Why matters

It’s great when other people like us. It makes us feel good about ourselves.

Most of us like feeling good about ourselves so much that we go out of our way to get other people to like us. We do things specifically to impress other people, to make them like us. So that we can feel good about ourselves.

The funny thing is, it doesn’t really work. When we do things in order to impress other people, to make them like us, we don’t actually feel good about ourselves in the end.

Or if we do, it doesn’t last very long.

It’s a problem that Jesus talks about in the Gospels. When Jesus warns us against doing things to impress other people, to make other people like us.

Jesus is clear about it. “Why” matters.

Even if we’re doing good things, if we’re doing them to impress other people, to show off just how good we are. We’re wasting our time. We won’t get much in the way of immediate payoff, much less do any eternal good.

Because “why” matters.

So what’s the solution? Focus on God.

Do what you were doing. But do it for the love of God.

Do it in gratitude for all that God has given to you.

Focus on God. And everything else will fall into place.

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Love your enemies

Think of someone who hates you. I mean really hates you. There’s something you need to know about them.

Whoever it is, whatever is behind their hatred of you. They are taking up way too much of your time and energy. They are getting way too much of the precious real estate between your ears.

They have way too much power in your life.

Every time you worry about them. Or plan how you’re going to deal with them. Or consciously avoid them. You give them something they have no right to - power over you.

But it’s so hard not to. You can’t magically not think about them. So what do you do?

Jesus has the answer. It’s counterintuitive. But it works.

“Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.”

Seriously. Pray for them.

Don’t pray that God will make them magically disappear. Or smite them with a discreet pestilence (no matter how much they might deserve a personal plague of locusts).

But just hand them over to God. If you’re not sure what to say, start with this,

“God, I don’t know what to do with this person, so I’m giving them to you. I don’t have to know what to do, because you already have the answer. If there’s something that I need to do, lead me. God, I trust you to take care of it.”

Then, love them.

Love them, by remembering to hand them over to God. Every time you think of them.

Love them, by taking pity on them. Every time they say or do something hateful to you.

Think about how corrosive it is for them, to dedicate part of their life to hating someone else.

Think about what kind of fear they must be racked by, in order for it to spill out in hatred.

Do it. It will be hard at first. But keep doing it.

Until they become someone you can really hand over to God. Someone you truly pity.

Someone with no power to hurt you.

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(by request, my homily from Sunday)

I’d like to tell you about a friend of mine. Who is a great dad.

He’s kind of goofy. You know he was the class clown in school. Because to this day, he’s always got a joke. Or a funny, unexpected response. If anyone I know would laugh at a funeral, he would be the guy.

I’d known him for years. And that was my picture of him, always funny. No matter that the context was, you were going to have a laugh with him around. 

With that image of him stuck in my head, it took me completely by surprise when I found out that he had donated a kidney to his daughter.

Not that I thought that he didn’t love his children. Or that he wasn’t a good dad. But it seemed like such a serious thing to do, for someone so lighthearted. It never occurred to me that there was more to him than just an endless supply of dad jokes.

Which shows you how much impact our preconceived ideas about people have. Zero.

Honestly, it’s kind of like my knowledge of kidney transplants.

I know that they happen. I know that most of the time, they are successful. And…that’s about it.

But here’s the important part – my lack of understanding of kidney transplants, has no impact their success. Just because I don’t understand it, doesn’t mean it’s not true.

Today is the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity.

The Trinity is, at its most fundamental, a mystery. Let’s be clear about what we mean by “mystery.”

When we hear the word “mystery,” we think of things that are unclear or unknown. Like a news report that says, “the cause of death remains a mystery.”

Or maybe we think of things that are intentionally confusing, maybe even manipulative. Like trying to figure out why a Code Red weather warning gets issued for everything from a tornado to a light drizzle.

That’s not what the Church is talking about, when she refers to something as a mystery.

When the Church refers to something as a mystery, she means that it is infinitely knowable. Not that it doesn’t have meaning. But that there is more to know about that thing.


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Jars of clay

I remember the first time I went into a hospital room, to see someone I didn’t know.

