Category Archives: Devotional

History or Not, Here We Come!

Read Isaiah 55

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us.’” (Mark 9:39-40 NRSV)

the_bibleJust recently a new series came out on the History Channel called, “The Bible”. I was so excited to sit down and watch this series as I am a huge fan of films that are based on biblical stories. So, when I heard that this new ten hour miniseries would devote five hours to the Hebrew Scriptures (aka the Old Testament) and five hours to the Christian Scriptures (aka the New Testament), I must admit that I got very excited indeed.

Of course, as soon as I started to watch the series, my excitement grew into disappointment. I mean, the film opens up with a Sean Connery look alike playing Noah, the rainbow is arching over the ark while it is still afloat on the flood waters. They show a glimpse of creation from a 21st century, scientific understanding of the universe. The majority of the actors looked like they came out of a church in Nebraska and look nothing like the people of near eastern descent; they all had British accents, which confounds me as I do not believe that Israel is in Great Britain. And to top it all off, they had Jesus walking around in the Hebrew Scripture stories as “The Angel of the LORD”, which is certainly not what the Hebrew authors intended being that they had no clue who Jesus of Nazareth was, since they were writing about 500 – 1,000 years before Jesus of Nazareth walked the earth.

But then I realized that I was missing the larger point. Perhaps I was letting my theological stance, my historical stance, and my other academic stances get in the way of what was really going on there. After all, the producers of this series never claimed to be producing a historically accurate, word-for-word film on the Bible; rather, they were producing an adaptation of the most beloved Bible stories in the hope that the series would spark and interest in reading the Bible.

Despite the fear that people will stop short of reading and just take the series’ account of the Bible as being the Gospel truth, I realize that God can and does work through all things. Gods ways are not our ways, and there is nothing too great or too small for God. Often times, we let our own conceptions of God get in the way of what God is calling us to be a part of. Instead of getting caught up on the minute details, we should be celebrating the miracle that God is working in and through many different people, who come from many different walks of life.

While, as a theologian and a historian, there is much to cringe at when it comes to the presentation of the Biblical stories found within The Bible series, as a Christian and an avid Bible-reader, I celebrate the miracle that a successful couple in Hollywood had the courage to take a risk on such a series, and I celebrate the miracle that a major network such as the History Channel, took the risk to air it on their station.

So, what I am going to do is encourage you to click your way over to the History Channel and view the new miniseries every Sunday through Easter at 8 p.m. But I am not going to stop there. Enjoy the film series, get enraptured in the epic drama of it and in the special effects; however, when you are done watching it, pick up your Bible and read the stories for yourself. After all, don’t you know that the book is ALWAYS better than the movie? Read the Bible, you won’t regret it.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars. – Martin Luther

PRAYER

Lord, I thank you for creating such a broad and wide stream for us to swim in. And I thank you for placing me in it to swim. Give me a desire for your word and a desire to experience it in all the ways I can. Amen.

Mount Doom

Read Esther 4:1-17; 5:1-8; 7:1-10

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

frodo-bagginsOne of my favorite books and films is The Lord of the Rings trilogy, written by J.R.R. Tolkien.  Within its pages is a tale of a little hobbit by the name of Frodo Baggins who has a mysterious and dark ring come into his possession. It was not his wish nor his choice to possess the ring; rather, it was forced into his possession by his friend, the wizard, Gandalf the Gray.

Gandalf did not force Frodo to take the ring because he had malice in his heart toward Frodo, he did it because Frodo’s uncle was being slowly and surely corrupted by the ring and the only one Gandalf could trust was this little hobbit boy.  This turn of events thrusts Frodo and Gandalf into a perilous race against time to take the ring to Mt. Doom, where it was created, and to throw it into the fires of the mountain in order to permanently destroy it and the evil that is bound within it.

At one point in the journey, Frodo  (who is exhausted, worn down, beaten up and discouraged) looks up at Gandalf the Gray and says, “I wish none of this had happened.”  Gandalf certainly understands the boys wish, and there is no doubt that he, himself, wished that none of those events had happened. But they had happened, and nothing would change that.  Gandalf looked down to where Frodo was sitting and said softly, “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

I am sure we all can relate to Frodo and the feeling of helplessness that he was lost in.  Many of us find ourselves in situations we never planned for ourselves, doing things we never intended to have to do, and faced with trials we never would have anticipated coming our way.  But they did come our way, and we have had to respond to those trials and be tested by them.

