Category Archives: Devotional

Journey with Jesus: Holy Tuesday

SCRIPTURE:

Matthew 21:23 – 24:51; Mark 11:27-13:37; Luke 20:1-21:36

Matthew 231322AN EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT

Wow, and I thought yesterday was tense! I was shaking from head to toe when Jesus started to overturn those tables and was shouting like a madman! Part of me was scared that the Romans, perched in towers overlooking the Temple complex, would descend on us and crush us right then and right there. The other part of me was excited because Jesus was finally showing the zeal that we have been taught that the Messiah would have. I began to wonder if, perhaps Jesus was this Messiah…cleansing the House of God before purging Israel of her enemies.

But today Jesus started teaching really strange things! He spoke in parables that were set up to make the Pharisees look bad. He compared the Pharisees to a group of murderous farm tenants who refused to give the farm owner his due and killed anyone the farm owner sent them…including his own son! Jesus went on to flat-out curse the Pharisees and the scribes shouting, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth.”

You could just feel the tension in the air. The religious leaders looked beyond mad. If looks could kill…well you know how the phrase goes. Then, Jesus questioned their knowledge of the very scriptures they are well versed in. He asked them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’?” I got the real sense that he was referring to himself! Was he saying that he was going to be rejected and die? How could he be the Messiah and die? How was that even possible if the Messiah was supposed to free Israel from oppression? Why would this “Messiah” curse our religious leaders? Wouldn’t the Messiah focus his energy on Rome?

REFLECTION

What are your expectations of Jesus? Who is Jesus to you? Do you find that your “Jesus” falls in line with what you think he should be? When you hear or read Jesus’ words of chastisement, who do you envision Jesus talking to? Is he talking about “them”, or is he talking about “us”? Is he talking about “you” or is he talking about “me”?

On this Holy Tuesday, let us remember Jesus’ warnings to the religious leaders of the day. Will we continue to cross land and sea to create converts to OUR way? Will we look like we are righteous on the outside, when in reality we are dead on the inside? Will we be the ones who reject the stone only to be crushed by it? Or will we lay down OUR way and make GOD’s way the cornerstone of our faith? What is God’s way, “No, O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what He requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

PRAYER

Lord, humble me and become the cornerstone of my faith. Let me drop my religion and pick up your love, compassion and mercy in its stead. Amen.

Journey with Jesus: Holy Monday

SCRIPTURE

Matthew 21:12-17; Mark 11:15-18; Luke 19:45-48

AN EYE WITNESS ACCOUNT:

Second_TempleTalk about taking a turn for the worse! It was just yesterday that we were celebrating Jesus’ triumphal entry! The palms were scattered around the road, and being waved ecstatically in our hands! “Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest!” We shouted even louder, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD! Hosanna!”

Yet, it is only a day later and this same “messiah” does something beyond what any of us could have predicted. He enters into our sacred Temple and starts ranting and raving. He screams, “You have heard it said that, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have turned it into a den of thieves!” Can he really mean it?!? He is supposed to protect us against our enemies! He is supposed to overthrow the ones who are threatening us! He isn’t supposed to come into our very Temple and attack us! How dare he!

Then this Jesus starts violently overturning the tables of the bankers in the Temple market. Money is flying everywhere and he opens up the animal pens and lets them loose. It is utter chaos. This way man is going too far! Someone needs to stop him before he brings ruin upon us all. Doesn’t he know that there are certain rules that need to be followed? Doesn’t he realize that we do things a certain way here, that we are not the ones who need cleansing!

REFLECTION:

What in your life is sacred? What do you cherish the most? What is it that you cling to and refuse to let go of? What is your sacred Temple? Do these things stand in your way of God? Are these sacred things holy because you have deemed them so, or because God has called you to them?

Just as Jesus entered the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and cleansed it of the things that were distracting it from it’s true purpose, so too Jesus is entering into your life and driving out those things that distract you from serving your true purpose.  What is that purpose? To be a living Temple of the living God, to be the house of the living God, to be the bearer of the presence of the Living God to all of those who are around you.

This Holy Monday, recognize that God is calling you to cleanse your Temple so that it may be filled with the hope, the healing, and the wholeness that God is calling you to bring to others. Anything that gets in the way of that purpose has got to go.

PRAYER:

Lord, drive out the impurities that keep me from being your true, and living Temple. Amen.

