Extraordinary
life.

So let no one boast about human beings, for everything belongs to you, Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world or life or death, or the present or the future: all belong to you, and you to Christ, and Christ to God.

Last week we discussed using this Pre-Lenten season as an opportunity to stretch ourselves, to warm up and prepare for the living of God’s life. Getting ready to engage we now come face-to-face with the reality of competition.

We could categorize this time of year as the season of competition. A couple of weeks ago we watched football’s ultimate competition, the Super Bowl. That competition encompasses a time of preparation and training and a whole season of smaller competitions. This weekend is basketball’s All-Star game and all the competitive/show-off events that surround it. March madness is ahead and of course the various musical, stage, and movie award nights have taken over our televisions.

Throughout history people have enjoyed competition. Economists tell us that competition is an essential force in maintaining productive and efficient markets. Even the human quest for love is not free of competition. For most people, there is something compelling about competition. Perhaps that’s because, as some argue, “competitiveness” is a biological trait that supports the human need for survival.

In this season of competition, Paul asks us to check our competitiveness because life in Jesus is not a rivalry, trial, match, race, or struggle. It is a gift given and by grace we already own it. We own the whole promise of God. We can trust that God has placed us where He wants us, where we can make the most difference, while we rely on His grace. But what to do with our competitive nature? Do we deny it or pretend it doesn’t exist? Do we sublimate it? That wouldn’t last too long; only as far as the next time our favorite team plays or we go after that item that’s on sale and that everyone else wants.

Paul isn’t denying our competitive nature, or saying we should ignore it. The message is that we need to bring our lives – our physical and psychological selves, our gifts and competitiveness – into accord with the way life should be. This is the life the prophets proclaimed and that Jesus revealed. Our competitive nature is real and is to be used to glorify God and to build up His body.

But Pastor, how can we do that? How to make Jesus’ way real and tangible. How do I make competition work for good? Our visitors from Church Journeys did exactly that. They took Paul’s words to heart and have focused on ending the sorts of competition that separates the Body of Christ into the factions of Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world into a shared journey that builds up and glorifies what God is doing in our community, right here, right now.

As they have done, we need to set our competitive ambitions and energies on the very hard work Christians need to live (not just do). Stretched and ready, we need to take on those who would strike us by offering ourselves up as a complete sacrifice. For those who would seek our coat we need to hand over our wardrobe. For those who would demand a mile of us, we need to be ready to walk the entire journey with them. We need to use our competitive energy for a love that surpasses that of the world, a godly love that embraces enemies and persecutors.

Making Jesus’ way real and tangible requires we live the big above and beyond; our competitive instinct turning us from ordinary to extraordinary people taking all that belongs to us and competing to “be perfect, just as our heavenly Father is perfect.”

This week’s memory verse: “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.”Luke 13:24

Pray the week: Lord, grant that I may ever strive for You and Your kingdom.

Stretch
out.

If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you; if you trust in God, you too shall live; He has set before you fire and water to whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand.

Health and exercise experts advise us to stretch before exercising – in other words to prepare before doing.

The benefits of stretching include increased flexibility, range of motion and injury prevention. Websites and exercise books list myriad benefits derived from stretching including: Stretching encourages an optimistic outlook; Improves our posture; Enables flexibility; Increases stamina; Decreases the risk of injury; Gives us more energy; Promotes blood circulation; Improves performance; Reduced soreness; and Reduces cholesterol.

Today we enter the Pre-Lenten season of preparation – a time for stretching. The Church asks us to prepare ourselves for the Lenten journey so that our Lenten workout will pay off.

Athletes would attest that failure to stretch before getting into the game will almost certainly result in injury. So it is with our Lenten journey. Will we go into Lent without having prepared? Will we wonder somewhere around the fourth Sunday in Lent – Am I getting anything out of this? Has my prayer life, charity, evangelization, sacrifice, repentance, or forgiveness increased or am I in the same place I was on January 1st? Have I improved?

Stretching for God results in the same good that athletes get. Our outlook becomes more optimistic because we get a better picture of God’s mercy. We see the beauty of what He has done for us, of His promise, much more clearly and we become joyful in that knowledge. Our spiritual posture improves – we begin to carry ourselves as people of faith in all that we do. We become more flexible – not in terms of accepting sin or saying that it is ok, acceptable, allowable, or a choice – but in removing judgmentalism and replacing it with compassion. Our spiritual stamina increases – we can pray, read scripture, and do good works longer and without distraction. Best of all, our preparation, our stretching decreases the risk of self-injury. We learn to turn away from sin, to stop harming ourselves and others by our sinful action or inaction, by our words or by our failure to speak God’s truth.

Will our blood pressure and cholesterol improve this Lent? While scientific studies differ on the benefits of spiritual practice, we do know that if we sacrifice and avoid temptation then our spiritual and physical health will improve.

