The Holy Grail

Read 1 John 4:11-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12, NRSV).

The HolyGrailHave you ever seen the film, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? In the story we learn that Indy, as he is affectionately called, always wanted a relationship with his father who was always too busy studying lore on the Holy Grail to pay much attention to his son.  Thus, the two grew a part from each other. Through the course of the film, Indy rescues his dad and discovers the place that the Grail is hidden.  During the adventurous race to reach this place, the father and son are brought closer together than they ever had been. It was a frustrating process, with the two bickering back and forth; however, slowly but surely the two began to bond in a way they had never predicted.

Upon reaching the place where the Grail supposedly was, Indy’s dad was shot by Nazis in an attempt to get Indy to go through a series of tests and acquire the Grail. To make a long story short, Indy is able to retrieve the cup and is able to save his father’s life; however, in the process the Grail falls into the hands of the woman who betrayed them and, as she tries to carry it out of the temple, an earthquake occurs causing the floor to crack open and the Grail to fall into the crack.

Indy attempts to reach the fabled artifact, which is lying on a ledge.  If he could only reach another inch or two he could have the very thing his father had been looking for his whole life.  But there, in the moment, a voice called out to Indy. “Let it go,” the voice cried! “Indiana, let it go.” The voice was that of Indy’s father, who was holding his one arm in order to keep him from falling. At that point, Indy heeded his father’s advice and he reached up with his other hand and was pulled to safety. The two rode off into the sunset, realizing that the true treasure was the gift of having each other.

The point in recounting this tale is that it parallels our experience in this world. We often are trying to attain things that seem so important to us that we fail to see what the true treasure of our lives is.  As a result we get ourselves into places where we feel lost and alone.  We find ourselves dangling on the edge of despair, hoping that if we reach just a little bit farther we can get what it is we are looking for. But what is it, exactly, that we are looking for?

We grasp for success, for money, for status, for fame and for other things all in the hope that we can be assured we are not alone. We seek to be loved and accepted by someone, by anyone who will give us that acceptance.  Yet, in those pursuits we find ourselves, like Indy and his dad, more alone and separated than we ever could have imagined.  If we would only pause a moment and listen, we would hear the voice of God calling out to us, “My Child, let it go.” If we would only listen to the voice of God, we would let go of what we are grasping for and grab the truth that we are not alone.

How is it that we are we not alone? How does God end up fulfilling the promise given to us throughout all of Scripture? Take a look around you. Do you see the people who surround you? Do you feel the love of those who have invested themselves in you? Do you recognize the strangers who have been hospitable to you? If so, then you have experienced the presence of God in your life. You need look no further. You need only to let go of the straws you are grasping for and embrace the true treasure that God has placed in your life, the treasure of relationships. Fear not, for you are not alone!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” – Jesus of Nazareth, (Matthew 18:20)

PRAYER

Lord, help me to let go of all of the things that take me away from the true treasure of your presence through relationships. Amen.

 

Abundant Life

Read Genesis 2:1-3; John 10:1-10

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16, NRSV)

Abundant LifeThis coming Saturday is January 12, 2013. Exactly one year ago from that date I embarked on a journey that changed the course of my life forever.  At the time, I was morbidly obese, weighing in at 306.9 pounds. I was on medications for high blood pressure, for high cholesterol, and for type-II diabetes. I had to prick my finger every day to test my blood/sugar levels.

With that said, I felt like things were going well for me. Just a few months earlier I had graduated from Seminary, I was serving as a youth pastor, was in the process toward candidacy for ordination within my denomination, and I thought things were going good for me.  Yet, within me all things were not as well as they seemed on the surface.

On January 12, 2012, I began a sixty day juice fast, which means that for sixty days I only drank raw vegetable and raw fruit juices for my meals, along with lots of water. I had seen a documentary about it and decided to give it a try. Taking it day-by-day, I began to lose more and more weight. But that this isn’t just about weight loss. As the pounds came off, I began to feel such a boost of energy like I had never felt before. As a result, I started walking and then, a week or two later, I started jogging.