Loving the Unlovable

Read Matthew 5:42-48

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.” (1 Corinthians 2:13)

back1994512The past couple of weeks have been fraught with a number of scary and tragic scenarios. A Malaysian 777 airliner went missing for no apparent reason, but the there seems to be some connection with the pilot who seemingly and purposefully took the plane off course. There was the mass shooting at Fort Hood where one of the soldiers went into the Fort armed and shot at fellow soldiers who were unarmed, killing three and wounding at least sixteen others.

There was a man who accidentally hit a ten year old boy who might have been in a group playing chicken in the road. When the man stopped his truck, got out of it and went over to he boy to see if he was alright, a mob of people attacked him and beat him to near death. Finally, just on Wednesday, a sophomore at Franklin High School in Murraysville, PA, went into his school and stabbed and/or slashed 24 people with two kitchen knives. At least five of those twenty-four were critically injured and are currently fighting for their lives.

In moments such as these, it is impossible not to hold your hand to your mouth in shock. It is hard not to question, “what is going on with this world?” We sit in horror as we watch these news stories unfold before our very eyes. We can’t help picturing ourselves and/or our loved ones in those situations. I remember when the Newtown, CT massacre happened, I couldn’t help but cry as I thought about kissing my own children before sending them to school. I fully expected them to return home (and they did), just as I am sure those parents did.

On the same note, it is also hard for us to distance ourselves from the people who perpetrate such heinous and seemingly evil crimes. We often say, “What could possibly drive a person to do such things”; however, we often don’t really reflect on it as much as we just ask the question. Perhaps we the question is a part of our process to make sense of it all, but the reality is we cannot make sense of it. This often leads us to a place where we dehumanize the perpetrator and label him or her as evil.

But the reality is far more complex than that. It is true that such acts are evil, yet are the people themselves evil? Were they born differently that you or I? Are they just “bad seeds” who were evil from the very beginning? Or are they, themselves, victims? Are they people who were crying out for help but never received any? Are they people who slipped through the cracks, for one reason or another, and unfortunately ended up spreading their misery, pain and suffering to other people?

These reflective and probing questions are not being asked to make light of what they did. Nor are they being posed to take away from the real pain, suffering, and misery they’ve caused countless people. Rather, these questions are calling us to be quick to show compassion, resolute in seeking understanding, and slow to make judgment.

These questions are ultimately asked in order to get us to reflect on an often tough, but necessary, question: What more can we do? What steps can we take to spread hope, healing, and wholeness to those in need. That is not to say that we can always prevent such things from happening; however, it is a constructive way of working toward a solution as opposed to pointing the finger at someone and calling them the devil. Christ has called us to love all people, including those wishing to harm us, and to avoid judgment. Perhaps working toward helping people struggling with inner pain and turmoil is one way we can carry that call out.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“To love means loving the unlovable. To forgive means pardoning the unpardonable. Faith means believing the unbelievable. Hope means hoping when everything seems hopeless.” – Unknown

PRAYER

Lord, use me in a way that brings love to those I may otherwise deem as unlovable, as we are all your children. Amen.

Beyond Proof

Read Philippians 2:12-18

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“The LORD looks down from heaven on humankind to see if there are any who are wise, who seek after God.” (Psalms 14:2)

11175915_800This past weekend I took my girls to the theater to see the latest Christian film to hit the big screen. The film is called “God’s Not Dead” and it is about a freshman in college who enrolls in a philosophy class. At the beginning of the class the professor tells the students that he’d rather not waste time on discussing the age old question of whether or not God exists. He lists a ton of academics who have all determined that God does not exist and states that it would be better to move on to other things, rather than rehash the topic of God’s existence.

Being that the professor believes the debate to have been won by the atheistic academics, he asks the class to write “God is Dead” on a piece of paper and sign their name to it. If the whole class does, great…they can move on. There’s just one problem, the aforementioned freshman is a Christian and he is not willing to write “God is Dead” and sign the paper. Because of that the professor challenges the student to utilize three classes to prove the antithesis of that statement. In other words, the student needs to prove that God’s NOT Dead and he needs to convince the class who have all signed off on God being dead.

