I was just remembering back to a year ago when we were still trying to sell our house in Gonzales, a lovely but older country home, that was our all time favorite house. We had put it on the market 6 months prior and still no contract. We got discouraged because folks walked away after seeing it, complaining about only one sink in the master bath, counter tops are’t updated, laundry room’s too small, appliances are the wrong color, or the cabinets aren’t flush.
Karen looks at me one night as we get ready for bed and says, “I’m praying that someone looks at our home and falls in love with the character and beauty of the old girl, including her imperfections that we barely notice...that they recognize that if these walls could talk—so much life, love, prayer and joy have been lived inside of them.”
And I thought to myself, "Wow, could that be how God looks at our imperfect lives lived as temples of the Holy Spirit?" What if we looked at one another that way? Imperfections are always going to be there. But rather than focus on negatives, what if we became more aware of God's love for each of us, imperfections and all? And what if we focus on what God is actually doing in our lives to use those imperfections as reminders of his love, grace and mercy. I'll bet we'd be amazed at the effect that has on how we think, pray and respond toward both ourselves and others.
Before dismissing Nicholas Cruz as a demonic monster (which he may very well be), let’s remember that he started out life just like the rest of us, as a human being made in God's Perhaps given what his life has been like and his personal dispositions, it’s quite possible that there but for the grace of God go I. Might the Jesus we know in the gospels have compassion on one so obviously driven by demons in his life?
Can we muster up ANY level of love and mercy for this damaged human being? Yes it’s incredibly hard to do because of his horrific killing spree of so many innocent people, many in the midst of their most fun and carefree years. May they rest in God's Presence and may their families be comforted by strengthened by that same holy Presence. But what about the shooter? As uncomfortable as it is to think of him in any way other than deserving death, Jesus died for us all while we were yet sinners because he loves us even though we're sick, broken people. Cruz doesn't deserve mercy...none of us do. But will Christ offer it to him? Are we able to see with different eyes....perhaps the eyes of Christ.
Nicholas Cruz will never see the light of day again. For his own protection, he will likely be separated from other inmates, This separation is the consequence of his actions, not just from other humans, but from God. Is any kind of reconciliation possible for Nicholas Cruz? Isolation is difficult. It’s filled with despair and hopelessness. Nothing to do but read, paint or get lost in one's thoughts…OR…maybe pray. One never knows; it might be the very place he meets the love of God for the first time in his life.
Our temptation to judge Cruz is understandable, but how we judge is crucial, as it reflects whether we worship a God of grace, mercy, love and forgiveness, or one who finds no redeeming quality in notorious sinners and prefers to throw them away. We're tempted to discard him as a piece of trash out of a sense of retribution, but God loves him and desires to be reconciled once again. Which temptation are we drawn to choose? Do we see hope for the hopeless, or a vindictive end to a cruel life? We may be caught in the middle. But we can’t stay there forever. What we decide will reflect the One we worship.
Living in the present moment is tricky because there really isn’t a present moment in time. The present is merely a description of what happens when the future become the past. The passage of time is imperceptibly fast. To be attuned to the present moment then, is to be present to the actual passage of time, not the static nature of time, which doesn’t exist. We can’t say, “Stop world and let me get off for a minute or two, so I can be still in the present moment.” Can’t happen—you’ll never be in the present—not in this life. Life is meant to be lived & experienced in a moving process called time, designed to be interpreted, enjoyed, suffered, loved, reconciled, healed, and to glorify God. But time only stops for us when our life stops.
Consider adding these things to your Rule of Life in Lent:
Lent is the most penitential season of holiness in the Church Year, preparing us spiritually for the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection 40 days later. Christians are expected to set aside time for increased personal devotion, prayer, fasting, Bible reading, meditative reflection, self-examination of our conscience, confessing and repenting of our sins, and receiving forgiveness from the Lord. Focusing on Jesus’ crucifixion helps make us aware of the gift of salvation that is too often taken for granted. This is a time when we fast on certain days to give more careful attention to our spiritual nature. We may also abstain from certain rich foods as a means of simplifying our diets, taking better care of our bodies which are the temple of the Holy Spirit, and identifying with those who don't have enough to eat. Fasting is primarily an act of worship acknowledging that God’s throne rules our heart by giving priority to feeding our souls over indulging our appetites. Lent slows us down so we can listen to God. All Sundays are resurrection feast days. So even in Lent, Sundays are not technically counted among the 40 days of self-denial between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday, yet they retain a penitential character to remind the Body of Christ gathered that repentance and grace are the keys to living in the Kingdom of God.
For me, the key to staying married for 40 years is to have a sense of humor, listen don't fix, stop trying to change the other, forgive endlessly, make up quickly, love deeply, worship together regularly, relying relentlessly on God's grace, and finally (and this is critical) have a wife with the patience of Job!
Preachers talk when we get together, and most that I know admit that Christmas and Easter sermons are among the most difficult preaching challenges of the year. Odd, isn’t it? The Incarnation of Jesus Christ is such a simple but profoundly complex reality. It’s anything but the trivial sentimentality we too often assign to it. I wonder a lot about why…..
