ALSO IN SCRIPTURE “But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.” (Matthew 13:16)
Today was just one of those days. You know, it was a Sunday afternoon, the sun was out and shining, the breeze was gentle and refreshing, and the temperature was perfect. It was one of those days that, despite having a terrible sinus infection, I just could not be inside. So, I decided to take a contemplative stroll through the labyrinth in my backyard. Yes, you read that right, I have a labyrinth in my backyard and I love it!
As I was walking around, though, I started to notice that it had become quite unkempt as things were finally springing to life after a cold, long and harsh winter. So, I got inspired to start moving the rocks, pulling weeds, leveling the dirt and mulch, and placing the rocks back in place. It felt so refreshing, spiritual and serene doing that simple, yet physical work. I felt very attuned with God as I worked at caring for and tending to the labyrinth.
As I was pulling the rocks away, I noticed the some of the grass and weeds surrounding them were very easy to pull out. It took no effort at all. As it turned out, the roots were growing in only a an inch or two of dirt that had collected in between the rock. Once I removed the rocks, I could easily get rid of them.
As I was weeding my way around the labyrinth, a parable of Jesus’s came to mind. The parable where Jesus talks about the seed that get sowed in rocks, in weedy areas, in shallow soil and the seeds that are sown in the good soil. He was saying that if the seeds are sown right, the plants that grows will grow hardily and not easily be removed. This was a metaphor for faith that Jesus was using to instruct his disciples, and those listening, on the importance of being rooted deeply in one’s faith and not just having a surface faith rooted in shallow soil or, worse yet, having a dead faith that never rooted at all because the seeds were tossed on rock and/or hard soil and eaten by birds.
But sometimes, like the weeds in the labyrinth, our faith seems to be rooted deep; however, that depth is no more than an illusion. Sometimes we discover that our faith is actually shallow and only appears to be deeply rooted because those roots and shallow soil are being secured by the boulders around us. Once those boulders are removed, our faith gets tested and shown to be nothing more than weeds that are easily plucked and thrown into the wind.
But there is good news here…there is indeed hope. As painful it is for us to remove the boulders weighing us down, once they are removed and once those shallow rooted weeds are plucked, we begin to clear a path that twists around like a labyrinth that leads us to the good soil. It is there that we begin to realize where our seeds of faith need to be sown. It is there that we begin to cultivate a holy and sacred garden, at the heart of God’s temple!
Christ is calling you to remove the boulders in your life! Christ is calling you to pluck the weeds that are hindering your path. God is calling you to journey further in the labyrinth, plucking and pulling out the shallow rooted weeds until you get to the center, until you get to the place of deep, good soil. Christ is sowing the seeds of God’s love…of God’s hope, healing and wholeness…of God’s Kingdom in your heart. Allow God to nurture and cultivate that divine garden and let the love of God spring forth from you like the well spring of life! God is recreating Eden within you and calling you join him in the Garden! I’ll see you there!
THOUGHT OF THE DAY “Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked, in which you can walk with love and reverence.” – Henry David Thoreau
PRAYER Lord, help me weed my way to the good soil, so that my faith may grow into a luscious, sacred and holy garden. Amen.
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE “You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too” (Matthew 5:38-40 NLT).
Sam Obisanya was having a bad day, and extremely bad day. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Sam, he is one of the footballers on the fictional English Premier Football team, AFC Richmond, on the Apple TV+ original show, Ted Lasso. This show has become one of my favorite shows and is now on it’s third season. I highly recommend it, though not for children as it does have language and mature themes throughout. Also, while I am not spoiling the whole episode, I will be discussing one scene in it, so if you are watching the show and haven’t seen Episode 7 of Season 3, I would recommend watching it first so as not to spoil this moment for you.
Back to Sam Obisanya. He is a soccer player from Nigeria and comes from a family that is very socially conscious. Why? Because in Nigeria people feel the weight of colonialism and the footprint of the West on them. As such, Sam is not afraid to speak out on social issues in order to do what he believes is right. Enter into the story fictional U.K. Home Security Minister, Brinda Barot. She is standing front and center on the television telling migrant refugees in a boat that they should go home and that she won’t permit them in England. Or at least that’s the gist of it.