The student decides to do just that. He spends his time in the library looking up the debate on the existence of God. He reads atheists such as Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawking, and others who put for the proposition that God is nothing more than a fairy tale. He also looks up theist authors who put forth the proposition that there is a God. He searches the internet for other debates and pieces together his arguments. Standing before the class, the student opens up by saying, “Professor Radisson will tell you that I cannot prove God exists, and he is right. I cannot. With that said, he cannot prove that God does not exist.”

Of course, following that last statement, the student continues throughout the course of the film trying to “prove” that God does exist. And, to be fair, there wouldn’t have been a film if he didn’t. Actually, to be doubly fair, the film is about more than just the student trying to prove God. Yet, the reality is that he should have left it with just that: “I cannot prove that God exists and you cannot prove that God does not exist.” Yet, he feels the necessity to try and prove.

I am not one to shy away from such debates. A good discussion on the existence of God tickles the fancy of philosophical minds, and I certainly have one of those. In fact, it is because I have engaged in such discussions that I have come to the realization that trying to prove “God” to people who are trying to disprove “God” to you is a fruitless endeavor.

Rather than trying to prove God exists, be living proof that God exists. In other words, don’t waste your time on fruitless words about God, as if God can be fully explained and proven by our words. If you believe in God, if you are a person of faith, then you will do as your faith dictates. If you believe in God you will live a life of love, a life of compassion, a life of justice and a life of mercy. You will live your life in a way that reflects your beliefs.

Today’s challenge is to stop trying to prove what you believe. To quote my mom, you don’t need to prove anything to anyone but God. If you believe in God, then live according to your beliefs. That will go a lot further than words do. When people see you living a life that reflects the reality of God, that will be a greater witness to God’s existence than anything you can say in a fruitless debate. Be at peace in your faith and live according to it.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“For those who believe, no proof is necessary. For those who don’t believe, no proof is possible.” – Stuart Chase

PRAYER

Lord, I believe in you and know you have called me to live out my beliefs. Guide me in that direction and equip me for your work. Amen.

Doubting Thomas

Read John 20:24-29

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the LORD. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find Me.’” (Jeremiah 29:11-13, NLT)

The Tomb of St. Thomas. Mylapore, India.Do you remember learning about the twelve disciples in Sunday school? To be honest, I don’t remember learning about the twelve disciples. I remember learning about the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Only two of them were were named after one of Jesus’ disciples. I remember learning about Peter and Andrew as well as John and James. They were the two pairs of fisherman in the group. There was Matthew (formerly known as Levi the tax collector) and Phillip (though I am not sure what he did prior to joining Jesus). And, of course, there was Judas Iscariot. Everyone knows Judas as he is the disciple who infamously betrayed Jesus with a Kiss.

The other disciples are largely skipped over and not taught about, in my experience, with the exception of one: Doubting Thomas. He was the guy who is infamously known for his doubt. Ironically, Thomas is only shown in one Gospel to portray that “doubt”, and only in one place. What’s more, that Gospel, John, was the last of the Gospel’s to be written and does not follow the same format or chronological timetable that the other three (Synoptic) Gospels follow. Thomas is seen in John 20:24-29 as not believing the other disciples when they tell him that Jesus had risen from the dead. Thomas says, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in His hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in His side.”

As a result, Thomas has forever gone down in history as the guy who DOUBTED the resurrection. Jesus chastises him following his sudden change of heart upon seeing the risen Christ: “You believe because you have seen Me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing Me” (John 20:29). Poor Thomas, upon seeing Christ, had let go of his doubt and chose to believe, only to receive a cold shoulder from “[his] Lord and [his] God” (John 20:28). It’s as if Christ is saying, to all believers everywhere, “Do NOT doubt. For if you doubt your faith, in the end, is worth less than those who believe in me without doubting.”

For many people, these words have been a stumbling block to faith. To be fair to the text, they were meant to encourage people who had not been eyewitnesses to the resurrection to continue believing even though they had not seen; however, since then, they have become words of admonishment for those who DARE question the veracity of the resurrection, let alone any other matter of faith. The clear message that is taught to children in Sunday school is, shut down your questions lest you be found to be like doubting Thomas. Unfortunately, that fearful message has hindered the growth of many people who have suppressed the urge to question.