Sirach reminds us that by stretching out to God we will be saved. Now is the time to renew our stretching out to salvation.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Christians, in attempting to understand the tremendous nature of God, Who sent and sacrificed Himself out of love for us, adopted the Greek word agape to describe God’s love for us and how our love is to be. Agape is love that is universal, unconditional and extraordinary. Agape its stronger than circumstances… We are invited to accept God’s real love and to let it envelop us. Accepting His love we are overcome by its unconditional nature. We move from saying, ‘How can He love me.’ to swimming in the sea of His tremendous love, letting it draw us in, allowing it to refresh and renew us and finally allowing it to become agape love in action in our lives.

Join us as we move from the season of Christmas into the Pre-Lenten season. Check out all the great events we have planned for the month ahead, find some beautiful prayers, reflect on the true meaning of stewardship, and so much more.

You may view and download a copy of our February 2017 Newsletter right here.

Specks, logs, planks,
whole trees.

“How can you say to another believer, ‘Friend, let me take the piece of sawdust out of your eye,’ when you don’t see the beam in your own eye? You hypocrite! First remove the beam from your own eye. Then you will see clearly to remove the piece of sawdust from another believer’s eye.”

Today marks the last Sunday of the Pre-Lenten season. It confronts us with the hardest challenge we can face in life, the tendency to be judgmental toward others while simultaneously failing to perceive our sins and failings.

There are two keys here. First, how easy it is to perceive the failings in another, and to turn that perception into an accusation. How hurtful and damaging to the target. Beyond that, how often we fail to understand the reality behind another person’s perceived weaknesses. We never know the real reason, the hurt, the pain, the negative experience behind another’s minor failing.

Second, it really isn’t that we fail to see the plank – the hugeness of failings – in our lives. They are exactly huge because they are so close to us. My unbridled passions, lusts, desires, cruelties – huge!

Jesus really hits home in calling us hypocrites exactly because we already know our failings. We see them clearly every day – and yet we turn to hurt another. Wow!

In preparation for Lent we are called to attack the log, the plank, that huge dead tree in the middle of our lives. We are called into a holy season that is to be filled with action. We aren’t to go into a solitary cell, sit quietly, and ponder our dead tree. We are to take action, cutting it down and replacing it with the most life-giving tree of all – the Cross.

Jesus is calling us to go deep in removing that dead tree. The dead tree, the dead roots, all must go. Then we will come to conversion so that we “bear good fruit.” We are then that good man [who] out of the good treasure of his heart produces good. Then people will know who we are for out of the godly abundance of the heart will our mouths speak.

There are two kinds of trees we can focus on. We can live in a forest of death and accusation or come to the Tree of Life. Throughout Lent we are going to focus on getting back to the Life tree – to Eden, that paradise God has prepared for us. The place of joy, peace, and true life.

In Eden there are no dead trees, there are no planks, logs, or specks. We do not look at a another and pass judgment. We see in them Jesus and another self. If we perceive in them hurt, pain, or negative experience we do not accuse. Rather we actively heal them. We gather them under and into the life-giving tree. Jesus has opened the door to Eden for us. Let us go to the Life tree.

Back on the early newsletter streak.

February is here and we will quickly transition from Pre-Lent to Lent. As we begin this journey we naturally ask, why increase prayer, sacrifice more, be in church more, extend myself to others more? What will come out of this? Won’t I just end up grumpy? God has a game plan, an end game in mind for us. Lent helps us to reconnect to that plan, to wash ourselves clean of everything that clouds our vision of the Paradise He has promised us and has provided to us through the sacrifice of His Son Jesus. Lent is about recapturing Eden.

February – we do Lentopoly and celebrate some really special events. There’s a Confirmation, the Bishop’s attendance at out annual parish meeting on February 14th (want to ask a question, here’s your chance). There is an invitation to a Polish Mardis Gras celebration. Lots of other great stuff too. Also, important news on CONVO 2016 and this Special Year Reverence Across our Holy Church.

You may view and download a copy of our February 2016 Newsletter right here.

A series of
principles.

“Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above his teacher, but every one when he is fully taught will be like his teacher. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by its own fruit. The good man out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure produces evil; for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”

Many remember the old adage – how do you know the proper spelling of the word principal? It is based on the context. A school principal is your pal. Principles are sets of moral rules, values, or guiding beliefs. Today we hear Jesus’ call to live God’s principles.

Today’s gospel is an excerpt from the Sermon on the Mount (actually in the Gospel according to St. Luke, delivered on a Plain). Last week, Jesus talked about the beatitudes, the way life should be lived – a set of values that are in touch and consistent with God’s desires for our lives. Today, Jesus sets forth a group of principles – ways of conducting our life so that they exemplify and put the beatitudes into action.

The funny thing about principles is that anyone can develop them. There are all kinds of common sense sayings, adages, and aphorisms that people use every day. As the season of politics and elections drones on we will regularly hear “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” We laugh, shake it off and move on. We don’t put a lot of this into action by making essential changes in our politics.

