All posts by Rev. Todd R. Lattig

What is Your Priority?

Read 1 Corinthians 9:22-27

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” (Proverbs 1:7, NLT)

discipline-of-prayer-theOne of the things that profoundly attracts me to Wesleyan Christian theology is the focus on spiritual discipline interwoven into it.  John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, strongly believed in the importance of maintaining a life of spiritual discipline. It was not just enough, for Wesley, to pray the “sinners prayer”, ask Jesus in your heart, and be done with it.

While Wesley did believe that we are saved by faith, and faith ALONE, he believed that such faith would manifest itself in good works. In other words, good works are the fruit that grow on the tree of faith. And the way to grow as a tree of faith is to practice spiritual disciplines such as observing a sacred time of rest (aka Sabbath), daily reading of the Scriptures, attending regular worship service and/or being active in the life of the Church, living out one’s faith through acts of compassion and mercy, studying, and other such things.

Today, in our fast paced world, it seems that we barely have time to brush our teeth and tie our shoes.  Just this past week, I took my daughters to a couple softball games, softball practices, and a school Spring concert.  And that stuff was just for my children. How can I or anyone find time to incorporate spiritual discipline? Yet, in reality, we do have time.  We have all the time in the world for the things we prioritize.

The truth is that, if we are to be honest, most of us don’t prioritize practicing spiritual discipline in our lives. It’s not that we don’t have time to read the Bible, to pray, to observe a time of sacred rest, to be an active part of a community of worship, or to be a presence of love, mercy and compassion to those around us who need it; rather, it’s that we have not prioritized doing those things. Sure, we may do them here or there, but if the truth be told, we don’t find them to be THAT important in our lives.

Neglecting to nourish our soul, it’s no wonder many of us find ourselves so burned out and depressed.  It’s not wonder some of us feel so overwhelmed by the challenges that seem to burden us day in and day out. If we are to maintain a healthy balance in our lives, if we are going to be whole and well beings, then we must maintain our spiritual health as much as we do our physical, emotional, and psychological health.  Just like it does your body good to consume fresh vegetable and fruit produce and to feed your body whole and wholesome foods, it does your soul good for you to feed it the “food” it needs.  Remember, you are not just a body or a mind, you are also a soul and if you are going to truly care for yourself—the way God wants you to—then you will make sure to prioritize spiritual discipline in your life.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Catch on fire with enthusiasm and people will come for miles to watch you burn.” – John Wesley

PRAYER

Lord, help me to prioritize spiritual discipline in my life, that I may draw ever closer in my relationship with you. Amen.

Tourniquet

Read Psalm 22

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for You are close beside me. Your rod and Your staff protect and comfort me.” (Psalms 23:4, NLT)

amy-Lee-amy-lee-17285119-1600-1200While riding down to the Farm Market to get myself some fresh produce, I was listening to the album, “Fallen”, but Evanescence. For those who don’t know, Evanesence is a hard rock band that was formed in 1995 but had their big break in 2003, when “Fallen” was released. The band is headed up by the hauntingly beautiful and beautifully talented Amy Lee. She is not just beautiful in terms of her physical appearance, but her voice is amazing and there is a depth to it that allows one to peer into her soul.

One of my favorite songs on the album, which also happens to be a cover of song written by a Christian band, is the song Tourniquet.  In it, Amy Lee agonizingly sings the following lyrics: “I tried to kill my pain but only brought more so much more. I lay dying and I’m pouring crimson regret and betrayal. I’m dying, praying, bleeding and screaming am I too lost to be saved? Am I too lost? My God my tourniquet return to me salvation! My God my tourniquet return to me salvation!”

The lyrics are dark and the music is haunting and driven with urgency. When one listens to this song, they cannot help but feel the despair of the person who wrote them.  can you imagine what it must be like to be at the end of your rope, trying to hold on to life and yet feeling like your about to lose everything? Can you imagine the pain of lingering on depressed and desperate with nothing but the agonizing feeling of being all alone? Perhaps you can.

