Monday, September 15, 2014

Winning the Race

 Friends of Faith:

Are you winning the race? Whether we realize it or not, we all have goals that we are working towards or training for – whether the race is as simple as teaching a child how to tie their shoes, or as difficult as losing 10 pounds or running a marathon—by our nature we work towards, and for, higher and higher goals and achievements. And we teach and have been taught to set our goals high, to have winning attitudes.

But how high are our goals really? Are our goals continually increasing (like teaching that child to read, fitting back into your wedding dress, or competing in a triathlon) or are they truly imperishable?

Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win. Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. Thus I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight as if I were shadowboxing. No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified. 1 Cor 9: 22-27

Unlike the goals we set here on earth where there is either only one winner or the goals keep getting greater, the goal designed for us by God is imperishable and meant for all to reach. There is nothing greater than a win in, for, and through Him.

Unfortunately though, many of us only set goals which are the touchable earthly goals of keeping up with the Jones’s or getting our kids to the top of some competitive sporting event. We focus on doing what will get us ahead on earth and forget about what God’s eternal design is for us—to love, honor and serve Him.

I find myself concerned with scheduling and planning my attendance at the next meeting, when I will have an opportunity to meet someone with notoriety, where I will eat the next meal and what I will see on my next trip out of town instead of on who needs my assistance, when I will let myself sit in silent prayer, or who is waiting for an invitation to come worship with me.

So the next time you find yourself competing, or encouraging your child to compete, or reaching to keep up with the Jones’s ask yourself: “What race am I running in?” “Is this “goal” God’s or mine?” “Will this competition allow someone else to experience and realize a gift of God or will it only achieve my own self serving desire?” “Will I make God visible to another through my action?”

Heavenly Father: You have created us to win, and given us a Church to guide us in reaching your imperishable goal. Help me to compete not to outdo my Christian sisters and brothers, but to search for ways to make Christ visible to them. Help me to be disciplined in my actions—not serving myself, not making more of myself, but serving others by lifting up and glorifying all of humanity with the respect and worth you created in each of them. Thank you for all the gifts you have given me which allow me to win much more than I deserve. Amen.

Be disciplined. Give in and give up what has become your own desire to instead search for what God desires of you. In reaching for the imperishable goal, God’s gifts will far exceed anything you might win here on earth.
Blessings,
Charlotte

Monday, September 1, 2014

A Grain of Wheat


Women of Faith:
“Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be. The Father will honor whoever serves me.” Jn 12: 24-26

As mom’s we quickly learn to put aside our wants and desires to meet the needs of our children. Maybe it’s self preservation, that we don’t want to listen to a baby cry, but I’d rather think it is because that is the heart that God created in women. I see this character trait even among women who for whatever reason are childless, an inner sense of responsibility and compassion for someone in need… especially the needs of infants and those who seem otherwise “helpless.”
I also think that this is why he blessed men with us as their helpmates – so that the stereotypical strength and courage of a man would be softened by the stereotypical caring and compassion of women – it takes both, together, to be able to imitate the full realm of God’s persona. For, together, we have been created in his likeness and image—and asked to continue the creation of His kingdom here on earth.

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.  For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” Mt 16: 23-26
Again, Jesus speaks of growing by dying, of bearing our crosses and becoming like him, of losing our earthly life by putting our needs behind those of others, of putting our humanly life on the cross so that we are free to strive for heavenly rewards… to be self-giving rather than self-receiving.

For what good is it if we have earthly “things” but fail to attain eternal joy in heaven. What good is it if we have clothes, shoes and vacations if we have broken marriages and children starving for attention?
Male and female, created together, under one mission, complementary, so that joined together we have the strength and power needed to carry the cross, the caring and compassion needed to assist each other, bear the burdens of day to day life, and the mercy and acceptance it takes by both in forgiving each other when we don’t quite live up to the roles we have been given.

Dying to my own needs…. Putting others before me…. Finding the joy in bearing my cross as He did for us. My mission may be difficult, but it is also necessary, not only to obtain my own place in heaven, but to grow and show heaven to others. This is the one, true mission that God set before each of us, to be a grain of wheat which dies so that others may live—first in the domestic church through our family and then in the worldwide church through our community.
Heavenly Father, it is in Your image which I have been created, it is to Your image in which I hope to be changed by conversion. Through your Son, Jesus, You bore the cross for each of us. Help us now each to bear our crosses for you. May I see and accept each person you place near me as a child of God who needs my love, compassion, and forgiveness. Amen.

