Tag Archives: Christianity

Scapegoat

Read Genesis 3; John 11:47-53

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:15)

GoatHave you ever read or seen the play, “The Crucible”, by Arthur Miller? It tells the story of the Salem Witch Trials, which happened from February 1692 – April 1693 in Salem, Massachusetts.  In the story, while dancing and casting spells in the woods, a group of girls were caught by the village’s minister, Reverend Parris.  Parris’ daughter was one of the girls and, upon seeing her father, fainted and did not regain consciousness.  Knowing that much of the town was divided over the effectiveness his leadership and ministry, Parris was fearful of what might become of the girls behavior and proceeded to interrogate the girls.

The girls, in turn, blamed Tituba the slave out of fear for being scolded and beaten.  Parris then brought in the Reverend John Hale of Beverly to interrogate Tituba and to investigate whether or not the devil had indeed been raised in Salem. Tituba was harshly interrogated, and after she had been threatened with severe beatings and death, she confessed to being in league with Satan. But that confession wasn’t enough. Her accusers wanted her to give up any names who might have also joined her in signing Satan’s black book.  Afraid for her life, and just wanting the nightmare that had befallen her to come to an end, Tituba calls out the names of four people who lived within the community.

The stage had been set, the spark ignited, the fire kindled, and the blazing flames were about to engulf the entire village of Salem. Historically speaking, by April of 1693 over 160 people were accused of Witchcraft, most of whom were jailed and deprived of their property and legal rights.  Fifty of those people confessed to witchcraft in order to save themselves from immediate trial and certain death. In the end, twenty-five of the accused died: nineteen were executed by hanging, one was pressed to death by stones, and five died due to the horribly unsanitary conditions of their imprisonment.

It seems to be human nature to scapegoat people in order to save our own hides.  We see this reflected in the Adam and Eve story, where Adam points the finger at Eve, followed by Eve pointing the finger at the serpent who, unfortunately didn’t have any fingers left to point. And this pattern of playing the blame game can be seen throughout history. Early Christians in the mid-first century were scapegoated by Nero for the fire that burned down a large portion of Rome. And let’s not stop with Rome, for we need look no further than the Inquisition, the holocaust and some of the reactions to the attacks on 9/11 to see that Christians have certainly done their share in scapegoating too.

Let us, in the spirit of Lent, remember that Jesus was a scapegoat and was executed for crimes that he didn’t commit. In the spirit of Christ, let us repent of the times we have participated in scapegoating others, whether it be as small as scapegoating our siblings to avoid a spanking or as large as scapegoating minority groups in order to maintain the socio-economic and political status quo.

God is calling each of us to swallow our pride, repent of our sins, and accept responsibility for what we have done.  It is only then that we can rise out of the water of our baptism with Jesus and follow him into the wilderness of preparation. It is only then that we can truly be his disciples. It is only then that we will can bear the Good News of God’s hope, healing and wholeness to the people in our midst.  During this Lent God is calling us, not to be perpetually guilty, but to repent and move forward in the direction God is calling us…the direction of witnessing to God’s unconditional love of us all!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.” – Jesus of Nazareth, in Luke 5:31-32

PRAYER

Lord, bring me to the point of true, and liberating, repentance so that I may truly serve you and represent your unconditional love. Amen.

Running in the Rain

Read Matthew 5

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“When clouds are full, they empty rain on the earth; whether a tree falls to the south or to the north, in the place where the tree falls, there it will lie.” (Ecclesiastes 11:3)

Running in the RainTypically, my days to jog are Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Every week I plan on running first thing in the morning on those days so that I can continue to keep my heart, body and soul healthy. With that said, a few days ago I decided that I was going to change things up a bit. I had a lot of work to do, as well as having to travel to different places to accomplish some of the work and so I decided that I would run later in the day. This was on this past Tuesday, and the weather was about as wonderful as it had been in a while.

My wife and daughters had to get their teeth worked on at the dentist and I would go running at a park I used to run at while waiting for them.  Now, have you ever noticed that when you plan on doing something, the universe seems to align itself against you and your plans?  This is what seems to always happen and certainly, as we were getting closer to the dentist, the drops of rain started to fall on to the windshield.

