninformed Catholics!) in that they believe we think our works will get us into heaven. If we light this candle or say ten rosaries then we'll earn a better place in eternity. Nothing could be further from the truth!!

Of course, meditating on the Gospels (which is what the rosary is all about- completely scriptural) can bring us into closer union with Jesus. But if all we do is pray the rosary every time we hear about a neighbor in need or children starving in a third world country, then we're not living out our faith very well. If we are physically incapacitated and unable to act out our faith, there is the beauty of redemptive suffering, aka "offering it up."

Here's an excerpt from Mike Yankoski's book, MY 30 DAYS UNDER THE OVERPASS - a terrific and thought-provoking book.

Flip on tonight's news or go to a news blog and you'll learn all about the wretched things that are going on in our world-famines, epidemics, earthquakes, hurricanes, rapes, beatings, political chaos, slavery, human trafficking, just to name a few. When you look at all of it, it's enough to make you feel really, really small, like there's no way you can make an impact.

Well, I want to let you in on a little secret: The world is not yours to change. None of us is big enough, influential enough, or powerful enough to end any one of the world's major issues. The only person powerful enough to eradicate poverty or cure all disease or stop earthquakes is Jesus. But He didn't do any of that. Jesus, in His wisdom, knew He couldn't just come down here and fix everything for us; He knew we wouldn't learn anything that way. Instead, He showed us how to live by spending thirty years on earth, setting the ultimate example for us to follow. He didn't end poverty. Instead, He reminded us that "you always have the poor with you" (see Mark 14:7).

But that doesn't mean Jesus did nothing to help the poor, nothing to reach out to those whom everyone else shunned. Instead, He lived with them, listened to them, ate with them (sometimes He brought the food), partied with them, healed them, wept and laughed with them ...

Same with us. Yes, the world is messed up. There are a lot of hurting people and a lot of important issues. You can't end poverty, stop earthquakes, or feed every person on the planet. But that's no excuse to do nothing. If you're a Christian, loving other people is not a "calling" you can patiently discover or wait for God to reveal to you. It's a direct, nonnegotiable command.

Some of us are called to go and be in the places where the biggest problems are. Some of us need to be there, working, helping, serving, not only on two-week trips in the summer but for years at a time, even lifetimes at a time. But some of us aren't supposed to do that now. It's not the right season. We're in school or providing for our family or training to go somewhere in the future.

But don't buy into the lie that "ministry" only happens overseas or during summer trips or on Tuesday evenings at small group or Sunday mornings at church. Ministry is about people in need, and those people are all around.

How can God use you to impact, change, affect, influence, love on, and meet the needs of the people all around you? What's holding you back? How can you break out of the fear and questions that keep you from "loving your neighbor as yourself"? (see Matthew 22:37-40).

First, pray for the Holy Spirit to stir up the gifts implanted in you from the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation. It won't be long before you are called to action.

Our Christian faith is founded on works of mercy from the King Himself. He performed many "works" throughout His time on earth as an example for us to follow - the most significant was His Passion and death on the Cross.

Our brothers and sisters in need depend on us to help them. To whom much is given much is expected (and we do have much compared with the third world countries!!). Sometimes, we who have much are worse off spiritually because we are comfortable.

Have you seen the faith of those in impoverished nations such as Africa, Peru and Haiti? Christianity is growing and thriving among many even though they lack much materially.

The Lord is calling us to step outside our comfort zone this week and every week, as He called the first apostles and many thereafter.

Pray and discern His voice within for guidance. How do we discern if the desire we have to serve or begin ministry is from God?

In her book FULL OF GRACE, Johnnette Benkovic lays out some guidelines of discernment: "Generally speaking, if the prompting conforms with the ordinary acts of charity for people in our state of life who are attempting to live a life of holiness, and if there is nothing immoral or questionable about the action, we should carry it out with gratitude that God has asked us to serve Him in this way. If, however, the prompting is out of the ordinary and is potentially life-changing in scope, we should put it to the test by evaluating it against several criteria."

  1. First of all, is it fully in line with Sacred Scripture, the Ten Commandments, and the teachings of the Church? There is no contradiction in god - He will never go against His own precepts. If a particular action is in opposition to Sacred Scripture, it is not of God. If it goes against one of the Commandments, it is not of God. If it opposes a teaching of the Church, it is not of God. If it is an uncharitable act, it is not of God. If it opposes the natural law, it is not of God. If it violates legitimate civil authority, it is not of God.
  2. Second, is the prompting proceeding from virtue or the flesh? Another way to ask this question is, "What is my motivation? Selfish gain, pride or charity and love of God?
  3. Third, has this prompting been confirmed in other ways?
  4. Has the prompting withstood the test of time?
  5. Am I going through an emotionally difficult time, or am I suffering from mental instability?
  6. Have I sought the counsel of others? Few people are in a position to make major decisions on their own; (On his journey, Mike Yankoski consulted friends, pastor and spiritual director before heading out on the streets to live)
  7. Is the supposed prompting or inspiration of grace in conformity with my state in life? We must weigh the promptings we receive against our state in life. If we sense that God is asking us to participate in certain activities, go into a particular ministry, or become a member of a certain apostolate, it will not take away from the obligations of our life in other areas. There may be sacrifice, but there will not be conflict.

Not many words from me, but much wisdom from the Bible and a wise man and woman of God.

May the peace and love of our Lord Jesus Christ reign in your heart, your mind and on your lips today and always.