Sam believed that he could at least appeal to her “better angels” through a tweet mildly and lovingly callinger her to have a little more compassion to people in need. Well, as is almost always the case with politicians on Twitter, she shot back and tweeted: “Footballers should leave the politics to us and just shut up and dribble.” This quote is actually a real quote from a host on an American conservative news channel who said that people like LeBron James and others should stay out of politics and “shut up and dribble.” So Ted Lasso is pulling from real-life situations, which is what makes this show so relevant and important.
Again, back to Sam. As these things often do on social media, the tweets escalated back and forth. That’s where the tragedy occurs. This is what makes Sam’s day so bad. He went at night, after his football game, to the Nigerian Restaurant he opened up to share Nigerian cuisine with the U.K. and give the British Nigerians a little taste of home. He named the restaurant, Ola’s, after is father. When got to the door, Sam found it smashed in. The restaurant inside completely destroyed, with the words, “Shut up and dribble”, spray painted across one of the walls. Sam was shattered.
The next day, as he was gearing up to practice, he had an angry outburst because he feels unwelcome in the U.K. and he knows people like Brinda Barot want to ship him and other immigrants right back to where they came from. His team members were confused because they didn’t at first know about his restaurant, but they all were there to listen and comfort him. Also, at the same time, his dad showed up for his planned visit to see his son, watch him play, and eat a meal at Ola’s, which obviously was no longer going to be able to happen.
His father gave him a big hug and sat down with him. Sam was sharing with him that he didn’t think he was going to reopen the restaurant just to see it destroyed again. His father countered him and told him he NEEDED to reopen it, not just for himself, but for his staff and for other Nigerian immigrants who would like a taste of home. Then his father told him this, “If you really want to piss them off, forgive them. No big deal. Just forgive them, like it’s no big deal. Don’t fight back Sam, fight forward.”
Now, I won’t share what happens from there; however, those words really stuck with me and they reminded me of the same thing Jesus taught his disciples in Matthew 5:38-40 NLT), “If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too”. Believe it or not, Jesus was talking not about fighting back, but fighting forward. This takes forgiveness and fortitude and faith, but it is the only way in which we end the cycle of destruction that we humans are so hellbent on carrying out against each other.
Turning the other cheek and giving people more than they want to sue from you is not giving up or taking the cowards way out. It is not a sign of weakness, either. It is quite the opposite. Walter Wink, in his book Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination, interprets the passage as a way to be subversive to the power structures of the time. In ancient Judea, one asserted their authority and dominance by backhand striking a person on their right cheek with their right hand. If that person then turned their left cheek to be struck, the person with the higher social status had a problem. The left hand couldn’t be used to strike because it was used for unclean purposes; however, if one open-palm slapped someone on the opposite cheek, it would be seen as a challenge to a fight placing the other person at equal status.
Jesus, in calling people to turn the other cheek, was directing them to FIGHT FORWARD, publicly calling out the injustice by turning the other cheek rather than fighting back in retaliation. The same thing is true regarding giving one’s shirt too when one is being sued for their coat. Going over and above publicly displays that what is being done is an injustice.
Friends, we are called to fighting forward, not fighting back. It is so easy to get up in arms when we feel threatened or attacked; however, that does nothing to change the world. Let us be a people who follow Christ’s way, not the world’s, so that we can be public displays of justice, peace, and love as well as agents of hope, healing, and wholeness. This is the Christian way.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY “Sweet mercy is nobility’s true badge.” – William Shakespeare
PRAYER Lord, help me to have the strength and courage to fight forward and forgive. Amen.
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.” (Psalms 46:1-3 NRSV)
In the film, “The Dark Knight”, Heath Ledger plays my favorite version of the Joker. As a method actor, Ledger isolated himself and immersed himself in the role in order to “become” the joker. His interpretation of the Joker was that of a maniacal mass murderer who was hell-bent on projecting the inner chaos within his tormented soul out into the world at large. Sure, this Joker has all of the attributes that you’d expect the Joker to have: the clown face, the broad and menacing grin, the crazed laugh, and the green(ish) hair; yet, this Joker is wild, extremely dark and utterly chaotic.
