Practice What You Preach And Serve One Master

Matthew 23:1-12

Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying,
“The scribes and the Pharisees
have taken their seat on the chair of Moses.
Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you,
but do not follow their example.
For they preach but they do not practice.
They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry
and lay them on people’s shoulders,
but they will not lift a finger to move them.
All their works are performed to be seen.
They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels.
They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues,
greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation ‘Rabbi.’
As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi.’
You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers.
Call no one on earth your father;
you have but one Father in heaven.
Do not be called ‘Master’;
you have but one master, the Christ.
The greatest among you must be your servant.
Whoever exalts himself will be humbled;
but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

Didn’t we already learn from the first week of Lent, that Jesus was tempted in the desert by the devil to have all the honor and glory that he wanted? We don’t need that kind of temptation and we don’t need that kind of life here on earth. It might look good on the outside to be “seated at a place of honor at banquets and synagogues” as the scribes and Pharisees were in this passage. But as Jesus mentioned, they were not practicing what they were preaching. They loved being honored like that. We don’t need to mimic this behavior. It LOOKS attractive, but with all that praise and honor comes idolatry and worship of false idols. We don’t need people worshiping us and we certainly need not worship anyone but God.

It’s also interesting to note people who are called Master. We might not use this exact word but we do put people up on high pedestals, don’t we? We like to call celebrities Kings and Queens. We buy their clothing line or perfume, or we watch their tv shows and read their interviews and hang on to every word they say. Idolatry is alive and well today although you may think it’s an old school practice.

This passage reminds us to humble ourselves before the Lord. He is our one true Master, He is our only King, and He is the only one we need to honor and praise daily.

Fit In Your Faith Today: Do you have idol worship? Do you look to celebrities or even just friends or people in your inner circle as Kings and Queens? Take a look at what Jesus preached. Are you practicing or just going through the motions? Ask yourself these questions this Lent and make a change if you need to stop worshiping false idols and start praising the one and only King, Jesus Christ.

Hunger For God

Isaiah 58:6-9

This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
Setting free the oppressed,
breaking every yoke;
Sharing your bread with the hungry,
sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own.
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed;
Your vindication shall go before you,
and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer,
you shall cry for help, and he will say: Here I am!

This reading from Isaiah was read during Friday (yesterday) mass. It’s a good reminder to all of us what true fasting is. And what God wanted and sees as hungering for Him. It’s not just fasting from food or our favorite snack. No, it’s also clothing the naked when you see them, sharing your food with those who are truly hungry and in need, fasting from unjust practices, and abstaining from a particular bad habit that you might have.

Fit In Your Faith This Lent: Get creative with your fasting this Lent. Maybe one day you fast from social media, another day you fast from keeping that extra change and giving it to the homeless man sitting outside the grocery store, and perhaps one day you fast from gossiping about others. There are many ways you can Hunger For God, and not just with your empty stomach.

 

Their Hardened Hearts

Mark 8:14-21

The disciples had forgotten to bring bread,
and they had only one loaf with them in the boat.
Jesus enjoined them, “Watch out,
guard against the leaven of the Pharisees
and the leaven of Herod.”
They concluded among themselves that
it was because they had no bread.
When he became aware of this he said to them,
“Why do you conclude that it is because you have no bread?
Do you not yet understand or comprehend?
Are your hearts hardened?
Do you have eyes and not see, ears and not hear?
And do you not remember,
when I broke the five loaves for the five thousand,
how many wicker baskets full of fragments you picked up?”
They answered him, “Twelve.”
“When I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand,
how many full baskets of fragments did you pick up?”
They answered him, “Seven.”
He said to them, “Do you still not understand?”

From the New Life Study Bible:

Jesus rebuked the disciples for their hard hearts. Today the Hardhearts believe:

(1) that poverty is always caused by laziness; helping the poor only enables them;

(2) that worship is best conducted in one way- our way- which has worked very well for forty years, thank you, and need not be changed;

(3) that evangelism doesn’t apply; people will never change anyways, so we don’t need to do it. Joining the Hardhearts requires only one pledge; you must refuse to listen to Jesus’ questions. Don’t be a hardheart. Be open to Christ’s truth. Let him soften your heart.

Fit In Your Faith Today: Do you allow Christ to “soften” your heart? It’s difficult to accept new ways of thinking. It’s hard to believe in God all the time. What’s EASY is the opposite: To believe in nothing; to think that change is not possible with any one or any thing; that evangelism can soften a heart or two. Shift your way of thinking and accept that your once hardened heart, is now softening for the love of Christ.

