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A LOOK BACK: SON OF GOD: Holy Wednesday

Read Luke 20:41-21:4

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
Every day Jesus went to the Temple to teach, and each evening He returned to spend the night on the Mount of Olives. The crowds gathered at the Temple early each morning to hear Him. (Luke 21:37-38 NLT)

TempleWhen looking at Holy Week and trying to match what Jesus did according to the Gospels and trying to match it with each day of that week is a not as easy as one would think. We know that on Palm Sunday, a week before his resurrection, Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem on a donkey, surrounded by an energized crowd. We know that on that same day he went into the Temple. We know that the next day he went into the Temple as well. Depending on which Gospel you read, he either “cleansed the Temple” on Palm Sunday or on Holy Monday. We can guess that either Monday night or Tuesday night Jesus’ feet were anointed with expensive perfume.

We know that on Thursday night Jesus sat down with his disciples for the Passover Meal. We know that on that same very night he was betrayed and brought to the high priest’s house. We know that by Friday morning he had been found guilty of blasphemy and brought to Pontius Pilate to be tried for treason. It was on Friday that Jesus was eventually nailed to the cross and crucified. It was on Friday that Jesus died. From Friday afternoon to Saturday, Jesus was laid to rest in the tomb, and we all know what happens on Easter Sunday.

But what about Holy Wednesday? What happened on that day? The Scripture isn’t real clear. According to Luke, Jesus went to the Temple every day during Holy Week, to worship, to pray, and to teach. Every day, Jesus came to the Temple in order that he could speak truth to power and stand up for the people that the power was crushing. Every day, Jesus brought truth to those who did not want to hear it, for it meant that they would have to change their ways and start living according to the plan of God rather than their own plan. They would not have it. Every day Jesus came to them temple, he met opposition, derision, and people trying to trap him at every turn.

While we cannot know exactly what the Son of God did on Holy Wednesday, we have every reason to believe that Jesus was in that Temple speaking truth to power. We Christians believe, in light of Christian Scripture, that our very bodies are Temples that are meant to be kept holy and pure. We are meant to act as living sanctuaries, bringing hope, healing, and wholeness to those in desperate need of it. The Son of God is within that Temple, this very Holy Wednesday, speaking truth to power. Will you listen to his cry for justice, mercy and humility? Will you align your plan with God’s plan? Or will you oppose, deride and ignore Jesus’ cry? Sit in silence and reflect on the Son of God’s call for change upon your life and allow Holy Wednesday be the day you begin to rebuild your Temple in God’s image.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you? God will destroy anyone who destroys this temple. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.“ – The Apostle Paul of Tarsus (1 Corinthians 3:16-17 NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, I realize that I am to be a pure and holy Temple, and that I am called to bear witness to the hope, healing and wholeness of God. Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and renew a right spirit within me. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: SON OF GOD: Holy Tuesday

Read Matthew 26:6-13

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” (John 12:7-8 NRSV)

Perfume_PotteryPeople who are caregivers do so because they are compassionate people who want to help others. They provide the care out of love. Jesus was a caregiver on so many different levels, and he brought that care to others because of his profound love and compassion for them. I can only imagine, at the end of the day, how exhausted Jesus was. In his caring, he also was compelled to speak out against injustices and woes of society. So, when Jesus finally left Jerusalem after a long day of healing the sick and the paralyzed, after preaching in the Temple and cleansing it of it’s impurity, I can only imagine how drained and exhausted Jesus must have been. Then to top it off, he was carrying around the weight of his imminent torture, humiliation, and excruciating death. Jesus was spent emotionally, physically, psychologically, and even spiritually.

In Bethany, after having performed miracles and after teaching, Jesus sat down to relax. It was then that a woman came into him and broke open an alabaster jar and began to anoint Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume. The disciples were incensed because that could have been sold and the proceeds given to the poor; however, Jesus welcomed it and scolded his disciples. The woman, Jesus revealed to them, was caring for Jesus in his moment of great need. The Son of God, who had cared for so many, was being cared for by someone who saw his need and had compassion for him.

We often reflect the attitude of the disciple, do we not? We are often to busy caring or to busy being cared for to notice the needs that lay right by us. We look to our caregivers for their guidance and support, we look to them for their care, and for their example in caring. In the process of that we often forget that they, too, need to be cared for. They are, after all, human like the rest of us. On the flip-side, we caregivers are often so busy that we don’t ever take the time to stop and assess the kind of care we need. Caregivers are notorious for constantly going as if we are the furry pink bunny in the Energizer commercials…you know, the one who keeps on going, and going, and going, and…well you get the drift. In the process, we fail to give others the opportunity to care for us.

