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REVISITED: Our Existential Problem

Read Proverbs 3:5-18

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
For the LORD grants wisdom! From His mouth come knowledge and understanding. (Proverbs 2:6, NLT)

EyeKnow

In the Garden of Eden story we learn that humanity’s downfall was in it’s desire to have wisdom and the ability to judge what is right and what is wrong. Humanity, in its infancy, sought to become independent of God and doing things for itself. Those things, in and of themselves, are not necessarily bad; however, the desire to have something NOW, rather than trusting that God will provide those things at the right time, is where the downfall begins.

The author of the Garden narrative saw the attaining of widsom as the downfall of humanity because the “wise” know, and what they know obligates them. In other words, once humanity could discern good from evil, people were then obligated to choose to do good over evil. But that knowledge wasn’t they only knowledge the ended up acquiring; rather, they also attained self-knowledge.

The story recounts how, following eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve’s eyes were opened and they saw that they were naked. They became keenly aware of themselves and became self-aware and self-conscious. In the feeling of shame of their nakedness, Adam and Eve sewed fig leaves together in order to cover their private parts. Prior to them eating the forbidden fruit, of course, those parts were not private and there was no need to be ashamed of them.

This is where I believe the real fall took place. Prior to the deception of the serpent on the tree, Eve and Adam saw each other as one. They did not look at the other as an entity unto themselves. They did not see each other as being separate, distinct, unique or individual. Instead, they saw one another as complimentary parts of the same whole. Hence Adam’s reaction at the creation of Eve, “ “At last! This one is bone from my bone, and flesh from my flesh! She will be called ‘woman,’ because she was taken from ‘man.'” (Genesis 3:23 NLT)

Yet, when the forbidden fruit was eaten, man became separated from woman, and woman became separated from man. They hid their bodies away from each other, and then hid themselves away from God. This is important to note because, in this we see what was common understanding in the ancient world: God created us to be in community, to be one with each other, and when we fail to do so we not only separate ourselves from each other but from God as well.

What compouds this reality even more is the fact that humans, even though they had been separated from each other down gender lines (and many more lines that followed that), they still believed they had knowledge of each other. What’s more, humanity grew in confidence in its ability to discern right from wrong, except that it was no longer utilizing that discernment in self-reflective ways, but in ways of judgement against other human beings.

Whether we take this story literally or not is really beside the point. Humans were created to be subjects, in that we are under the dominion of our own personal thoughts,  and are subjective by nature. While we think we know, and we think we have the ability to grow in our knowldedge, the truth is that we are limited in our knowledge, if we know anything at all.

Thus, our discernment is really based more off of what we think as opposed to what we, strictly speaking, know. The best we can say is that we think we know, which betrays the fact that our knowledge is dependent on our thoughts which are processed through our own subjectivity. Confused? What should be pulled from is this, humans have the ability to discern what is right and wrong; however, as subjective human beings, we cloud our judgment of right and wrong with our own personal feelings and justifications. We do so to our advantage and often to the detriment of others.

We should NOT rely soley on our own ability to discern right from wrong, but we should rely on God’s. What that means is that we will envelope ourselves in communities of service and loving accountability (aka churches), we will study the Bible (and its historical contexts), we will model ourselves off of the life and teachings of Jesus, and we will begin to live in a way that truly reflects our TOTAL TRUST in God. Acknowledge your subjectivity, refrain from judgment, embrace humility, and allow God to guide you in your discernment.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
When the Bible says to seek and cherish Wisdom, it is pointing us to Jesus Christ who is God’s Wisdom personified.

PRAYER
Lord, fill me NOT with my understanding, but with your wisdom. Amen.

REVISITED: Deception

Read Genesis 3

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8, NRSV)

Serpent

When we think of the Garden of Eden, we think of Adam and Eve. We think of a vast and luscious garden filled to the max with vegetables and fruits. We think of humanity and the animal world living side-by-side in peace with one another. We think of people living in a complete and perfect relationship with God and of pure, unadulterated innocence.

