Tag Archives: Good News

God’s People, part 135: You

Read James 1:22-25

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message.”  (John 17:20 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

MirrorBiblePart 135: You. Yes you, the one who is reading this devotion. When one thinks of the Gospels most people do not think of themselves as one of the main characters. One thinks of Mary, Joseph, Jesus, the disciples/apostles, Herod, and the Romans. Heck, one even thinks of the devil and his demons; however, most people do not think of themselves.

I believe that this fact points to a major reason there is such a disconnect between most people and the Gospel message when/if they read the Bible. The Bible, Old and New Testament alike, is being read as a bedtime story filled with two-dimensional characters who bear little to know resemblance to us. At best, the Bible may be read as a work of history, something to look back upon and imagine what it must have been like to be there. Still, we read the Bible as if there is a distance between us and the characters within.

The truth is, however, that there is less of a distance between us and the books of the Bible than we think. It is true that the authors lived in a different time period than us as well as in a different culture and different part of the world. It is also true that the authors wrote with their own contexts and audiences in mind. With that said, the authors also wrote with YOU in mind. The New Testament authors, especially, wrote to all who would be reading them. Thus, YOU are very much a character in the New Testament.

YOU are the one who needs to hear and learn of the Good News about Jesus Christ. YOU are also the one who is being called to follow Jesus and become a disciple. YOU are the one the author intended to teach what the Rabbi/Teacher taught and YOU are the one to whom the author witnessed about Christ’s miracles.

The reader should not, nay, MUST NOT distance him or herself from the Bible. We are the people the authors are writing to. Mark starts off his Gospel cluing YOU in that he is writing about the good news of Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God. In the very first sentence, YOU are given a clue that the people in the accounts did not have. Then Mark lays before you the accounts of Jesus, not just to tell a neat and fanciful tale, but so that YOU might believe and become a disciple yourself.

The same is true for the other Gospels. Luke has something else going on as well, but we’ll touch upon that next time. Suffice it to say, the Gospel writers, Paul, the other letter writers, and the writer of Revelation all write for YOU, so that you might come to know the truth about Jesus Christ, become a disciple and carry on sharing the Good News with others.

The challenge for us is to read the Bible, especially the New Testament, from a fresh perspective. We need to learn to read it without reading our own contexts into it (because it was not written in our context); conversely, we need to learn to read it as if it were speaking directly to us and as if we were among the characters within it. The truth is WE ARE among the characters in this narrative. What’s more, every time we share the Gospel with others and bring them into a direct relationship with the risen Lord, they too become a character in this ongoing unfolding of God’s redemptive, salvific work in the world.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The Bible is the cradle wherein Christ is laid.” – Martin Luther

PRAYER
Lord, illumine me through the Bible and allow me to see that it was not just written about others, or merely for others, but that it was also written for me. Amen.

The Dark Woods

Read Matthew 5:13-16

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. So be as shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves.” (Matthew 10:16 NLT)

blair_witch-2016-headerJust recently I was watching the direct sequel to the Blair Witch Project entitled, Blair Witch. I can remember the first film like it was yesterday. BWP was a highly anticipated film. It was 1999, only two years prior to 9/11, and the way the director and filmmakers chose to promote it gives us an idea on the kind of world the ‘90s were. They chose to use the real actors’ names in the film, put their names and faces on milk cartons, and stated they were missing…FOR REAL. What’s more, and I didn’t know this at the time, they sent each of the actor’s families a letter offering their condolences over the disappearance of their children/siblings.

Yikes, can you imagine being those family members and getting a notice stating that your child was missing and believed to be dead? It was a total commitment to realism, but I can only imagine the heartbreak that caused. Of course, the actors had to hide away, lay low, and keep quiet until the film came out. What’s more, they made a “mockumentary” and aired it on national, and international, television leading up to the film. The marketing was, in a word, brilliant; however, it did have its consequences. Heather Donahue, the main star, stated that the film forever changed her life…and not in a good way. The film went down in history as being one of the most influential horror movies of all time, and it also spawned countless copycats and/or “found footage” horror films that now flood the theaters.

