Tag Archives: God

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.

Trashing the Time Machine

Read Exodus 3:1-14; Revelation 1:8; 21:6; 22:13

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)

Trashing the Time MachineHave you ever read the novella, “The Time Machine”, or are at least familiar with the film adaptations of the same name?  In the novella, H. G. Wells develops a character called the Time Traveler who believes he has invented a machine that can travel through time. Indeed, he had developed such a machine and travels to the year 802,701 A.D. where he runs into the Eloi, which he theorizes are a peaceful communist society and the result of nature being overtaken by human technology, in which humanity learned to adapt to an environment where they didn’t really need strength or intellect.

He also runs into the Morlock who are ape-like in appearance and who live underground. The Morlocks attack the Eloi and, to make a long story short, the Time Traveler comes to the realization that they are hunting and eating the Eloi, who are too carefree to doing anything about it.  The Time Traveler eventually has to make an escape as he too falls prey of the Morlock and he moves 30 million years into the future and sees what appears to him to be the end of the world.  Eventually, he returns back to his own time and tells his disbelieving dinner guests all that he has seen in the future.

Often, when we think of God and of God being eternal, we think of a timeline. We think of a linear line that stretches from beginning to end, one that can be looked back upon and can be travelled into the future on, much like the way the novella “The Time Machine” is set up.  When we think of the word “eternal”, we think of something that stretches on and one forever.  What’s more, we believe this to be backed up Biblically because, after all, doesn’t both God and Jesus claim in Revelation to be the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end?

Yet, that is a misunderstanding of what it means to be the beginning and the end. It is true that in God is both the beginning and the end of all things; however, God never began and never ends. In eternity there is no beginning and no end. There just is. In other words, God was not in the past, nor will God be in the future, rather God is always in the present.  There is only ever presence in the present.

In Exodus, when Moses asked God to tell him who he should say sent him to the Hebrews, God replied, “I AM WHO I AM…tell them that I AM sent you.” God’s own self-definition is that GOD IS.  Notice that God did not say to Moses, “Tell them that I WAS or I WILL BE sent you.”  What kind of hope is there in a God that WAS or a God that WILL BE?  God is not a God of the past or the present. Such things do not truly exist. All that really exists is the PRESENT…right here and right now.

God is not calling us to dwell in our past or worry about our future. Rather God is calling us to live in the present.  It is in the present that we inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. It is in the present that we are enveloped by the presence of God. It is in the present that we enter into eternity. It is in the present that we live and that is exactly where God meets us. While we as human beings may measure time in three tenses (past, present and future), God is calling us to live in the present in a way that reflects the reality of God’s present presence. Remember that eternity is at our door, we only need to open up the door and let it in.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

How much of the present is wasted living in the past and/or worrying about the future?

PRAYER

Lord, help me to recognize your presence with me right here and right now. Help me to reflect the truth of your present presence to all I come in contact with. 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.

Hammer Time

Hammer Time

Read Psalm 98; Matthew 28:16-20

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile.” (Romans 1:16)

Hammer TimeDo you remember M.C. Hammer?  He was a rapper who came out in the early 1990s and hit the top of the charts with songs like “U Can’t Touch This”, “Pray”, “Have You Seen Her”, “2 Legit 2 Quit”, and “Do Not Pass Me By”. Donning his trademarked baggy pants, flashy dance moves and an over the top live show, it seemed like Hammer was a force to be reckoned with. Yet, almost as fast as he exploded onto the charts, he was gone.

Just the other day I was listening to a song on his second album entitled, “Do Not Pass Me By”. As I was listening to it I noticed how the song fit even more perfectly in the Gospel genre than it did in the rap and hip-hop genre.  So, I put the song on again, this time really listening to the words. It wasn’t just Gospel, it WAS THE GOSPEL!  There he was, M.C. Hammer, a huge mega-star who had all the money, girls, and fame in the world and he was totally “Shouting out” to God on one of his highest selling albums during the peak of his career.

Then it also occurred to me that each of his best selling albums had similar songs on them. In fact, each of his albums had at least one song dedicated to God on them. His first album had “Son of the King”. His second album, “Pray”. His third album, “Do not Pass Me By”, and His fourth album, “Help Lord (Won’t You Come)”.  It also turns out that M.C. Hammer, who’s real name is Stanley Burrell, became an ordained minister during the late 1990’s and has since devoted his life to prison and youth ministries.