What is important for us to realize is that while God is very much to us like Gandalf the Gray was to Frodo. God does not wish for us to be tried the way we are, nor does God cause the bad times to fall upon us.  Perhaps, like Gandalf, God too wishes that the trials we face never had to happen. But they did and do happen and, like Gandalf, God is there with us to comfort us in such times. God is there with us to encourage us in such times. God is there with us to equip us to keep pressing forward through such times…all the way until we finally are able to climb the summit of whatever Mt. Dooms exist in our lives.

It is natural for us to wish that none of it existed or happened, but God is there to remind us that all we have to do is decide what to do with the time that is given us. Once we know that we are not alone, and that there is no mountain in our way that God can’t get us over, then we will at least be at peace that God will see us through the fire.  God will never leave us, nor forsake us…EVER. Know that and experience the grace and peace that comes with it!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“A gem cannot be polished without friction, nor a [person] perfected without trials.”  — Ancient Chinese Proverb

PRAYER

Lord, though I may go through tough trials in my life, I know that you are there with me and that you continue to carry me. Into your loving and guiding arms, I commit my spirit. Amen.

 

Winners and Losers

Read Romans 3:1-31; 7:1-25; Matthew 25:31-46

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13)

SETH MACFARLANEThis past Sunday night, for the first time in years, I actually sat down in front of my T.V. with my wife and daughters and watched the Academy Awards. I don’t normally let them stay up that late; however, this year was special because my family loves the theater and this year, Les Miserables was up for a number of awards, including Best Picture.

We sat there through all of the awards, watching the song and dance that was in place to keep us entertained through what would have otherwise been an extremely long and boring show.  And there were moments where we shouted with joy and clapped anytime Les Mis or another movie we liked won an award, particularly when Anne Hathaway won the award for best supporting actress. No doubt, she deserved it.

But, by the end of the show we found out that, after sitting there for three and a half long  hours, our favorite movie did not win best picture. What a disappointment that was in and of itself; however, to make it worse, the host and another woman sang what they called, “The Loser Song” naming the movies, directors, and actors that were “the losers.” That is what it is all about in our society, isn’t it. That is what we teach our children is the number one value…WINNING.

At the end of the show, my daughters’ excitement turned to glum expressions of regret. “I feel like I wasted my time,” my one daughter stated. My other daughter asked, “Why didn’t Les Mis win?”  For them, the message was clear…you either win, or you’re a loser.  If you are a loser, then it wasn’t worth the effort. That is is the message they, and I am sure countless others, have picked up from our society at large.

Sports are performance based. If you win, you make the big bucks…if you lose, you end up skewered on page seven of the sports section. I remember, prior to his being recognized as an elite quarterback, Eli Manning was constantly being ripped apart as a loser when the Giants lost. Whether it be sports, theater, film, music, school, or work, we are always seeking the greatest performance. Anything else is considered sub par and unacceptable.  According to the world, you’re either a winner or you are a loser.

And this ethic certainly goes beyond Hollywood and the wide world of sports; it can even be found in the church (just look at how we measure up the value of our ministries). Often times, we are very much merit and performance driven. Yet, God does not measure us by such standards. God does not look at how much success we have attained, nor does God judge us as winners and losers.

What God judges us, is based off of whether we took it upon ourselves to care enough to try. If we try and fail, so be it. At least we tried. At least, in our heart of hearts, we cared enough to do something.  It does not matter how many awards or accolades we’ve received, nor does it matter how many times we’ve succeeded or failed. What matters is that we try and have the faith to keep on trying in the name of the one who calls us to believe that we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

In is better to lose while trying than to win at trying nothing at all.

PRAYER

Lord, teach me that you in you, there is no such thing as losing and give me the courage to keep on trying. Amen.

Scapegoat

Read Genesis 3; John 11:47-53

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:15)

GoatHave you ever read or seen the play, “The Crucible”, by Arthur Miller? It tells the story of the Salem Witch Trials, which happened from February 1692 – April 1693 in Salem, Massachusetts.  In the story, while dancing and casting spells in the woods, a group of girls were caught by the village’s minister, Reverend Parris.  Parris’ daughter was one of the girls and, upon seeing her father, fainted and did not regain consciousness.  Knowing that much of the town was divided over the effectiveness his leadership and ministry, Parris was fearful of what might become of the girls behavior and proceeded to interrogate the girls.