Just as in the story about the woman with the alabaster jar, the Son of God is calling us to be his disciples and to start taking note of the needs around us. Don’t turn a blind eye, or be apathetic to the needs of those around you. Also, take note that those who provide you care are, themselves, in need of care too! As a community, God is calling us to be mutual caregivers. Just as in the aforementioned story, Jesus is also calling those of us who are caregivers (doctors, nurses, CNAs, first responders, educators, community leaders/organizers, and spiritual caregivers) to take a break and allow others to care for us once in a while. We aren’t superhuman, we aren’t omnipotent or omnipresent; rather, we are human beings. Remember that caring for others also means giving them the opportunity to care for you. In doing so, you will live into the example hat Jesus, in his humility and in his humanity, set for all of us.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Many of us follow the commandment ‘Love One Another.’ When it relates to caregiving, we must love one another with boundaries. We must acknowledge that we are included in the ‘Love One Another.’” – Peggi Spears

PRAYER
Lord, you have called me to be a caregiver in my own unique way, and you have gifted me with the talents and gifts to carry that caregiving out. Please give me the discernment to know that I, too, need care and that I need to be willing to allow for others to care for me. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: SON OF GOD: Holy Monday

Read Mark 11:12-14, 20-22

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’” (Matthew 13:31-32 NRSV)

fig_tree2Have you ever been in an apple orchard, or in a strawberry field, or in a garden and really desire to eat the food you come upon? One of my favorite things to do is to eat the fruit fresh from the tree. I get hungry walking through the orchards and the fields and, for whatever reason, the fruit tastes so much more fresh and desirable when freshly picked. There is nothing like it.

I can only imagine that Jesus, heading in to Jerusalem on that Monday morning nearly 2,000 years ago would have felt the same way as he passed that fig tree. The only difference is that, as he was passing, the fig tree was not in season to grow fruit. It only had leaves on it. Jesus surely knew this and understood it, yet when he arrived at the tree he cursed it upon the sight of it not having fruit. Odd, right? His disciples must have thought so.

Then this Jesus headed into Jerusalem, and went straight to the Temple. It is there that he began teaching against the religious establishment of his time period. You see, Jesus felt that they had become more focused on upholding their power and status, rather than being servants of the people. Rather than leading the people closer to God, Jesus felt the establishment was crushing the very people it was meant to serve. Jesus did not parse words as he levied the indictment of those who stood to gain from the establishment. On the way out of Jerusalem on the morning after that long and tense day, the disciples had noticed that the tree had withered and they remembered the curse Jesus had pronounced against the tree.

The tree is a symbol, a metaphor, and it represents the religious establishment and all of those who would claim to be God’s. When God comes, when God shows looking for fruit, we had better be bearing some. There are no excuses that will fly. We cannot claim to be out of season, or unaware of the coming of the Lord. Rather, we are called to ALWAYS be bearing fruit and we are not only called to bear fruit for some…but for ALL!

The question for us, as it was for those in Jesus’ day, is this: are we bearing fruit, or are we just a tall trunk with leaves? Are our branches far reaching, do they reach out to all who are in need of the fruit they bear, or are short and sparce? Are we like the great tree that grew from the mustard seed that shelters all of the birds of the air in its shade? Or are we a tree that shelters only the few and privileged? The Son of God wants us to bear fruit. The Son of God is calling us to recognize that all are children of God and all are chosen to receive the fruit of God’s love…the fruit of God’s hope, healing and wholeness. All we need to do is to root ourselves in God’s unfailing love and grow.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” – Jesus of Nazareth (Matthew 7:18-19 NRSV)

PRAYER
Lord, produce in me a clean heart. Prune away the dead branches and nurture me into a strong tree that produces much fruit for your Kingdom of hope, healing, wholeness, love, peace, justice, compassion, mercy, and humility. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: SON OF GOD: Palm Sunday

Read Mark 1:1-11

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.” Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a den of robbers.” The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them.” (Matthew 21:11-14 NRSV)

PalmSundayThe mob rules, does it not? We all know about “mob mentality” and how it is really a force to be reckoned with. We have seen on the news how people in mobs can do some crazy, scary and unimaginable things. I instantly think of Beauty and the Beast, when Belle magically shows her fellow villagers the beast through her enchanted mirror. Once the villagers see him, once they lay eyes on him, terror overcomes them. Seizing the moment, Gaston pulls out his sword and begins to sway the crowd to follow him in killing the beast. Of course, Gaston is successful and they do, indeed, take up arms and follow him.