Yet, people fail to realize where Thomas’ “doubt” led him. He may or may not have questioned the resurrection; however, he did, without question, find himself in India preaching the Good News of his resurrected Lord. It is there, thousands of miles away from home, that he was martyred for Jesus and it is there, in Mylapore India, that his body lays at rest. Thomas’ doubt led him to be grow into a great proclaimer of the hope, healing and wholeness of his risen Lord and Savior.

Don’t let fear stop you from questioning and, even, from doubting. Doubt is neither good nor bad. It exists whether we want it to or not. Even as a pastor, I doubt. It is not doubt that is bad, but what we do or don’t do with it. Embrace your doubt, ask the tough questions, and allow the risen Christ to appear to you. Then it will be come REAL for you and you will grow in leaps and bounds in your faith. Christ does not admonish you for your doubts; rather, he calls you to embrace them, rise above them, and grow beyond them!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Modest doubt is called the beacon of the wise.” – William Shakespeare

PRAYER

Lord, teach me to not deny my doubts, but to rise up and grow as a result of, and in spite of, them. Amen.

 

Disciple

Read Luke 8:1-3

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.” (John 20:1)

Mary MagdaleneIn the film that came out a little while ago, Son of God, the story of Jesus of Nazareth was chronicled. It started off with Jesus walking toward the Sea of Galilee, heading to its shores to recruit a certain fisherman by the name of Peter. From there he gathered up more disciples, twelve in all. Of course, Jesus also had many followers who followed him around from place to place as he traveled the Galilean countryside.

In this film, they actually have an extra disciple. Now, I bet you are pausing here and questioning: “An extra disciple? If Jesus had an extra disciple there would’ve been thirteen disciples, but the Bible clearly says twelve.” But you did hear me right. In this film, the extra disciple was a woman by the name of Mary of Magdala (also known as Mary Magdalene). In the film, they show her following Jesus around, handing out the loaves and the fish, sitting in on his lessons to his disciples, and even questioning him on how they should pray. “Mary Magdalene,” you might be asking, “wasn’t she the prostitute who followed Jesus and ended up witnessing his resurrection at the tomb on Easter morning? How could she be considered a disciple?”

If you are questioning that I would like to pause here for you and explain. Mary Magdalene is often mistakenly identified as a prostitute; however, if one reads the Gospel accounts you will not find such a description of her anywhere. The most one can find of Mary, prior to her knowing and following Jesus, is that she was among the women whom Jesus “cured of evil spirits and infirmities.” In fact, the author of Luke says that Jesus had cast “seven demons” out of her (Luke 8:2).

Luke’s Gospel, which was the third one written (circa 80-90 C.E.), is the only Gospel to mention that Mary was possessed by demons, so it is hard to tell whether or not Mary was known for being demonically possessed in the time of the earlier accounts of Mark and Matthew (Note: Mark 16:9 also mentions that Mary was possessed by seven demons; however, Mark 16:9-20 is a later addition to Mark and not in the original manuscripts), or if it is a later addition to the story. Regardless, Mary was certainly not a prostitute and was certainly a close follower of Jesus as she is mentioned as such multiple times throughout all four Gospels.

With that said, being a follower does not necessarily make one a disciple. Disciples were students, and thus as Jesus students the disciples had greater access to the Jesus than the mere follower did. They learned from him, they aided him in his ministry and they were given an inside look at his parables and at Jesus’ messianic plan. While the Gospels do not explicitly name Mary as a disciple of Jesus’ in the formal sense, they do show her being among the women following Jesus. Not only that, but she and the other women were supporting Jesus’ ministry with their resources (Luke 8:3). What’s more, it is to Mary Magdalene and the other women, that Jesus reveals himself to immediately following his resurrection. It is Mary and the other women who first get the command to go and tell others of the Good News (aka Gospel) of Jesus’ resurrection.

Again, while the Gospels may not explicitly call Mary a disciple, I feel there is little doubt she was. The Gospels, ALL FOUR OF THEM, have Mary being the first witness of the risen Christ and the first one to spread the Good News to the rest of the disciples. If Mary, in a time when women were considered little more than property, can be considered a disciple of Christ, who can’t be? That is, indeed, the GOOD NEWS! Jesus Christ has risen and ALL are called to be in on what he’s about to do next! ALL are called to be a part of his messianic plan of redeeming the world and returning it back to a paradise where all creation lives in love and peace! Are you ready for what God is going to do? Be like Mary and respond to that call!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“It is only because he became like us that we can become like him.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

PRAYER
Lord, I wish to be your disciple. Teach me all that I need to do your work in this world. I give to you my time, my presence, my treasures, and my all. Amen.

