Tag Archives: Christ

REVISITED: FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT: Self-Control

Read Galatians 5:22-26

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“A person without self-control is like a city with broken-down walls.” (Proverbs 25:28 NLT)

In his letter to the church in Galatia, the Apostle Paul is writing to a community that is divided over the issue of male circumcision: should new Gentile followers of Jesus be counted as a part of the Jewish covenant without being circumcised, or should they have to be circumcised just as all of the Jews are circumcised. Being that Christianity at the time wasn’t a religion, but a sect of Judaism, this was a VITALLY IMPORTANT question. While Paul is opposed to making Gentiles be circumcised, he also is against divisive behavior regardless of which side it is coming from. In response to this division, Paul describes to the Galatian church what he calls, “The Fruit of the Spirit.”

FruitOsp_Self-Control

FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT: Self-Control. When we think of the fruit “self-control”, we often relegate it to one’s ability to control his or her behavior. For example, we’ll often hear something such as the following: “Joe Smith was a person who had great self-control. He never got angry at people, he always behaved himself in the classroom, and he never got caught up in the party scene.” Or we might hear this: “Johnny had gotten over-weight, but with his great self-control, he was able to stop overeating and was able to lose all of it.” I, for one, get the latter a lot. People will often chalk my weight loss up to my steel-like will-power and my incredible self-control. God knows, neither my will-power or my self-control is fully functioning. I am human after all.

But self-control really goes beyond just behavioral patterns and/or abilities; rather, as I see it, self-control is at the core of faithfulness. Jesus exhibited great self-controls; however, if we read the Gospels, we do not see in Jesus someone who was always in control of his emotions or someone who ALWAYS said and did “nice” things. If we have read the WHOLE of the Gospels we see Jesus get angry, we see him curse people out (literally…just check out Matthew 23…yikes), we seem him display violent anger in the temple (Matthew 21:18-19,12-13; Mark 11:12-18; Luke 19:45-48; John 2:13-22), we seem him curse fig trees (see previous references), and proclaim to entire towns and cities that Sodom was better off on the day of judgment than they were (Matthew 10:15; 11:23-24; Luke 10:12; 17:29).

Yet, no one exhibited more self-control than Jesus. He showed an immense amount of self-control throughout his life and his ministry. He never lost focus, he never gave up, and he never changed direction, even though he know the ultimate direction he was going in. Self-control is really likened to what we call “disciplined.” Jesus was well disciplined because he knew who he was, whose he was, and what God was calling to do.

Christians are called to have discipline and/or self-control. This doesn’t mean that we should sit back and just accept the abuse of others, never getting angry, and/or always saying “nice” things to people in order to not “hurt their feelings”. Sometimes, as Jesus well knew, people need their feelings hurt. I think it is important to stress that; however, we should not overreact emotionally to things either. We should always pause and reflect before responding. We should not aimlessly live life, but have the self-control to be disciplined and to follow through with our commitments. We should have the self-control to avoid doing things that are bad for us and the self-control that compels us to take better care of our bodies, take better care of our minds and take better care of our souls. Reading the Bible, going to church, and allowing the Holy Spirit in to shape your life into Jesus’ life. That all takes the fruit of self-control. Therefore, self-control is vital to the life of the Christian.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“God has equipped you to handle difficult things. In fact, [God] has already planted the seeds of discipline and self-control inside you.” – Joyce Meyer

PRAYER
Lord, fill me with your Holy Spirit so that I may bear the spiritual fruit of self-control in my life. Amen.

REVISITED: FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT: Gentleness

Read Galatians 5:22-26

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out all the people buying and selling animals for sacrifice. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves.” (Matthew 21:12 NLT)

In his letter to the church in Galatia, the Apostle Paul is writing to a community that is divided over the issue of male circumcision: should new Gentile followers of Jesus be counted as a part of the Jewish covenant without being circumcised, or should they have to be circumcised just as all of the Jews are circumcised. Being that Christianity at the time wasn’t a religion, but a sect of Judaism, this was a VITALLY IMPORTANT question. While Paul is opposed to making Gentiles be circumcised, he also is against divisive behavior regardless of which side it is coming from. In response to this division, Paul describes to the Galatian church what he calls, “The Fruit of the Spirit.”