The direct sequel to this film, Blair Witch, was just released in 2016 and it, too, follows the same format as the first film. By now, most (and I do stress most as some still believe that BWP is a true story) people are aware that these films are fiction; however, the newest installment still delivers in terms of intensity, scares and a foreboding sense of doom. What makes this work in both films is that they are filming it in the woods, and a majority of the film is shot at night with very little lighting, only enough to see the actors and their immediate surroundings.

Have you ever been in the woods at night? I have. Well, I practically live in the woods but, that aside, I have been in the pitch black woods at night with nothing but a flashlight to guide my way. It is not a pleasant experience because one’s sight is so limited. Limited sight is scary enough on its own, however, add in the fact that around you could be bears, coyote, mountain lions (I swear they exist here), and any other number of wildlife. All one experiences in the woods at night is darkness, shadowy formations of trees, and sounds of critters moving and leaves rustling.

Being in the woods at night is a great metaphor for living one’s life as a Christian in this world. Jesus tells us that we are salt of the earth and the lamp on a lampstand. In order for us to not lose our flavor as salt, we have to be willing to have the courage and the faith to go where God is leading us. We have to be willing to go into the dark woods and to live our lives faithfully within it. In order for us to do so, we have to not hide who we are or whose we are, for to do so is to hide the light of Christ under a basket. That is treacherous at best for then we do not have the light of Christ to guide our way, and we do not have the light of Christ to draw others to the Salvation we bear in us.

Here’s the catch, we cannot be faithful Christians without entering the dark woods. Following Jesus is NOT about playing it safe, it is about risking safety in order to bring Good News to the last, the least, and the lost. Today’s challenge for us is to reflect on where we are. Have we left the safety of our sanctuary? Have we left the safety of the arms of Christ in order to venture out into the dark woods? Have we left comfort behind to embrace the darkened path that Christ has chosen for us? If not, I pray you will take that next step for the harvest is great, but the workers are few.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Love will find a way through paths where wolves fear to prey.” – Lord Byron

PRAYER
Lord, thank you for being my sanctuary no matter where I go. Help me rid myself of fear that I might bold step out into the darkness and shine your light. Amen.

Repent and Believe

Read Hebrews 13

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.” (1 Corinthians 12:26 NRSV)

repentAndBelieveToday is Ash Wednesday, and we are entering into the Christian season of Lent. During Lent, which is a forty day period that lasts from Ash Wednesday through Holy Saturday, we enter a period of fasting and of reflection. Christians have traditionally marked the beginning of the Lenten journey by having Ash imposed on their foreheads, a dark and gritty reminder that we are both mortal and tainted by sin. As the ash is marked on the foreheads or hands of the faithful, people are told to “repent and believe the Gospel.”

This year, Ash Wednesday is having a different meaning to me. When I think of the ash that I will no doubt be imposing on the heads of countless people, and of the ash I will have imposed on my head, I cannot help but think of the Jordanian pilot who was lit on fire at the beginning January. When I think of the ashes today, I cannot help but think of the twenty-one Christians who were mass-executed this past weekend. When I think of the ashes today, I cannot help but think of the countless people who have been killed throughout the centuries and millenia for religious differences.

Recently, at a Christian breakfast, President Barack Obama called on Christian leaders to show humility in the face of the imminent threat that ISIL poses to the Middle-East and beyond. He called them to remember what Christians did during the Crusades, during the Inquisition, during American slavery and segregation. Some Christians got upset at this because, while there is no denying that some Christians have done some pretty evil things in the name of Christ, they believed his call to humility only served to play into the propaganda of the ISIL organization.

While this point can be argued, what can’t be argued is that many terrible things have been done by many people in the name of their religion. Honestly, with or without Christian history, people would be killing and maiming in the name of their beliefs. What is sad about this is that most of these belief systems speak much more about the need for peace, love, compassion, humility and mercy than they speak on the need for killing and maiming. But all religious systems can be, and have been, interpreted in ways that “justify” doing great acts of evil.