Before I was ordained, the parish I was at had someone who went around and visited people in the hospital. She was going on vacation for a few weeks, and they needed someone to fill in.

The perfect thing for someone training for Holy Orders.

At that point, I had been that parish for a little over a week. I barely knew any of them. For the first guy I saw in the hospital, all I had was a room number and a name.

I had no idea what I was supposed to say. Or do.

Trusting God, I went anyway.

I really don’t know what we talked about. I couldn’t tell you what I said. I just know that I ended with what seemed (to me) like the world’s most pathetic, rambling prayer.

Next Sunday, his wife caught me after Mass. I started to apologize for making a mess of things.

But she never heard a word. She was too busy telling me how much that visit meant to her husband.

The same visit that seemed so pathetic to me.

Which is what St. Paul is talking about. When he says “we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”

You and I? We’re the jars of clay.

It’s not about us.

How wonderful we are. Or aren’t. What a great job we do. Or don’t.

It’s about God.

And the good that God wants to do with us and through us.

If we’ll just say yes.

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Today is the Memorial of St. Anthony of Padua. My first introduction to St. Anthony was “the prayer.”

A friend of mine had lost her keys. The moment she realized it, she said “Tony, Tony, look around. Something’s lost and must be found!”

I was a newly-minted Catholic at the time. I’d never heard it before.

I laughed and asked her what that was. She explained that it was the prayer to St. Anthony. To find lost things.

I love kitschy things. Especially Catholic kitsch. Which is what her goofy prayer sounded like to me. Like it was in the same league as my Virgin Mary nightlight.

Then she kept repeating it. The look on her face was calm and determined.

The words may have been goofy, but she was really asking for divine intervention.

And she kept asking. With that same calm determination. Until after what seemed like forever (really, it was less than a minute), she knew where they were.

As she grabbed the keys, she said “thanks, Tony.” Just like he was right there with us.

I couldn’t get over it. It was goofy prayer.

But she meant it. She sincerely wanted God’s help. And she trusted God to help.

It was kitschy. But somehow, it was an instrument of God’s grace.

And a witness to a newly-minted Catholic.

Because of her reliance on God. Because she meant it. Because she believed.

All I could think of was St. James’ testimony to God’s generosity (and rebuke to people like me who think they have to do it all themselves) - “You do not have, because you do not ask.”

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Sometimes it feels like the Faith is just a bunch of bits and pieces. A collection of random stuff we do.

Or at least we’re supposed to do.

A mix of daily stuff, weekly stuff, stuff we do during this season, stuff we do on that special occasion. An odd pile that feels like it’s held together with little more than shoulds and oughts.

It’s easy to get lost in all of the stuff. And lose sight of the “why” behind it.

Which is why it’s important to stop every now and then to stop, and look up. To see the big picture. To remind ourselves of the point of all of it.

So what is the point of all the stuff?

The seemingly random stuff?  It isn’t random at all.

It’s what Jesus is talking about in the Gospel, about the importance of even the smallest parts of the law.

By themselves, they can seem unimportant, random. Seen together, their greater purpose becomes clear.

They are the signposts. The markers. Calling us back. Sending us on.

The markers never move. Even when it feels like everything’s underwater.

They show us the where the path is. Even when we can’t see it.

They are the path to Him.

They are the path to Home.

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Holy people

We’ve all known holy people.

Sometimes it’s the obvious ones. Sister So-and-so. Father Something. Sometimes it’s someone we didn’t realize was holy until later. Maybe even years later.

But there was something about them. A certain calm, a peace that they radiated. But there was more than that going on.

There was something about them that drew us to them. Something that spilled over. Something that left us better for having been around them.

It’s what Jesus is talking about in the Gospels. When He tells us to be the light of the world.

The recipe for being the light of the world is not what you would expect.

It’s not about wealth beyond measure. Or doing great deeds. Or having millions of followers.

The recipe for being the light of the world is to rely on God.

To really rely on God. So completely that it spills over into everything we do. Without really even trying.

It’s something that God gives each of us the grace to do. But it’s something that we must do. Again and again. Every day.

