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REVISITED: By Our Love

Read John 13:34-35

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.” (Romans 12:10)

love-wins

One of the great pleasures of being a pastor is the fact that I get to lead in worship week in and week out. I love worship because it brings people together with a common purpose, which is to refresh and renew our connection to our Lord and God. One of the most important elements in worship, for me, is music. I love singing hymns, singing and/listening to “Special Music”, centering myself on the prelude and greeting people during the postlude.

Many people don’t know the actual purpose for hymns. Most people sing hymns in church because it is an “age-old” tradition, never giving it a further thought beyond that. But hymns do play a very important part in the worship service in that they impart important Christian theology to the congregation as they sing them.

One popular hymn tells us that “they will know we are Christians by our love.” This hymn suggests to those singing it that Christians are distinguished from the rest of the world by our love for each other and our love for all of God’s creation. This is one of those hymns that informs us of Jesus’ words to his disciples and for his will for us as his followers; however, when we look at the history of Christianity, and even at Christians today, are we living up to the love for each other that the hymn speaks of? Are we graceful toward one another, are we accepting of difference, and patient with those who don’t see eye-to-eye with the way we believe and understand things?

I remember a couple of years ago, Rob Bell came out with a book titled “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person That Ever Lived.” Up until the writing of this book, Rob had garnered quite a following and was well-liked by most in the Christian world, including Evangelicals; however, once the title of this book was released in order to promote it, that acceptance quickly turned into anathema. People, including the likes of Rev. Franklin Graham, were calling Rob Bell a “heretic” and denouncing this book which, according to the critics, claimed that hell doesn’t exist.

The odd thing is that these criticisms of Rob’s book came out BEFORE the book was released for people to read. That means, in case you didn’t catch it, that people were claiming the book said something without ever having read the book. Their assessment was based off of the title of the book and a promotional video where Rob poses some provocative questions…again, not giving the answers to them but just posing them. After actually reading the book, which was provocative for sure, I did not discover “heresy.” I simply found Rob wrestling, in a relevant way, with a theology that many people wrestle with. Nor did I find him EVER claiming that hell does not exist. Quite the opposite, actually.

The point of this is not to endorse Rob Bell or his book, but rather to put a caution on something that should, by this point, seem obvious. Christ called us to love one another…that people will know we are his by our love of one another. Let us not be so quick to judge, to anathematized, and to demonize fellow Christians who might think differently than we do. If we cannot love our own family in Christ, how can we ever love our neighbors? What’s more, if we cannot love our own spiritual kin, how can we ever love our enemies? Christ has set the bar high for those wishing to follow him, and when we fall short of that bar, we do not reflect Christ. Remember, they will know we are Christian by our love.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
In Christ love ALWAYS wins.

PRAYER
Lord, teach me to be more loving of my fellow Christians, especially those who think and believe differently than me. Amen.

REVISITED: The Devil Is In the Details

Read Matthew 18:21-35

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15)

Devil

I just recently saw the movie “Devil”, which was a film that was produced by and based off of a story written by M. Night Shyamalan. For those of you unfamiliar with his name, he is the one who wrote, directed and produced the widely successful supernatural thriller, “The Sixth Sense.” While many of his other films have not garnered the success that his first film did, I have always been prone to watching them and have found them meaningful and thought provoking. “Devil” certainly is both meaningful and thought provoking.

In this film, five people get on an elevator together. None of them know each other, yet when the elevator breaks down and they are stuck in it for hours, each of them gets to know one another perhaps a little more than they’d like to. Each character has a flaw, which I will not reveal here; however, one of the five characters has a little more than just a flaw as that character (again I will not reveal who) is the incarnation of Satan. Sounds like a real wholesome family film, right? Well, to use a perfectly good pun, the devil is in the details here.

Every so often, while on this elevator, the lights flicker and then go out, leaving the victims and the viewers in the dark. When the lights come on, one of the characters is dead in a weird and gruesome way. This continues to happen through out the film. Meanwhile, a detective, the police and firemen are all trying to get these people safely out of the elevator. They, too, watch in horror as the lights flicker, go out, come back on and they see yet another dead person.