With that said, let’s be honest. That is not all we think of when we think of the Garden of Eden; rather, we think of human sin, of the forbidden tree with the forbidden fruit. We think of humanity’s desire to have knowledge of Good and Evil, to be like God with the ability to judge. We think of the Eve being duped by the deceptive snake that caused the fall of humanity from innocence, from paradise, and from the grace of God.

All of this, of course, assumes that we are reading the story correctly and not reading into it our own theological understanding that has been imparted to us by people within our own traditions. On the one hand, there can be no doubt that the Garden of Eden story tells a tale of a perfect creation that ends up becoming less than desirable due to sin. There can be no doubt that paradise falls into the hellish reality that we find in our world today. There can be no doubt that the Garden narrative tells the tale of how the evil in this world came to be.

Beyond what is true in our telling of the story, we often view the serpent as the deceptive one. It is true that the snake was revealed as the most cunning (עָרוּם, ‛ârûm, pronounced aw-room’) of all of the animals. Cunning, of course, is the skill of being able to attain one’s end through deceit. So, the snake was written in as a deceptive character for sure. With that said, the snake’s deception came through the truth, that Adam and Eve would not die (physically at least) if they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Yet, the snake was not the only deceptive one and, contrary to popular belief, Eve was not guilty of causing the fall of humankind. Let us not forget that Eve was never given the direct command from God not to eat from the tree; rather, Adam was. The story assumes the reader understands that Eve was given her instructions from Adam, but one can also presuppose that she wasn’t given much more information. Eve was deceived by the cunning serpent, but Adam should have known better.

When God finally tracked them down and asked Adam if they had eaten from the forbidden tree, Adam responded with deception of his own. “The woman ate the fruit and then gave it to me.” While that is technically the truth, it is deceptive in that it implies that the real one at fault is Eve. It is the first example of humanity throwing the other, the innocent, under the proverbial bus. People will do anything to cover their own hides, and that is exactly what Adam does. He points the finger at Eve in order to avoid taking responsibility for his own actions.

This sin does not stop with Adam but passes down to his son Cain who murdered his brother Abel and tries to deceptively dismiss himself of the responsibility of that murder. From that point on, humanity became mired in its sins and the propensity to pass the buck and place the blame on others rather than taking responsibility.

In God, there is no deception and in God we cannot hide from the truth. For those who live in deceit, the presence of God is a scary thing because it brings them into the presence of the truth, which sears their souls with their responsibility in their sins. For those who live in the truth, they grow from their shortfalls and sins into a life that is centered on God and on community.

Rather than passing the buck, they take responsibility for their mistakes, pay the consequences, and grow into better people. This path, not the former, is the one that God is calling us all to. If we follow it, if we follow the path of the truth, then we will rise above the deceit and become godly people of character and integrity and we will begin to put an end to the deceptive work of the serpent in our lives.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
You may be able to deceive yourself and others, but you cannot deceive God who is the author of Truth.
PRAYER
Lord, fill me with your truth, no matter how painful it is, so that I may live in your light. Amen.

REVISITED: Bewitched

Read Galatians 3:1-5

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace.” (Romans 6:14, NLT)

TheWitch01

The lights darkened, the room silenced, and the discordant sound of stringed instruments filled the air in an unsettling and disturbing manner. The sounds of violin and cello cut through me like seraded steel as the theater screen faded in from black to the image of a teenager’s stone pale and frightened face. It was clear from the way that she was dressed that she was living in seventeenth century New England and that she was among a group of people known as the Puritans.

As it turns out, her father is standing trial for not adhereing to the laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, at the time a British colony, because he believes those laws to stand against the teachings of the Gospels. As such he and his family are banished and end up moving out of the village they were in and settling in the wilderness of New England on the edge of a think and dark wood (aka forest). While I will not give away anything, as I run a tight “no-spoiler” ship, this is where the 2016 film, “The Witch”, opens up and where the horror begins.