FruitOsp_Gentleness

FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT: Gentleness. In a recent trip to California, I stopped by what used to be the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove. On the grounds of that beautiful work of architecture is the memorial garden in which stands two statues of Jesus. One is of “The Lost Sheep”, with Jesus holding a lamb on his shoulder and sheep looking eagerly toward him. The other is of “The Smiling Jesus,” with Jesus playing with children. While these were both familiar and beautiful images of our Lord and Savior, does the “Gentle Jesus” image show us who Jesus really was?

I think the honest answer is both yes and no. We like to think of Jesus’ Gentleness in idealistic ways. One of the ways we do this is by picturing Jesus in such ways that match up with the images illustrated above. Then when we get angry, we often guilt ourselves because we view that anger as not being of God. We view it as the antithesis of gentleness. Yet, when we look at the big picture of Jesus’ life, he was not always grinning and gentle either. Just look at the “Cleansing of the Temple” account in Matthew 21 and also to Jesus’ reaction to his opponents in Matthew 23-24. Even Jesus, sometimes, got angry and he certainly was not ALWAYS gentle.

Yet, the moments where he was not gentle also have a context to them. They were moments that called for righteous anger and Jesus used it both to stop what was happening, to hold people accountable, and to teach them a better way. With that said, Jesus had a gentle nature about him overall. He loved all people, he cared for people who needed care, he instructed people who would be his followers, and he saw the image of God in all people.  Even when he was angry and/or displaying anger, he was always doing so with the intent of instructing, as well as with the intent of putting an end to the harm he saw certain people inflicting upon others. So even his anger was driven by his gentle heart.

It would be easy for me to simply say that we are to “strive” to have Jesus’ gentleness; however, that would be inconsistent with Paul’s understanding of the fruit, which by now I am hoping you can see for yourselves. Jesus didn’t strive to be gentle…HE WAS GENTLE by the nature of his relationship with God. He was filled with the Holy Spirit and gentleness (along with the other fruits) were born through that relationship. The same is true for us. If we have a deep and committed relationship with God, if we are receptive of and filled with God’s Holy Spirit, then we will bear the fruit of God’s gentleness. This is nothing we earn or strive to do on our own power…but something that happens as a result of the power of God in our lives. If you are not gentle and do not bear the fruit of the Spirit, then it is time to check where you are in your relationship with God. We all fail to maintain that relationship, and none of us are perfect in it, but those of us who have a relationship with God and are receptive to the Holy Spirit, are being perfected in God’s love and are bearing the fruit that comes from that.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength.” – St. Francis de Sales

PRAYER
Lord, fill me with your Holy Spirit so that I may bear the spiritual fruit of gentleness in my life. Amen.

REVISITED: FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT: Faithfulness

Read Galatians 5:22-26

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I decree that everyone throughout my kingdom should tremble with fear before the God of Daniel. For He is the living God, and He will endure forever. His kingdom will never be destroyed, and His rule will never end.” (Daniel 6:26, NLT)

FruitOsp_Faithfulness

In his letter to the church in Galatia, the Apostle Paul is writing to a community that is divided over the issue of male circumcision: should new Gentile followers of Jesus be counted as a part of the Jewish covenant without being circumcised, or should they have to be circumcised just as all of the Jews are circumcised. Being that Christianity at the time wasn’t a religion, but a sect of Judaism, this was a VITALLY IMPORTANT question. While Paul is opposed to making Gentiles be circumcised, he also is against divisive behavior regardless of which side it is coming from. In response to this division, Paul describes to the Galatian church what he calls, “The Fruit of the Spirit.”

FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT: Faithfulness. When I think of the fruit of faithfulness, I think of the prophet Daniel. If you remember the story of Daniel, he was one of the Jews who were exiled to Babylon as a result of the corruption of the Kings of Israel. During exile, Daniel rose to prominence in the Babylonian Court under King Nebuchadnezzar II. There the King learns that Daniel had the ability to interpret dreams and he employed Daniel to do just that. Daniel faithfully served Nebuchadnezzar until the king went mad, something which Daniel predicted would happen.