 

Be Made Clean

Mark 1: 40-45

A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said,
“If you wish, you can make me clean.”
Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand,
touched him, and said to him,
“I do will it. Be made clean.”
The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean.
Then, warning the him sternly, he dismissed him at once.

He said to him, “See that you tell no one anything,
but go, show yourself to the priest
and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed;
that will be proof for them.”

The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter.
He spread the report abroad
so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly.
He remained outside in deserted places,
and people kept coming to him from everywhere.

This is the Gospel for the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, just a few days before Lent begins.

Before you gloss over this story as just another time that Jesus cured someone who was sick, you might want to take another look at the language in this scripture passage from the Gospel of Mark.

Some things to note:

    • The leper approaches Jesus directly. At the time lepers were ostracized. They also announced their sickness by saying, “Unclean! Unclean!” This man does neither of these things. In fact, he does the opposite of this!
    • The leper also declares and knows that Jesus can heal him. He doesn’t really ask for healing, he says Jesus can do it. Very aggressive and confident of him!
    • Jesus touches the leper. Anyone who would touch a leper at this time would be considered unclean themselves. They were now at risk for getting leprosy themselves.

The leper goes out and tells everyone publicly what has happened to him. He evangelizes!

Father Robert Barron over at WordonFire.org for this gospel and I thought it worthy to share. Give it a listen when you have a few minutes. It will make you look at this gospel in a whole new way.

Fit In Your Faith Today:  Who are you in this story of Jesus and leper? Are you the one who feels like you need healing, looking in from the outside? Or are you someone who people come to for help? Do you answer that call for help or do you turn away? Do you treat them as if they were “unclean?” How can you be an example of the Christian community and show them respect and even help them if they need “healing?”

 

Not an Inspired Message

1 Corinthians 13: 1-2, 8-10

I may be able to speak the languages of human beings and even of angels, but if I have no love, my speech is no more than a noisy gong or a clanging bell. I may have the gift of inspired preaching; I may have all knowledge and understand all secrets; I may have all the faith needed to move mountains- but if I have no love, I am nothing. 

Love is eternal. There are inspired messages, but they are temporary; there are gifts of speaking in strange tongues, but they will cease; there is knowledge, but it will pass. For our gifts of knowledge and of inspired messages are only partial; but when what is perfect comes, then what is partial will disappear.

Fit in Your Faith Today: Are you falling for an “inspired message” from the secular world about Valentine’s Day and about Love? Remember who and what is love: God. God is love. (1 John 4:7-10) Let us show one another THIS kind of love not just today, but every day. Not just with chocolate and flowers, but with actions and words.

The Gift

“What we are is God’s gift to us. What we become is our gift to God.”

-Eleanor Powell

Fit in Your Faith Today: Do you think of your life as a gift from God? What can you do to show others that you are special and that life is precious?

Isaiah 26:3

Isaiah 26:3

You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!

From the New Life Study Bible:

We can never avoid strife in the world around us, but when we fix our thoughts on God, we can know perfect peace even in turmoil. We focus our mind on God and his Word, we become steady and stable. Supported by God’s unchanging love and mighty power, we are not shaken by the surrounding chaos. Do you want peace? Keep your thoughts on God and your trust in him.

 

Running the Race of Faith

Hebrews 12:1-2

New Living Translation:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now, he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.

Good News Translation:

As for us, we have this large crowd of witnesses around us. So then, let us rid ourselves of everything that gets in the way, and of the sin which holds on to us tightly, and let us run with determination the race that lies before us. Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end. He did not give up because of the cross! On the contrary, because of the joy that was waiting for him, he thought nothing of the disgrace of dying on the cross, and he is now seated at the right side of God’s throne.

There are many takeaways from this passage from Hebrews:

1. We are not alone in our struggle to stay faithful to God. The large crowd of witnesses are the people who came before us. We can think of them as up in the heavens, cheering us on in our “race.” They crossed the finish line a long time ago, but they haven’t forgotten about the rest of us. And we shouldn’t forget about them!

2. The “weights” that hold us back are difficult to let go. But we can pray for the strength to leave them behind. Once they are gone from our lives, we’ll finish our race stronger and lighter. The burden of these sins, these addictions, these people in our lives who don’t fit in with our faith have to be let go.