This film, as I see it, is a work of fine art and there is much for us Christians to pull from it. On the surface, the horror is centering on a potential witch that lives in the woods and is preying upon a New England family that is doing everything they can to remain godly and to stay together as a family. But as misfortune after misfortune happens, and as the family becomes more and more certain they are “witched”, the more and more it is that the real horror is revealed.

Right from the opening scene onward, we are made aware that this family is hypersensitive to their sin, to the sin of others, and to the soveriegnty of God. It is not wrong to be sensitive to those things in a healthy kind of way, but this family is overly sensitive, to the point that every conversation is filled with talk about their sinfulness, the wickedness of the world and the uncertainty of their own, let alone anyone else’s, salvation.

At every turn, the family is reminded that they are wicked and sinful and they start to have the feeling that they are “witched” because God is punishing them and handing them over to the devil as a result of their wickedness. Nowhere, and I mean nowhere, is God’s grace really at play here in this film and in the psyche of the family. Even when God’s mercy is mentioned, it is with the understanding that they are in need of mercy because of their wickedness, and their pleading for it betrays their theology that they worship a God who just might not show mercy to them.

It becomes clear to me, without giving anything away from the actual story line of “The Witch” itself, that the family is bewitched by their own stringent, and horrific, theology. While it is true that God is  sovereign and it is true that we fall short of God’s glorious standard, it is NOT true that God is out to get us for our fallenness. Their theology is so damning that they could never, ever experience the grace and mercy that was already there waiting for them. They were so busy worrying about the prowling devil in the woods that they could not see that they had all they needed to thrive in the wilderness: their family and their faith.

Today’s challenge is this: don’t let yourself get bewitched by a negative and graceless theology. Rather, at every turn, steer clear of the devil by choosing to see the grace of God throughout your life, in your family, and in your community. Community is not perfect, but God is working to perfect it through your presence as well as others. Remember, God saved you from slavery to sin and death, so why negate that by making those things the foundation of your faith? Jesus Christ is the grace of God. That, and that alone, should be your faith’s foundation.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
The devil’s work is division and separation from others.  God is the great uniter.

PRAYER
Lord, keep me from bewitching myself with bad theology. Remind me daily of your grace. Amen.

REVISITED: Walls

Read Joshua 6:1-20

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Jesus replied, ‘Yes, look at these great buildings. But they will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another!’” (Mark 13:2, NLT)

dungeon-tunnel_0005

In my late teens (17-19 years old.), I was rebellious against authorities. This, honestly, is nothing too uncommon. Teenagers are trying to define who they are and what their purpose is. They are able to think for themselves, do things for themselves and yet they are still very much dependent on their parents and/or guardians. Older teens tend to have more and more responsibility put on their heads and at eighteen they are considred responsible enough to hold guns, shoot at people and get shot at in defense of their country; however, they are not considered adult enough to smoke cigarettes, have a beer, and gamble, among other things.

So, it goes without saying that I had a bit of angst toward authorities when I was a teenager. One of the songs that I always related too was Pink Floyd’s “The Wall.” I think the lyrics really point to the distrust of the system and the realization that, as much as one wanted to be an individual, we are all becoming “just another brick in the wall.” In an individualist society such as the American society, there can be nothing scarier than realizing that your individuality is more of a ruse, more of an illusion, than it is a reality.

As a teenager dealing with angst toward the system, distrust for the authorities, and a general distrust of my peers, I found myself building walls all around me. I literally boxed myself in and built up walls all around me with the hope that no one could ever break through. In doing so, I literally shut nearly everyone (barring a few people) out of my life.

In effect, by putting up walls, I ended up walling myself in my own personal sepulchre. The result of that can be seen in the following poem I wrote back when I was only seventeen years old:

Visionary Madness

Destruction weighing heavily on my mind,
Confusion restraining my next move.
Darkness seeping into my eyes,
And attacking my vision.

Tormented, twisted paths of the brain,
A deranged, sadistic grin.
Hate distorts my evolution,
With a primitive dream.

Disconcerted by surrounding noises,
Fearing shadows on the wall.
Coughing up bloody solutions,
The vengeance of an angry ulcer.

