31 March 2016

3 Signs You Are a Modern Day Pharisee

We all (even amid good intentions) have tendency to act hypocritical in life. Maybe on occasion flash our own Pharisee card from time to time. In my life, I have done that more times than I would like to admit. 

And honestly who wants to be compared to those guys Jesus so often had to forcefully address throughout his ministry? But deep down, each of us is more like those guys than we'd care to admit.
The Pharisees are mentioned in sermons and classrooms, and even are a source of jokes. The truth of the matter though is that Pharisees still exist today.  

The following things are ways I have personally struggled with legalism and being a Pharisee in my own life. While I am less blind and more aware now, I still have a long way to go in the grace and mercy department.

1. Believing showing up for worship every Sunday makes you right with God.
I used to think just "showing up" on Sunday morning meant that I was better holier than other people, especially people like rapists or murderers. Just because I slid my butt in the pew and showed up, I somehow thought the bar for sanctification was less for me. I tried to measure my holiness. Funny thing though all that measuring I was doing, didn't have me in many ways transforming into the image of God. 
I was probably as judgmental, selfish, and unloving as the person who wasn't just "showing up" on Sunday.
Just showing up on Sunday is not what makes us right with God. 

2. Making every issue black and white.
There are many things the Bible is very clear on, but the Bible is grey on many issues too. I don't think modern-day Pharisees are even remotely comfortable in the world of grey (because I used to be like that). Everything must be black and white. In or out. Yes or no. Sinner or Saved. Up or down.

This is the one I most aligned myself with. I made people and situations black or white. The thing though behind every hot-button religious or cultural issue are people. People whose situations define and shape them in ways only God alone knows. There is really a lot more grey than we think.

I can relate to this concept a lot know because I can humbly admit I used to make the issue of divorce very black and white: "Well, good and righteous Christians don't get divorced. And those that do are creating a grave sin against God." It is really, really humbling (not to mention eye opening) when the tables turn and you find yourself in a situation you previously deemed so awful.

It is dangerous to become the morality police. I know in my own life those are the area's God has humbled me most. When I am willing to stop making assumptions before I listen and allow myself the possibility maybe I don't have it all right.

3. An unrepentant heart...you don't have any "serious" sin to repent of.
I used to think I was a pretty good person because I never had "serious sin" to repent of. Sure I wasn't a rapist, murderer, never had an abortion, or stole millions of dollars. But what about the way I gossiped or judged others? What about lying and selfishness? Or how about self-righteousness?

Modern-day Pharisees think they don't have any sin to repent of. Repentance involves vulnerability and weakness. Repentance is for people who sin "really" bad. Not for them.

See when you start to think as long as there is no "serious sin" in your life, you are just fooling yourself. Because Jesus didn't come to earth and categorize sin. He hated all sin, all things that led us away from Him. So He hates all sin. We all have serious sin that needs to be dealt with. The fact we are all sinners reveals our need for God.

Have you ever found yourself to struggle with any of these in your own life? 

Are there others signs you would to the list?

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27 March 2016

Today Changes Everything.

If it happened it matters. That is one of the simplest and most powerful statements on the truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ I have ever come across in my life. 

If it happened, it matters-really matters.

God taking on human flesh, carrying upon His body the weight of all our sins, dying on the cross in our place, rising from the dead to defeat and destroy death forever-if this has happened, then it changes absolutely everything.

And if this hasn't happened, then we are all seriously wasting our time gathering as a community every Sunday. St. Paul wrote to Christians in Corinth not to long after the Resurrection: "If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins" (1 Cor 15:14-17).

If Jesus is not alive, then death wins. Then suffering is of no use, has no deeper purpose or meaning. Then life here on this earth is pointless, and has no meaning. Then there is no hope. Then we are forever defined and named by our sins and brokenness.

What an unbelievably sad tragedy to live life in that perspective. What an empty life that is for so many who do not know that Jesus has been raised, that He is alive, that death and sin have been destroyed forever.

But it did happen. And it matters tremendously.
Today changed everything.

The tide has turned forever. Satan lost the battle, and Jesus won back our freedom we foolishly lost in Eden. The power of death and sin can no longer hold us captive in chains. Because it happened it matters. For all of us. It we allow it, this reality has the power to transform and restore our lives.

Whether you realize it or not, today changes everything. And I cannot think of a more hopeful, promising truth we need to cling to as a human race.

Are we living our daily lives as if today, this day changes everything?

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18 March 2016

The Day Church (really) Became My Family

Last weekend I was helping at a weekend retreat our church was running for people who are attending Alpha. I joined up with a small group for the videos, discussion, and helped with prayer ministry.