We cannot do so with Jesus’ principles. As we continue our Pre-Lenten journey we are called to renew our effort to take Jesus’ principles to heart and engrain them in our everyday lives. We need to make essential changes in our lives so that Jesus’ principles are dearer to us than anything. Do not judge others’ sins and speak good words to all. Pre-Lent will help us see where we fall short of the excellence Jesus calls us to so that in Lent we can work diligently to fix our life system. His call wasn’t just a few words of common wisdom proclaimed on the Mount or on a Plain. His principles are so much more than adages – more than nice or instructive words. They are a direct key to be used so we live in oneness with God and obtain His promises, His blessings. So we bear good fruit!

Jesus’ principles are not the way life “should” be lived, but the way His disciples (that’s us) must live. Fixing our inner system leads to finding true joy on Easter – real blessing. We will then be found standing with those who are blessed in the Father’s eyes forever.

This week’s memory verse: The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.1 Corinthians 2:14

Pray the week: Lord Jesus, grant me Your graces in this season of preparation so that I might perceive Your reality clearly.

Time for a gut
check, really.

For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

Gut check: an evaluation or test of a person’s resolve, commitment, or priorities, typically with respect to a particular course of action.

Today we enter the Pre-Lenten season of Septuagesima. This is prime time to do a gut check. What do we believe and why do we believe it?

St. Paul confronted this with the people of Corinth.

Some people in the Church at Corinth claimed there was no resurrection from the dead. They could not reason or see how dead people could possibly come back.

They were seeing with worldly eyes and were thinking with worldly reasoning.

Paul pointed out the fact that the faith they accepted was in the Jesus that was preached to them. Eyewitnesses to the resurrected Jesus preached to them. They were lucky enough to get a first-hand account from those who witnessed the resurrection; the resurrection of the One who also raised Lazarus, the widow’s son, and Jairus’ daughter from the dead. Logically, if Christ rose from the dead, so shall we. If resurrection was impossible then Christ did not rise from the dead. If He did not rise, what’s the point of our belief? We are not saved, Jesus was nothing more than a common man, and dead is dead.

The very foundation of Christianity – the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus – is make believe and we are wasting our time believing in Him, worshipping Him, and following His good news.

St. Paul emphatically states: in fact Christ has been raised from the dead. What we believe is true as seen and reported and worthy of belief. Not just that, but what we believe is also our destiny. It is the promise we hold onto.

As we begin the Pre-Lenten season let us also do a ‘gut check.’ When we kneel, what is that about? When we receive, Who do we receive? Who gave us the promises we hold onto? Our gut should tell us God made real in our lives.

We have this chance to check in, to reflect, and to see with heavenly eyes. Getting back to basics will make our Lenten journey more fruitful. Our ‘gut check’ brings us back to the most basic message of all. Jesus is real and all He said and did is real. His reality, His victory, His joy, like the resurrection is ours too – really!

wineskin

Time to get a new
shirt.

And Jesus said to them, “No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; if he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; if he does, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but new wine is for fresh skins.”

At the marriage in Cana the old wine ran out. The old wine was made with human effort, over a period of many years – but it could not meet the need – it ran out. This is a parable of life under the old way of doing things. The old wine runs out; no longer satisfies or is sufficient. The Lord has come to give us new wine, new life. He stands ready to fill us with His new wine.

Jesus came bringing a very powerful message. He promised us spiritual gifts that go beyond everyday life experience. He offers us freedom from sin and a law that drew heavy penalties for sin – chiefly the penalty of death. Instead He tells us that He has paid the price once and for all. He promises us immortality, a future life liberated from death, sickness, disease, poverty, and isolation. He lets us know that no matter, there is a future for each of us. He gave more than a bunch of promises; instead He made co-heirs and true children of God, His brothers and sisters. We have power that goes beyond this world. This is His new wine.

This powerful message does not work on those beholden to the old ways. In fact it causes them to burst in anger and retribution (old wineskins). Old wineskins are hard and unyielding.

We must be those new wineskins, ready to receive the Lord’s new wine. We must be people of His new way.

In the same way, Jesus draws the parallel to patching a garment. You cannot sew unshrunken cloth to a torn old garment; it will only make the tear worse. Jesus wants to clothe us with an entirely new garment of salvation, our baptismal robes. People beholden to old ways don’t want to change their old shrunken and torn ways for new ones. We, on the other hand, have to be ready to receive Jesus’ new ways – His garment.

As we come to the close of our Pre-Lenten season we have to ask ourselves whether we are ready to enter into the Great Lent ahead. It is not just being ready to give up chocolate, or meat, or acting angry toward a rude driver, but ready to be new wineskins – flexible and open to receiving Jesus’ new wine – His message. Will we allow ourselves to be filled, changed, and molded by Him? Are we ready to put on new clothes? With commitment to following Jesus and living His way we will hold Him and wear Him into life everlasting.