Trading Twilight for Sunlight

Read Romans 3:10-233

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin.” (Romans 7:24-25)

twilightJust recently my girls were re-watching the Twilight series. Do you remember that movie series, which ended a couple of years ago with “Breaking Dawn.” Before “New Moon”, “Eclipse”, and “Breaking Dawn” came out, I had read all of the books. I guess I found the movie “Twilight” captivating enough to read the books. My favorite of those books, to this date, is “New Moon” because I love the character development of one of the supporting characters, Jacob Black. In that book, he goes from a boy to a man and, though ending up on the short end of the stick in terms of getting the girl, I would argue he would be the better for it if it weren’t for the author’s contemptuous ending.

But that is neither here nor there. I have a love/hate relationship with that book series. I thought the author did a great job in capturing teenage love, to a “T”, and really transported the older readers back to High School, which for me was more of a nightmare than a pleasure. But still, she did do a good job of that. WIth that said, the entire series, minus one section of the last book, was completely written in the first person. The story is being told as if it were the thoughts of the main character, Bella Swan. SIDE NOTE: Bella means “beautiful” in Italian, so her name really translates to “Beautiful Swan”. Mein Gott!

Despite her name, being inside her head was anything but beautiful. It was in there that I saw her justify manipulating people such as Jacob Black. She used him in order to fill a void in her life that her boyfriend Edward couldn’t fill. And, when she was finished using him, she dumped him like a bag of hot coals. But it wasn’t enough for her to dump him, she had to make him feel guilty for not just wanting to “be friends.” I also saw her manipulate her other friends, her father, and even Edward in order to get the things that she wanted.

I could go on and on about this, but it should suffice to say that being inside her head made me feel trapped. I wanted to get out of in the worst way. Let me pause here, because I don’t want to be too unfair to Ms. Swan. She may be a flawed character, but which one of us arent. Every day we live inside our own heads and every day, we think and do things that aren’t always the most virtuous things to do.  It is the nature of being subjective human beings, isn’t it? We know what we are thinking and feeling, and those thoughts and feelings always take precedence over what others are thinking and feeling. After all, we really don’t know what others think and feel…it’s kind of out of sight and out of mind.

Even as I sit here and criticize Bella Swan for being manipulative, I fully recognize that I, too, have been manipulative in the past. Which one of us hasn’t been? If we are honest, we will readily admit that none of us are perfect. As Paul writes, we “all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory” (Romans 3:23). But Christ calls us to move beyond our shortcomings and to enter into a new life of living in Christ’s mind as opposed to ours.

Today’s challenge is to step outside of yourself. Begin to see, feel and experience things as Christ did. How do you do this? By entering into a relationship with Christ, one in which you hold yourself accountable to his teachings and to his way of living. Ask the questions, daily, what did Christ do? Then, without a moment’s hesitation, step out and start doing what Christ did. Start caring for the poor, the sick, the differently-abled, the imprisoned, the homeless, the naked. Start being a presence of HOPE, HEALING, and WHOLENESS in the lives of others and you will see that you are no longer trapped in your own head, but are free in Christ’s. Go forth, live and die for others as Christ did.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Above all the grace and the gifts that Christ gives to his beloved is that of overcoming self.” – St. Francis of Assisi

PRAYER
Lord, help me to conquer being stuck in myself and give me your mind, filled with love and compassion for others. Amen.

Don’t Feed the Trolls, Part Deux

Read John 1:1-5; 3:16-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

Jesus said to [Thomas], “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

wbjyqd3k-1393300595Last week I wrote a devotion about trolls and trolling. If you recall, or perhaps you haven’t read that one yet (if not you should read it now), trolls are not just some fanciful creature found in fairy tales, but are human “creatures” we find lurking in the shadows of the Internet. They can usually be found on social media web sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other such sites. They are found in the comment sections of blogs, news sites, and other places that are open to people’s comments and opinions.

These trolls are, by definition, people who “deliberately post provocative messages with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument.” They are the kind of people who are just looking to get under someone else’s skin, putting out bait (such as a provocative message) for people to snap at. When someone does take the bait, they are in for a world of hurt. Trolls can be ruthless and when they get going, there is little one can do to stop them…short of leaving the conversation of course.