There are many awesome quotes to pull from this Joker character that Ledger plays, but the one that struck me the most came toward the end of the film as it was approaching its tragic and climactic end. Sitting in the hospital next to the bedside of Harvey Dent, the District Attorney who the Joker severely burned with a gasoline explosion, the Joker began to explain himself. “I just did what I do best. I took your little plan and I turned it on itself. Look what I did to this city with a few drums of gas and a couple of bullets. Hmmm? You know… You know what I’ve noticed? Nobody panics when things go ’according to plan.’ Even if the plan is horrifying! If, tomorrow, I tell the press that, like, a gang banger will get shot, or a truckload of soldiers will be blown up, nobody panics, because it’s all ‘part of the plan’. But when I say that one little old mayor will die, well then everyone loses their minds!”
In that moment, the Joker hands Harvey Dent a gun and has him point it directly at his (the Joker’s) head, “Introduce a little anarchy,” the Joker continues. “Upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos. I’m an agent of chaos. Oh, and you know the thing about chaos? It’s fair!”
Whether or not chaos is actually fair, it is certainly indiscriminate. The world, much to our dismay, is filled with chaos and always has been. The Jews who were exiled in Babylon certainly understood what chaos was and they sought some sort of plan in order to explain why the chaos was surrounding them.
While the prophets tried to explain the chaos and the reasons it befell the Jews, the scribes did not for there is no real answer why. Yes, our bad decisions could help in creating chaos around us, as can the bad choices of others, as can the forces of nature. Yet, all of those are chaos because they are NOT a part of any sort of divine plan. Rather than explaining why, the priestly scribes wrote what we now know as Genesis 1, which tells of a God who, at the beginning, hovered over the chaos. What’s more, out of the chaos, God brought order and new life.
It is so easy for us to get caught up, or even tripped up, in the chaos of this world. It is easy for us to allow our lives to spin out of control and for us to fall into chaos ourselves. Who knows why the Joker became the Joker? Who really knows why he chose the path of chaos rather than the path of hope? There is really no explanation that answers those questions, and those questions really miss the point. The point if we succumb to the chaos around us in our lives we, too, become agents of chaos. Just like the Joker, we can choose to be chaotic, but God is calling us to let go of the control we think we have in our lives, to let go of the avoid chaos, and to let go of the fear that keeps us imprisoned within it. If we do that, and we need to trust in God in order to do that, then God will create order in the midst of the chaos and we, in the end will experience true and lasting peace.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY “In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order.” – Carl Jung
PRAYER “Lord, help me to trust in you, for I know that out of the chaos you bring order. I trust that you can do this in my life.” Amen.
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE “Whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith.” (1 John 5:4 NRSV)
We, as human beings, have a very difficult time dealing with the unknown. We absolutely desire to be in control and nothing seems more “out of control”, then uncertainty and the great unknown. Right now, our world is going through traumatic and fatal pandemic that is leaving everyone in the dark, confused, isolated, in shock, and wondering why any of this is “allowed” to happen. It is in such moments, especially when we are caught off guard, that we begin to ask the question, “Why?”
This makes me think of the film, “Miracles From Heaven,” which tells the true story of a young girl who has a rare, serious, and terminal illness that causes her to not be able to digest food. This, of course, leaves her in considerable amounts of pain most of the time. Her life, at the age of 9 (or so), was relegated to bed rest in hospital rooms. In the midst of it, her family was seeking answers as to what they could do in order to cure their daughter of this illness. Yet, doctor after doctor could not even come up with what the illness was, let alone why it was or how they could cure it. One doctor, who was a renowned specialist at the renowned Children’s Hospital in Boston, was able to put his finger on what the disease was; however, with that said, he was also certain there really was no cure for it. All they could do was try to give the little girl pain medicine to keep her comfortable and wait for illness to take it’s inevitable course.