The pounds kept coming off and other things started to happen as well. I started to feel more confidence in the things I was doing. I felt happier and more joyful. I felt more connected to myself as a person. I began to listen to what my body was telling me, learning the language that it was speaking to me. I also began to feel a much closer and deeper connection with God, and I always felt I had a deep and close relationship with God; however, since working toward a physically healthier me, I definitely felt closer to God then I ever had before. I was discerning things much clearer than I ever had and I was more attuned with what God was calling me to do.

What I realized, and what I believe each of us needs to come to a realization is that the mind, body and soul are very much connected. We Westerners often like to compartmentalize everything, including our very beings. What I came to realize is that the body, the mind and the spirit could not be separated or compartmentalized so easily. When I am not feeling well physically, that inherently takes a toll on the rest of who I am as a person.  When a part of us is not feeling well, the rest of us cannot be either.

God wants us to take care of ourselves, in fact, if we cannot take care of ourselves we have no business taking care of others.  The church has not been a good place for self-care because many in the church have interpreted self-care to be selfish; however, is it selfish to care for any being that God created? Are we not called to be good stewards of God’s creation, ourselves included? It is important to realize that self-care is not self-centered. It is God-centered to care for God’s creation in a way that honors it as sacred and holy!

God is calling you to care for yourself today, and to continue to care for yourself throughout all of your days. Whatever care you might need, whether it is physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual, etc., God is calling you to take the necessary steps to care for yourself. After all, you are very much a part of God’s creation. You are a being created in the image of God and that is not to be taken lightly.  Therefore, go and take care of yourself and experience the abundant life God has to offer you; then take that life and share it with those around you.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Our bodies are our gardens to which our wills are gardeners” – William Shakespeare

PRAYER

Lord, teach me to see my whole being as your temple and guide me toward the abundant life you wish for me to have. Amen.

Why Imagine?

Read Matthew 5:1-16; 6:7-15; 13:1-34; Mark 12:28-34

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.'” (Matthew 10:7)

Why Imagine?I was just listening to the song “Imagine” by the late, great John Lennon. The song has long since been heralded as the global anthem of world peace and was Lennon’s best selling song of his entire solo career.  The song challenges the listener to imagine a world without possessions, without war, without greed and poverty.  John takes things that are commonly held to be the cause of war and suffering, and challenges the listener to imagine a world where those things didn’t exist, which John assumes would be a world where the “world would be as one.”

At the top of John Lennon’s list of things to imagine the world without, was the notion of heaven, and conversely, the idea of hell.  To the Christian, such lyrics should make us pause. Why would John Lennon want us to imagine a world without heaven?  What would such a world be like? John then takes it one step further and ends that verse with this, “Imagine all the people living for today.”  For John Lennon, the concept of heaven is one that is foreign to this earth. It is a place far, far away; it is a place that is someplace other than this earth.

Christianity has often taught that this world is something to be discarded, that we are to await “a place that is far better than this world.” Heaven has been taught, by Christians, to be the very antithesis of Earth. Yet, in the Bible we find a different understanding of heaven.  Jesus didn’t speak of the Kingdom of Heaven as a place that was far, far away; rather, for Jesus heaven was right here, right now. Jesus taught that not only could we see and experience heaven on earth, but that we could inherit it. All that we needed to do was open our hearts to God and see the world through God’s eyes.

For Jesus, heaven and hell were the opposite sides of the same coin. As he walked the streets of Galilee and Judea, he saw hell all around him. Starvation, extreme poverty, disease, neglect, abuse, and other terrible things are all examples of the hell Jesus witness all around him. His entire country was experiencing the hell of being occupied by the oppressive and tyrannical Roman Empire.

Yet, despite all of the hell Jesus saw, he also witnessed to the very real presence of heaven in the world. When he chose to heal instead of harm, when he chose to love instead of hate, when he chose to forgive instead of bear grudges, when he chose to stand up for right rather than sit down for the status quo, he was not only witnessing to the presence of heaven but he WAS THE PRESENCE OF HEAVEN…the very presence of God in this world.