If we do, we’ll become who God made us to be.

One of those holy people.

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Mother of the Church?

When I was coming into the Church - yes, I’m an adult convert (which means I can’t blame this on parents or habit or anybody else, I own it). When I was coming into the Church, I struggled with what I thought of as “all of the Mary stuff.”

I had all kinds of ideas about what I thought Catholics thought about Mary. Pretty much all of it turned out to be wrong.

I bring this up because today is the Memorial of Mary, Mother of the Church. Something that Pope Francis started last year. Why?

Because Mary’s life is the image of the Church at her heart. At her best. If the Church is true to her calling, she will look like her mother, Mary.

Spotless, by the holiness of God.

Dirty, with the corporal works of mercy.

Glorified, by the Divine Presence within her.

Burdened, with the hardships of life.

Redeemed, by Christ’s all-sufficient sacrifice.

Each hardship, each trial met by grace upon grace. All flowing from the original blank check. Mary’s perfect yes to God.

The kind of perfect yes that is, in the end, the only way any of us ever become who God made us to be. The only way we ever receive God’s best.

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Turn back

After the Resurrection, there’s a strange exchange between Jesus and Peter. Where Jesus asks Peter, “do you love me?” Peter says yes. Just like you’d expect.

Jesus repeats the question. Peter gives the same answer. But something’s off.

Jesus repeats the question again. It’s not a friendly question.

Peter is distressed. Because he sees where Jesus is going. This is a call-back to Peter’s most shameful moment. His betrayal of Jesus.

On the night before the Crucifixion. When the one who bragged about being with Jesus to the end, denied even knowing Jesus. Three times.

It’s Peter’s reboot. Not by ignoring what he did. But by turning back, to deal with it.

Before Peter can be filled with the Holy Spirit. Before Peter can live up to the new name that Jesus gave him. Before Peter can be who God made him to be.

Peter has to turn back. Peter has to get right with Jesus.

The Gospel is showing us a universal truth. When things go wrong. Especially when we’re the reason why they went wrong. We can’t just ignore what happened, what we did. And try to keep on going like it was nothing.

It’s not healthy. And the longer we avoid it, the worse it will get.

We’ll never make any real progress towards being who God made us to be, without turning back, without dealing with it.

Without that re-grounding in God, there can be no progress. Not for Peter. Not for any of us.

Turn back. Deal with it. Get right with God.

He’s waiting for you with open arms.

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Go to God

One of the greatest mistakes of the Christian life? Trying to do it on your own. Relying on your own strength, your willpower. Relying on you.

There are so many reminders that we are not alone in our walk of faith that are baked into the way we pray, the way we worship. And yet, this is something that everyone of us struggles with.

Feeling like we have to do it on our own. Feeling alone.

It’s what Jesus is talking about in today’s Gospel. Reminding us that we’re not alone.

That God is very much with us. That if we’re paying attention, God is closer than a heartbeat.

In the person of the Holy Spirit. The third person of the Trinity.

That is how God is with you and me every step of the way. It’s reason for Pentecost.

Today, take a moment outside of your prayers to remember that. To remember that the Holy Spirit is with you always. And then go to God.

Make it a habit. Not just in times of need, but as part of your routine. Part of your every day.

Start going to God, even when you don’t need anything. Just to say thanks. Just to be.

Do it now. Do it every time you think of it.

Then when things do get tough, you won’t even have to think about it.

Going to God first will become second nature.

You’ll be amazed at how much peace you have. Even in the middle of life’s hardest moments.

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Chop it down

Today is the feast of St. Boniface.

Boniface was a missionary to the German tribes. People who had their own gods. People who had no time for some missionary.

The focus of their worship was a giant oak tree. A tree that figuratively – and literally – stood between them and God.

So Boniface got rid of what stood between them and God. By chopping down the tree. And when their gods didn’t strike him down, they started paying attention to what Boniface was saying.

Whether we grew up around the Church or don’t really have any religious background, most of us are more like those tribes than we like to admit.

Not because we’re out worshipping trees. But because stuff has grown up between us and God. We’ve let it go so long and get so big that it’s become our focus. Usually without really meaning to.