I dropped my wife and daughters off at the dentist and tried to hurry over to the park, but by the time I got there it began to rain steadily. I was totally bummed out; I mean, if I had only ran earlier I could’ve gotten a run in with sunlight and everything. Yet, there I was looking out at the dismal gray, rainy and dusk filled skies wondering whether I should run or not. And that is when I decided…I was going to run.

I ran two and a half miles and was soaked to the bone; however, I realized that I totally enjoyed myself out in the rain. Sure I was wet, and I did spend the remainder of the time waiting for my wife with my socks and shoes hanging over the heater vents, yet there I also felt good about accomplishing that run in the rain. I felt good about not giving up on what I knew I needed to do, just because the circumstances were different.

Often times, we go through our lives hoping that every day will bear sun and warmth, that every day the universe will align itself with our hopes and dreams. Yet, the reality is that the universe isn’t aligned with any of our hopes and dreams. Nor, is the weather or anything else for that matter. Life goes on with or without us and the fact of the matter is that, as Jesus says, the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike.

People always question why bad things happen to good people, but who says that bad things don’t happen to bad people? Who says that good things don’t happen to good people? I know, when I reflect on my life, I have had my share of good and bad things. The good things fly by, often with me taking them for granted; however, the second bad stuff happens, I begin to groan and moan about how terrible things are for me.

Jesus calls us away from that kind of thinking as such thoughts are terribly self-centered. That is not to say that we should be happy when bad things happen or when things don’t go our way; what we need to realize is that regardless of the circumstances, we can choose how we react and/or respond.  Sitting in my van, I could have chosen to drive back to the dentist office and mope about how much life stinks, or I could have chosen to suck it up, get out of the car and run the most refreshing 2.5 miles I have run in a long time. That is what I chose to do and that is what God is calling us all to do in the rainstorms in our lives. After all, we really do have much to be grateful for, so let our lives reflect our gratefulness!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Be thou the rainbow in the storms of life. The evening beam that smiles the clouds away, and tints tomorrow with prophetic ray.”  – Lord Byron

PRAYER
Lord, while I do not like it when storms hit, guide me through them and give me the wisdom to see beyond them so that I can truly be grateful for all of the blessings in my life. Amen.

I Am You

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” (Deuteronomy 31:8)

I Am YouOne of my all time favorite music bands is a band called Demon Hunter. Now I am sure that, judging from the name, you can probably tell that they are Heavy Metal band. If so, you are absolutely correct. I am also sure that, judging by the name, some of you might be questioning why someone like would be listening to a band with that kind of a name. Well, the truth be told, I listen to all sorts of music from classical to heavy metal, from Christian to secular music. In fact, sometimes I find a deeper spirit-filled theology (whether it was on purpose or accidental) in secular music than I do in Christian music.

With all of that said, Demon Hunter is actually a Christian heavy metal band who writes music that really speak to me as a person who knows what it is like to struggle in life. I know what it means to be depressed, to feel hopeless, to feel like the world might be literally crushing me, to feel like I am at wits end, and to feel like no one truly understands me. The lyrics that Ryan Clark write for Demon Hunter are ones that reach out to people who struggle in life, it is their ministry to do so and God certainly has blessed them, and those listening to them, as a result of doing that ministry.

There is a song that they write called, I AM YOU. In this song, Ryan writes, “A new voice for the broken souls in a world awaiting its death—I am you—an everlasting well of life for the hopeless and the wrecked I am the dying self, the narrow path, the calm that conquered the storm—I am you—the cross-hairs on the head of shame, the negation to conform.” For the longest time, I interpreted this to mean that Ryan, the singer, was saying that he was like anyone else and that he, too, has struggled in his life. I am certain that, in part, he is saying that.

This time around, however, I began to see the song in a whole new light. I began to hear God’s voice in it. After all, is it not true that God is a new voice for the broken souls? Is it not true that God is an everlasting well of life for the hopeless and the wrecked? Did Jesus not embody the dying self, the narrow path, the calm that conquered the storm? Did Jesus not set the cross-hairs on the head of shame, and represented the negation to conform? To Moses, God revealed Godself as I AM. In Jesus, God revealed to the world, I AM YOU.