The girls, in turn, blamed Tituba the slave out of fear for being scolded and beaten.  Parris then brought in the Reverend John Hale of Beverly to interrogate Tituba and to investigate whether or not the devil had indeed been raised in Salem. Tituba was harshly interrogated, and after she had been threatened with severe beatings and death, she confessed to being in league with Satan. But that confession wasn’t enough. Her accusers wanted her to give up any names who might have also joined her in signing Satan’s black book.  Afraid for her life, and just wanting the nightmare that had befallen her to come to an end, Tituba calls out the names of four people who lived within the community.

The stage had been set, the spark ignited, the fire kindled, and the blazing flames were about to engulf the entire village of Salem. Historically speaking, by April of 1693 over 160 people were accused of Witchcraft, most of whom were jailed and deprived of their property and legal rights.  Fifty of those people confessed to witchcraft in order to save themselves from immediate trial and certain death. In the end, twenty-five of the accused died: nineteen were executed by hanging, one was pressed to death by stones, and five died due to the horribly unsanitary conditions of their imprisonment.

It seems to be human nature to scapegoat people in order to save our own hides.  We see this reflected in the Adam and Eve story, where Adam points the finger at Eve, followed by Eve pointing the finger at the serpent who, unfortunately didn’t have any fingers left to point. And this pattern of playing the blame game can be seen throughout history. Early Christians in the mid-first century were scapegoated by Nero for the fire that burned down a large portion of Rome. And let’s not stop with Rome, for we need look no further than the Inquisition, the holocaust and some of the reactions to the attacks on 9/11 to see that Christians have certainly done their share in scapegoating too.

Let us, in the spirit of Lent, remember that Jesus was a scapegoat and was executed for crimes that he didn’t commit. In the spirit of Christ, let us repent of the times we have participated in scapegoating others, whether it be as small as scapegoating our siblings to avoid a spanking or as large as scapegoating minority groups in order to maintain the socio-economic and political status quo.

God is calling each of us to swallow our pride, repent of our sins, and accept responsibility for what we have done.  It is only then that we can rise out of the water of our baptism with Jesus and follow him into the wilderness of preparation. It is only then that we can truly be his disciples. It is only then that we will can bear the Good News of God’s hope, healing and wholeness to the people in our midst.  During this Lent God is calling us, not to be perpetually guilty, but to repent and move forward in the direction God is calling us…the direction of witnessing to God’s unconditional love of us all!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.” – Jesus of Nazareth, in Luke 5:31-32

PRAYER

Lord, bring me to the point of true, and liberating, repentance so that I may truly serve you and represent your unconditional love. Amen.

Billboards and Bumper Stickers

Read Jeremiah 31:31-34

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)

Read-the-InstructionsEvery once and  a while I will pass a billboard sign or see a bumper sticker that will just irk me a little bit. It is usually a pretentious saying word, “Co-Exist”, that is made up of all different religous symbols. I mean, on the one hand, I get that the bumper sticker is telling people to get along, hold hands, and skip along the yellow brick road with one another while practicing different religions. In essence, it is calling for acceptance of religious pluralism, the notion that all paths lead to God (a problematic notion to say the least). On the other hand, the problem in the world is that we ARE CO-EXISTING!!!  We often don’t co-exist peacefully, but we are definitely co-existing. Co-existence does not equal peace.

With that said, the other day I was driving down the road and I happened to see a billboard sign that read, “When all else fails, read the instructions.” Underneath those words was a large picture of the the Holy Bible. On the surface, those words seem to make sense. I am a Christian who actively reads the Bible and try to live by what I believe to be the core teachings within it. But the words on that billboard are overly simplistic, they imply that the Bible is a last resort, and they do not accurately depict what the Bible actually is.