The king’s successor was even more foolish than his predecessor and ended up losing his kingdom to the Medes and Persians. King Darius of Persia took notice of Daniel and eventually elevated him to high office; however, out of jealousy, court officials tricked King Darius to pass an edict that prohibited the worship of any god or man for a 30-day period. Out of faithfulness to God, Daniel refused to obey such an edict and prayed to God three times a day while facing in the direction of Jerusalem. Of course, it wasn’t long before Daniel was caught in the act and accused before King Darius who was forced to punish his favorite official…by his own decree.

Thus we come to the story of Daniel and the Lion’s Den. Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den as punishment for his faithfulness to God. He did not let anything get in the way of his relationship with God, not even the threat of punishment or death. And it was in his faithfulness that Daniel witnessed to God’s faithfulness as well, for the lions lay down and do not eat Daniel! In reality, it is not that God just became faithful or that Daniel just noticed. Neither of those are true. Daniel had known God’s faithfulness all along, despite being exiled from his homeland and being under the oppression of foreign rulers.

When reflecting on faithfulness, we really have a three things to consider. First, when we think of faithfulness we cannot over look the example of God’s faithfulness with us. We need to be open to it, to see it in all of the blessings we enjoy, and to even see God’s faithfulness in the trials and tough times we face as well. The latter part is particular challenging for us as we tend to question God’s faithfulness when we are going through tough times. Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting that questioning God is ever a bad thing. It is not; however, it is a good discipline for us to struggle in the midst of those questions to see how God has blessed and been present with us in spite of the trials we’ve endured. God is always with us. God is always faithful.

Second, we should live our lives in faithfulness as well. Faith begets faithfulness. If we have faith we will remain faithful to God. We will not compromise our faith or our relationship to God…no matter what the world (our friends, our country, etc.) is calling us to do. Finally, when the holy spirit nurtures faithfulness within us, we will be faithful in our human (and animal…yes they count too) relationships as well. We cannot be faithful to God if we are unfaithful in our human relationships! You may be wondering, “who could ever live up to such a standard?” On our own, none of us could; however, as Paul states from the very beginning, this is the fruit that the Spirit-filled life will bear.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“By faithfulness we are collected and wound up into unity within ourselves, whereas we had been scattered abroad in multiplicity.” – Augustine of Hippo
PRAYER
Lord, fill me with your Holy Spirit so that I may bear the spiritual fruit of faithfulness in my life. Amen.

REVISITED: FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT: Patience

Read Galatians 5:22-26

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them.” (Romans 8:28 NLT)

In his letter to the church in Galatia, the Apostle Paul is writing to a community that is divided over the issue of male circumcision: should new Gentile followers of Jesus be counted as a part of the Jewish covenant without being circumcised, or should they have to be circumcised just as all of the Jews are circumcised. Being that Christianity at the time wasn’t a religion, but a sect of Judaism, this was a VITALLY IMPORTANT question. While Paul is opposed to making Gentiles be circumcised, he also is against divisive behavior regardless of which side it is coming from. In response to this division, Paul describes to the Galatian church what he calls, “The Fruit of the Spirit.”

FruitOsp_Patience

FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT: Patience. Wow, this is the NOT the devotion for me to write. All my life I have been plagued with the desire to have things done now, in all areas of my life. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the process that things naturally progress in; however, I would appreciate it far more if we didn’t have to wait. I have never been a fan of just sitting and waiting for stuff to happen, I would much rather go out and make it happen right now. Even in something as mundane as shopping, I would rather buy something now than wait until later to do it. Patience is certainly something I have had to struggle with over the years and, come to think of it, perhaps that makes me the perfect person to talk about it.

I know I am not alone in this. I know I am not the only one who has a hard time waiting for things to happen “in God’s time.” I know I am not the only one in who feels that sometimes “God’s time” just ain’t quick enough! Why do I need to pray on something, why do I need to wait upon the Lord, why should I just sit idly by when I can seize the day and make the most of the situation? Why should I have to walk through the painfully long process of ordination when I can just be ordained online in 15 minutes and a few dollars later? Why, why, why do I have to wait? Okay, maybe I didn’t question why I needed to actually get ordained as opposed to buying a title; however, I have certainly struggled with patience.