Destruction, thoughts into action;
Restrained movement, no longer confused.
Blind to my surroundings
From a visionary madness within.

Human beings tend to build walls for all sorts of reasons, but the underlying reason for wall building is fear. I built up walls as a teenager because I was afraid to be vulnerable before my peers and others. I had been picked on and bullied throughout elementary school, was never popular, and had very few friends in High School (especially my freshman and sophmore years). So I built up walls to keep people out and as a result I felt even more isolated, alone, afraid, and vulnerable.

The fact is that walls are built to keep people separate from each other, and when we are separated we can no longer hear each other, see each other, and/or connect with one another. The church is excellent at building up walls. We build them around our theologies, our denominations, human sexuality, sexual identity, gender, religion, doctrine and an endless host of other things.

All those walls do is keep us separated from each other. Today’s challenge is for us to begin tearing down our walls and to reconnect with each other in divine community. To do so is to honor God. So, tear down those walls, commune with one another, and love one another regardless of the cost. That is what being “Christian” is all about.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Walls don’t make us safe; on the contrary, they seal our fate and entomb us.

PRAYER
Lord, help me to shatter the walls I’ve built around me and others. Amen.

REVISITED: The Battle Within

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

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

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

PRAYER

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

REVISITED: The Path to the Dark Side

Read 2 Timothy 1:6-8

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“So what are we going to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?” (Romans 8:31 CEB)

yoda-jedi-council

One of my favorite film series of all times is the Star Wars saga. I grew up watching the original series of films, “Star Wars”, “The Empire Strikes Back”, and “The Return of the Jedi”. While many people criticized the newer films, finding them to be more about special effects and less to do with plot and character development, I actually disagree with that. The Phantom Menace for example, which was my least favorite of the films, was still filled with the same story and character development as the others. And we find great wisdom in it as well.

In it we come across a young Anakin Skywalker who, as all fans know right from the get-go, will one day become Darth Vader. With that said, he wasn’t always bad and, in fact, a Jedi comes to see great hope in his abilities to naturally tap into the force and so he decides to train him. In order for Anakin to be trained, however, he would have to leave his mom (both he and his mom were slaves) as the Jedi could only secure his release. As it would any 9-year-old boy, having to leave his mother behind devastates and distresses him and he vows to come back and free her one day.

Yet, before any future Jedi can be trained, the council has to approve the person to be trained. Thus, the Jedi brings Anakin before the council to be questioned and, hopefully, approved. While they are impressed with Anakin’s natural ability to sense and use the force, Yoda (who is the head of the council) is concerned for this young boy as well. He states that he senses fear in Anakin. “You have much fear in you. You fear the loss of your mother, don’t you?” Yoda interrogated. Anakin replied defensively, “What’s that have to do with anything?”

Yoda’s face turned even more concerned. “Everything,” he exlaimed back! “Fear is the path that leads to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hatred. Hatred leads to suffering.” What Yoda is trying to convey to young Anakin is that, while fear is a natural part of life, if we allow it to control us it will lead us to dark and, often, deadly places. This is a profound truth and we don’t have to think far or wide in order to reach it. Look at post-World War I Germany. It lost a major world war, had been dumped with the expenses of that war by those who fought against them, and they had fallen into a terrible depression. Along came a young man, who was a former soldier, and would-be leader, who sensed the fear of the people, drummed up that fear, and used that fear to scapegoat groups of people as being the ones holding Germany down. Ultimately, Adolph Hitler’s personal fears, as well as the fears of Germany which he preyed upon, led to the rising up of one of the greatest evils in modern human history. Yes, fear is the path that leads to the dark side.

We live in such a fear-driven world right now. We are a people who are fearful of each other, we’re fearful of our leaders, we’re fearful of people with different politcial viewpoints, we’re fearful of people from other countries, we’re fearful of people from other religions, and we’re fearful of terrorism and a very real existenital threat to our lives and to our way of life. All of these things strike fear into the hearts of people; however, it is in that fear that I hear people suggesting all sorts of things that, in another time and place, they would be horrified at hearing others even suggest.