If the Bible is a divine manual given to us so that we can follow its “instructions”, which instructions should we follow first? Perhaps, we should stone our children when they’ve dishonored us (Deuteronomy 21:18-21). Perhaps we men should remain unmarried and make ourselves eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom (Matthew 19:12). If we are going to follow the “instructions” then shouldn’t we get rid of our personal property and share it in common with the church (Acts 4:32-35) and shouldn’t women cover their heads (1 Corinthians 11:6) and remain submissively silent (1 Timothy 2:11-12)?

The fact of the matter is that what we have in the Bible is much more than a set of “instructions” for us to follow. While there are laws, rules and regulations, the Bible is also a collection of writings that reflect each author’s understanding of the human-divine relationship, as well as their commentary on the socio-economic and political situations of where they lived. The Bible is very much a living testament to the faith journeys of the ancient people who wrote and compiled it. The Bible is also a foundational text that we relate to and from which we spiritually grow.

While the Bible is certainly an important part of our Christian journey, and while I certainly encourage people to read and study it, I do believe that we Christians tend to get confused on what the Living Word of God really is. Is God’s Word a mere book, a mere set of rules and regulations on how to not upset the big daddy in the sky? Is the Word of God a book that has both a beginning and an end, a book that is finite and limited to words on a page? Is the Word of God bound in a book that can be used and misused?

If we are going to have a traditional Christian theological understanding of what the Living Word of God is, we might want to take a hint from the first chapter of the Gospel of John. The Living Word of God is not a bound collection of ancient books written by people who were inspired by God; rather, the Living WORD of God is the risen Jesus Christ.  That WORD cannot be bound nor contained. It knows no limits and it reaches different people in different ways. The WORD of God is not stagnant and typeset on flimsy paper, it is living and breathing through Christ who not only lives in us, but also through us.  When all else fails, know that the Word of God, which is living within you, does not!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Every creature is a word of God” – Meister Eckhart

PRAYER

Lord, I thank you for the Bible and for the inspired words within it. But my greatest praise is for your WORD, Christ Jesus. Amen.

Forgiven

Read 2 Samuel 11; Psalm 51; Matthew 6:14-15

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

Then Peter came to Him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?” “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven! “ (Matthew 18:21-22)

King_DavidHave you heard the tale of King David?  When I mention his name, images of a ruddy-faced shepherd boy might come to mind. Perhaps, you are seeing a sling-shot and a stone in the hands of a puny boy facing a monstrous giant named Goliath? Or perhaps you see the rising star of a man, named David, who quickly climbed the political ranks in Saul’s military. Perhaps you see David being chased down by an envious King who was desperately trying to hold on to the power that was never his to begin with.

But, when the name David is mentioned, do you think of the man who slept with another man’s wife and got her pregnant? Do you think of a man who had her husband sent to the front lines in a battle to be killed so that her husband would not know of the affair? Do you think of a King who has gained so much power that he forgets the very God who gave it to him?  When we read Psalm 51 and reflect on the lamenting of its author, it is hard to not think of David when he finally realizes that he was not powerful enough to hide his sins from God.

Whether or not Psalm 51 was actually written by David or not is beside the point. The fact of the matter is that the Psalmist, whoever he or she was, was certainly feeling desperately in need of God’s forgiveness. It is fitting that this Psalm gets traditionally attributed to David, in light of the great and scandalous sin that David committed. It is a Psalm that we all can relate to, as we have all found ourselves getting caught in the act of doing something we should not be doing.  We have all found ourselves on our knees, at some point or another, begging God to forgive us.

Seeking forgiveness is a part of the Christian journey.  John the Baptist preached the message of repentance…as did Jesus…as did the apostles and all of the Christians since then.  But for Jesus, seeking forgiveness was not enough. Anyone, given the right circumstances, can be pushed to do that; however, Jesus taught that it was equally important for us to be forgiving of others. “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15).

Now, most of us recognize that it is important to forgive others. It may be hard, and we may not want to forgive everyone, but we know that forgiveness is something God would want us to do. Yet, when we speak of forgiveness, we often only think of others.  After all, we are to forgive others, right?  What we don’t realize is that God not only wants us to forgive “others”, but God also wants us to forgive ourselves.  In fact, if we don’t forgive ourselves, how can we ever be in a place to forgive others?