Rather than getting outraged about being called out on the atrocities of the past, we should be outraged about the atrocities of the present. Rather than pointing at the past as a way of reminding others of what people long dead have done, we should be reflecting on the ways in which we can help to stop the sins we are committing right here and right now? We don’t have to look at the middle-east to see that we have been complacent in the face of suffering, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist or a sagely oracle to realize that such complacency has us far away from the heart of the Gospel.

Today, on this Ash Wednesday, Christ is calling us to repent and to believe the Good News. Let us repent of the ways in which we have been complacent, and let us begin to live into the Gospel as if we ACTUALLY believe in it! Let us begin to live in solidarity with those who are suffering. Let us pray for the countless Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, and others who are being put to death because of their beliefs. Let us begin to treat others with the respect that should be afforded all human beings, who are created in the image of God. If we live in such a way, we will have truly received the Lenten message and will have begun our journey to the cross. It is there, and only there, that we will truly die to ourselves and resurrect into a new and glorious life.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY “Of all acts of man repentance is the most divine. The greatest of all faults is to be conscious of none.” – Thomas Carlyle

PRAYER Lord, today I repent and ask for you to reveal your Gospel within me so that I may believe and follow it. Amen.

Left Behind

Read Mark 13:1-13,

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.” (Mark 13:33)

left-behind-7-book-set-500bI just recently saw the new film, “Left Behind”, starring Nicholas Cage, which was based off of the book series of the same name. Very loosely modeled off of the book of Revelation, they envision what the end times will look like as it is supposedly “reported” in scripture. In actuality, the Left Behind series takes many liberties and it cross-references many other books in the Bible as if they were either written by the same author or, at least, with the same events in mind. What’s more, it naturally reads a whole lot between the lines in order to formulate what the authors believe will happen based off of their reading and/or interpretation of Revelation, Daniel, Ezekiel, 1 Thessalonians, select passages from the Gospels, 1 Corinthians, and other passages in correlation with modern-day events.

While these novels make for thought-provoking speculation, if not just good fiction, many people have made it their purpose in life to try and scry when these things will take place, let alone how they will take place. Aside from just the novels, there are tons of other books predicting the world’s end and how it will come about. There have been Christian radio show hosts, television personalities and others who have all bought into this notion that this world is coming to an end, and have seen to it to warn people that they had better wake up before Jesus comes to takes the faithful and leave the rest behind.

Of course, what has always struck me as rather funny is the fact that Jesus only talked about such things when he was pressed to, and he always began and/or ended those discussions with the warning that “no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Matthew 24:36) Certainly, the end times were not the focal point of his ministry as much as it was the focal point of his followers’ concerns. He recognized his disciples’ concerns, he let them know that indeed God was active in the world and would eventually bring justice justice to the world; however, he also told them the futile nature of being caught up of wondering where and when, as opposed to taking an active role in bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to earth here and now.

It is very easy to turn on the news and to see the world around us burning in flames. It is easy to be like smoke rising up off of those flames and to get caught up in the heat of the moment, wondering when and where God is going to stop the injustice in the world. With that said, what are we doing to act against the injustice of the world? We are not called to be stagnant, or to be paralyzed in fear of what lies ahead. Also, Jesus never, ever used the end times as a means of frightening people to convert to his way of thinking! Rather, his end times message was always directed at his disciples in order to spark them into active participation in the Kingdom of Heaven. It saddens me when I see Christians using fear tactics as a way of spreading a “good news” that sound a lot more horrific than it does “good”.