The church struggles with patience to. When will these pews fill up? When will our church go back to the way things were before? When will we become relevant in the community again? When will we see the offering go back up to sustainable numbers? When…when…when? In our impatience, what ends up happening is that we wind up jumping the gun and cutting corners to make those things happen because, in our minds, they aren’t happening quick enough. Yet; the stark reality is that, in cutting the corners and rushing things along, we only blanket fix things at best and we often end up making a bigger mess of things than they already were.

So, you are wondering when God is going to step in and save the day for the church? You are wondering when God will answer the prayers you have been praying? You wonder when your church family will grow, when your attendance will rise, when your coffers will overflow, and when the presence of God will be KNOWN to be in your community? The answer is simple. God will do it when the time is right, if it is ever right. God will do it when the time is right for you, and others, to step up to the plate and take the actions necessary to make it happen. God will do it when you learn to be act and to be patient in your actions, allowing things to unfold in God’s time and in God’s way. As a beloved Presbyterian friend always reminds me, God is sovereign. God is in control. God will act when the time is right and, if you are willing to act and then wait upon the Lord, all shall be good in the neighborhood.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“But those who trust in the LORD will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.” – Isaiah, son of Amoz (Isaiah 40:31 NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, build up in me the wisdom to be patient. I trust in you and know that you are working all things at the right time. Amen.

REVISITED: Wrath of God, part 2

Read Genesis 4:1-16

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“So the LORD was sorry He had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke His heart.” (Genesis 6:6 NLT)

broken-heart

In the Beginning, God desired to create a world in which God could raise and nurture all of creation. So God set about in that Creation and saw all that was created as divinely good. Finally, God decided to make a creature that would be fashioned in the very image of God. In God’s image (imago Dei), human beings were created and set apart from the rest of Creation.

Now, humans were not set apart so that they could feel superior to God’s creation, for God loved all of Creation; however, God hoped to have a special relationship with humans, a mutual relationship that would be founded on the love of which God created them. God gave them everything they could ever need, and God made sure that they were cared for and nurtured.

Created in God’s image, humans had sharp intelligence and were filled with the creativity of their Creator. They were filled with compassion and a profound sense of their connection with the rest of Creation, so much so that they first people began name the creatures God created and began to be there caretakers, just as God was the care takers of them. Thus, they were living into that very image in which they were Created. To God, everything seemed perfect.

Unfortunately, humans quickly grew to resent their dependence on God and they became bored and complacent in their relationship. Like young adults seeking their independence from their loving parents, they first people chose to do things their own way and to make their own way in the world. They sought out their own wisdom and disregarded the wisdom God had already given to them. They ignored the warnings of God and, as a result, humanity fell into a state of sin. Whether this was a good thing or a bad thing is up for debate. Perhaps this was the final step of Creation, where humans could “fully mature” and could now choose for themselves to have a loving and mutual relationship with God. Perhaps, this was more of a fall than a blessing as humans began making poorer and poorer choices. Or, as I have come to understand it, it was a little of both.

Regardless, overtime humans when from being in a loving, mutual relationship with God to being in a tenuous, and often dysfunctional relationship with God. This was sadly reflected in the dysfunctional relationships that began to plague the relationships humans had with each other. Patriarchy started to develop, where men saw themselves as better, superior, and in control of women. Brothers rose up against their other siblings out of competition and jealousy, murdering their siblings in cold and sadistic blood.

All of God’s creation began to suffer as a result of this terrible imbalance in the world God had created. People started owning animals, owning land, owning other people, ruling those they conquered, and killing all who stood in their way to attain absolute power. The green fields, the deserts, the streams, ponds and oceans went from pure to running red with the blood of the destruction humanity was reigning upon the earth!

God, seeing the terrible turn that creation had taken, began to grieve so deeply that God began to question why God even created anything at all! God’s grief moved from questioning to remorse and that remorse grew into anger. God was angry that Creation had fallen into such a state of disrepair. God was angry that humans were killing humans, that they were denying their divine connection to Creation, and that they were denying their divine connection to and relationship with their Creation. In that deep anger, God also found compassion, and set out to redeem this Creation that had become so tragically broken!

