Monthly Archives: October 2016

Humility Trumps Good Works

Did Jesus have a heart for tax collectors?

You might think so.  He called Levi (Matthew) from his tax collector’s booth to be one of his disciples.  Later he had dinner with a number of Matthew’s tax collector friends to the consternation of the Jewish religious leaders.  As he was entering Jericho, he saw Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector for the area, and invited himself to stay at Zacchaeus’ house that day, which led to Zacchaeus finding salvation and giving half his wealth to the poor.

The Jews despised tax collectors for they were considered traitors, serving as agents for the Romans in collecting their taxes.  Jesus used this antipathy by the Jews to drive home a point in a parable with message that humility was more important than sacrifice.

It’s a great parable – about prayer, self-righteousness, humility, and justification.  Two men go up to the temple to pray: a Pharisee and a tax collector.  The Pharisee talks about himself, thanking God that he is not like other sinful men and the tax collector.  The tax collector simply bows his head, beats his breast and says, “God have mercy on me a sinner.” 

Jesus said that in contrast to the Pharisee, the tax collector went home justified before God.  “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14)

This parable challenges we Christians who attend church every Sunday, generally follow the rules, don’t regularly commit significant sins and lead a fairly decent life.  Like the Pharisee, it is so easy to let our pride sneak in and become self-righteous, justifying ourselves by comparing our actions to the apparent sinful ways of others.  

I say to myself that I don’t steal from others nor do them physical harm.  I don’t commit sexual sins. But yet, right below the surface is my tendency to be critical and judgmental of others, get angry over some personal slight, and seek recognition for my self-perceived accomplishments.

Jesus asks us, “Where is your heart?” When we lose sight of our dependence on God and grow proud of our accomplishments, we become like the Pharisee.  We stumble in our journey toward God and open ourselves to the very conduct we proudly claim we are avoiding. 

Even St. Paul had to acknowledge the sinful nature that hovers right outside our daily lives when he said, “For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” (Rom. 7:19)

Only by acknowledging our tendency toward our sinful nature, are we able to maintain a humility that recognizes our dependency on staying close to God and receiving his grace.

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The Alpha and the Omega

How do we come to know God? jesus-dsc_0461-2

In John 6:43 Jesus says, “No one comes to me unless the Father draws him.”  And then later he says, “No one comes to the Father except through me.”  (John 14:6)

It all sounds a bit circular, but Jesus is saying that our salvation begins and ends with the Father, and Jesus is but the means to assist us in completing the journey.  What a perfectly obedient son he is to the Father, showing us the way, the truth and the life in returning us to the one who created each of us in the first place.

Whether we return to God, our creator depends not only on God’s grace, but also on our choice to accept the means he has provided, mainly Jesus.   

The Father is the alpha and the omega.  Everything starts with him and everything ends with him.  He is the source of our creation.  He is the point from which we begin our journey of existence and life, and he is the intended destination of our journey.  He created our inner being before our physical being was born.  He gives us a life to live and a free will to choose whether our destination will involve returning to him for eternity or being separated from him for eternity.

Gospel singer Andre Crouch recorded a song many years ago with a chorus that reads:

“Jesus is the answer,

For the world today.

Above him there’s no other.

He’s the only way.”

Jesus says: “Learn from me.” (Mt. 11:29)  “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” (John 13:15)  “Don’t be afraid.” (Mt. 17:7)  “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (Mt. 5:8)  “Come follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”  Mt.  4 :19)   “Remain in me, and I will remain in you.  Apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4, 5)  “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.  My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:23)  “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  (Mt. 28: 20)

The Father is the source for all that exists, including we who are made in his image and likeness.  Jesus is the way to the source, which is our intended destiny.  So simple, but yet so profound!

 

Needed: Workers for the Harvest

Are you a worker for the harvest?

After describing how Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness, Matthew quotes Jesus as saying, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

What happens to a crop that is not harvested?  It lies in the field to rot or be eaten by birds and animals.  Its intended purpose is not fulfilled.  If a grain of wheat, for example, is not gathered and ground into flour to make bread, its purpose and destiny are never realized.