For some of us, it’s stuff that we know is hurting us. For others of us, it’s actually good stuff. Or, to be honest, stuff that would be good, if we hadn’t let it run wild. If we hadn’t let it take over. If we hadn’t let it become the god of our lives.

Take a moment right now. Look at what’s grown up between you and God.

Be honest with yourself. About what’s grown up between you and God. Especially if it’s something that would be good, if it hadn’t taken over.

No matter how good it may seem, if it’s grown up between you and God, it’s blocking you from God’s best.

You will never reach the full potential of the more than enough that God has given to you. You will never do the good that God is calling you to do. You will never be who God has made you to be. If something has grown up between you and God.

If it’s grown up between you and God, then it’s got to be cut back.

Trust God. And start chopping.

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Too often, we drift from moment to moment.

Swept along with the flow of life. Caught up in the movement of everything moving around us that we can easily end up somewhere we never would have gone intentionally.

Truly, for most of us, this is how we sin. How we distance ourselves from God. How we end up not becoming who God has made us to be.

Not through some grand moment of rejecting God. Not through some plan to stifle the gifts that God has given to us. But in more of a drift. Letting the currents of life sweep us along. Until we find ourselves far away.

Swept along, as if we weren’t even alive.

Hardly the life we would want. If we took a moment to think about it. Certainly not all that God has planned for us.

Not God’s best. But some random something or other. Something that we never would have chosen. If we had bothered to choose.

It’s time to stop pretending we’re not really involved in our own choices.

It’s time to wake up. To start the day intentionally. To start the day with God.

To take the more than enough that God has given you. To go where God is calling you. Even if it’s against the flow.

To live intentionally. To live like you’re truly alive.

“A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.” – G.K. Chesterton

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“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”

There are a lot of ideas about what it means to be meek. Most of them have something to do with being quiet. Gentle. Harmless. Inoffensive. Submissive.

Most of them feel something like “meek and mild.”

Most of them are wrong.

Meek doesn’t mean weak. In fact, meek is kind of the opposite of weak.

Being meek is about having the power, having the strength to do something yourself. But holding back. And knowing when not to use that power.

Meek is about wisdom.

The wisdom to resist the temptation to pride. Pride in the form of doing it my way.

Meek is about faith.

The faith to wait on the Lord. Instead of taking care of things on my own.

Meek is about trust.

The trust in God to wait on God’s perfect timing. Instead of doing it in my time.

Meek is nothing less than faith in action, in the form of trust. Trust that that sets us up to receive God’s best.

Knowing that God’s best is better than anything we could ever imagine. Much less actually accomplish on our own.

Meek is the roadmap to God’s best.

Knowing what meek is really about, it makes perfect sense when Jesus says “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”

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“You will grieve…”

(For X, who feels stuck in Saturday.)

Think of all of the sources of grief in life. Some of them have to do with things. But the ones that hurt the most? The ones that involve people.

Whether it’s death, divorce, betrayal, abandonment, it really boils down to the loss of a relationship. Whether it’s the end of something genuine, or the realization that someone wasn’t who we thought they were. The things that hurt the most involve the loss of a relationship.

Because those losses hurt us so deeply, it’s easy, kind of natural, to think that we’ll always feel that way. That we’ll always be grieving.

In the Gospel, Jesus tells the Apostles about His own impending death. Jesus is very blunt about what His death is going to do to them – “You will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices.”

If you were trying to pick a way to make something hurt even more, this would be it. Having other people rejoice at your loss.

But Jesus tells them something else – “You will grieve, but your grief will become joy.”

Even though it hurts. Even though people are trying to make it hurt even more. It won’t always be that way. Grief will end. And it will end in joy.

Jesus is telling the Apostles how grief will work for them with His own death and resurrection. But Jesus is also telling us how grief will work in our lives. That we will have grief. But that grief is not eternal. That if we draw close to God, God will replace our grief with joy.

That can be hard to see when you’re in the middle of grieving a loss.