For us, the question is not whether or not we will experience fear. We will! The question should be for us, in the voice of Yoda, is this: “What, to fear, will your response be? Hmmmm?” Will you succumb to your fears and place your faith wildly in the winds of rapid response? Or will you place your faith in force…rather, in the presence of God? Will you let your fears drive you, or will you let your God guide you? The one way leads to the dark side (e.g. anger, hatred, and suffering), the other way leads to forgiveness, mercy, compassion, hope, love, joy and peace. Yours to make, young padiwan, the choice is.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“To him who is in fear everything rustles.” – Sophocles
PRAYER
Lord, drive my fears far from me, for they are not of you. Fill me, rather, with faith and hope and love. Amen.

REVISITED: Just Imagine

Read Zechariah 7:9-14

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“No one can know a person’s thoughts except that person’s own spirit, and no one can know God’s thoughts except God’s own Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 2:11 NLT)

Different_Shoe_Day

One of the things that God has gifted me with is the ability to imagine myself in other people’s situations, to have empathy, to have compassion and, as a result, to have a broader understanding of a situation because I was able to see mutliple sides and/or angles. This is something that comes rather natural to me and, because of that, I can be a rather sensitive person. Through the years, I have learned to manage my sensitivity so that it works for me and not against me; however, more often than not, my being sensitive has been an asset and not a curse.

Growing up there were times, even for me, where it was hard to see outside of my own circumstances. For instance, when people would make fun of me or bully me, it was hard to see past being bullied and made fun of. In those times, my mom would impart a wisdom that sticks with me until this very day. She used to tell me, “Todd, you don’t truly know what someone is going through until you’ve walked a mile in there shoes. You don’t know what is going on to cause people to be the way they are. You don’t know what is going on in their home lives. You don’t know what kind of hurt is built up inside.” She would go on, “Not that what they’re doing is right. There are other ways to handle hurt and pain, but they are choosing to lash out at you and, no doubt others. So pray for them, Todd. Pray that they may be healed from whatever is hurting them.”

Those words still resonate in me to this very day. In fact, when I look around I see a world filled with people who are lost in their own situations and circumstances. Most people don’t know how to put themselves in another’s shoes, they don’t take the time to think about why someone is behaving the way they do or saying the things that they say. There is always more to a story than one side. We are very adept at knowing OUR SIDE of the story; however, we so often fail at seeing any other side but OUR SIDE.

I am not saying this to excuse or to take away accountability from those who are doing wrong. People need to be held accountable and action DOES need to be taken; however, I am saying this because people, far too often, react in negative ways based off of their internal emotions. We often fly off of the handle without giving even a moment’s pause to reflect upon what was done and what the appropriate response to it might be. We so often fail to ask the person why they are doing the things they’re doing and, even if we cannot ask them, we fail to pray to God for their well-being. What kind of world would this be if people started praying…seriously praying…before they acted? What kind of world would this be if people tried to put themselves in other people’s shoes?

Perhaps instead of being quick to judge communities for protesting police brutality, we might imagine ourselves as minorities and imagine what discrimination might be like. Perhaps instead of being quick to judge police for every shot fired, we might put ourselves in their shoes and imagine what being a police officer caught in a violent situation might be like. And those are just two examples pulled from current events. Just think of what this world would be like if people stopped judging, started praying, and allowed God to lead them in their against the circumstances that rise against them. Jesus of Nazareth did that. The Apostles did that. St. Francis did that. Dietrich Bonhoeffer did that. Mother Teresa did that. Mahatma Gandhi did that. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. did that. Those who have done such things have turned around, taken the appropriate course of action in their given situations, and have made a positive difference in our world. Just imagine what such a world would be like if we all started following their examples.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.” – Dalai Lama

PRAYER
Lord, fill me with your compassion and insight so that I am have understanding and act in accordance with justice and mercy. Amen.

REVISITED: Tourniquet

Read Psalm 22

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

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

PRAYER

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

REVISITED: Freedom From Within

Read Romans 7:14-25

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

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

Freedom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

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

PRAYER

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

REVISITED: 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.