I have often said that the one fear that ties us altogether is the fear of being alone. Human beings are social creatures who are designed to be in relationship with other humans. We need relationships to survive and this is a need that we have from the moment we are born. A baby born into a world that fails to provide it with human interaction cannot survive. It will die. And so it makes sense, and the Bible certainly picks up on it, that we humans desire to be in the presence of others and will do anything to keep from being truly alone.

With all of that said, there is also profound hope in the song. “My God, my tourniquet, return to me salvation!” This simple and yet profoundly deep sentence almost sounds like it comes straight out of the Psalms.  This sentence reminds us that, no matter how lost we feel, no how matter how dark it gets, no matter how desperate we become, we are NEVER ALONE. God is always with us and we are always in God’s presence. Just like the Psalmist who goes from “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me” (Psalm 22:1, NLT) to “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid,  for you are close beside me” (Psalm 23:4, NLT), so to the writer of this song goes from the agonizing over being alone to crying out to a God who is very much with him/her.

And so it is true in our lives as well. When you think you are alone, when you think that God has abandoned you, when you think there is nowhere left for you to turn, when you think that life is not worth living, and/ or your think that there is no hope left for you, remember this song, remember the worlds, “My God, my tourniquet, return to me salvation.” Remember the God who is with you, who HAS saved you from trials and tribulations in the past, and WILL pull you out of the midst of your despair when ever you call out for help! YOU ARE NOT ALONE!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Security is not the absence of danger, but the presence of God, no matter what the danger.” – Anonymous

PRAYER

Lord, I acknowledge your presence with me and hand all that is burdening me over to you. I trust that  you will take care of me. Amen.

Welcome Mats

Read John 13:3-5

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” (Romans 3:23)

welcome-matThere are all types of welcome mats with various images, shapes, sizes, designs, and with various sayings on them. Despite the clear differences between any given welcome mat, they all have one thing in common: all welcome mats are meant to appear to be “welcoming” someone to the home, business or institution, all the while suggesting that the person should “wipe their feet” before entering. What a crazy double message that is, isn’t it? You are welcome, but not as you are…dirty.

According to the author of John, Jesus was holding a special pre-Passover meal with his disciples before he was to be arrested, tried and executed for treason. The scene can be easily imagined. They had traveled all day long on dusty/dirty streets in the hot sun. They more than likely smelled to high heaven of sweat and body odor. Dirt covered them from head to toe, clumped and caked on via the sweat. And then there were their feet, the part of their body that took the majority of the abuse. Can you imagine how dirty, how absolutely nasty, those feet must’ve been? Yet Christ, welcomed them and then took the role of a servant by washing those nasty feet.

Truth be told, Christ never intended us to be clean, but wants us to get dirty helping others get clean. How completely antithetical welcome mats are to who Jesus is and who Jesus calls us to be! But what are these “welcome mats” in our churches, one might ask? They are the clothes we wear, the language we use, the theology we preach, the leadership styles we worship, the politics we play, the buildings we inhabit, the idols we claim to be God (such as dogmas, traditions, theologies, and anything in our churches that replace God), the arrogance we bear, and the pride we display.

It seems clear that the reason any church or church leader or congregant has these is because they are missing perhaps the most important piece of wisdom that any Christian must have. This piece of wisdom is found in verse 3 of the passage quoted at the outset of this writing. In that verse it says the following words, “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God…”

Jesus show tremendous humility in his earthly ministry. The author of John writes that Jesus knew that all things had been given to him by God, that he was from God, and God he was returning. The church, however, seems to forget this fact about itself. It forgets that God has given it all that it has, it forgets that from God it came, and to God it shall return.

Like Jesus, we are to be the welcome mats, rather than placing other objects down as the welcome mats in order to give ourselves a false sense of “clean.” Like Jesus, we too should remember that everything we have is from God! This includes everything in heaven and on earth, our very lives, the lives of those who surround us, the lives of those we love, and the lives of those we hate; everything in creation is from God. Thus, dirty or not, dressed right or not, theologically sound or not, great leader or not, etc., these people are given to us by God, just as we are given to those people by God. Let us not place obstacles in the way of anyone, but rather, let us serve others in love and truly welcome them in as brothers and sisters.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“He does not believe who does not live according to his belief.”  – Thomas Fuller

PRAYER

Lord, use me in a way that is truly welcoming to all of those people you have placed in my life. Amen.