On Sunday before a closing Mass, people had an opportunity to give witness how God worked in them over the weekend. It was beautiful, powerful; the kind that leaves you in awe and speechless of the power of God. As the last person finished sharing, I had a realization: "these people, this church community, they are my family."

I know. That can have hokey, cheesy Hallmark vibes. But it wasn't that way. On a heart level, I suddenly looked differently at people whom on many levels I didn't know other than seeing them in the pew. It just struck me on such a deep chord, that we bring our entire selves to the table on Sunday. And that maybe for the first time in my adult life, I have truly felt like the people I worship with on Sunday are really my family.

We bring our hurt, pain, and brokenness when we come to worship. The Church, Pope Francis writes, is not a museum of saints, but a hospital for sinners. Church (while not just a building) isn't where we come all neat n' tidy, but where we bring our hot-mess-self to find communion and unity with each other and God. 

How many people whom we worship with on Sunday are battling alcoholism? Loneliness or depression? A marriage in crisis? Infertility? Divorce? Sexual addiction? Physical or emotional abuse? Probably a lot, more than we could ever know.

It sounds quite odd coming from a person who has grown up going to church her entire life. But while I grew up in church and knew lots of people who frequented those pews, it never felt like family to me. Yes I knew people, but really didn't know them. I only saw their polished, shiny version. 

Over the weekend on the Alpha retreat, I really got to know some of the people. They shared and poured out their brokenness, which made me feel brave enough to get vulnerable too. I got to know them on a vulnerable level, that place we often avoid to go because it can be raw, painful, and awkward. 

I met and became friends with a beautiful young woman who is walking the same path as me right now; she is not letting the reality of divorce define her. I prayed with and shared tears with people facing different situations in life. I let strangers into my fear and pain, I let them pray and cry with me too.

I realized in that small chapel all those unique, beautiful, and broken people are my people too. We are not different from each other. I belong, they belong. In each of our broken pieces, we belong and find communion with each other and our God.

And for me, this realization is a broken kind of beautiful.

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14 March 2016

Carpe Kairos. Ditch the Diem.

Carpe Diem. Seize the day. 
Make the most of the present moment in front of you. Enjoy life. Be grateful.

It is one of those cute, nice phrases that looks good on fridge magnets or bumper stickers. But when talked about being lived out, more or less often leaves me feeling frustrated.

Sometimes what life gives you carpe diem is the very last thing you feel like doing. It can hard to seize the day or be grateful, when things in life don't feel or look the way you want. I can relate to that right now. Yes strive to be grateful. Look for the goodness and beauty amid the ashes. 
But when even seizing the day feels impossible, carpe kairos moments.

Kairos is God's time, it's time outside of time. The word Kairos is a Greek word meaning "a moment in time" where everything changes because it is the right time. It is a significant event or experience that leaves an imprint on your soul (think permanent Sharpie marker). These sweet moments can actually change the course of our life if we allow them to. 

Kairos are those magical moments where time stands still. Kairos moments help us recognize God's voice and act on the moment in front of us. It helps us to see God in all things and experiences, to be on the look-out excitedly waiting for where he will show up next in our daily life.

It can be easy though to miss those Kairos moments. 

Like when I mentally complain about the long line in the bank. If I choose to actually stop complaining, and really look at those people at the line in front of me. Look for the face of Christ in them, pray for them from my heart for whatever they are facing on their journey.

Or when I choose to (momentarily) feel sorry for myself or complain to God about the parts of life I am not too crazy about right now. But then in my heart I remember I didn't need to run away from a physically abusive relationship or end up in a women's shelter with babies in my arms. And that thought leads to a heart-felt plea to God for those women not as fortunate as I. And I just start to recall, name all the graces and good things where I can see God's hand present right now.
Thank you, God. Kairos.

Look for the Kairos moments each day in your life. 

Ditch the Diem.
Grab a couple more Karios moments.

Because those are the moments that really matter in the end.

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04 March 2016

What Justin Bieber & Hillsong Taught Me About Ministry

Two weeks ago I got together with my friend Sarah for coffee. She works for Alpha in and this weekend I am traveling to Atlanta to lead an Alpha retreat for a local church. I am mucho pumped.

That day we got together for coffee, Sarah told me about an article she read on a journalist's report on the inside of Hillsong NYC. 
Do yourself a favor, and read the article because its REALLY good.
The huge numbers of millennials lining to the street to go to church there Sunday morning or the relevancy of the message preached...there is something that struck at a very deep level for this progressive Jewish news reporter. 