Now, I have no clue what his theological approach to ministry is, nor is that ultimately important. What is important to note is that here is a guy who knows the heights of success, here’s a guy who knows what means to fall from that success, here’s a guy who knows what it’s like to be judged and ridiculed for going bankrupt, and yet this is the same guy who I hear praising God through the airwaves. There is something infectious about his faith. There is something uplifting about his willingness to let people know what he believes. There is something inspiring about his willingness to use his own resources to visit the “least of these” in the prisons and on the inner city streets. And if I am finding that to be infectious, imagine what others think of it.

It is impossible to guess how many millions, if not billions, of people have brought home his album “Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em” album and listened to the song pray. It’s hard to imagine what the words “You’ve got to pray, just to make it today” would mean to someone who is surrounded by gang violence, or to a kid who is about to commit suicide, or to a prisoner who just wishes he could be forgiven and move on with his life. Here was Hammer, amid all of the pop songs, pushing a message that spread the hope, healing and wholeness of Christ in the lives of so many different people

This is what we as Christians are called to do. We are called to spread the Gospel; we are called to spread the good news of God’s hope, healing and wholeness in the lives of those who need it. We aren’t called to be silent and quiet about our faith; rather, we are called to shout it, unashamed, from the mountaintops for the world to hear! After all, God’s unconditional love and everlasting presence is Good News worth shouting about, is it not? Then no matter who you are, or how you are are called to “shout”, get to it!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

To shout does not necessarily me to scream with your voice; rather, it means to beam with excitement through all of your being.

PRAYER

Lord, help me to use my gifts and talents for the spreading of your Good News, and allow me to beam, from head to toe, with excitement in the great things you are doing! Amen.

The Right Side of Wrong

Read John 8:2-12; Romans 8

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“You judge by human standards; I judge no one.” (John 8:15)

The Right Side of WrongHave you ever read the comic, seen the film, or at least heard of the superhero named Ghost Rider?  He is a hero from the Marvel Comics Universe and is certainly one of their more interesting, and theologically challenging, heroes. The story of Ghost Rider is the story of Johnny Blaze who is a daredevil along the lines of Evil Knievel.  He was the son of Barton Blaze who was a stunt-man. As young child he lost both of his parents, first his mother and then his father who died while performing a stunt.

Adopted by Crash and Mona Simpson, Johnny grew up and learned to be a stuntman himself. Crash, who was his adoptive father, taught Johnny everything he knew, and the Simpsons became family for Johnny.  Unfortunately,  Johnny found out that Crash, who had become his father figure, was diagnosed with cancer and was dying.  Desperate, Johnny turned to the occult and was trying to find a way to magically save his adopted father from dying.

It is at this point, that Johnny does something that will change the course of his life forever. While trying to cast a spell, he accidentally summons Mephisto, who is basically the devil.  Mephisto comes to Johnny and promises that if he only sells his soul to him, and works for him when called upon, his adopted father’s life would be spared. Desperate and afraid, Johnny makes the decision to sell his soul so that Crash’s life would be spared.

The deal done, the pact sealed, Johnny becomes what is known as a Ghost Rider, and when called upon, he turns into a flaming skeleton who punishes the wicked and is forced to carry out the commands of the devil whenever he is called upon. Yet, sadly, while the devil got what he wanted, Johnny didn’t make off so well. Crash was spared from the cancer, but ended up dying in a stunt accident.  Johnny feels lost and completely out of control. After all, his soul is tainted…he is forever cursed in the eyes of God. Or is he?

In the film version of the story, another character who was also a Ghost Rider (played by Sam Elliot), gives Johnny a little pep talk before they ride out to fight against the forces of evil.  He says to him, “Any man that’s got the guts to sell his soul for love has got the power to change the world. You didn’t do it for greed, you did it for the right reason. Maybe that puts God on your side.”

This quote should make all of us pause and reflect. Johnny Blaze did EVERYTHING wrong. He tried to do everything right, but kept ending up on the right side of wrong. Yet, perhaps God saw past all of that. After all, he was trying to save the life of the only father he really ever knew. He was trying to do what he believed to be right and, in doing so, perhaps that did put him on God’s side. Perhaps his LOVE spoke much louder to God than his naivety and poor discernment.

In this story, there is hope for all of us. Perhaps we come down much harder on ourselves than God does on us. Sure, it is true that we are not perfect and we do not always make the right decisions, but who does? If we were perfect, would we truly be human? God does not love us because we are perfect; rather, God loves us into perfection. There is nothing you or anyone else can do to separate you from the love of God. All we have to do is open our hearts and listen to the voice of God telling us, “I don’t condemn you! I love you! Go, my child, and sin no more.”

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

Do not judge…including yourself.

PRAYER

Lord, help me to see myself through your eyes. While I am not perfect, I am being perfected in your LOVE. Amen.

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.

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.

 

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.