Defying Gravity

Read Acts 1:1-11

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“But those who trust in the LORD will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)

Defying_Gravity_Wallpaper_by_englishfreckleMy family and I just took a trip to see the Broadway play, “Wicked”, which is a musical about the Wicked Witch of the West (of Wizard of Oz fame).  But this play, which is based off of the parallel novel by Gregory Maguire, takes a significant twist from L. Frank Baum’s novel. In this version, the Wicked Witch is not wicked at all, in fact, she is a well-intentioned animal-activist who becomes labeled “Wicked” because, in part, her appearance and because she refused to play by the rules. Well, there is a lot more to it than that, but I wouldn’t want to spoil it for those who have yet to see and/or read it.

Before the first act closes, Elphaba (aka the Wicked Witch) is preparing to stand up against what she believes is injustice.  Glinda, who is her friend, tries to talk her out of it; however, Elphaba will not be dissuaded; rather, she casts a spell on a common broom, and with it, begins to levitate up into the air. As she does her cape expands (or the lighting makes it seem that way) and is flapping through the air. During this whole scene she is singing the song, “Defying Gravity.” It is quite the spectacle.

I was moved, a lot, by the lyrics of the song: “Something has changed within me, something is not the same. I’m through with playing by the rules of someone else’s game. Too late for second-guessing, too late to go back to sleep. It’s time to trust my instincts, close my eyes, and leap! It’s time to try defying gravity! I think I’ll try defying gravity, and you can’t pull me down!

The words caused me to pause and reflect on the life of Jesus. He too lived a life in defiance of the status quo. He refused to follow the rules just for the sake of following them. He took the risk to defy the forces that be in order to bring hope, healing and wholeness into a very broken world. As a result, he was labeled “wicked” by those who opposed him. He was betrayed by those closest to him and executed for crimes he never committed; however, he dared to defy gravity and truly no one could pull him down.

In the first chapter in Acts, we see Jesus literally defying gravity as he ascends to heaven after having been resurrected from the dead only forty-days earlier. In another ten days, the holy spirit would come and fill his disciples and they, too, would begin to defy gravity in order to continue the work of the Christ, which is to bear hope, healing and wholeness to broken people in a broken, dark, downtrodden world.

Rather than letting gravity pull you down, rather than let the weight of the world crush you, perhaps its time to place your faith in God and watch how you levitate to heights you never dreamed possible. Perhaps it is time for you to start defying gravity, perhaps it is time for you to rise up out of the rules you find yourself bound to. Perhaps it is time for you to clothe yourself with the cloak of God’s presence so that you, like the apostles and the saints before you, can bear hope, healing, and wholeness to a world that desperately needs it.  If that makes you a little “wicked” in the world’s eyes…so be it! Be all that God is calling you to be!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Let your hopes, not your hurts, shape your future.” – Robert H. Schuller

PRAYER

Lord, lift me up so that I may rise above what the world says I am and be transformed into all that you want me to be. Amen.

Grace Period

Read Matthew 18:21-22

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“All of this is for your benefit. And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory.” (2 Corinthians 4:15)

images_softball_fieldThis year, both my daughters signed up to be on the recreational softball league for the first time.  This has been a good experience for them so far and they are really surprising me at how quickly they can pick up the rules of the sport and learn to play the game.  While it has been trying on my wife and I as we try to get the girls to their practices and games (which sometimes conflict with each other), it has also been rewarding for us as we get into the games and root for our girls and their teammates.

My daughters both have learned very quickly that you cannot swing vicariously when a ball is pitched to you.  They have also learned that you can’t just stand there, poised and ready, without attempting to swing at some of the pitches either.  After all, it only takes three strikes and your out!

Of course, we all know that. “Three strikes and your out.” We can all hear the umpire screaming: “Yeeee-ooo-uuu–rrrrr Ooo-uuu-ttt!!!” Those are the rules of the game and, we all know those rules carry on off the field to. We have all heard irritated parents tell their children, “Three strikes and your out.” I know I have been guilty of saying that to my children and I know I am not alone. “That’s strike one! Two more and you’re grounded!”