Take up your cross, die as does the grain of wheat and live for Him by sowing the seed of faith in others.
Blessings,
Charlotte

Monday, August 25, 2014

Choosing or Being Chosen

Friends of Faith:
I feel the greatest sense of peace, of freedom and of joy when it is not I that chooses, but when I have been chosen. God gives us free will, but the reason he made us was to choose us.

If I believe I can choose my own destiny then the struggles must likewise be of my own making.

But if I believe God is choosing me then the “freedom to choose” isn’t really a freedom but a test.  And the real pursuit of happiness comes from a choice to follow Christ’s footsteps; and real peace and joy comes not from having chosen, but from the knowledge and faith that God is and will choose me.

"The Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. He dispatched his servants to summon the invited guests to the feast, but they refused to come…..those who were invited were not worthy to come. Go out, therefore, into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find.’ The servants went out into the streets and gathered all they found, bad and good alike, and the hall was filled with guests. But when the king came in to meet the guests he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment. He said to him, ‘My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?’ But he was reduced to silence. Then the king said to his attendants, ‘Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’ Many are invited, but few are chosen.” Mt 22: 1-14

Will I refuse, will I be worthy, or will I be ready when God says, “Now, Charlotte, I choose you?”

The readings this week remind me that to expect something back from God, makes me like the hypocrite Jesus describes in Matthew, trying to get ahead while inadvertently pushing or leaving others out: Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You lock the Kingdom of heaven before men. You do not enter yourselves, nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter.” Mt 23 13-14

“The last will be first and the first will be last.” Mt 20:16 Just as real peace comes from making right Godly decisions, so real freedom comes from following God’s rules, His commandments.

Can I accept and trust the fact that my perceived needs should come last, and that only God can provide me with the gifts that I really need? Can I be content with putting everyone else before me instead of seeking power and control of things or the situation I find myself in?

Heavenly Father: Your way is above our way. Your way of thinking is not the way many humans teach others to think or for what to desire. Thank you for giving us the life of Your son, Jesus Christ to be our example. Help me to focus my eyes on Him and open my heart to let His love be my guide.  “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!  How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord or who has been his counselor? Or who has given the Lord anything that he may be repaid? For from him and through him and for him are all things.  To him be glory forever. Amen.” Rm 11: 33-36

I am invited. I don’t know when it will be my time to be chosen. Will I be wiling? Will I be ready?
Blessings,
Charlotte

Monday, August 18, 2014

Power and Equality

Friends of Faith:

First I would ask your prayers for Andy who began a seven day silent retreat yesterday as part of his orientation to Mundelein seminary where he will be studying theology for the next 4 years before his priestly ordination. Please pray that the challenge of living physically and mentally without any “outside” interference (primarily his IT devices) will lead to a deep spiritual “inside” connection to God’s call in his life.

"Thus says the LORD: Observe what is right, do what is just; for my salvation is about to come, my justice, about to be revealed.
The foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, ministering to him, loving the name of the LORD, and becoming his servants—all who keep the sabbath free from profanation and hold to my covenant, them I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be acceptable on my altar, for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.
Is 56: 1, 6-7

Insiders and outsiders, power and equality, foreigners and citizens, the chosen and the outcasts.

Our world is a dichotomy and a struggle to have both equality and power. In order to have earthly power, control, superiority, and to be “inside” then someone else must be “outside.” It is common to give power to the governmental elite who are able to make decisions which affect my lifestyle; to let the “inside”elite set societal norms; and to feel that the “chosen” are those who have money which set the standards for what I then think I deserve.

And these power struggles in turn create a social struggle directly opposite because of our innate desire to be “equal” – to have “equal” rights, “equal”opportunity, and “equal” choices.

Reality and entertainment are challenged by our competitive nature: our desire to win, to be the best, to be the leader, to be big, and to be chosen, accepted, powerful, and righteous.

And yet in “equal” there is no winner or loser, no hierarchy of power, no big or little, no leader or follower, no inside or outside, no control over another person, no principality, no more or less, there is nothing that is deserved.

“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But the woman came and did Jesus homage, saying, “Lord, help me.” He said in reply, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” She said,“Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” Then Jesus said to her in reply, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And the woman’s daughter was healed from that hour. Mt 15: 21-28

While I might deem the most powerful person as the pope, president, king or queen or doctor; you might deem the most powerful as your boss, the mayor, even a sports team, coach or player. It depends on our context in asking the question, or even in the context of the time the question is asked.