We, as God’s creation, are being called to take an active role in the coming of God’s Kingdom…which IS GOOD NEWS! After all, with God’s Kingdom comes hope for the hopeless, rest for the weary, healing for the sick, shelter for the homeless, love for the unloved and abandoned, acceptance for the rejected and wholeness for all who find themselves in need! Let us not leave behind our call to be there for the “least of these”, while getting raptured by our fantastic re-imagining of the world’s demise. We are called to be a part of God’s Kingdom by living as Christ lived and loving as Christ loved. We are called to make that our focal point, leaving the rest to God and God’s timing. What’s more, if we live that call out in our lives, we will be far too busy to worry about things that, in the end, only serve our fearful curiosity and nothing more. I pray that all that gets left behind is our complacency to the live out the TRUE message of the Gospel. Amen. Come Lord Jesus!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Therefore, keep awake–for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” – Jesus of Nazareth (Mark 13:35-37)

PRAYER
Lord, help me to be leave behind my complacency and to pick up the truth of your Good News for all people. Amen.

The Good News IS That GOOD!

Read Matthew 10:24-27

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand?” (Luke 14:31)

conformity-2aBeing different is not always an easy thing. In fact, I would say it is rarely an easy thing to be different. For whatever reason, humans strive to be like the people they around. It almost seems instinctual to conform. Perhaps it is, in part, a survival instinct. Perhaps it is intricately tied in with us being social creatures. Whatever the reason, people lean toward conformity.

I even find myself conforming to things without really giving it much thought. It just seems so natural not to resist the status quo, it seems so safe and comfortable. And, indeed, to not conform certainly ushers in unintended consequences. I have learned this, big time, as I changed my lifestyle regarding what I eat. Two years ago, as many know, I went from being an omnivore to an herbivore, meaning that I no longer eat meat or any products derived from an animal.

At first the reason I did so was for my health. Doctors, family, friends, and others had badgered me for years about losing weight. I had gotten as heavy as 315 lbs (though I was only 306.9 lbs when I started my juice fast) and people kept telling me I needed to do something for my health and for my family, especially for my wife and daughters. Of course, that’s easier said than done; however, finally, in January of 2012 I found something that worked. I had tried to lose weight before, but I would only lose so much and then gain even more back. But juicing for 60 days and then remaining vegan worked…and I felt healthier than I can EVER remember.

That’s good new right? So, naturally, that led me to want to share that good news with others! That’s what we WANT to do with good news when we receive it, right? We want to share it. The only problem is…people often don’t want to hear the good news. My non-conformity to the American lifestyle, and my sharing that with others, turned into a threat for some, and an annoyance for others. Some (not all) of the same people who initially encouraged me to lose weight, were now suddenly singing a different tune. I had stopped conforming to the typical American lifestyle and that bore some consequences.

Now, I am not sharing this to bemoan the consequences that have come with my being vegan. Quite the opposite. I am happy with my lifestyle changes! I am thankful for the people who challenged me to lose weight and I am glad I found a lifestyle that is TRULY healthy. The point of this, rather, is to say that there is a cost to being transformed. The Good News of Jesus is even more transformative, and even more non-conformist, to the Western culture we live in than my being vegan is. And, without any doubt, there is a definite cost to being transformed by that good news.

You will want to share it with others and not everyone will be very receptive to it. They may get annoyed, and many will even feel threatened by the Gospel because it is calling them to change from their conformity to the world. The Gospel calls us to be LOVE, to partake in social justice, to love GOD ABOVE ALL ELSE, and to become the SERVANT OF ALL! That is a large pill for many in our self-centered world to swallow and we need to be aware of that reality and prepare for that cost. Yet, the GOOD NEWS is just THAT GOOD and, if we are truly transformed by it, we will feel compelled to share it regardless of the cost. So today’s challenge is for you to count the cost, but don’t let that stop you from sharing the LOVE!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

Conformity often bears with it the larger, more expensive cost.

PRAYER

Lord, guide me in your ways and fill me with your good news. If I must conform, let it me to your ways and to your will. Amen.