In the midst of their struggle to help their daughter, they turned to their church for spiritual and emotional support. While all certainly intended to provide that, what the family really got was a bucket load of terrible theology. Some congregation members were asking the mother if there was anything she or her husband did, or if there was anything the little girl did, to bring this terrible illness down on them. The pastor, thankfully, was not a part of this…and did try to support the family, however, the response of some of the congregation members was enough to drive the mother further and further away from her faith. What kind of God would punish an innocent little 9 year old because of the sins of her parents? What kind of God would punish a 9 year old girl, whose not even old enough to be held accountable according to Biblical standards, for her own sins?
While, I will not spoil the rest of the film (and I highly recommend that you watch it if you are able), I will say that THEOLOGY MATTERS. We often think that our suffering and struggles are a part of GOD’s PLAN. We will try to comfort people who are struggling by telling them that “they’ll be okay,” that “things will work out in the end,” and that “this is all a part of God’s plan” in order to “test them” and “help them grow.” Or, more judgmental people will try and speculate on what sorts of wrong people did to “deserve” the things that have befallen them. Both lines of theology are appalling, egregious, and dangerous. What kind of God causes people to suffer in order to help them grow? What kind of God blinds people, cripples them, puts them into gas chambers, or kills their family members as a part of “the plan?” What kind of God gives us “what we deserve?” Certainly the not Grace-filled God of Christianity.
Just as Jesus Christ did with his disciples, he is calling us to rethink our theology and to be careful in it. God’s plan is not to hurt, punish, or kill people as some sort of twisted means to an end. That never was God’s plan, nor will it ever be God’s plan. People have articulated it that way, even in the Bible, but only out of ignorance. Overall, the Scripture is consistent in what God’s plan is: to LOVE creation and to be present in relationship with it. That is God’s plan. Things happen, circumstances take us by storm, and life hits us in various ways, but GOD’s LOVE for us and GOD’s PRESENCE with us NEVER changes. God’s plan is to be with us and to be with others through us. That is the plan…and it certainly is a MIRACLE when we acknowledge the plan and LIVE INTO IT.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY “You know what I noticed? Nobody panics when things go according to plan, even if the plan is horrifying.” – The Joker PRAYER Lord, even when things do not go according to plan, you are present with me. Help me to acknowledge that and be a witness to your presence in my life and the lives of others. Amen.
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE “He said to them, ‘Suppose your child or ox fell into a ditch on the Sabbath day. Wouldn’t you immediately pull it out?’” (Luke 14:5 CEB)
In life and certainly in our faith journey we are presented with so many different choices. Often times it can be hard to make decisions as to whether or not we should do something. People might offer us the opportunity to join a Bible Study, or to be a teacher in Sunday School, or to be a lay speaker, or a committee member. Perhaps, we might get asked to go on a retreat or to join in on a mission project, or to become a youth leader.
But let’s not just limit the scenario to churchy type of things. Perhaps we’re walking on the boardwalk in Atlantic City, or down the strip in Las Vegas. Perhaps we’re heading to a Broadway play in New York City or taking a tour of St. Monica, California. In those situations we often pass tons of people who are in need and are presented with the opportunity, as Christians, to show the love of Christ by helping meet those needs. Now, I am not saying helping by throwing money at people, but we could invite the hungry beggar to join us for a coffee or for a meal. We could stop and listen to the artist busking in the street and even engage in conversation with them, taking interest in their life story and donating a little money for their artistry.
Even beyond those types of things, how many times are we in the supermarket, or the laundry mat, or the doctor’s office and sit silently avoiding eye contact with the people around us. In those moments, we’re presented with opportunities to engage with people. We all know of the countless opportunities that are presented to us each day that we must choose as to whether we take them or not. Yet, in those moments we either find ourselves oblivious to the actual opportunity, or we find reasons as to why we should not take it.
In the church scenario, it is not uncommon to hear a list of reasons as to why someone cannot do something. “I’m tied up at the moment,” “It’s my only day off,” “Sunday’s are my only time to sleep in,” “Not enough people show up to make it worthwhile for me,” “I’m burned out,” “I’m not comfortable with that,” etc. The list goes on and on and on. In terms of being outside of the church, people often say things like, “I’m not a people person”, “They’re just going to use that money for alcohol and drugs,” “I’m too strapped for money myself,” “That person should get a ‘real job’, “God helps those who help themselves,” etc.