On the Saturday morning after the Crucifixion, the Apostles weren’t saying to themselves “I can’t wait until Jesus comes back tomorrow.” That Saturday, the Apostles had no idea about Sunday.

Even though Jesus told them what would happen? Yes. They were too lost in their grief to remember any of that.

We’re no different. When you and I are in the middle of grieving a loss, it’s easy, kind of natural, to think that we’ll always feel that way. That we’ll always be grieving.

Thank God we’re wrong. Grief is unavoidable. But it’s not permanent.

It can be hard to see that while we’re lost in grief on Saturday. But the truth is that God has already prepared a Sunday of joy to follow our Saturday of grief.

Stay in faith. Saturday’s almost over.

Draw close to God. He’ll bring you through to Sunday.

“You will grieve, but your grief will become joy.”

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More than enough

When it comes to the big ticket stuff, stuff like the 10 Commandments, most of us know what to do. Not to brag, but I think we do decent job with the whole “thou shalt not kill” thing.

The thing is, God’s plan for our lives doesn’t stop with the big ticket stuff. God’s plan for our lives includes less visible stuff as well.

But less visible doesn’t mean less important.

Those less visible, less obvious things include the things that God has uniquely equipped each one of us with. The abilities, the hidden strengths, the more than enough that God has given to each one of us.

All that we have been given, so that we can do what God has called us to do.

So what does any of that have to do with today’s Gospel, which is all about the Holy Spirit?

The Holy Spirit is how we know. How we know what to do with the more than enough that God has given to us.

God’s Holy Spirit, dwelling in our hearts, is there. Not just to point us in the right direction.

But to give us the grace, the strength that we need to do what God has called us to do with the more than enough that He has given to us.

Which is why, whenever we get too worried about how we’re going to do something, we need to stop. And remember that we’re not doing it alone.

Because God’s idea of more than enough isn’t just giving us everything we need for what He has called us to do.

God’s idea of more than enough is doing it with us. Every step of the way.

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The Door

On our family farm, there was this old barn.

We used it to store stuff. Things we didn’t use very often.

When I was growing up, it seemed like there were always wasps hanging around that barn. Building their nests high up in the eaves. Where we couldn’t get to them.

They didn’t bother me much. Because my grandfather told me how to deal with them.

Don’t open the door if the wasps are close by.

Wait ‘til the wasps aren’t hanging around the door. Then go in quickly. And make sure you shut it behind you.

So that’s what I did. And it worked just fine.

Until it didn’t. Until the day that I opened the door. And was greeted by a cloud of wasps. Inside the barn.

When I opened the door, it must have stirred them up. They were noisy. They were everywhere.

And I - was gone. I hightailed it out of there. I didn’t wait around to find out what they would do next.

I don’t know those wasps got inside. We were always careful about keeping the barn closed up. But they found a way in. And when they did, it was a mess.

Kind of like the troubles in our life. They work the same way. If we can keep them on the outside, we can handle them. Sure, they’re a bother. But they’re nothing we can’t deal with.

When we let the troubles in life get on our inside, it’s just like when the wasps get inside. It’s a mess.

But it’s hard not to let the troubles in life get on our inside.

There are so many things in life that are just hanging around the door, waiting to get in.

The relative whose health is failing. The friend that ghosted you. The class that you’re struggling in. The boss that’s out to get you. The spouse that barely treats you like a human being. The car that never stays fixed.

And that’s just part of the list. All of them, things that would upset anybody. All of them, waiting to get in.

Waiting to get in and steal your peace.

Our problem? We’ve got a habit of leaving the door open. Truly, some of us don’t even know there is a door.

So all that stuff, just comes right in. When we let that happen, we let our circumstances dictate our peace.

When we let our circumstances dictate our peace, we will get peace. But it won’t last. When we let everything come in, we’ll never have more than a moment of peace.

When we let our circumstances dictate our peace, any peace we do have will be fleeting. The kind of peace that shrivels up and blows away. When the next thing comes in.

When we let our circumstances dictate our peace, we spend our lives going from worry to worry. Not even enjoying those fleeting moments of peace. Because we know they won’t last.