While I will not spoil the whole of the movie, I will spoil it’s message a little as I believe it is so very relevant to us as people of faith. Each person in the movie is being killed by the devil, their souls taken, as a result of their unwillingness to see that they have sinned and are flawed individuals. The result of that is that these individuals never, ever seek forgiveness for what they’ve done, because they continually justify their own actions and, therefore, are blinded to their own sins and sinful nature.

Again, I will not even hint at how the film ends (you really do need to see it), but it is powerful in its message. We often talk of God as being merciful and loving, kind and compassionate, just and filled with unending grace. We often talk about God’s willingness to forgive us all, and we see Jesus Christ as the divine expression of that forgiveness; however, how can we be forgiven if we don’t see our need for forgiveness? How can we be forgiven if we are so blind to our own faults that we we fail to seek or accept forgiveness? What’s more, how can we receive forgiveness if we are unwilling to be forgiven and/or unwilling to give forgiveness to ourselves and to others?

Christ calls us to a life of forgiveness. We are called to a life of being forgiven and to a life of forgiving others. If we are unwilling to see our need for forgiveness and, therefore, are unwilling to be forgiven, then we cannot, and will not, experience the healing power of forgiveness; however, if we are open and transparent to God about our shortcomings, and we seek forgiveness, we will have it in abundance. With that said, we too have to be willing to forgive. For how can we seek forgiveness but not give it in return? How can we experience mercy and not be transformed by it? How can we receive grace but refuse to give it to others? Remember, the devil is in the details. Be transformed by God’s grace and be transformational by extending that grace to others.

THOUGHTS OF THE DAY
“Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them.” – Bruce Lee
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

PRAYER
Lord, soften my heart so that I may admit my faults and seek forgiveness. Also, soften my heart so that I may extend forgiveness to others. Amen.

REVISITED: Sabbath Is Holy

Read Exodus 20:8-11

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.” (Luke 5:16)

JCS.ht266

Just recently I went to Moravian College to watch their production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar. That is one of my favorite musicals and one of my favorite portrayals of Jesus. What I love about it, in particular, is how human and relatable Jesus is in that film. It makes no presuppositions of who Jesus is in terms of his divinity; rather, it leaves that open for the interpretation of each individual in the audience. While this may make some faithful Christians uncomfortable, I believe it is powerful because it presents Jesus much in the same way his disciples would’ve come to see him and know him…each with their own expectations of who he is and what they hoped he would accomplish.

And Jesus certainly feels the weight of those expectations. There’s one scene where he’s dreaming of people who are in need. First it is just one poor beggar. Then another person, this time crippled. Then another person shows up needing healing from leprosy. Jesus reaches out to help these people but, before he knows it, he is surrounded by a crowd of needy people. Each one of them want Jesus to touch them, to heal them, to make them well. Each one of them wants a piece of Jesus and, as more and more crowd him, Jesus realizes there’s just not enough of him to go around. “Heal yourselves,” Jesus cries out into the darkness as he awakens from what became a nightmare.

Jesus certainly feels the weight of those expectations. There’s another scene in the film where Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane, praying out to God to spare him from the torture and humiliating death he’s about to face. In this heart-wrenching song, Jesus pleads with God and sings these words: “I only want to say, if there is a way, take this cup away from me for I don’t want to taste it’s poison and feel it burn me; I have changed, I am not as sure as when we started. Then I was inspired, now I am sad and tired. Listen, surely I’ve exceeded expectation, tried for three years…seems like thirty…could you ask as much from any other man?”

Every time I hear those words I begin to cry. The song forces me to reflect on Jesus’ ministry and all the things he tried to say and do, all the miracles and signs he performed, in order to usher in the Kingdom of God. I think of Jesus weeping on the hill overlooking Jerusalem, knowing that this city will reject him and condemn him to die. I also cannot help but reflect on my ministry and all of years that have led me to where I am now. While I am not, to my knowledge, going to be crucified any time soon (hopefully never), doing ministry can and is exhausting work. Caring for others is draining work. Anyone who has ever cared for their sick parent(s), for family or for friends knows just how draining that can be.

There’s no doubt Jesus got tired, even exhausted, throughout his three-year ministry. But Jesus also set the example that a part of doing ministry includes caring for yourself. Jesus would take time a part from his ministry, from the crowds and even from his disciples and he would go up on the hillside to pray. There are times when we just need to be alone, to have that precious down time where we can rest, reflect and even spend time in conversation with our God.