We can beg God for forgiveness all day long; however, if we are unwilling to accept God’s forgiveness, then we will never receive it.  The fact of the matter is that God has already forgiven us and is waiting for us to move beyond the ashes of Lent and lamentation into the warm and bright light of Easter. Whether we are as powerful as King David or as humble and meek as a peasant child born in a stable, God is calling us to be a people of the resurrection…a people who have been forgiven, who forgive themselves, and who extend that forgiveness to others. Such people embody God’s hope, healing and wholeness!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves.” ― Dalai Lama XIV

PRAYER

Lord, teach me the discipline of forgiveness…first for myself and then for others who have wronged me. Let my willingness to forgive bear witness to you! Amen.

 

Rising from the Ash

Read Genesis 3:1-19; John 1:1-5, 14; 3:1-17; Mark 1:1-15

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)

Rising from the AshSurely most, if not all, of us have the image etched into our head. There in a quaint little cemetery, stand a group of people dressed in black, all gathered around a rectangular hole in the ground. “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” echo the priest’s voice through the thickened, damp mist that blankets the sky in a dismal, dark gray.  As the words fade out into the foggy veil, the rain begins to fall, each drop turning the dusty ground into muddy spittle.

This is an image that reminds us all of our own mortality. It is often an image that we reserve for depressing dramas, eerie horror movies or other stories that are meant to haunt us in the night.  When all is said and done, most of us try to bury the notion of our mortality until the moment in which we must come face to face with it.  We all know that we are mortal, that our time here is limited; however, most of us live our lives in a way that seeming denies what we know to be true.

Such images often come to mind on Ash Wednesday, where we are reminded of our mortality; however, it is also a day in which we are supposed to be reminded of our imperfection. The reminder of our mortality does, in fact, humble us to recognize our need for something bigger than we are.  In ancient Israel, and the surrounding regions, people who sough God’s forgiveness would wear sackcloth and roll around in ash, as seen in Jeremiah 6:26. The ash served as a reminder of the penitent person’s mortality, humbling the person into repentance. This also went along with fasting and continual prayer.

But the ultimate point of Ash Wednesday goes far beyond the grave, far beyond human mortality, and far beyond human culpability.  After all, we were not created to live in a permanent state of guilt. Unfortunately, many Christians get stuck in the mea culpa mentality, believing that they are sinners in the hands of an angry God. I remember being stuck in that state, praying for forgiveness every second of every moment I prayed. My prayers would consist of, “Lord, forgive me of this” and, “Lord, forgive me of that.”  I would sometimes repeat the words “forgive me” without really knowing what I was seeking forgiveness for.

As Christians, the ashes being imposed on Ash Wednesday should not only remind us of our immortality and/or our culpability; however, it should also be a reminder that we are constantly being sought out by a God who loves us; that God loved us so much that God chose to take on our form and live life as a mortal. A God who chose to become dust with us, and return to dust for us.  But the story doesn’t stop there, because out of the dust God rose up and conquered death, showing us that nothing is impossible for those who believe that true LOVE never dies.

While many people focus on the mortality and culpability aspects of Ash Wednesday, and those aspects have their place, I see this day of observance to be one of celebrating life in God. It is a day in which we are reminded of the mighty works God has done in and through Christ Jesus…and the mighty works God is doing in and through each and every one of us!  So, wherever you are today, when you are getting the ashes imposed, close your eyes and see the God who rose from the dust and turned the ashes into lilies. Then open your eyes and remember that this is exactly what God has done in you! Breathe in the life God has given you and go share that life with others.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“”The cross, with which the ashes are traced upon us, is the sign of Christ’s victory over death.” – Thomas Merton

PRAYER

Lord, help me to move forward from guilt to the new life you have waiting for me. Help me also to share that life in relevant ways with those around me who are in need of it. Amen.

 

From Top to Bottom

Read Matthew 5-7; Luke 6:12-49; Mark 10:42-45

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

And [Jesus] to them, “Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me; for the least among all of you is the greatest.” (Luke 9:48)

Nepal_Mount_Everest_And_AmaMany people talk about the power of God in their lives. Many people speak of God as having control over the course of their lives. Many people convey that it is God who has brought them as far as they are and that God has blessed them.  But the question is, what has God blessed them with? Where has God brought them to, how has God been in control of their lives, and what in their lives displays God’s power.