Beyond Proof

Read Philippians 2:12-18

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“The LORD looks down from heaven on humankind to see if there are any who are wise, who seek after God.” (Psalms 14:2)

11175915_800This past weekend I took my girls to the theater to see the latest Christian film to hit the big screen. The film is called “God’s Not Dead” and it is about a freshman in college who enrolls in a philosophy class. At the beginning of the class the professor tells the students that he’d rather not waste time on discussing the age old question of whether or not God exists. He lists a ton of academics who have all determined that God does not exist and states that it would be better to move on to other things, rather than rehash the topic of God’s existence.

Being that the professor believes the debate to have been won by the atheistic academics, he asks the class to write “God is Dead” on a piece of paper and sign their name to it. If the whole class does, great…they can move on. There’s just one problem, the aforementioned freshman is a Christian and he is not willing to write “God is Dead” and sign the paper. Because of that the professor challenges the student to utilize three classes to prove the antithesis of that statement. In other words, the student needs to prove that God’s NOT Dead and he needs to convince the class who have all signed off on God being dead.

The student decides to do just that. He spends his time in the library looking up the debate on the existence of God. He reads atheists such as Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawking, and others who put for the proposition that God is nothing more than a fairy tale. He also looks up theist authors who put forth the proposition that there is a God. He searches the internet for other debates and pieces together his arguments. Standing before the class, the student opens up by saying, “Professor Radisson will tell you that I cannot prove God exists, and he is right. I cannot. With that said, he cannot prove that God does not exist.”

Of course, following that last statement, the student continues throughout the course of the film trying to “prove” that God does exist. And, to be fair, there wouldn’t have been a film if he didn’t. Actually, to be doubly fair, the film is about more than just the student trying to prove God. Yet, the reality is that he should have left it with just that: “I cannot prove that God exists and you cannot prove that God does not exist.” Yet, he feels the necessity to try and prove.

I am not one to shy away from such debates. A good discussion on the existence of God tickles the fancy of philosophical minds, and I certainly have one of those. In fact, it is because I have engaged in such discussions that I have come to the realization that trying to prove “God” to people who are trying to disprove “God” to you is a fruitless endeavor.

Rather than trying to prove God exists, be living proof that God exists. In other words, don’t waste your time on fruitless words about God, as if God can be fully explained and proven by our words. If you believe in God, if you are a person of faith, then you will do as your faith dictates. If you believe in God you will live a life of love, a life of compassion, a life of justice and a life of mercy. You will live your life in a way that reflects your beliefs.

Today’s challenge is to stop trying to prove what you believe. To quote my mom, you don’t need to prove anything to anyone but God. If you believe in God, then live according to your beliefs. That will go a lot further than words do. When people see you living a life that reflects the reality of God, that will be a greater witness to God’s existence than anything you can say in a fruitless debate. Be at peace in your faith and live according to it.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“For those who believe, no proof is necessary. For those who don’t believe, no proof is possible.” – Stuart Chase

PRAYER

Lord, I believe in you and know you have called me to live out my beliefs. Guide me in that direction and equip me for your work. Amen.

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.

 

Ash Wednesday

Read Matthew 4:1-11

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

And [Jesus] said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” (Matthew 4:19)

ash_wednesdayToday is Ash Wednesday. It is the beginning of the Lenten journey, a journey that starts today and ends at the foot of the cross. It is a journey that begs of us to reflect, to meditate on who we are and who God is calling us to be. It is a forty day period out in the wilderness. Just as Jesus spent forty days and forty nights in preparation of his ministry in and around Galilee, so too we are called into such a time of reflection and preparation.

What does Ash Wednesday mean to you? Is is a religious obligation? Is it something that you have always done and continue to do for tradition’s sake? Is it a ritual observance and nothing more? Is it something that makes little to no sense to you? Is it something that you don’t observe at all? How do you spend your time on Ash Wednesday or do you focus on it at all?

Throughout this past year, I have written a number of devotions on the importance of having Spiritual Discipline. The observance of a day such as Ash Wednesday is certainly an important part of the Christian’s life and is certainly a discipline we should all be practicing. But it is also important for us to understand the meaning of Ash Wednesday before we set off to observe it.