What a wonderfully powerful notion that God is one of us. That God knows what it means to struggle. After all, which one of us has not struggled in this life? Which one of us have remained completely unscathed from childhood to whatever age we are at now? Which one of us has lived a perfect, paradise-like existence without any pain, loss or suffering? I am imagining the answer to be: NONE OF US.

Then how powerful of a message it is for us to receive that God is one of us and knows how to conquer the struggles we face everyday. It is a wonderful message that God is not above us or somewhere out there watching us from afar but, rather, God is with us…God is in us. When we truly embrace that, we will recognize that God is not only with us, but God is with us wherever we go. Once we realize that truth, we will see that when we are in the lives of others…when We reach out to others with compassion and say, “It’s okay, I AM YOU”, we are showing such people that God is with them too…you are giving them the good news of God’s presence and of God’s hope, healing and wholeness.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Everyone has inside of him a piece of good news. The good news is that you don’t know how great you can be! How much you can love! What you can accomplish! And what your potential is!” – Anne Frank

PRAYER

Lord, fill me with your Good News and send me out to bring it to others. 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.

 

I Have Seen the Light!!!

Read Matthew 6:1-24; John 1:1-7

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1)

I Have Seen the Light!!!Finally, electricity came back to our parsonage and church.  It had been ten long days since the power flickered and shut off. Ten days of living from sunrise to sunset. Ten days of showering in fire departments and state parks. Ten days of traveling for miles to wait in long lines to get gas.  Ten days of sleeping WAY under the covers to keep semi-warm throughout the night. It took ten long days for us to see the light.

And here I am now, sitting in my office, reveling in the fact that I now have electricity and, with it, cable and wi-fi internet! Yet, there are many people who will go 11 or 15 or 30 more days without electricity.  What’s more, there are many people who are now without their homes! I had only a small taste, if even that, of what many people throughout the Tri-State area are facing.  I become saddened to think that many people will not get the relief that I received tonight with the restoration of electricity to my home.

And, in the midst of this, I see politicians on the news congratulating each other for jobs well done.  Each politician, from all over the political spectrum, are busy looking good all the while people are still seeing little to no results in their neighborhoods. The reality is that there is not enough people to quickly do ALL of the work that needs to be done.  And perhaps these politicians are doing the best job they can do; however, their celebration and horn blowing comes in the midst of real people really suffering.

Many people confuse serving God with serving themselves. It is very easy to cross that line, especially when serving God by serving others makes us feel good about ourselves.  It is easy for us to want others to see what we are doing, and we often justify our showboating by saying that we are trying to set the example for others to follow.  Celebrities are perfect examples of people who do things for the public to see “in order to be a good role model.” In reality, many of them are just as interested in selling their brand as they are being good role models.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not a judgment against celebrities, politicians or anyone else who are in the public eye; rather, this is a challenge for each of us to question what it is that we are doing, and why we are doing it. We should always be asking ourselves those questions in order to evaluate whether we are truly serving God or if we are truly serving ourselves.

Jesus taught his disciples to avoid putting things on for show in order for people to see.  While the context is a bit different as Jesus was talking about prayer, the principle is the same.  What are you here to do? Are you here to make yourself look good or are you here to bring hope, healing and wholeness to those in need? Are you out to impress people with your prayers, your charities, your fine dress, and your success? Or are you here to serve God to the best of your God-given abilities?

God calls each of us to live as Christ lived, to make ourselves a living sacrifice to God. What does that mean? That means that we will offer ourselves up to God, sacrificing our self-interest and exchanging it for our God-interest.  We will drop our concern for our self-image, and we will start living out our God-image. We will drop all of our pretenses and start concerning ourselves with bringing true hope, true healing, and true wholeness into the lives of those in need.  We won’t need to showboat what WE are doing to people because we will know that it is GOD who is doing the work in us, through us, and certainly in spite of us.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

What more approval do we need apart from God’s?

PRAYER

Lord, you are a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. Guide me to where it is you would like me to be and let me be a living sacrifice for you. Amen.