Of course, when you think about it, trolling isn’t just unique to the Internet. Trolls can be found throughout life in general. There are just some people out there who love to get an edge on someone else, who love to rile people up, to see people get flustered. There are also the trolls who aren’t purposefully trolling, but are just miserable people who are are angry at the world, who always have a negative spin on everything and are the types of people who tend to bring others down with them.

This latter type of troll is more of an accidental troll. Most people don’t start off life looking to be miserable or down all the time. Most people WANT to be happy and to make others happy. Call me an optimist, though if I am I find myself to be a rather realistic optimist, but I believe that the majority of people are good people. Yet, good and “perfect” are not the same thing. Good people can fall into the trap of seeing life through dark and dreary lenses, especially if they have been hurt or burned one too many times.

What’s more, anyone of us can become this kind of troll. If I am to be completely honest, I have been this kind of troll before. Perhaps you have too. Perhaps, in honesty, you can admit that you have been an accidental troll and have allowed anger, bitterness, negativity, sadness, and other things to bring yourself and others down. If this is the case, I am not writing this to shame you or to make you feel guilty, but I do believe it is important for us to recognize those tendencies and to address them before they completely take us over.

We don’t have to be trolls, we don’t have to be constantly down about everything, we don’t have to bring others down with us. There is a way out of the negativity; there is a light shining in the darkness for all to see. Christ is that light and Christ points us away from feeding the inner troll. Jesus said to Thomas, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to God but through me.”

Christ is calling us to stop focusing on ourselves. Christ is calling us to stop feeding our inner trolls. If we focus on Christ and on living as he did, then we will find that Christ’s WAY leads to the truth that life is full of HOPE and can be beautiful for everyone if we only work toward that. If we seek Christ’s way we will discover the truth that GOD is planning HOPE, HEALING and WHOLENESS for the entire world. And if join God in that quest, we will certainly experience what it means to truly live.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Quit thinking that you must halt before the barrier of inner negativity. You need not. You can crash through… whatever we see a negative state, that is where we can destroy it.” – Vernon Howard

PRAYER

Lord, shine your light in me so that I may see who I am and whose I am. Call me to your purpose and keep me from feeding into negativity. Amen.

Worthy Engagement

Read Genesis 6-8

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it.” (1 Peter 3:15b, New Living Translation)

hr_Noah_3This past week the famous comedian, satirist, and political commentator Bill Maher sparked some controversy when he gave his opinion of the upcoming epic film Noah, starring Russell Crowe. Maher, who is a self-described agnostic, went on to critique the story of Noah in the Bible. “Hey God, you know there’s a problem when you star in a movie with Russell Crowe and you’re the one with the bigger anger problems. He also referred to the God found in the Noah story as a “psychotic, mass murderer” and a “baby killer”, referring to the fact that God flooded the world in order to kill every living thing.

On the flip side, Christians have also complained about the film for not being 100% true to the Biblical account. Pastor Rick Warren called it a waste of money because if one wants to know the story, one should read the Bible and not view a film that is adding stuff to the story that isn’t there. Other Christians, said that the film was too dark. Evidently, they don’t see the story of God killing every man, woman, child, animal, plant, and micro-organism as being “dark”).

Bill Maher does have a point that the story of Noah, the story of an angry and disheartened God who decides to kill every living thing, a part from every thing, is horrific. It is hard to justify that kind of a story. Surely, not all of creation deserved such a flood. Even if, as the Bible portrays, ALL grown adult people were wicked (that alone is hard enough to swallow), what about the innocent babies, the animals, the plants? Were they deserving of such a fate? Christians should not be flippant about Maher’s argument simply because of the way he presented it or because it challenges their understanding.

The objecting Christians do have a point too. This upcoming film, Noah, will not be 100% accurate in its portrayal of the Biblical account. No movie is ever 100% accurate in any portrayal of a book. Period. Movies add things, they take things away, and they go in different directions in order to add dramatic effect for the film. Films never translate the same way as books. And it is important for us to not replace reading the Bible with watching film versions of the stories. Christians who are concerned about this should be. We all should be!