What we have been taught and, in turn, what we have taught our children, is that there is a limit to our grace. We even call that limited length of time a “grace period.” There is only so much room for error, there is only so much room for grace, before someone has gone beyond the point of no return. While this works in the context of a game, is this how God wants us to operate in our everyday lives?

Peter once approached Jesus of Nazareth to ask that very same question. Is there a limit to grace, is there a grace period followed by the point of no return. “Lord, how many times should I forgive someone? Seven times,” asked Peter?  Jesus responded by saying, “Not seven times, but seventy times seven.” Seventy times seven? If we do the math that equals four hundred ninety times! There’s no way any one of us could forgive that many times without losing count!

And that is the point that Jesus is trying to make. In God’s eyes, there is no such thing as a “grace period.” In God’s eyes, there is no such thing as “three strikes and your out!”  God is not asking us to show grace until the point of no return is reached…for grace can only be found far beyond the point of no return.  Once you experience God’s grace, there’s no turning back for God’s grace transforms us and compels us to bear that grace toward others.

While God is not asking that we be pin cushions, or that we needlessly take abuse from people, God is asking that we always show the same grace to others that we ourselves have received.  We can remove ourselves from bad situation without removing grace from ourselves. If we do that, if we would just take the time to treat others the way God has treated us, then we would realize that there is no grace period for grace is eternal and timeless. Let the grace of God work in you so that you may bear that grace to others.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

Give grace the same way you received it: with joy and thanksgiving.

PRAYER

Lord, I thank you for the grace you have poured out on me. I open myself to that grace so that I may show it to others. Amen.

A Modern Parable

Read 2 Corinthians 5:17-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.’ (Matthew 18:21-22)

say_hello_2_heavenHave you ever pondered about heaven and hell? Often times they both seem so distant, they both seem so very far away. We all hang on to life, thinking that the longer we live the longer we can put off having to find out what lies beyond the great divide. Yet are heaven and hell that far away?

One day, while pondering on the nature of heaven and hell, I pictured hearing what Jesus would say about the two if he were living on earth today. What sort of parable would he tell, what kind of illustration would he use to describe the reality of heaven and hell? We all know the imagery he used in the New Testament; however, if Jesus were living on earth today, what example would he provide us? And then I thought of an event that had happened a while back and decided to put the exercise on paper. It went like this:

One day a man came up to Jesus and questioned him, “Rabbi, teach us of hell.”

Jesus looked deeply into the man’s eyes and began to answer in parables.  “Hell is like a schoolhouse of Amish children.  One day a man entered into the schoolhouse, lined up all the girls along the wall, and bound their ankles and hands together.  He called his wife to say goodbye and then started shooting the girls in the back of the head, one by one.  Finally, the man took his own life, leaving several Amish parents without their children, leaving his own children without their father, leaving his wife without a husband, and leaving his parents without a son.

In reaction to the incident, people around the nation began judging the man and his family.  His face was shown all over the television with the words, ‘The Face of Evil‘ written underneath.  People judged him as an evil person and before long such judgments would justify their harassing the killer’s wife and children.”

The man looked back at Jesus in utter astonishment.  “What then of heaven, Rabbi,” he asked.

Jesus answered,  “The Kingdom of Heaven is like the Amish parents who, after their children were mercilessly and brutally murdered by a gun man, met with the family of the murderer.  They brought food, tears, and prayers to the killer’s wife’s door, sat with the wife and kids, ate with them and prayed with them.  They said to the wife, ‘In our hearts we have already forgiven him.’  They also begged the wife, ‘Do not leave this area. Stay in your home here. We forgive this man.’”

While these words are obviously not the actual words of Jesus, I do believe that they are true insomuch as they shed light on the nature of heaven and hell.  The fact of the matter is that hell, often times, surrounds us; however, as followers of Christ, we are called to be ambassadors of heaven. The Amish in the parable above, pulled from a real life event, acted as heavenly ambassadors would. Though they were the grieving victims of a heinous, evil crime, they chose to act out of love and forgiveness, rather than out of vengeance and hate. It may be a tall order but, as the Amish proved, it is not an impossible one. May the love of Christ permeate you so that you can show it even to your enemies.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Love seeketh not itself to please, nor for itself hath any care, but for another gives its ease, and builds a Heaven in Hell’s despair.” – William Blake

PRAYER

Lord, teach me to love, regardless of the cost. Just as I am forgiven, give me the humility and the strength to forgive. Amen.