Living that way is frustrating, and then some. That lack of peace, that life of worry, takes a toll on us.

It’s what Jesus is talking about when He asks, “which of you by worrying can add one day to your life?”

Worrying is work. Hard work. Hard work that gives you absolutely nothing in return.


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Love is a choice

“This I command you: love one another.”

When we first hear it, Jesus’ words sound like an updated version of “be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, full of compassion.” Sentimental. Comforting.

Kind of a snuggly version of the Golden Rule.

If that’s how it sounds to us, if that’s all we’re getting out of it. Then we need to take a look at what we think love is.

While love can play itself out in ways that are sentimental and comforting, love is a lot more than that. St. Thomas Aquinas put it this way,

“To love is to will the good of another.”

Which means that love isn’t just a feeling. Love is a choice.

Not that feelings don’t come with love. But that at the heart of those feeling is something intentional. Something greater. Something that doesn’t come and go with feelings.

We’ve all seen it real life.

It’s someone who gives up their seat on an over-booked flight so a stranger can get home to be with their dying father. Even though it messes up their dream vacation.

It’s the mother who takes time off to advocate for her child with a disability. Even though it costs her a promotion at work.

It’s the husband who continues to care for his wife with Alzheimer’s. Even though she has no idea who he is anymore.

That’s the kind of love that Jesus is talking about.

The kind of love that’s only possible with God’s help.

The kind of love that changes everything.

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No matter how you feel

God loves you. More than you know.

God has always loved you. God will always love you.

But sometimes it’s hard to feel that.

Sometimes we feel so far away from God.

     Like we’re looking at God through the wrong end of a telescope.

Sometimes it feels like nothing we do really matters.

     Like we’ll never be good enough.

Sometimes it feels like God could never love us.

     Like we’ve burned too many bridges.

Sometimes we don’t feel much of anything at all.

     Like there’s nothing left to feel.

That may be how you and I are feeling. And it can really hurt to feel that way.

When that happens, you need to remember something.

No matter how you feel. No matter how bad you hurt.

God doesn’t look at you and say, “You’re a mess. Get away. Don’t even talk to me.”

Your feelings, even your lack of feelings, have no impact on God’s love.

God loves you. More than you know.

No matter how you feel.

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When my dog Leo was a puppy, he chewed on everything. Literally.

Not just the usual, like shoes, books, and toys. But anything he could get a hold of. Including a porch railing. It's not like he didn't have rawhides and chew toys. He just had other ideas about what needed chewing.

So it probably shouldn't have surprised me. When he chewed through the root of the grapevine on my back fence.

At first, you couldn't tell anything had happened. For a few days, the vine looked so good I started thinking there might be a second root.

Then the weather went from cool to hot. And the whole thing wilted. Fast. Because it was it cut off.

Kind of like when we cut ourselves off from God. Whether we do it dramatically or quietly, with a sudden breach or a slow drift, it's kind of the same thing.

At first, there's no difference. We're still us. Everything still looks okay.

Until things heat up. Then we learn the hard way what it's like not to have roots. 

Don't get me wrong, trouble will come for us. It always does.

The only question? Whether we'll be well-rooted in God when it does.

Or if we'll try to face it cut off.

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There’s peace. And then there’s peace.

There’s the peace of God. And then there’s the peace that the world gives.

The peace that the world gives? It’s real. It’s the peace of making your last car payment. And having a car that still runs.

It’s a peace that lasts…until your car breaks down. Again.

It’s kind of a gift. It’s just that you don’t get to keep it.

The peace of God? It’s real. It’s the peace that passes all understanding. Because it’s grounded in the eternal.

It’s a peace that lasts. Because it’s not dependent on people or things.

It’s a peace that lasts. Because it flows from the only thing in life that doesn’t change. God.

It’s a peace that lasts. Because God doesn’t take back His gifts.

The next time you lose your peace, whether it’s because something happened or because someone did something. The next time you lose your peace, look at where that fleeting peace came from.

See that source of momentary peace for the passing shadow that it is. Then turn to the only source of peace that lasts.

The One who’s waiting for you with open arms.

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