One of my mentors used to say that, in ministry and in life, there are often ninety-nine, or more, reasons why we can’t do something, yet there is ONE reason why we should: because it is the right thing to do. Conversely, I would state that there are often ninety-nine reasons why we can do something, and ONE reason why we should not: because it is NOT the right thing to do. We are constantly being presented with choices, and in the face of those choices we are constantly reasoning one way or another as to whether which way we will choose on any given choice.. The question for us is this, is our reason merely serving the purpose of justifying the decision we’ve already made (aka excuses), or are we allowing our conscience-driven reasoning to serve the purpose in guiding our decisions? Rememeber there are ninety-nine reasons why we can’t do something, but there is ONE reason why we should: because it is the RIGHT THING TO DO. I pray that we will allow our reason and conscience to help us discern what we should be doing, rather than letting our excuses to dictate why we can’t. Think BIG because we serve a BIG and AWESOME GOD!
THOUGHT OF THE DAY “Have the courage to say no. Have the courage to face the truth. Do the right thing because it is right. These are the magic keys to living your life with integrity.” – W. Clement Stone
PRAYER Lord, help me to discern what the right thing is and give me the resolve to do it because it is the right thing. Amen.
“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)
When 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.”
Lord, help me to recognize your presence no matter where I am. You are my shepherd, I shall not want. Amen.
“Whenever the evil spirits saw him, they fell down at his feet and shouted, ‘You are God’s Son!’” (Mark 3:11 CEB)
It is no secret to most people that one of my favorite metal bands is Demon Hunter. I love heavy metal, in general, because it often rages against the machine (so-to-speak), and the lyrics address issues within the status quo. Demon Hunter is certainly no exception to that; however, instead of just raging against political machines, it rages against the religious and social machine as well. What I mean by this is that Demon Hunter’s lyrics often speak out against the status quo within the church, as well as the status quo in society.
They don’t do this just for the sake of being whiney against the way things are, but because they recognize that real people suffer in society and, in particular, in the church. What’s more, they also call out the fact that the church often turns it’s back on such people, and they seek to do differently in their lyrics. There song, “I Am You”, which I have already written another devotion on, speaks to the fact that they struggle like everyone else, and that they stand in solidarity with those who do struggle. The song, “I Will Fail You,” speaks to the fact that we should not put our faith in other people; rather, we should put our faith in God for, unlike people, God will not fail us.
Aside from their music, I also love the artwork on their albums, in particular, I love their band’s logo of which is the demon skull. One of my favorite Demon Hunter skulls is from their third album, “The Triptych”. The skull itself is pretty typical in that it has the uneven horns and is the skull of a goat that has a bullet hole in the forehead, which obviously symbolizes that the demon had been shot and slayed. But this is skull has something else going on. For one thing, the skull itself looks like it is made of some sort of armor, and it is pegged together by spikes. Also, there is a red and black snake slithering through the mouth, through one of the eye sockets, and up over the top of the skull.
As weird as this might say, it is a rather beautiful work of art. Granted it is dark, but there is something alluring about it. Beyond its aesthetics, however, it speaks a profound truth to me. You see, we often spend our lives running and hiding from our demons. With that said, even when we kill our demons and try to move beyond them, they never truly die. They often just lie dormant until something or someone triggers them back to life. Now, when I say demons, I am not thinking of the word in a literal sense, but more of a metaphorical sense. Demons can be personality and character flaws, it can be addiction, anger, bitterness, hatred, envy, or any of the things that possess us and rule our lives.
God is calling us all to be demon hunters, but we cannot be that on our own. The reality is that the things we struggle with will inevitably resurface in our lives. That is why it is so important for us to place our faith in God and to be a part of the community of Christ so that we are not alone in hunting our demons. The more we are surrounded by supportive people, the more likely we are able to overcome our demons and vanquish them. We all have demons, but they need not define who we are. Rather, allow God to help you vanquish your demons through a community that will stand in solidarity with you, support you, hold you accountable, and help you rise up in triumph over the things that have been pulling you down.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“If you don’t deal with your demons, they will deal with you, and it’s gonna hurt.” – Nikki Sixx
Lord, help me with my demons so that I may rise above them and defeat them. Amen.