Many people observe Ash Wednesday and the forty day period of Lent that follows by “giving up” something for the entire forty days. Some Christians give up meat on Fridays, others give up chocolate. Some give television and others give up their favorite pastimes. Regardless of what your practice is, if you have one, why is it that you are doing it? Is it because you have always done it and you don’t give it much more thought than that? Is there some other reason that you have understood your fasting to mean?

One of the things that is vital in our growth as a people of faith is that we really evaluate the reasons why we do things. Doing something just for the sake of it doesn’t necessarily cause us to grow from who we are to God wants us to be. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that your spiritual practice is wrong or mistaken, nor am I saying that you should give that discipline up. Rather, whatever your Lenten discipline is, KNOW WHY you are doing it.

Use your discipline as a way to reflect on where you are at this given point in your life and faith journey. What ever your discipline is, use it as a vehicle to draw you closer to God. If you are abstaining from something during Lent, let that be an reminder of the excess that we have and also let it be a reminder of the fact that GOD is truly all we need.  Whatever your spiritual discipline is for observing Lent, allow GOD to transform you through it. Open yourself up to the transformative power of GOD!

Today is Ash Wednesday! Make today the day you truly begin reflect on your spiritual health and on your well being in general. Take an assessment of yourself. Understand why it is you do what you do. Seek the deeper meaning behind your rituals. Open yourself up to the transformation that God brings to each of us as we need it. Allow your spiritual disciplines, whatever they are, to shape you and guide you throughout the next forty days and forty nights. My prayer for you is that God shows you your true purpose and that you embrace that purpose with your whole being.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Lent is a time to renew wherever we are in that process that I call the divine therapy. It’s a time to look what our instinctual needs are, look at what the dynamics of our unconscious are.” – Thomas Keating

PRAYER

Lord, guide me during Lent so that I may better understand who I am as well as who’s I am! Amen.

Power to the People

Read Matthew 28:18-20

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

DARK KNIGHT RISESReleased in the summer of 2011, The Dark Knight rises was visionary director Christopher Nolan’s conclusion to his Dark Knight trilogy.  The trilogy follows the story of Bruce Wayne, who as a boy, watched the cold-blooded murder of his parents right before his innocent eyes. That night, the innocence of that boy was stolen and the person known as Bruce Wayne died.  As he grew up his need for vengeance grew and ended up, as an adult, taking the law into his own hands and deciding to fight against crime and corruption.

Thus, the Batman is born.  Yet, Bruce Wayne does more than just fight crime. As he combats criminals he realizes that, as only one person, he can only do so much. He also learns from some wise people around him, that he is not truly helping anyone one if does everything for him. Thus, the Wayne develops the Batman as a symbol for the people of Gotham. This symbol not only represents impartial justice, but he represents the need for empowerment. The Batman’s sole purpose is not to fight crime for the people, but to inspire and empower the people to rise up and put an end to the corruption.

In the film, the Dark Knight rises, the Batman does just that. He becomes a symbol for the people to look to and find hope. He becomes a symbol for the people to rally behind. He becomes a symbol for the people to step up and replace.  One of the most inspiring parts of the film is when the Batman can be seen, in broad daylight, fighting along side the people.  In this part he is not the highlight of the scene, rather he is just one of hundreds of extras doing his part with the rest of them.  What a powerful message to send to people in this day and age where we are on the constant look our for political leaders and local heroes to come in and save the day, as opposed to stepping up and doing what we need to do to save the day ourselves.

The church is no different.  We often look to God and ask for God to come in and save us, for God to come in and right the wrongs, for God to do what it is that we should be doing ourselves.  Yet, in comes Jesus of Nazareth who sets out to be more than a magical miracle worker; rather, Jesus’ purpose was to become a symbol for us that would give us hope and empower us to join him in the mission of bringing hope, healing and wholeness to all who need it.  Christ not only comes in and “saves us” but is a symbol that we too can rise up with the Son and be an agent of salvation in this broken world.