This is, obviously, just the beginning of the narrative of God we find in the Bible. This is just the Genesis, if you will. I fully admit that lots of theological questions pop up in regard to how a perfect God could create a world that went so tragically wrong. I also fully admit that there is no answer out there that fully satisfies those types of questions. But this narrative shows us that God’s reaction to the evil in the world is not unlike ours and that our righteous anger over the brokenness of this world comes from that divine image of God within us. Let us reflect on that for today, and in the days ahead, just as surely we will reflect on the evil that is currently and consistently plaguing this world.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.” – William Blake

PRAYER
Lord, help me to see the world, in its brokenness, through your eyes. In my anger, help me to discover the compassion from which it stems and allow it to fuel me to be even more compassionate. Amen.

REVISITED: Unlock the Cage

Read Revelation 5:1-10

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For thus the LORD said to me, as a lion or a young lion growls over its prey, and–when a band of shepherds is called out against it–is not terrified by their shouting or daunted at their noise, so the LORD of hosts will come down to fight upon Mount Zion and upon its hill.” (Isaiah 31:4 NLT)

lion2

As a lover of animals, I find it hard to utilize the animal imagery that is sometimes found in Scripture. The last devotion that was written was utilizing the image of a prowling, hungry lion waiting to devour it’s prey. While the image itself is not unrealistic, it paints a lopsided view of the animal itself.

On the one hand, it is not an unrealistic image of a lion. They do tend to get hungry and prowl around looking for food. That’s natural. To be fair and honest, humans do the same thing. On the other hand, to connect a lion to the devil takes away the natural understanding, and superimoses a supernatural one. The lion is now seen to be like the devil, like Satan, prowling around looking to devour and destroy! While 1 Peter 5:8 is a simile, people unfortunately begin to view and judge the animals as being beastly, primal, and even evil. Throughout history, certain animals have been categorically hunted and eliminated in immoral ways, with such passages in the Bible being used as some sort of theological justification.

But this is not the fault of the Bible, nor is it the fault of its authors who were simply trying to convey ideas through real-life images. For anyone living in areas that are inhabited by lions, the lion poses a real threat when it gets hungry and is on the prowl looking for food. It’s a threat to people and their livestock alike. Rather, this is the fault of people who take things way to literally and interpret the Bible in irresponsible ways.

The Bible itself, actually portrays most, if not all, animals in a very balanced way. Let’s look at the lion. Just as the lion is used to represent the devil on the prowl, so too is the lion being used to represent God. In Isaiah 31:4, God is likened to a lion who will not be scared and will not cower before the Egyptians who were looking to overtake the Kingdom of Judah; rather, God will directly face them and boldy ward them off, just as a lion does against anything that threatens its pride.

What’s more, the risen Christ is called the “Lion of the tribe of Judah” who has conquered sin and death and stands ready to reign as King. There are many such references to God as a lion in the Bible and all of those references utilize the stately, the bold, and the protective power of the lion as a description of God.

Slight switching directions, but still utilizing the theme of God as the lion, we Christians tend to forget that God is our lion. We forget that we serve a God of great power and we feel that we have to prove to others (and to ourselves) just how powerful our God is. I have seen many Christians set out to be “lions” of the faith in order to guard and protect God.

Here’s the problem, God doesn’t need, require, or even want our protection. God does require us to try and prove anything and, more times than not, we not only fail in our attempt to win anyone over, we often do more damage than we do good. The heart of the Gospel is God’s power to forgive, reconcile and restore a broken world back to the paradise it was once created to be.

By trying to prove God and/or by trying to protect God, we inadvertently try to cage God in. We can only prove what we fully know; yet, we try and prove the one who is beyond our full comprehension. The reality is that anytime we try to prove God, or try to “protect” God, all we are really doing is proving or protecting our idea or understanding of God…which amounts to a false god.

The challenge for us is to be responsible in our interpretation of the Bible, and to be humble in it. It is the authority by which we found our faith; however, it is not the foundation. God is! The challenge for us is to stop trying to cage God, but rather for us to unlock the cages we’ve built so that the true LION, the true God, can come forth, rally the pride, and begin to reign in our hearts once and for all.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Trying to prove God is like trying to defend a lion. [The lion] doesn’t need your help, just unlock the cage.” – Jason Petty

PRAYER
Lord, help me to stop trying to be right in my understanding, so that I may be open in my heart. 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: 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: 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.