The same thing can happen with people if their hearts and souls do not embrace their creator and his purpose and destiny for their lives.  God said to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” (Jer. 1:5)

Like Jeremiah, God has created each of us as a unique human being, distinct from one another, with unique gifts and talents designed for us to carry out his specific will.  His destiny for each of us is that we would come to know him as our creator and choose to embrace him and follow his will.  If our heart and soul are not harvested for him, we will likely stray from our purpose and destiny.

Fortunately, there have been many harvesters in my life including my parents, a priest who guided me in my Catholic faith when I was a teenager, my wife whose example and words prompted me to go deeper in my relationship with God, and various Christian friends who have called me on to be more faithful and fervent in my walk.

The more important question is whether I have served as a harvester for others.  Hopefully, I have had an impact on my wife as she has on me and on my children as well.  Hopefully, I have acted on opportunities to talk or pray with friends or work colleagues as they have occurred over the years.

I am reminded of one incident many years ago when my secretary suggested that a women in our legal department talk to me about her intention to have an abortion.   I listened at length to all of the difficult circumstances she was facing.  I didn’t tell her what she should do, but commented that the baby she was carrying was a real person with little arms and legs to whom God had already assigned a soul.  I offered to pray with her, and we prayed that God would give her wisdom and courage in making her decision.  A couple of weeks later she came by to say that she was going to have the baby, and later she decided to raise the baby as a single mother.

While I don’t know if she was or became Christian, I do know she chose life for her son, and perhaps two souls were harvested for God.

Friendship with Jesus

Do you have a friendship with Jesus?

St. Paul considered his friendship with Jesus the most important thing in his life.  It exceeded his ministry, preaching, miracles, prophesies and every aspect of his life.  He said, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.  I consider them rubbish that I may gain Christ.”  (Phil. 3:8)

Jesus seemed to confirm this priority in his final words to the disciples when he prayed, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)  The knowledge that Jesus was referring to was not just knowing about God and himself, but knowing the Father and the Son as a person and friend.

Is it possible to have a real friendship with God who we can’t see, or Jesus who died as a human person 2000 years ago? 

The disciples and the 500 other people who saw Jesus after his resurrection (1 Co.15:6) would likely say yes.  Paul, who had been persecuting Christians met Jesus in a vision on his way to Damascus and was given specific instructions about what he was to do next.  Paul later describes how he was taken up into heaven to hear indescribable things.  Various saints throughout history have had similar experiences.

Many years ago I was at a Christian gathering in which a priest asked us to engage our imagination to experience Jesus.  You may think this sounds phony, but Jesuit author, William A. Barry in his book, A Friendship Like No Other, says that the principal way in which God communicates with us is through our imagination, memories, insights and thoughts.  Whether they are from God is a question of discernment, which is often determined by the fruit of what follows.

At that gathering, I imagined that I met Jesus on a lonely country road, south of Kansas City, Missouri on the way to my wife’s grandmother’s farm.  I asked Jesus to take a particular burden from me.  He did.  And my life has never been the same since.  I can describe every detail of that encounter – the gravel road, the farm house nearby, where the mailbox was, and what Jesus looked like and said.  It was so real!

For almost 40 years I have been meeting with Jesus nearly every morning for coffee.  We are friends like my best friend who is my wife; like a few Christian brothers who know me inside and out.  The change and fruit in my life following that encounter would indicate that it was authentic, though I am still capable of messing up.

Jesus told the disciples, “I have called you friends because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.” (John 15:15)  We have the benefit of scripture to learn about the Father and the Son, and their offer to dwell within us. (John 14:23) We also have our God-created ability to think, imagine and receive insights.  This, in combination with the anointing of the Holy Spirit, enables us to establish a friendship with the Father and the Son.   

Friends share knowledge and experiences.  A husband and wife share intimate details about their lives.  Good friends share joys, sorrows, and the mundane.

God the Father and God the Son invite us to do the same.