With all of that said, I am encouraging people of all persuasions to go see the film. If you are a person of faith (within any religion), go see the film. If you are an agnostic, go see the film. If you are atheist, go see the film. First, I think it is important that we support movies that are based on something that transcends the shallow worldview of Hollywood. Second, the more films that are made about the stories in the Bible, the more it will spark an interest in the Bible itself. Believe it or not, many people today haven’t picked a Bible up in their lives and so many of these stories are unfamiliar. Such films can and will spark the interest.

Finally, and this is the most important of my points, it is good and healthy for people to engage each other over these stories. Whether you believe the Flood story literally, or metaphorically, or if you find it abhorrent and you don’t believe it at all, such films will spark conversation and discussion, just as Noah has. I may not agree with everything Bill Maher said, and I certainly don’t appreciate the way he said it, but I do appreciate that the discussion is being had. As people of faith, we should not fear engaging people in healthy and respectful dialog. So, go and see this movie if you can. Wrestle with it and engage others in conversation about it. If you are unable to, then simply read it in the Bible, wrestle with it and enter into the discussion that way! Either way, challenge yourself to engage the story, to engage yourself in relation to the story, and to engage others.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“I take things in better when I’m allowed to talk, and respond, and engage and move around a bit.” – Daniel Radcliffe

PRAYER
Lord, stir in me a desire to study the Bible, to wrestle with it, and to be willing to engage others with it in ways relevant to them. Amen.

Don’t Feed the Trolls!

Read Matthew 16:1-4

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.” (Matthew 7:6)

troll1Have you ever encountered a troll? You may be scratching your head at such a question. You might be wondering, “Why in the world would he ever ask me if I’ve encountered a troll?” After all, surely such a fantastical creature doesn’t exist, outside of fantasy novels and fairy tales such as “Three Billy Goats Gruff.” What an odd, and seemingly trivial question for someone to ask, right?

Yet, I ask it. Have you ever encountered a troll? My guess is you probably have even if you’ve never referred to it that way. So, what exactly is a troll? Anyone who has ever spent any amount of time reading blogs, chatting in chat rooms, or participating in discussions on social media such as Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube knows what a troll is. It is very easy to find these trolls online. Indeed, one does not have to look far at all, and if one is not careful, he or she might end up a victim of trolling.

A troll, in this sense of the word, is a person who goes on to blogs, into chatrooms, into conversations on social media and seeks to cause trouble. They will go online and, as the Urban Dictionary defines it, “deliberately post provocative messages with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument.” Such a person, in the online community, is referred to as a troll…for obvious reasons.

While Jesus didn’t have the Internet in his day, he certainly had his share of trolls. People were purposely setting out traps for him to fall into, with the intention of discrediting him, causing disruption and division among the people following him. These people were out to get Jesus, and they made trolling him their mission in life every chance they got.  Yet, they could never seem to get an edge on Jesus, and he taught his disciples to turn the other cheek all the while moving on from people who clearly had no intention of engaging in serious and sincere dialog with them.

Often times, we want to please others to the point that we will endure all sorts of abuse. We want people to like us and we want people to accept us. We want them to see worth in us and to at least see our worldview as being valid; however, some people are simply not interested in seeing that no matter what you do to show it to them. Some people are simply out to trap, humiliate and discourage you.

While Jesus did call us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us, he did not call us to suffer abuse needlessly. There are times when we suffer abuse unexpectedly and that is bad enough. We certainly do not need to be persistently putting ourselves in situations that set us up for abuse. In fact, loving our enemies sometimes means recognizing that there can be no mutual relationship with them and, therefore, recognizing the need to let such a relationship go.

That may be a hard thing to do, but sometimes it is the loving thing to do. Jesus did it with those who only intended to troll him and his followers, with those who refused to seriously engage in a meaningful and constructive way. It follows, then, that Jesus frees you to do the same. Don’t feed the trolls! Don’t play into their game of division and derision. It’s simply not worth it as there is nothing you can do to change them. As Jesus rightfully said, “Don’t give what is holy to dogs, and don’t throw your pearls before swine, or they trample them under their foot and turn to maul you.” But do not hold grudges either. Rather, lovingly and respectfully let such people go and continue building meaningful relationships of hope, healing and wholeness with those who truly seek it.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.” – Jesus of Nazareth in Matthew 7:16-17.

PRAYER

Lord, teach me to profoundly and unconditionally love everyone, and to learn to let go out of that love. Amen.