Beauty within the Beast

Read 1 John 4

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Be to me a rock of refuge, a strong fortress, to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress. Upon you I have leaned from my birth; it was you who took me from my mother’s womb. My praise is continually of you.” (Psalm 71:3, 6).

BeautyWithinTheBeast
Art found on http://grodansnagel.deviantart.com/

This past weekend, my family and I went to see a high school production of Walt Disney’s Broadway play, Beauty and the Beast.  We had been to see the production on Broadway and, to be honest, this high school production was just as good! They were all very professional on stage and we watched with delight as the story came to life before our very eyes.

Beauty and the Beast has always been one of my favorite fairy tales, and it is one of my favorite Disney movies. One of the reasons I love the film so much, is because I can totally relate with the Beast.  And my guess is, so can many of us veterans of this comedy we call life.

When we were children, the world seemed big and bold and beautiful. Everything was colored by the lens of innocence and to us, as children, everything was perfect. But then, as we grew older we began to be tainted by the world. We became more knowledgeable about how harsh the world could be. Ever so slowly, we began to be changed by the surrounding world.

For those of us who were picked on, for those of us who never quite fit in, we began to grow bitter. We learned that we could not trust anyone and, in the process, we lost faith in ourselves. For those of us who have been cheated or abused, perhaps we began to mask ourselves with cold indifference, a defense-mechanism to shield us from being hurt anymore. For those of us who were popular, we began to realize the price of that popularity and felt as if we were imprisoned by it.

Regardless of what category we found ourselves in, we began to believe the images that other defined us as. We began to lose who we were created to be. We began to see something other than ourselves staring back at us in the mirror, and we despised what we saw. All we could see in the mirror was a beast glaring into our eyes.

But like the Beast, we are not meant to be prisoners. Like the Beast, we are not meant to be locked away in darkness, watching the pedals fall from what’s left of our lives. God did not create us to be depressed, cynical, angry, and stressed out. God did not create us to be successful, popular, clickish, aggressive, overly competitive or power-hungry. We let the world define who we are rather than listening to the One who truly knows us, who knew us before we were even formed in our mother’s womb.

God did not create a beast when God created you; rather, God created a beauty.  Each one of us is unique, each one of us has something special to offer, and each one of us is beautiful. Look deep inside yourself, look for the beauty that is within you. Stop look at yourself through the lenses the world taught you to wear. Stop seeing yourself as worthless and recognize that God doesn’t create worthlessness. You are a child of God, made in the very image of God, and you are unconditionally…and I stress the word “unconditionally”…loved by God. Accept that love and be recreated in that love! Learn to love yourself, and learn to love others just as God loves you!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“We are made in the image of an imageless God” – Dr. Michael Kogan

PRAYER

Lord, strip me of all of the images the world has come to define me with. Show me who I truly am. Amen.

Freedom From Within

Read Romans 7:14-25

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.” (Galatians 5:13, NLT)

Freedom

One of my favorite film portrayals of Jesus is the one found in the 1961 film, “King of Kings”. While it is true that Jeffery Hunter perpetuates the Anglo-Saxon image of Jesus with his blonde hair and blue eyes, it is also true that Hunter delicately balances the human and divine aspects of the Christ. Too often, portrayals are either of an extremely divine Christ, or an overly earthly Jesus, but Hunter finds the balance and runs with it.

In one of my favorite moments in the film, Jesus comes to the prison to see his friend John the Baptist.  After being told by Lucius, a Roman Centurion, that John isn’t allowed to have any visitors, Jesus said, “I would see John.”  Curious, Lucius asked him why. “I have come to free John,” Jesus calmly proclaimed.

“And just how do you propose to break him free from his cell,” the Roman Centurion interrogated? Jesus responded, “I come to free him within his cell.”