And we can be the presence of heaven too. We just need to be willing to get a little dirty, to feel a little uncomfortable and to step outside of the boxes we put ourselves in. We need to be willing to reach out and be LOVE in the lives of those around us. We need to be willing to become vulnerable, just as Jesus became vulnerable, for the sake of those around us.  To do such things is to bear witness to the reality of heaven on earth.

While John Lennon is calling for us to imagine there to be no heaven out there in the sky, he is also calling us to imagine a world in which heaven exists here on Earth.  But he has missed an important truth that Jesus has been pointing us to all along: we don’t have to imagine heaven on earth…we only have to live it.  Pointing to others not living it is not proof that it doesn’t exist. It does exist if WE choose to LIVE it!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

Imagine what would happen if you stopped imagining and started living what you imagined.

PRAYER

Lord, I thank you for my imagination and for equipping to make what I imagine become a reality. Guide me to be your shining light, witnessing to the reality of heaven! Amen.

 

The God of Jean Valjean

Read 1 John 4; 1 Corinthians 13

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-44).

The God of Jean ValjeanI just got done watching, for the second time, Les Misérables in the movie theater. For those who have not seen it, in any of the various versions of it, it is a story about a man by the name of Jean Valjean who is imprisoned for nineteen years for stealing a loaf of bread in order to save his sister’s son who was starving to death.

After nineteen long years he is released from imprisonment and hard labor only to be rejected by the world. You see, he has no legal papers as they were taken away from him when he was imprisoned, and that tells society that he is an ex-convict. He’s forever branded a low-life thief by everyone except a priest who gives him shelter and food.

But desperate times call for desperate measures and Valjean finds himself stealing precious silver items like plates and silverware from the very church that showed him hospitality. When he is caught and returned to the priest, rather than accusing Valjean and demanding justice, the priest says he gave Valjean the items, hands him a couple more items and tells him to utilize the silver to make himself honest again. He also tells Valjean that he has saved his soul for God.

Needless to say, Valjean goes on to heed the priest’s advice and he also heeds the call placed on him by God. His life was forever changed and he learns to love, even those who seek to destroy him. He is a changed man, changed by one person’s loving actions, who is now changing the lives of those around him. Les Misérables is the Gospel told in a way that brings to life the teachings and message of Christ.

We too are called to live a life of love, a life that touches the lives of others in away that shows them the love of God. The God of Valjean is the same God that is calling us. The God of Valjean is the same God that visits the imprisoned, heals the sick, accepts the rejected, and never gives up hope on the “hopeless”. The God of Valjean is the God of unconditional love.

As you move forward into this new year, make 2013 the year in which you experience God like Valjean did. Make it the year for irrevocable change that brings about hope, healing and wholeness. Just as the line goes in the musical, it is true for us as well: “To love another person is to see the face of God.” If you want to see God in your life this year, then love someone unconditionally! Make that your resolution.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“My soul belongs to God, I know I made that bargain long ago. He gave me hope when hope was gone, he gave me strength to journey on. Who am I? Who am I? I am Jean Valjean!”  — Jean Valjean, in Les Misérables

PRAYER

Lord, you are my God and I am your child! Help me to love the way you loved and to live the way you lived. Amen.

 

2012 in review

To all Life-Giving Water Devotional Readers,

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this devotional.  It was kind of presented in a fun way and I thought I would share.  This devotion was started in July 2012!  Here’s to another year of devotions in 2013! HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

In Christ,
Pastor Todd

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 1,900 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 3 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

No More Mr. Mean Guy

Read Micah 6:1-8; Matthew 21:33-43

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.” (Revelation 3:20)

No More Mr. Mean GuyOn this past Sunday Night, my family and I watched the Nativity Story, which is a movie that details the story of Mary and Joseph and the birth of Jesus.  There is one scene in the film that shows King Herod in the Temple in Jerusalem.  He walks up to the the place where the sacrifices are being made and lays his hands on the horns of a bull, pressing his head up against the head of the bull.  There a prayer is offered by the high priest, a prayer that supposedly transfers the guilt and sin of the King on to the bull.  The bull has become the beast of burden. In other words, the bull takes on the burden of the Kings sins, which if you know anything about King Herod, those sins are many!  The bull then faces certain death and has its throat slit, spilling its blood all over the place.