At one point, the reporter hits up Pastor Carl with all the "biggie" issues we tend to fight over and point fingers at sometimes today: abortion, homosexuality, etc. 
The following is what really hit me between the eyes:

"He said, "If you sit down with me and you say, 'Carl, I'm having an abortion,' I'm going to say, 'I think that you can have this child. I don't know how hard it is going to be. I could never imagine. I do know my prayer is that God will give you peace to stand on this side with me. Should you choose another option, I will not turn my back on you. I will not vilify you. I will not hate you. I will not, I cannot, live your life. I love you regardless, but my prayer is that somehow, some way, you will see my view on this.' ... It's important to him that everyone is welcome at his church-that homosexuality isn't a different kind of sin to him than, say tithing at percent instead of 10 percent, or gossiping or telling a lie. Everyone should feel welcome at Hillsong."

This is what ministry is all about: passionately loving and walking besides people no matter what. Whether or not they have it all together. Or they make the right choices or not, but to walk along with them in the beauty.joy.pain.suffering.sin of life. I know it sounds simple, and maybe that doesn't sound like much to you. For me it was a prayer in my heart, "Yes Lord, I want to love others like this!" A rallying cry...that this is where the rubber meets the road in living the Christian life.

I remember when I was younger and much more judgmental. I used to think it was better to "know" all the answers and have the perfect response to win or be right. My love for the truth was so backwards because it lacked a true love of my neighbor; the type of love that dares to ask the difficult questions or to really listen with empathy to someone whose beliefs or life experience were the total opposite of mine. 

Ministry, being with people in the beautiful mess of life is not easy. It requires vulnerability to go and be with people right where they are, no matter how messy, painful, or awkward it gets. And it always gets messy.
That is the beautiful life-changing power of story we see time and time again in the Gospels. 
God in the flesh going to the broken, messed-up, misunderstood people; to listen, love, care, and meet them right in the middle of their mud. Not to be legalistic, but to meet them with truth wrapped in love.

I love Jesus and I love my Catholic faith. Like a lot. I believe both are critical pieces that are helping me become the best version of myself.

One thing I have seen or experienced at times growing up, is the church can be good at naming or identifying sins, but sometimes we (collectively as a body of believers) have royally sucked at walking along with broken, hurting, or misunderstood people. We have been better at saying "Don't do that" or "Be like this" and the message that can come across is "You are loved/accepted only if you make the right choice" or "Only if you follow the rules." No, I'm not saying throw the rules away.

The problem is not with the rules, but the problem is with our hearts. Loving our neighbor means meeting them right they are, this is the work of ministry. Ministry means it will be messy, uncomfortable, and yes awkward. We'll make mistakes and probably say the wrong thing from time to time. Hell I have done plenty of that in my 30 years on earth so far! 
There have been far too many times I was judgmental and harsh when I really need to shut up and listen.

I don't want the faith I profess to be a clean, sanitized version of what Jesus calls us to. 
What Jesus calls for is radical.
I want to be willing and vulnerable; to meet and love the people God puts in my life right where they are.

So thanks Pastor Carl Lentz  (and yes you too Biebs!) for reminding me that ministry is about not being afraid to get messy. Even a recovering good girl like myself needs this reminder from time to time.

P.S. Did I tell you that you should really read this?? ;-)

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02 March 2016

3 Ways to Jumpstart your Debt Snowball

I find it humorous to be writing about the debt snowball today considering in the last week we in the mitten state were dumped with snow and yesterday freezing rain. Spring, please come soon and fast! #iwantmyshorts

I am working hard to kick my school loans to the curb, and while there have been some hiccups along the way, I am making progress. By the end of summer, the plan is to have knocked down another $6,000 and staring to make a dent in the 3 big ones left.

The whole concept of the debt snowball is a primary principle of Mr. Dave Ramsey. All extra money goes into paying down the smallest debt, and then when that debt is paid it rolls over into the next highest debt; therefore creating a snowball effect.

When I first got started with following Dave's plan, it was hard to get traction in making a dent with debt. And now with life changes and income cuts, it makes me a little nervous wondering how everything will play out. But there have been several things that have and continue to be helpful as I plug along making progress in my debt snowball.

1. Sell stuff!
I purged through a lot appliances, furniture, and clothes. Yes, I even hit up a pawn store with my brother. That was an interesting adventure to say the least...
If you are able, pull together a yard sale, hit up Craigslist, or even look on Facebook for online garage sale groups in your local community! 

2. Any extra money, throw at the snowball!
I have been pretty good about this, most of the time ;) If I do any speaking or am able to earn some extra money, I throw it at my snowball. Of course it isn't always regular extra income, but it happens I want to make sure it goes where I need it most.

3. Start a side hustle!
I am really considering this one right now. This blog has a lot of good idea's I am looking at for extra ways to earn some money. This will take more research and careful planning, but good to know its out there as an option.

Do you use the debt snowball model? If you have debt, what helps you kick it to the curb?

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