Half curious, Lucius sarcastically and rhetorically asks, “Freedom from behind stone walls?”

“You are free to come and go as you please,” Jesus responded, calmly walking toward where Lucius was sitting, “and yet you are still a prisoner because you place no faith in anything but your sword.”

The power of those words resound throughout my mind.  How true it is that we all find ourselves to be prisoners of one thing or another.  Some people are prisoners of hatred, while others are prisoners of fear.  There are some who are prisoners to various addictions, others who are prisoners to their pride. Some people are prisoners to their ideologies and political affiliations, and others are prisoners to their religious beliefs.  Some people are prisoners to their social lives and status, others are prisoners to isolation and perpetual feelings of being alone.

The fact of the matter is that we often find ourselves placing our faith in tons of different things. The world is like a huge buffet with a plethora of different plates to choose from. There are so many different things for us to place our faith in that we find ourselves imprisoned by all of the things that are competing over us.

Yet, Christ is seeking to come into our lives and flip the prison image upside down.  Christ comes to free us from within our prisons by giving us hope, healing and wholeness. But notice, that Christ has not necessarily removed us from the prison. Life doesn’t just become peaches and cream because we have put our faith in Christ. What does happen though, is that our outlook on this life, and on our struggles within it, changes. Rather than seeing defeat in our failures, we see growth and victory. Rather, than seeing life as a series of dead ends, we will start to see that the ends lead to new beginnings.

Christ has come to make all things new again. So, no matter what prison you find yourself in. No matter what in life has caused you to trip and stumble. Take a moment to stop and breathe. Take a moment to see the foot prints behind you and realize that in your darkest moments God has been carrying you.  See the light that comes from Christ and embrace it. Place your faith in it and praise God that you have been freed from within! Experience the freedom that comes from God’s hope, healing and wholeness!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“All who call on God in true faith, earnestly from the heart, will certainly be heard, and will receive what they have asked and desired.” – Martin Luther

PRAYER

Lord, free me from the things that imprison me and use me in a way that bring your freedom to others. Amen.

The Battle Within

Read Matthew 6:14-15; Luke 6:27-30, 32-36

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“And forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.” (Matthew 6:12, NLT)

AnakinI have always been a huge Star Wars fan. The latest three films center around a character by the name of Anakin Skywalker and takes place before the original films. Anakin is filled with great hope and promise; however, he is also filled with fear and regret.  He was taken away from his mother and taught to be a Jedi Knight.  His mother, who once was a slave, finally gets her freedom and marries a man.  But, this isn’t a fairytale for her. The man, though he loved her, failed at protecting her and she eventually gets kidnapped, raped, tortured and killed by a group of bandits.

Anakin cannot forgive the man–nor can he forgive himself. After all, he was a Jedi Knight, yet he could not protect his own mother.  Though his lover (Padame), friends and mentors alike try to steer Anakin past his fears and regrets, they cannot do it.  They have too great a hold of him and Anakin slips further and further into the dark side.

In one of the final scenes of the third installment, Anakin finds himself in a volcano fighting against Obi Wan Kenobi who used to be his greatest friend. He believes that Obi Wan has betrayed him, and he believes that Padame  has betrayed him and, out of anger, he nearly destroyed Padame and is on the move to kill Obi Wan.

In the fight, Obi Wan gains the better ground and warns Anakin not to advance toward him. But Anakin is too angry to listen and leaps forward to attack. In self-defense, Obi Wan slices off Anakin’s legs and left arm and Anakin falls to ground, his leg stumps in touching the lava.  While catching on fire and burning alive, Anakin can be seen reaching toward the man who used to be his best friend and teacher. “I hate you,” Anakin screams. “I hate you!!!” Just as the fire is consuming his body, so too the rage fully consumes Anakin. The fight may be over, the scars of the battle will forever haunt Obi Wan’s memory.

While the film focuses on Anakin’s fear as being the root cause of his problem, I see forgiveness being a key issue as well. Anakin can never find it in himself to forgive those who have done him wrong. He can never find it in himself to forgive himself either! As a result, hatred builds up in him and he becomes Darth Vader, who is a walking embodiment of Hell.