Has the beautiful Christmas story become so familiar that we’ve lost any real sense of what its mystery really means to us? Has the amazement at what makes Christmas truly amazing escaped us, and been replaced with superficial amazement of culturally self-manufactured excitement? Has it become nothing more than an annual food fest of gathered family units, with joyful gift giving, overindulgent parties, and acts of kindness done in the “spirit” of Christmas, without any comprehension of what that spirit is really all about?
Is it no more than a magical time that takes place once a year but wears off within a few days, when we return back to our “normal” lives, having enjoyed what we either considered a “good” Christmas or a “bad” Christmas, depending on our level of happiness or depression? How many ways has the script of Christmas been rewritten to conform to our preferences? The alternative stories are certainly not evil, but neither are they real. Yet they serve to promote good feelings, and that’s what Christmas is supposed to be all about, right? How is Christmas more than that? Or is it? We’re usually too distracted to really have much care or awareness about the incomprehensible. It’s just easier to focus on the simple pleasures of a different narrative.
History is re-written all the time, and always has been. I naively expected to study an objective discipline when I became a history major as an undergrad...amazed and shocked when I found that there are all kinds of varieties and perspectives of history. If we can just focus on the WHAT questions, we get a pretty uniform answer, but when we delve into the WHY, we have a lot more diversity. It can become very subjective then, with lots of levels of interpretive “truth”. And yet, the WHY is essential.
The WHY is the most important question in most cases, as it gets to the depth of the superficial WHAT, and leads us to the whole point of the enterprise we're studying, practicing, believing, worshiping or living. But the WHY cannot be pure speculation or else it's just another perspective among many. It has to have merit based on truth by a clear understanding the author, poet, philosopher, religion or morality, which usually requires spending much more time analyzing the WHAT.
Anyone can rewrite the WHAT with a whole slew of WHY's and be doing no more than guessing what the real “truth” is, of the WHAT. But when one truly observes the WHAT while pursuing the true WHY, without any preconceived notions (if that’s even possible), it at least has the potential to teach and enlighten us as well as reveal truth at the deepest level
For instance, the WHAT of Christmas is a joyful thing to celebrate (however it’s done), but the WHY of Christmas is perhaps the most profound consideration ever beheld, experienced or contemplated by the world…and in many cases, ignored and rejected. Does any of that make sense to anyone?
In a couple of weeks, I’ll preach about something so incredible that one can only fall to one’s knees in adoration if you believe what the Church proclaims. The angel says to the shepherds in the field, "Do not be afraid; for see-- I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” That’s the WHAT of Christmas. I pray that by the time the gospel is read at the Christ Mass, I will have some compelling words regarding the WHY of Christmas, that will “give flesh,” so to speak, to the biblical narrative…. For unto us a Savior is born, Jesus Christ the Lord.
Have a Blessed Advent and a joyous Christmas!
President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on this date in 1963. If you grew up in Dallas, this is especially seared in your memory, not unlike 9/11. I was in the 5th grade and I remember the day like it was yesterday. The great Anglican apologist, C.S. Lewis, who has influenced so many people in their faith, also died that day, but few noticed because of the tragedy in Dallas. Garrison Keillor's Writer's Almanac records the following for today:
Kennedy hadn’t formally announced that he was going to run for re-election in 1964, but he was laying the groundwork. He embarked on a tour out west to sound out potential themes — like education and national security — that he could center his future campaign on. Florida and Texas were key states that he would need to win, so he planned to visit both states. He and his wife Jackie, who had been out of the public eye since the death of their son Patrick in August, started in San Antonio, then moved on to Houston and Fort Worth, where they spent the night of November 21st. After a few public appearances in rainy Fort Worth on the morning of the 22nd, the Kennedys took a 13-minute flight to Dallas’s Love Field. The rain had stopped, so the plastic bubble was left off the top of the convertible limousine that carried the Kennedys, Governor John Connally, and his wife, Nellie. The party embarked on a 10-mile route that would take them to the Trade Mart, where the president was scheduled to speak at a luncheon.
But, of course, the motorcade didn’t make it to Trade Mart. As they drove through Dealey Plaza, Lee Harvey Oswald opened fire from a sixth-floor window in the Texas School Book Depository. The president was rushed to Parkland Memorial Hospital with gunshot wounds to his head and neck. He was pronounced dead at 1:00 p.m., and Vice President Lyndon Johnson took the oath of office at 2:38. President Kennedy was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery on Monday, November 25 — his son John Junior’s third birthday.
Last month, President Trump ordered the release of nearly 3,000 records related to the assassination. The National Archives will release them in batches over the next few months.
I’m a 4th generation Texan, born and raised in Dallas, except for the first 9 years of my life. I grew up as an Army brat until my dad retired and we moved back home to Dallas when I was in the 4th grade. I lived in Asuncion, Paraguay as a pre-schooler and was fluent in Spanish and Guarani when we returned to the States. But alas, you lose it if you don’t use it.