This act of sacrifice, of transferring sin from the sinner to an innocent subject in order to appease an angry, wrathful God seems to be far from us. Or is it? Why is it that we say Jesus HAD to die for our sins? Why is it that Jesus is called the LAMB of God?  What is it that we say Jesus did for us…that he took our sins and paid the price we deserve to pay…doesn’t that sound an awful lot like the same thing the bull did, only this time Jesus is the bull?

Religions the millenia over have sought to find ways to appease God, or the gods (depending on the religion), hoping to repay God for the sins that they have committed.  Does God really demand blood? Does God really demand our death for retribution? Or is this an image of ourselves that we project on God?  Does God demand blood, or is it us who demand blood? And what does this have to do with Jesus birth? After all, we aren’t in the season of Lent yet, are we?

While there are different scriptures throughout the Bible that will certainly justify the idea that God demands sacrifice to appease God’s anger at our wickedness, there are also scriptures that point us to an entirely different image of God.  Today’s reading is such a passage.  Rather than appeasing God with blood, God is asking us to appease him with a change of hearts.  Rather than seeking the easy way out of our sins only to commit them over and over again, God is asking us to change…to truly change…and to walk humbly with God in the process.

While we often see Jesus as the easy way out of our sins, as a way for us to transfer what we’ve done in order that we might be “saved”, Jesus seems to have had a different understanding of his purpose. According to his parable of the wicked tenants, Jesus came, with the authority of God, to show people what God truly wanted; however, rather than listen to what Jesus said, people rejected him and crucified him. It was sin that put Jesus on the cross indeed, yet the story does not end there. Jesus resurrects and gives us the opportunity to die to our sins and join him. How do we do that? But doing justice,loving mercy and walking humbly with our God.

The birth of the Christ-child, the birth of Immanuel, the revelation of God being with us shows us that God is not seeking retribution but rather union with us. God is not seeking to punish us, but to commend us to his love and mercy. All we need to do is to “fear not” and see that God has come to us. We don’t have to search any further for God than our own hearts. Listen to what the words of the spirit are telling you, “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me” (Revelation 3:20). Amen! Come Lord Jesus!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

Jesus died because of our sins, and yet Jesus lives despite our sins. In Christ Jesus, sin and death have been conquered. Welcome to life as God truly intended it, all you have to do is claim it, live it, and share it!

PRAYER

Lord, lead me to your eternal life and, through me, lead others. Amen.

The Magnifying Glass

Read Luke 1:46-55

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“As for me, I would seek God, and to God I would commit my cause.” (Job 5:8)

The Magnifying GlassSo, it is the day after Christmas Day and as the angels in the heavens said to the shepherds two millenia ago, “I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:  to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”  But before we move out of the Christmas season and into the New Year, I would like to take a moment to reflect on a psalm spoken by Mary when she first learned she was pregnant with Jesus.

Now, can you imagine the scene of this?  An angel appears to this 14 year old girl and tells her that God is going to make her pregnant. Come again!?!?  “Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin'” (Luke 1:34)?  Can you picture the horror of the idea of this, in a time when women were considered property; in a time when women were stoned for “getting pregnant” outside of marriage?  Mary must have been truly frightened, yet she answered, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

Following this, she praises the Lord with an original Psalm that comes from her heart.  She starts it off with the following statement, “My soul magnifies the Lord” (Luke 1:46). Now if you are reading that statement carefully, it should cause you to pause and ponder. How can the soul of Mary, a mere peasant girl, magnify the soul of El Shaddai, or rather, God Almighty?  How can the soul of a lowly human being ever magnify God…shouldn’t it be the other way around. Shouldn’t it be that God magnifies Mary’s soul?