To be agents of salvation we must first understand what salvation means. It does not mean getting people to verbally profess what we believe to be the way, the truth and the life. Rather it means for us to allow God to work in us, through us and in spite of us in away that connects others to the hope, healing and wholeness (aka grace) that God wants them to receive. We are called to not only preach the Gospel with our mouths, but to preach it through our actions.

If someone is starving the Good News is food. If some one feels alone, then our presence would be good news. If someone is naked, clothing would be good news. For those who are lost spiritually, representing the presence of God is good news. Rather than waiting around for Christ to come in like a superhero, we should be actively seeking to rise up with Christ and work side-by-side with him to combat hopelessness in our community. This is what Christ has empowered and equipped us to do. It’s time to join the risen Son!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“A hero can be anyone. Even a man doing something as simple and reassuring as putting a coat around a young boy’s shoulders to let him know that the world hadn’t ended.” – Batman

PRAYER

Lord, continue to empower and equip me to rise up alongside of you for the glory of your Kingdom. Amen.

From Top to Bottom

Read Matthew 5-7; Luke 6:12-49; Mark 10:42-45

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

And [Jesus] to them, “Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me; for the least among all of you is the greatest.” (Luke 9:48)

Nepal_Mount_Everest_And_AmaMany people talk about the power of God in their lives. Many people speak of God as having control over the course of their lives. Many people convey that it is God who has brought them as far as they are and that God has blessed them.  But the question is, what has God blessed them with? Where has God brought them to, how has God been in control of their lives, and what in their lives displays God’s power.

On the surface, such claims sound good and humble. It is great to give God credit and to praise God for being present in our lives.  But when one looks past the surface, it becomes clear that these praises are often in light of success.  For instance, Ray Lewis praised God for his team’s Super Bowl win. Some celebrities publicly thank God for blessing them with success. Countries the world over thank God for making them “the greatest country in the world.”

Why is it that we attribute God’s power, God’s presence, and God’s blessing with being at the top. Why is it that God is in control of our lives, that automatically means we will be successful, prosperous, great, and at the top of the pecking order?  And we need not look at football stars, or celebrities, of countries to see this understanding of God’s presence in our lives.  We only need look at the church and we see hierarchy and power struggles and the desire to be the biggest, the best and the most successful.

Yet, Jesus presents a different view of God’s power, presence and what it means to have God in control of your life.  Rather than being the best, the greatest, the most successful, or at the top, God calls those who wish to inherit God’s Kingdom to be the least of these and a servant of all. What’s that? Come again? In order to be the greatest I have to be the least? You mean to tell me that in order to be a leader I need to be the servant of all? What kind of flip-flop theological mish-mash is that? It’s called the Gospel.

The Good News for the folks at the bottom is that God IS WITH YOU! The least of these are the greatest in the eyes of God; however, that is not to say that the greatest are left behind or considered rubbish either.  God is with all people and loves all people. The truth, though, is that God calls those who think the great to become the servant of those who are the least. In other words, those who have should be serving those who have not. Just think of what kind of world this would be if God were TRULY in control of our lives. Just think of what miracles would be worked through us if we TRULY opened ourselves up to God’s power? Just think of where we would be led if we TRULY knew that God’s blessing is the gift of being a blessing to others?

Rather than getting caught up in power plays, we should give up “our power” and claim the power that God has give us…the power to LOVE as God first loved us.  Rather than seeking to be the greatest, the most successful, and/or the best, we should seek to be among the least of these, our brothers and sisters. It is only when we do that, it is only when we surrender all to God, it is only when we live out the Sermons on the Mount (in Matthew) and on the Plain (in Luke) that we will come to realize how blessed we really have been.  It is then, and only then, that we will be giving credit as living witnesses to God’s awesome power and presence.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

Greatness is relative. From the moon the great Mt. Everest looks like a wrinkle on the earth.

PRAYER

Lord, humble me to be a bearer of the Good News of your present and imminent Kingdom. Amen.