So who really deems me “the winner?” Who do I think is the most powerful? Who really chooses me as an “insider?”

As a Christian whose ultimate goal is heaven, there can be only one answer: God! It is through him I am created equal, it is in Him I am given power. It is by Him I will be allowed “inside” and it is by Him I hope to be chosen.

HE must be first and I must be last. Will I choose to be the obedient child of the Father, with no false god’s before me? Will I give selfless, unconditional service to all others? Will I live and serve faithfully under His commandments? And will I respect those to whom God has given earthly authority?

Heavenly Father, You are the one and only power. We are created in Your image and likeness. I strive to live as Your chosen. Thank you for giving me all that I need each day. Help me to honor you by living in faithful acceptance and with the sincere trust it takes to set aside worldly inequality. Help me to accept the challenges of sacrifice and suffering so that I may be your willing witness to others. Amen.

God is the only power. And thankfully we are created equal in His likeness. I seek only to be accepted and chosen by Him. May you choose the same.

Blessings,
Charlotte

Monday, August 11, 2014

Always present


Women of Faith:
And we wait, and we listen, and we watch and we hope.

“Then the LORD said to him, “Go outside and stand on the mountain before the LORD; the LORD will be passing by.” A strong and heavy wind was rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the LORD— but the LORD was not in the wind.  After the wind there was an earthquake— but the LORD was not in the earthquake.  After the earthquake there was fire— but the LORD was not in the fire.  After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound.  When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak and went and stood at the entrance of the cave.” 1 Kings 19: 11-13
“During the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them walking on the sea. When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified. “It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear. At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught Peter, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” Mt 14: 25-31

Is there anything too big for God? No… but it is not unusual to doubt, because the answer is in the silence and there is so little silence in this world we live in today.
I am constantly reminding myself, especially in these past few weeks that God is present, God is with us, and God has a purpose. Because I am human and even with this constant “self talk,” the self doubt is never far away, but with small reminders, gentle winds, I remain at peace—knowing that God is in the whispers of encouragement and support, holding me up in a stormy sea.

There’s no space that His love can’t reach, There’s no place where we can’t find peace, There’s no end to amazing grace. “Take me in with Your arms spread wide, Take me in like an orphan child, Never let go, Never leave my side. “I am, Holding on to You, I am, Holding on to You. In the middle of the storm, I am holding on, I am. “Love like this, Oh my God to find. I am overwhelmed, With a joy divine. Love like this sets our hearts on fire.” “This is my resurrection song, This is my halleluiah come, This is why it’s to You I run.” I Am by David Crowder www.life1019.com/#songs/i-am-2/
So am I like Peter asking to walk on water, being given what I ask for, and then quickly forgetting or doubting that Christ is with me—always present? Is my doubt shown in my failure to say “thank you,” or by a greed that asks for more, not satisfied and content with what I already have?

Do I remember that Christ is always with me, wanting me to make my decisions by constantly seeking to choose the path directly beside him? Or do I try to make my own way thinking that all I need to do is be near the boat, choosing to get in only when it is at my convenience?
Heavenly Father Your presence is my stronghold, without you I am nothing. Help me to take the time to be silent so that I can feel your presence in the whisper of the gentle breeze. Keep me in your boat, rowing beside you, trusting your direction, staying afloat. Thank you for giving me the faith to know you are always present. Amen.

Without God, there is doubt and the sea is stormy and unmanageable. With God there is a constant gentle breeze, peaceful and calming. Don’t wait until you are sinking to choose Him.
Today may we seek Him, choose Him and allow Him to help us walk on water,
Blessings,

Charlotte

Monday, August 4, 2014

Tomorrow Never Comes

Friends of Faith:
Don’t put off until tomorrow, what you can do today. Now is the time.

“Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.” Mother Teresa
Yesterday’s readings were all about God providing… for today’s needs. But in my human nature, I am always searching for tomorrow’s desires instead of thanking God for the blessings he is providing me today. AND instead of using those blessings for God’s call, I often find myself responding that I will make time “tomorrow.” 