3. There’s no giving up. We might become discouraged at times because our circumstances get too hard, because life is unfair and because we might become persecuted or “unfriended” due to our beliefs. Jesus didn’t give up. We can’t expect to be as strong as our Savior, but we can think of the way he died for us as a reminder that as tough as we think our lives are, they can’t compare to the live and death of Jesus. We aren’t expected to be Saviors, but we can live our life as close to Christ-like as we can.

Fit In Your Faith Today: What weights are holding you back from finishing your race of faith?  Think of ways you can lighten your load, running towards the finish line with faith-filled endurance for Christ fueling you every step of the way.

Blessings in Disguise

Psalm 65:11

You crown the year with a bountiful harvest; even the hard pathways overflow with abundance.

At first glance these verses might seem kinda blah. But when you read it again, you see that David, the author, is expressing thankfulness to God, even when times are tough.

God provides abundantly, even when we are in the path of difficulty or challenge. Nature was a way that God showed his blessings and generosity to the people at that time. They were thankful for the bountiful harvest, but noted that even the rough and hard paths are overflowing with abundance as well.

You can interpret this several ways; maybe David meant that difficult people and his friends were hardened. They had a rough exterior or maybe difficult to deal with. And he could have meant that even THEY were blessed with God’s generosity and love.

Or maybe he meant difficult encounters or decisions he had to make had God’s blessing. That even when he was faced with adversity, he felt blessed by God with abundant knowledge and faith that he was making the right decision.

I think it means for us today, that we recognize the GOOD that God does when things are going our way, when our harvest is plentiful. But we also need to see God in the not so good situations. God is with us even when we are walking down a difficult path. He’s there when we are faced with a crisis or a devastating loss. He is still there providing us with abundant love and faith.

Fit In Your Faith Today: Have you recently overcome a difficult situation? Looking back on it, do you see where God was present and blessing you? It’s easy to see God in the good, but remember that He is with us even when our path is difficult. Seek His guidance in those times even more than the good times. It’s then that we can rely on His abundant love and have faith that He is providing us with help and comfort that we need.

Have You Received Your New Heart?

Ezekiel 11:19

Good News Translation

I will give them a new heart and a new mind. I will take away their stubborn heart of stone and will give them an obedient heart.

New Living Translation

And I will give them singleness of heart and put a new spirit within them. I will take away their stony, stubborn heart and give them a tender, responsive heart.

I included the New Living Translation in this scripture passage so we can see how the New Life Bible Study defines singleness of heart:” a unanimous singleness of purpose.”  The commentary goes on to say: “No longer will God’s people seek many gods; they will be content with God. Their stony, stubborn hearts of stone will be radically transplanted with tender, responsive hearts. This new life can only be the work of the Holy Spirit. It is God’s work, but we must recognize and turn from our sin. When we do, God will give us new motives, new guidelines, and new purpose.”

After reading this passage I immediately thought of the church hymn, “Here I Am Lord” by Dan Schutte that we often sung as children during mass growing up. I always get a little smile on my face when I see it listed as one of the hymns during mass these days because it brings back such great memories as a kid.

Here are the verses that came to my mind:

I, the Lord of snow and rain,
I have borne my people’s pain.
I have wept for love of them, They turn away.
I will break their hearts of stone,
Give them hearts for love alone.
I will speak My word to them
Whom shall I send?

It’s a wonderful song but I would get so sad when I would sing it sometimes because it’s almost like a love letter from God to the His people that won’t listen to Him! The people are turning away and worshiping false idols and pagan gods and they won’t listen to the prophets. But finally, God is telling them that indeed, He will take all of this away and they will be content to worshiping just Him. He’s going to give them new motivation. A new heart.

Have you ever hit rock bottom? What does everyone say when you’re at the end of your rope, at the bottom of the pit? “Well, there’s no where else to go but up!” Right? I almost feel like this is similar – We hit the bottom, we have reached our limit and there’s nowhere else to go. We can’t get any more low than we are at this moment. And then…God turns our stubborn hearts into loving ones. We get out of this rut. We turn the page. A new heart, a new life, a new purpose!

The time between hitting that bottom and getting a new heart is probably a lot longer than we care to admit. But it can happen. The Holy Spirit is working inside us constantly to change and form us into the people that God wants us to be. And our hearts are being transformed too!

Fit In You Faith Today: What comes to mind when you hear that God will take your stubborn heart and turn it into a tender and loving one? Do you feel renewed with a greater purpose? Spend some time with this passage and perhaps with the hymn I referenced (or another one!) and study the lyrics and words. Is God trying to get you to turn away from a sin that’s hardening your heart?