On the surface, such claims sound good and humble. It is great to give God credit and to praise God for being present in our lives.  But when one looks past the surface, it becomes clear that these praises are often in light of success.  For instance, Ray Lewis praised God for his team’s Super Bowl win. Some celebrities publicly thank God for blessing them with success. Countries the world over thank God for making them “the greatest country in the world.”

Why is it that we attribute God’s power, God’s presence, and God’s blessing with being at the top. Why is it that God is in control of our lives, that automatically means we will be successful, prosperous, great, and at the top of the pecking order?  And we need not look at football stars, or celebrities, of countries to see this understanding of God’s presence in our lives.  We only need look at the church and we see hierarchy and power struggles and the desire to be the biggest, the best and the most successful.

Yet, Jesus presents a different view of God’s power, presence and what it means to have God in control of your life.  Rather than being the best, the greatest, the most successful, or at the top, God calls those who wish to inherit God’s Kingdom to be the least of these and a servant of all. What’s that? Come again? In order to be the greatest I have to be the least? You mean to tell me that in order to be a leader I need to be the servant of all? What kind of flip-flop theological mish-mash is that? It’s called the Gospel.

The Good News for the folks at the bottom is that God IS WITH YOU! The least of these are the greatest in the eyes of God; however, that is not to say that the greatest are left behind or considered rubbish either.  God is with all people and loves all people. The truth, though, is that God calls those who think the great to become the servant of those who are the least. In other words, those who have should be serving those who have not. Just think of what kind of world this would be if God were TRULY in control of our lives. Just think of what miracles would be worked through us if we TRULY opened ourselves up to God’s power? Just think of where we would be led if we TRULY knew that God’s blessing is the gift of being a blessing to others?

Rather than getting caught up in power plays, we should give up “our power” and claim the power that God has give us…the power to LOVE as God first loved us.  Rather than seeking to be the greatest, the most successful, and/or the best, we should seek to be among the least of these, our brothers and sisters. It is only when we do that, it is only when we surrender all to God, it is only when we live out the Sermons on the Mount (in Matthew) and on the Plain (in Luke) that we will come to realize how blessed we really have been.  It is then, and only then, that we will be giving credit as living witnesses to God’s awesome power and presence.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

Greatness is relative. From the moon the great Mt. Everest looks like a wrinkle on the earth.

PRAYER

Lord, humble me to be a bearer of the Good News of your present and imminent Kingdom. Amen.

Who Can Be Against Us?

Read Romans 8:31-39

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Anyone who listens to My teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock.” (Matthew 7:24)

Who Can Be Against UsSunday, February 3, 2013 was an all-American holiday…a sacred day of sitting on the couches and chairs, a day of huddling in the living room. It was a day of chips and dip, plenty of beverages and the sounds of guys and gals the country over shouting at the top of their lungs.  This holiday has forever become known a Super Bowl Sunday and has a larger attendance than all of the churches in America combined.

In this past Super Bowl the Baltimore Ravens went up against the San Francisco 49ers in a game that was bound to be a crowd pleaser.  In the first half of the game it seemed like nothing could stop the Ravens. The 49ers were down 28 – 3 and seemed to have no chance to comeback. Yet, they did and almost destroyed the Raven’s dreams of winning the Super Bowl. But as the phrase goes, “almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.”  In the end, the Ravens narrowly won the game, with the final score being 34-31.

But how were the Raven’s able to stop the raging moment that the 49ers picked up in the second half of the game? How were the Raven’s able to conquer their foe and lay claim of the iconic Vince Lombardi trophy?  According to Ray Lewis, God was how they were able to win.  When asked how they were able to pull off the win, Ray Lewis proclaimed, “If God is for us, who can stand against us?”  It seems that God was certainly a Raven’s fan that day.

Now, on the surface nothing seems wrong with Ray’s proclamation.  In the midst of the great moment, in the midst of all of the emotions welling up inside of him and his fellow teammates, there seems to be nothing wrong with give God the credit for a job well done; however, when one thinks deeper about the implications of such a comment, perhaps the credit give to God is credit God would rather not take.

For instance, is it safe to say that God had it out against the 49ers? What did God choose the Ravens over and against the 49ers? What makes the Ravens more deserving of a Super Bowl victory?  What did the 49ers do to deserve to lose the game after rallying their team to such an amazing comeback?  And what does it say about God’s will regarding the rest of the teams in the NFL?