Yet, in Mary’s statement we see an inherent truth that perhaps sets her apart from most people.  Whereas, when we think of God, we are looking for something big, Mary saw something small. Where we are looking for a grandiose Zeus in the sky sitting on a golden throne, Mary saw a precious, vulnerable, and helpless baby.  To take it one step further, not only did Mary see God in her child, but she saw God in herself.  And it was in her qualities of humility, of meekness, of lowliness, of smallness, and of faithfulness that she saw God magnified.

We are so busy looking for something big, something out of this world, and something magical that we often miss the presence of God entirely. In the movie, Enter the Dragon, Bruce Lee says, “Like a finger pointing to the moon…don’t concentrate on the finger or you will miss all of that heavenly glory.” Often times, we focus so hard on concentrating on miracles…looking here and there for them…that we miss the miracle itself.

Mary did not miss the miracle.  She knew the miracle was not just around her, but within her.  That she was born in a time when many babies died…Miracle.  That she was not stoned for being found with child outside of marriage…Miracle. That Joseph accepted a dream as reality and accepted Jesus as his son…Miracle.  That anyone would see God within them…including Mary…Miracle.

Rather than looking for Kings and kingly gifts, rather than looking for dazzling parlor tricks and illusions, let us recognize the true Miracle of Christmas…that God is not only with us, but revealed and magnified within us.  If your soul rejoices in God the way Mary’s did, how differently will you begin to live your life.  Make this your New Year’s resolution: See God within you and let your soul be a magnifying glass…not only in word but in deed. Let your soul say, as Mary’s did, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“People see God every day, they just don’t recognize him.”  – Pearl Bailey

PRAYER

Lord, help me to see you within me, and help let my soul magnify you, O Lord God. I am your servant. Amen.

 

Entertaining Angels

Read Hebrews 13:1-2

Entertaining AngelsMy family and I just got done watching a movie we watch annually during the Christmas season. If you haven’t guessed it by looking at the picture, the movie is “It’s A Wonderful Life” starring James Stewart and Donna Reed. It is a movie about a man (George Bailey) who has given and given to people, putting others ahead of himself and his own dreams, only to have other people’s mistakes crash down around him. None of his dreams of success, traveling or any other ones are ever realized. Sure he has a nice family, a lovely wife and kids, and sure he has had moments of joy in helping those around him. But deep down, there is a longing to have more, to be more, to finally have something he’s dreamed of come true.

But this is real life we are talking about, not some tinsel town fairy tale, and Capra makes to give George a whopping double dose of reality. Instead of finding Bailey being rewarded for all of his kindness and generosity, instead of seeing him defeat the Scrooge like miser, Mr. Potter, and instead of seeing him amount to be more than a guy who nickels and dimes his way through life (literally), we find George facing fraud charges and prison time. His uncle lost $8,000 and George is going to take the fall for it, just as he has his whole life. It’s just not fair. So, this man, at wit’s end, finds himself at a bridge. He’s contemplating suicide, when he runs into Clarence, who is an Angel 2nd class. After wishing he were never born, and Clarence granting him that wish, he comes to the realization how hellish life would be for the countless people George helped in those years of personal sacrifice that he has come to regret. So, in the end he finds himself realizing what a wonderful life he has, and how happy he is to have his family. In the end, the town of Bedford Falls comes together and donates the $8,000 to George to save him from prison. This encounter with truth has changed his life forever.

Some might call this a happy ending. I have often heard people say how Hollywood always forces in a happy ending. But in this film, I don’t know that I would call it a happy ending. Sure, he realizes what means most to him and how valuable his life really is, and that is a happy ending in that sense. But in terms of unrealistic Hollywood happy endings, this film does not have one. George may have his life back, but with that “gift” comes the reality that following Christmas he will go back to nickling and diming for the Business and Loan. The town members will go on in their poverty and need George’s help as much as they have always needed it. And the most terrible of all the truths, Potter will continue on misering, trying to ruin George and that miserable Business and Loan that always stands in his way.