In the Scripture today, Jesus warns his disciples and followers that forgiveness is absolutely vital. If we are not willing to forgive others, including ourselves, how can we ever expect to receive God’s forgiveness?  To want forgiveness and refuse it to others is hypocritical to say the least. But beyond that point, those who don’t forgive often find themselves not being able to forgive themselves…and no matter how much God forgives someone, it is in vain if they will not receive it.

Thus, the challenge for all is to be humble and to fight the battle that rages within us. We need to recognize that none of us are perfect and that each and every one of us is in need of forgiveness. Rather than letting hate, bitterness and rage consume us, like it consumed Anakin Skywalker, we need to turn from our hate and stubbornness and learn to forgive.  If we can do that, then perhaps we’d have less to fear. Learn to forgive and learn to be forgiven. This is what God is calling you to do.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Fear is the path to the Dark Side; Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.” – Yoda

PRAYER

Lord, soften my heart and teach me to forgive others, as well as myself. Amen.

 

The Lord is My Shepherd

Read Psalm 23

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“David said further to his son Solomon, “Be strong and of good courage, and act. Do not be afraid or dismayed; for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you, until all the work for the service of the house of the Lord is finished.” (1 Chronicles 28:20)

ShepherdWhen you stop and think about it, life can be an extremely crazy ride. Which one of us can look back on our lives and say that we lived everyday perfectly? Which one of us can claim to have nothing but mountaintop experiences all the way through life?  My guess, is that there isn’t a single person alive who could claim such things.

Today I was reading the 23rd Psalm, which is traditionally held to be written by King David.  Upon reading the Psalm, I began to reflect on the life story of David.  He started off as a “ruddy-faced”, handsome shepherd boy (1 Samuel 17:42). Small and insignificant, his ruddiness was all he had going for him. But that ruddy-faced boy is the same boy that Samuel anointed to be King of Israel, the same boy who knew how to defend his sheep against wolves and bear, the same boy who slew the Philistine giant, Goliath with a single stone launched from his sling.

This ruddy-faced boy grew into a great warrior and, no matter which way you paint David’s story, that means he killed lots and lots of people. David did not live a perfect life. He was known for being ruthless and he sought battle against the Philistines in which he circumcised their dead corpses after the battle. He was known for being a politically savvy manipulator…one who would have no qualms about silencing his opponents. He was a womanizer and an adulterer, who scandalously had an affair with Bathsheba and made their love-child, Solomon, the heir of his throne. He even had her husband murdered in order to keep him from finding out about the affair.

In David, we see a person who lived life imperfectly. He had his good moments and his not-so-good moments; and that is what makes him such a powerful character for us when we read about him in the Bible.  One gets the sense that David is for real…and we can relate to him on so many different levels. While many of us will never be a King, or have someone murdered, we can certainly relate to David’s propensity toward imperfection. Each of us, like David, have our good moments and our not-so-good moments. We have all shared in mountaintop experiences where nothing seems to be able to bring us down. But we have also shared in the long, lonely and desperate walk through the valley of the shadow of death, where the weight of the world seems to be crushing the very breath of life out of us.

While scholars may argue back and forth as to whether or not David actually wrote the 23rd Psalm, it certainly speaks to the kind of faith that he had in God. It speaks of a life that was not perfect, a life that was filled with twists and turns, pastures and barren wilderness, mountaintops and valleys.  It speaks of the constant danger of enemies, and yet the eternal, calming, loving, reassuring presence of God.  The 23rd Psalm was a poem, as song, from the depths of the soul of a person who knew that no matter what happened, no matter things were right or wrong, God was always there to be a guiding, loving, caring presence.  Let the 23rd Psalm remind us of the the same thing: that God is with us always. God will never leave us nor forsake us nor fail us. God will be with us always, even to the very end of the age.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

It’s as if God is singing to us, “There ain’t no mountain high enough, ain’t no valley low enough, ain’t no river wide enough to keep me from getting to you.”

PRAYER

Lord, help me to recognize your presence no matter where I am. You are my shepherd, I shall not want. Amen.