The danger in this type of theology comes into play when we start applying to other people, places and things of more import than American Football.  For instance, when we win a war, should we credit God with that win? Does God wish us to fight each other and pick sides as to who should conquer and who should be conquered and/or wiped out? Or how about countries with plenty versus third world countries? Why would God choose to give prosperity to some (especially when those prosperous nations are far from perfect), while allowing other people to live in oppressed and deprived states?

The reality is that God is not a puppet master in the sky who tweaks the performances of one team over that of another, nor is God on the side of one people over that of the other. Rather, God is present with us all. God is on all of our sides, nudging each of us to move closer and closer into a divine relationship with our Creator.  If we were to listen to God, if we were to stop for a moment and actually listen, we would hear God telling us that we are all the children of the most High and that we are all loved.  If we would only listen, we would realize that God is calling us to be that love in the world. And what’s stopping us from doing that? After all, if God is for us who can stand against us?

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

God doesn’t play favorites. There is radical equality in God’s love.

PRAYER

Lord, teach me to love in a way that truly gives credit to you. Use me as your instrument of love. Amen.

 

Running in the Rain

Read Matthew 5

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“When clouds are full, they empty rain on the earth; whether a tree falls to the south or to the north, in the place where the tree falls, there it will lie.” (Ecclesiastes 11:3)

Running in the RainTypically, my days to jog are Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Every week I plan on running first thing in the morning on those days so that I can continue to keep my heart, body and soul healthy. With that said, a few days ago I decided that I was going to change things up a bit. I had a lot of work to do, as well as having to travel to different places to accomplish some of the work and so I decided that I would run later in the day. This was on this past Tuesday, and the weather was about as wonderful as it had been in a while.

My wife and daughters had to get their teeth worked on at the dentist and I would go running at a park I used to run at while waiting for them.  Now, have you ever noticed that when you plan on doing something, the universe seems to align itself against you and your plans?  This is what seems to always happen and certainly, as we were getting closer to the dentist, the drops of rain started to fall on to the windshield.

I dropped my wife and daughters off at the dentist and tried to hurry over to the park, but by the time I got there it began to rain steadily. I was totally bummed out; I mean, if I had only ran earlier I could’ve gotten a run in with sunlight and everything. Yet, there I was looking out at the dismal gray, rainy and dusk filled skies wondering whether I should run or not. And that is when I decided…I was going to run.

I ran two and a half miles and was soaked to the bone; however, I realized that I totally enjoyed myself out in the rain. Sure I was wet, and I did spend the remainder of the time waiting for my wife with my socks and shoes hanging over the heater vents, yet there I also felt good about accomplishing that run in the rain. I felt good about not giving up on what I knew I needed to do, just because the circumstances were different.

Often times, we go through our lives hoping that every day will bear sun and warmth, that every day the universe will align itself with our hopes and dreams. Yet, the reality is that the universe isn’t aligned with any of our hopes and dreams. Nor, is the weather or anything else for that matter. Life goes on with or without us and the fact of the matter is that, as Jesus says, the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike.

People always question why bad things happen to good people, but who says that bad things don’t happen to bad people? Who says that good things don’t happen to good people? I know, when I reflect on my life, I have had my share of good and bad things. The good things fly by, often with me taking them for granted; however, the second bad stuff happens, I begin to groan and moan about how terrible things are for me.

Jesus calls us away from that kind of thinking as such thoughts are terribly self-centered. That is not to say that we should be happy when bad things happen or when things don’t go our way; what we need to realize is that regardless of the circumstances, we can choose how we react and/or respond.  Sitting in my van, I could have chosen to drive back to the dentist office and mope about how much life stinks, or I could have chosen to suck it up, get out of the car and run the most refreshing 2.5 miles I have run in a long time. That is what I chose to do and that is what God is calling us all to do in the rainstorms in our lives. After all, we really do have much to be grateful for, so let our lives reflect our gratefulness!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Be thou the rainbow in the storms of life. The evening beam that smiles the clouds away, and tints tomorrow with prophetic ray.”  – Lord Byron

PRAYER
Lord, while I do not like it when storms hit, guide me through them and give me the wisdom to see beyond them so that I can truly be grateful for all of the blessings in my life. Amen.