The real happiness of this film does not lie in unrealistic, sappy Hollywood endings. The happiness lies in the fact that when we help others, when we put others first, when we value others’ lives as much as we value our own, we end up entertaining angels. I am not one who espouses angel theology or gets enraptured by cute little cherubim. In fact, Clarence was borderline annoying to me in the film (I forgive him). Rather, the angels are the people all around George…and in fact, George is an angel too. He helped countless people, some of them even strangers, and in the end they all end up helping him. It is not so much that they help him financially because he has helped them all far more than they could probably ever repay. But, rather, they helped him in being present in his darkest time.

It was in that dark time that George realized what angels they all were. It was when he thought no one knew him, when he felt the lack of everyone’s presence, that he realized that he had been entertaining angels his whole life. It is in that moment that he realized that he had neglected to see those angels for who they were; he had neglected to appreciate them and value them. Even in his selflessness he had been blinded by himself. But because he had been entertaining angels, they appeared before him in his darkest hour, when he needed them most. That is the beauty of Christmas! That is the heart of Christmas: recognizing that we are not alone in this world. If we recognize that we too have been entertaining angels, we might look up and see them standing all around us.

Merry Christmas! May God bless you with the wisdom to recognize the angels in your life.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The golden moments in the stream of life rush past us, and we see nothing but sand; the angels come to visit us, and we only know them when they are gone.” – George Elliot

PRAYER
Lord, help me to recognize the angels who are in my life, and humble me enough to realize the angel I am in the lives of others. Amen.

 

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

Read Matthew 1:18-23

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Then Isaiah said: ‘Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.’” (Isaiah 7:13-14)

O Come, O Come, EmmanuelIt is hard to put into words the fear, anxiety, sadness, depression and confusion that ran through most people’s minds at the close of this past Friday, December 14. By the end of the day we had learned, following spending the day watching the drama unfold on live TV, that 28 people had been shot and killed at an elementary school in Connecticut. Out of the 28, twenty of them were children between the ages of six and seven years old.

Often times, in tragedies such as this, people ask the question, “Where is God in all of this?”  After all, what kind of God would allow children to be born and grow up in a world that is seemingly as evil as this one is?  What kind of God would create “monsters” who go out and destroy those who are innocent?  What kind of God would be so cold as to not intervene when the lives of the innocent are at stake?

These are all valid and good questions to ask ourselves.  It is also safe to say that there really aren’t any answers that fully satisfy our need to understand how evil and God co-exist? I could offer a ton of Christianese clichés that sound good off the cuff, but that would only be to simplify something that is very complex; so, rather than offering easy answers to really tough questions, I will provide one of many possible ways in which we can reflect on what happened and what our response will be.

It is very easy for us to look at where we don’t see God only to miss out on where we are seeing God.  For instance, we look at Adam Lanza and see his actions as a prime example of God failing to be with us. Yet, we also fail to see that God was with the principal who lunged at Adam and was the first to be shot and killed. God was with the teachers as they did everything they could, including cover children with their own bodies, to save their students.  God was with the first responders.  God is also with those who are looking at ways to address the societal issues that end up allowing people like Adam to fall through the cracks unnoticed until it is too late. When Jesus called his disciples to care for “the least of these”, that included those who suffer from mental illness. Yet, in our society, mental illness is stigmatized and our health care system often doesn’t provide affordable ways for people suffering from mental illness to get the kind of care (not just drugs and a locked asylum door) that they need.

The fact of the matter is that bad things do happen. People have free will and choose to do all sorts of things that God would not wish for anyone to choose. But aside from that fact, we still have a God who loves us, a God who is with us, a God who provides hope even in the darkest of circumstances.  The Nativity story is a reminder of the hope of Emmanuel, or rather, the hope of God being with us. This God came to earth and became one of us; this God put others first and sought to be present with all people, regardless of their status or condition. This God was crucified by God’s own creation and resurrected back to life despite being put to death.  This God is the same God who was present with the teachers, administrators and first responders who worked desperately hard to save as many as possible, risking their own lives in the process. This God is the same God who is turning the media’s attention from labeling Adam as “the face of evil”, to looking at how people like Adam haven’t received the care they need.