If you are feeling tired and exhausted, if you are feeling worn down, know that it is not only okay for you to rest, but it is absolutely healthy and important for you to. Jesus did it, I do it from time to time, and you should too. You cannot minister to others if you are unable to minister and take care of yourself. Today’s challenge is for you to set apart some down time for you and get recharged for the work God is calling you to do. Sabbath is HOLY.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“In dealing with those who are undergoing great suffering, if you feel ‘burnout’ setting in, if you feel demoralized and exhausted, it is best, for the sake of everyone, to withdraw and restore yourself. The point is to have a long-term perspective.” Dalai Lama

PRAYER
Lord, guide me to withdraw the busy-ness of my life so that I may find refuge and renewal in you. Amen.

REVISITED – Context Is Everything

Read 2 Timothy 3:14-16

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Open my eyes, so that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” (Psalms 119:18)

Context Is Everything

What if I were to tell you that the Bible says that “there is no God”? What if I were to tell you that the Bible comes to the conclusion that “everything, including life, is meaningless, like chasing the wind”? What if I were to tell you that the Bible says that God wants people to endure slavery because God put the slave masters in authority over them? Or that God punishes generations of family members for the sins of their ancestors. Or that women are inferior to men and should be silent in churches as they are not fit to teach? Or that the Bible says that women are saved through childbearing?

On the one hand, the Bible does say such things. The words “there is no God” can be found in Psalm 14:1; the words “everything is meaningless” can be found in Ecclesiastes 1:2 and elsewhere in Ecclesiastes; God wishing people to remain slaves can be found in Ephesians 6:5, Colossians 3:22, Titus 2:9-10, and 1 Peter 2:18. That God punishes the descendants of sinful ancestors is found in Numbers 14:18, among other places. That women are inferior to men, are to be silent in churches, are not fit to teach and are saved through child-bearing can be found in 1 Timothy 2:11-15.

On the other hand, each one of these verses has something in common tying them together. That common thread is that they’ve all been taken out of context, perhaps in different ways, but they are definitely all out of context. In Psalm 14:1, the Psalmist is ACTUALLY saying that “the fool says in his or her heart that ‘there is no God.'” The words “there is no God was taken textually out of context. Ecclesiastes 1:2 is the opening to a philosophical treatise on how life, and all of its trappings, leads to emptiness and that, at the end of the day, people need to “fear God and keep his commandments” (12:13). While Ephesians and Colossians do state that slaves are to obey their masters, the historical context of this passage shows us a Christian community that is reacting to accusations that Christians are inciting slaves to riot against their masters (which was one of  many accusations that Romans were levying against Christians of the time period). That doesn’t justify the passage, but helps us understand it so that we don’t fall into the same trap.

It was a common tone in the ancient world that if you make God angry, God will punish you. Some of these texts were written in times of tribulation, such as the Babylonian Exile where people were wondering why they had been exiled to begin with. What had they done to deserve such an awful fate…or what had their parents or their parents’ parents done? This understanding is less “God’s word” as much as it is people grappling with their circumstances, though there certainly are many unintended and far reaching consequences to sin. And the bit on women is also a reaction to the fact that women, up until that point, had played prominent roles in the church (e.g., Romans 16:1-4, 7) and the Romans were levying that against Christians as yet another example of how Christians were vile and against Roman order.  Again, this historical context (plus Paul’s commendation of women leaders) helps us to discern and affirm that indeed God DOES call women into ministry and leadership, and that they are saved equally and in the same manner that all of human beings are: through faith (Romans 3:19-25; Galatians 3:28).

This is not an exhaustive discussion of those particular topics, but hopefully makes the point that CONTEXT IS EVERYTHING. The Bible is THE MOST IMPORTANT, and INSPIRED, source of our faith; however, it can be made to say anything when the context (textual, socio-economic, and/or historical) is missing. Don’t just read your Bible, but study it. Get into a good Bible Study that dives deep into the texts and gives you a good foundation not only on what the Bible says (keep in mind that we are not reading it in its original languages), but the context behind what it says. Buy books that delve into the Bible and provide the context behind it. Today’s challenge is for you to begin to not only read the Bible, but to build up a solid means of understanding it so that you can relevantly apply it to your life in a way that is true to the Spirit of the Word.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Context is worth 80 IQ points.” – Alan Kay

PRAYER
Lord, guide me in my studying of Scripture so that I may grow, not just in knowledge but also in understanding. Amen.