“Today somebody is suffering, today somebody is in the street, today somebody is hungry. ... We have only today to make Jesus known, loved, served, fed, clothed, sheltered. Do not wait for tomorrow. Tomorrow we will not have them if we do not feed them today.”  Mother Teresa, The Joy in Loving: A Guide to Daily Living

“But now, listen to what I am about to state in your hearing and the hearing of all the people. From of old, the prophets who were before you and me prophesied war, woe, and pestilence against many lands and mighty kingdoms. But the prophet who prophesies peace is recognized as truly sent by the LORD only when his prophetic prediction is fulfilled.” Jer 28: 7-9 (emphasis added)

So, am I so busy planning for a tomorrow that will never come that I am missing the peace and the joys of today? And, am I so busy helping myself that I am failing to help others who are searching for and waiting to be fed – with my smile, with a kind word, with the fulfillment of a need which opens their eyes or ears and speaks to them of Jesus’ presence?

Right now I am praying for patience until our building is released so that we can go in and recover, then demolish, and then rebuild. But I realize as I pray for patience I often find myself more focused on asking for what I can’t have, then for speaking about all that I do have – offices and space to operate out of, family and neighbors sent to help out – blessings of gifts and provisions too countless to even fully acknowledge, blessings of peace I won’t fully recognize until the predictions of a new building are fulfilled.

So while it is often tempting to focus on and ask for tomorrow’s gifts, it is today that I am needed, today that needs me, today that I can make a difference and it is for today that God provides.

“What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?  No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Rm 8: 35-39

And what separates me from answering God today? It is only me and my desire to make my own answers for tomorrow– sin caused by greed, fear, and a lack of trust because I am trying to have control, provide and protect myself instead of giving God an opportunity to rule over death, life, powers, principalities and time.

“Thus says the LORD: All you who are thirsty, come to the water! You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat; Come, without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk! Why spend your money for what is not bread; your wages for what fails to satisfy? Heed me, and you shall eat well, you shall delight in rich fare. Come to me heedfully ,listen, that you may have life.” Is 55: 1-3

Heavenly Father, Your love is the answer. Help me to rely on You—to be in Your presence and Your peace by saying yes when you ask me to spread that peace and love to others. Help me to filter out the noise of tomorrow, and instead find the patience to enjoy what you provide me today. Make ME an instrument of Your peace. Thank you for the gift of today. Amen.

God will provide – he will give us peace, if we recognize Him, by thanking him for the peace we have today instead of trying to look far into the future. And when we get to the future we will look back and say, yes God has provided the answers, he offered us peace – if only we had taken it, been content and waited not for tomorrow, but had enjoyed all we were given today.

So what good for God have you been putting off until tomorrow? When you stop to think that tomorrow may never come, what is it that you wish you would have done today?
Plan today to give God glory by what you do TODAY,
Blessings,
Charlotte

Monday, July 28, 2014

Overcomer


Friends of Faith:
I spent some time traveling and listening to Christian music yesterday – music that gained new meaning for Stan when he shared it with the high school youth who experienced an overturned raft in a class four whitewater rapids during their service trip last week.

“You're an overcomer. Stay in the fight ‘til the final round. You're not going under. ‘Cause God is holding you right now. You might be down for a moment. Feeling like it's hopeless. That's when He reminds You. That you're an overcomer. You're an overcomer. Everybody's been down. Hit the bottom, hit the ground. Oh, you're not alone. Just take a breath, don't forget. Hang on to His promises. He wants You to know.” Lyrics by Mandisa
It made me think about the hope given to us by Christ Jesus through His death and His resurrection. About the hope he gives to us, both in times of crisis and joy. We cannot be held down if we allow God to pull us up. We are not alone when we hang on to His promise and when we take every breath with the thankfulness that it is through Him that we live and breathe.

Jesus said to his disciples: “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.” Mt 13:44-46
And the lyrics take on additional meaning when they are blended with Sunday’s reading…. When I am asked to give up everything to overcome, to find the treasure of heaven….. That God’s promise may be buried deep inside, even in emptiness. But when I seek to unearth His goodness and give Him all of my treasures, all of my dreams and hopes, then I can and will overcome.

Heavenly Father: Your love is perfect. I am asked to unearth my treasure, to give you everything earthly and to hang on to the pearls of your promises. You are my hope, my encouragement and my leader, holding me up so that I may overcome. Help me to believe and trust in your presence in every part of my life. Amen.

May we see that the real treasure of life, the treasure that will help us overcome, is the presence of Christ in our every trial, action and adventure.
May you always overcome through the intercession and grace of God’s perfection,
Blessings,
Charlotte