While we cannot definitively answer the question of why bad things like this happen, aside from the obvious answers, we certainly can still have the hope of Emmanuel. Let us not forget that God never leaves us, nor forsakes us.  We can know that God is with us, and we can let God guide us to be instrumental in sparking the changes that are needed in the communities around us, the very changes that could protect other children and people from such acts of evil. Let us welcome Emmanuel in this world, by seeing God’s revelation in us.  We have been equipped to be the presence of God in the lives of those in need, whether they are children in distress or Adam Lanza’s slipping through the cracks. Let us be like the writer of Hebrews who with confidence proclaims, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid” (Hebrews 13:6).

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

We need not look any further than our own hearts, and the hearts of those around us, to find God.

PRAYER

Lord, I thank you for always being preset me, and thank you for revealing your presence in me. Let me witness to that Good News! Amen.

 

Living Like Joseph

Read Luke 2:1-5; Matthew 2:13-15

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk blamelessly, guarding the paths of justice and preserving the way of his faithful ones.” (Proverbs 2:6-8)

Living Like JosephA few years back a movie was released that got me thinking in a new direction regarding the birth of Jesus.  The movie is called “The Nativity Story” and it follows Mary from the point of accepting Gabriel’s message of divine conception to her giving birth to Jesus in Bethlehem. While this film certainly displays the faith of Mary, and shows just how brave she would have to have been in order to accept such a path as God had laid out for her; however, it did not only show the courage and faith of Mary. This story also showed the immense faith, and faithfulness, of her husband Joseph.

Of course, initially Joseph did not know what to make of Mary’s claim that God’s Holy Spirit had impregnated her.  Can you seriously imagine what such a claim would sound like if you were on the receiving end of it? Who can blame Joseph for having his doubts. Yet, following a dream Joseph wakes up and decides that he is going to believe Mary.  Now, he could have woken up and said, “Man if only that wasn’t a dream!” He could of woke up and carried on in his disbelief. But he believes the voice in his dream telling him to fear not.

Yet, the story does not end there. There is a census that the Romans have ordered and Joseph must travel with his pregnant wife to the city of Bethlehem. From Nazareth, that is 80 miles that he had to travel on foot.  Mary rode on a donkey while Joseph traversed on foot the dry, dangerous wilderness that lay between Nazareth and his final destination.

In the movie, there is a scene where Joseph and Mary are resting on the side of the road and Joseph is sound asleep. Mary begins to take off Joseph’s sandals, and upon seeing his broken, cracked and bloodied feet, she begins to wash them.  As she does she speaks softly to the child in her womb, “My Child, you will have a good and decent man to raise you, a man who gives of himself before anyone else.”

Those words have stuck with me ever since. It is true that Jesus is the Son of God; however, it was Mary and Joseph who had raised him.  It is true that God guided them, as God guides us all; however, it was through Mary and Joseph that Jesus learns who he is, whose he is, and what it means to be truly faithful.  What a blessing Mary and Joseph must have been to Jesus, a blessing that God knew would multiply ten-fold in the boy that they were raising.

The beauty of this revelation is that it doesn’t end with Jesus.  God has called each of us to the kind of faithfulness that Mary and Joseph were called to.  Each of us are called to be blessings in the lives of others, whether it be in the lives of our own children or in the lives of someone else’s child.  In fact, regardless of age, we are all God’s children. God is calling us to “be a good and decent people, people who give of themselves before anyone else.”

The Word did not become flesh so that we sit back and admire it. Rather Jesus came to show us the way, the truth and the life; Jesus came to show us that we can be faithful and positively impact the lives of those around us. We can be like Joseph: though he wasn’t perfect and though he made his mistakes, he never gave up on his faithfulness to God, to his family and to those around him. Let us not just remember Joseph, but let us live like him.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Success certainly isn’t achievement of popularity. Success in God’s kingdom is loving God, loving one another, and being faithful to what [God’s] called us to do.” – Gabriel Wilson

PRAYER

Lord, you are my guide.  Lead me down the path of faithfulness just as you did with Mary and Joseph. Amen.

A biweekly devotional