REVISITED: The Task at Hand

Read Acts 20:20-24

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” (Philippians 3:12)

1600x1200-11587-nosferatu-wallpaper-hd

I have been a life-long fan of the classic horror films. Lon Chaney, Sr.’s “The Phantom of the Opera,” F.W. Murnau’s “Faust”, Lon Chaney, Jr.’s “The Wolfman”, Henry Hull’s “The Werewolf of London”, Bela Legosi’s “Dracula”, Boris Karloff’s “Frankenstein” and “The Mummy”. My all-time favorite horror film from the Silent Film era, is F.W. Murnau’s “Nosferatu: eine Symphonie des Grauens” (translated as “Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror). The film is a German Expressionist film about a vampire coming to Germany to prey on its citizens and it was loosely based on Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”.

What makes me love this film is its use of lighting and shadow to pull off eerie special effects, the makeup work that was done to Max Schreck who plays the infamous “Count Orlok”, as well as Schreck’s amazing character acting. When watching the film, it is impossible to see Schreck’s Orlok as a “human being.” His rat-like features, pointy ears, sunken eyes, long tallon-like fingers, gaunt and lanky stature, and pale skin really make this character appear to be the monster that he is. Looking at him would make anyone’s skin crawl. Murnau created a film that is timeless and never feels dated, even though it is in black & white and has no audio aside from the music that has been added to it.

Back in 2011, I embarked on a project to rescore “Nosferatu.” There have been many attempts to rescore it, each trying to “update” the music in a way that makes it feel fresh and new; however, I have found every attempt (for the most part) to fall short of the film. None of the soundtracks seemed, in my opinion, to do justice to this film. So I figured I would rescore it, not trying to “update” the score with bells and whistles but, rather, trying to keep it simple and foreboding. I wanted a score that would give one the sense that evil was coming, and the urgency to rid the world of it.

As with all “great” ideas, it sounded much easier than it turned out to be. It is now July of 2014, and I have yet to finish the score. Life came in the way and I became preoccupied in other things. Inevitably, I let the rescoring of “Nosferatu” take a back seat to the “busy-ness” of life. Just recently, I decided to pick the project back up and to work on it whenever I have to the chance too. The more I work on it, the closer I get to completing it, the more and more fulfilled I feel. To be honest, whenever I start something without completing it, I feel incomplete.

While I have been using a “hobby” of mine as an illustration, how much more true is it that we feel incomplete when we don’t finish what Christ has called us, the church, to do. We are all called to be agents of God’s Kingdom of Heaven, of God’s hope, healing and wholeness, and we are all called to do different tasks in order to continue to usher in that Kingdom, on earth as it is in heaven. Yet, often times we get “burned out”, or the “busy-ness” of life gets in our way and we begin to fall away from the task that we’ve all been called to.

In the process, we find ourselves feeling incomplete. We often find ourselves lost, literally, in things that fill our time, but not our souls. Christ is calling us to reprioritize and to recommit our lives to the purpose that God has laid out for us. Let us not be a people that only starts projects, but never sees them through to completion; rather, let us be a people that completes that task at hand. Let us keep fighting the good fight and continuing on in the race. Let us remove the distractions of purposeless “busy-ness” and remember what it is that we’ve been called to do. Once we are realigned with our purpose, we shall feel fulfilled!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.” – John F. Kennedy

PRAYER
Lord, remind me of my purpose and spark a passion in me to see it through to completion. Amen.

REVISITED: The Labyrinth

Read Mark 4:1-9

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.” (Matthew 13:16)

The Labyrinth

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.

REVISITED: Out of the Chaos

Read Genesis 1

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)

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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.

REVISITED: The Plan 2.0

Read John 9:1-17

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)

VME-The-Plan

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.

REVISITED: 99

Read Matthew 18:12-14

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. 

REVISITED: The Lord is My Shepherd

Read Psalm 23

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

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

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

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

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

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

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

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

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

PRAYER

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