When we think of Palm Sunday, we see such a fickle crowd. They were looking for a hero, for anyone, to come along and claim the role of Messiah. So, when Jesus comes (intentionally and prophetically) riding in on a donkey, the crowd was there and ready to hail him as king. “Hosanna, hosanna!” The crowd roared with excitement, “Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna, hosanna!” But was it the Lord they were praising, or was it their idea of the Lord? Without being too critical or judgmental, they had good reason to hope for their idea of the Lord. After centuries of subjugation and oppression, they were longing for God to come and liberate them.

This “king”, however, was not going to live up to their hopes and expectations; rather, this “king” was going to ride into the city, head to the Temple and start turning stuff, quite literally, upside down. Jesus’ first move as the crowd-proclaimed “king” was to go into the heart of Jewish worship and call out the religious leaders of his day and age. This is a far cry from the anti-Roman Messiah that everyone was hoping for. That’s not to say Jesus was pro-Roman. No, not at all. He was pro-Jewish without a shadow of a doubt and it was from that passion for his people, and his God, that Jesus acted out in anger toward a temple and its leadership. As a result, the fickle mob changed its opinion of this Jesus and went from proclaiming him “king” to handing him over to Pontius Pilate as a criminal and a traitor.

We too, like the Temple, get corrupted by the surrounding world and its influences. We may be the church, we may be Christ’s community of faith, we may be proclaiming Jesus to be the Son of God; however, does Jesus meet up to our hopes and expectations? Will Jesus come in and champion our “Christian” cause, will he love our theology, and uphold our rigorous doctrines? Or, like he did in the temple, will Christ come and start turning stuff upside down in a fit of cleansing anger? This holy week, let us be challenged to not be a part of the fickle crowd; rather, let us begin to reflect on who we are and what Christ is calling us to be. Let the things that need cleansing be purged from us, and let the Christ who would be king reign in our hearts forever.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“A [person] who wants to lead the orchestra must turn his back on the crowd.” – Max Lucado

PRAYER
Lord, give me the strength to turn my heart over to you regardless of what the “crowd” is shouting. Turn the tables in my temple so that I may see the need to change and so that I may act accordingly. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: 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)

JokerIn the film, “The Dark Knight”, Heath Ledger plays one of my favorite versions 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 didn’t try to, 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 is that 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 trying to 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.

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-PlanWe, 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.

A LOOK BACK: 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.

A LOOK BACK: The Dark Woods

bflw-devotional-800x490Writing the Life-Giving Water devotionals is not only an important ministry, but is a deeply rewarding spiritual discipline for me as well. With that said, observing Sabbath (aka rest) is an important spiritual discipline as well. So here is a LOOK BACK to a devotion I wrote in the past. Read it, reflect on it, be challenged by it. Who knows how God will speak to you through it and how it will bear relevance in your life today? May the Holy Spirit guide you as you read the suggested Scripture and subsequent devotion.

A LOOK BACK: Rising From the Ash

lent-CrossesThis week kicks off the most important season in the Christian liturgical calendar. Lent, Holy Week, and Easter remind us of our sinful nature, the cost that our sin ultimately cost, and the hope of the Resurrection in Jesus Christ who conquered the grave. Ash Wednesday kicks off the season of Lent, a 40 day period that parallels Jesus temptation in the wilderness and the 40 years the Israelites spent wandering the wilderness in search of the Promised Land. Click here to kick off your Ash Wednesday on the right foot.

A LOOK BACK: Forgiven

lent-CrossesThis week kicks off the most important season in the Christian liturgical calendar. Lent, Holy Week, and Easter remind us of our sinful nature, the cost that our sin ultimately cost, and the hope of the Resurrection in Jesus Christ who conquered the grave. Ash Wednesday kicks off the season of Lent, a 40 day period that parallels Jesus temptation in the wilderness and the 40 years the Israelites spent wandering the wilderness in search of the Promised Land. Click here to kick off your Ash Wednesday on the right foot.