Tag Archives: Gospel of Matthew

Keep CHRIST in Christmas

Read Matthew 10:37-40

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

Keep_Christ_in_ChristmasHere we are mid-Advent, fast approaching Christmas. Can you believe how quick Christmas has come this year? It feels like just yesterday I was sitting down at Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort enjoying a nice summer vacation (and what summer vacation beats a Disney Vacation?). Yet, here we are nearing mid-December with the countdown to Christmas fast underway.

Speaking of Christmas, have you ever seen the bumper sticker or the little magnet that reads, “Keep CHRIST in Christmas.” That is a phrase that gets passed around quite a bit during this season. But what does keeping CHRIST in Christmas mean? Does it mean keeping the not-so-Christian tradition of Christmas trees and yule logs? Does it mean keeping the tradition of Santa Claus, Elves and his nine (counting Rudolph) reindeer? Does it mean, racing out to the store to funnel our money into big business in order to acquire an excess amount of gifts and Christmas-time deals? Most Christians would probably say no to all of these things.

So let me narrow the question even more. Does keeping CHRIST in Christmas mean watching movies about the Nativity story? Does it mean going to church once out of the year on Christmas Eve? Does it mean singing carols about the Jesus’ birth? Does it mean Christmas pageants and concerts? Does keeping CHRIST in Christmas mean spending time with family and giving gifts to our already abundantly blessed children?

The truth is that I do AGREE that we should be keeping CHRIST in Christmas; however, to do that we have to be open to the change that God wants to spark in us. If we are to truly anticipate the coming of Christ, and if we are to truly welcome Christ into our lives, we must first realize that ADVENT and CHRISTMAS are not a once-a-year type event; rather, every day we live is an opportunity to experience ADVENT.

Christ would much rather us keep him in our lives than in a holiday set aside for observance once a year! But in order to do that we must live into the life that Christ led. We must be willing to give everything up, to pick up our crosses and follow Jesus (Matthew 16:24; Luke 14:27-35). We must be willing to serve the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, the disabled, the outcasts, the marginalized and all of those who our society looks down upon (Matthew 25:31-46). In fact, we are to become, according to Jesus, the SERVANTS of ALL (Mark 9:35)!

So, according to the standards set by Jesus himself, how do we keep CHRIST in Christmas? Clearly, buying presents, singing carols, drinking wassail, roasting chestnuts, buying presents and erecting Christmas trees is not what Jesus had in mind. While those things are nice, the reality is they are not at the heart of who CHRIST is or what CHRIST has called us toward. According to the standards set by Jesus, we keep CHRIST in CHRISTMAS by following in his footsteps…not once a year…but every day of our lives for the rest of our lives, until we go on to glory in Christ Jesus our Lord! Amen!

So, starting this Christmas season, and everyday from this point forward, begin to work toward keeping CHRIST in Christmas. Don’t just say the words, as if they are just another meaningless cliché; rather, live into those words by being all that GOD is calling you to be. Love God, by loving your neighbors. Invest yourself in the lives of others. Be present for those in need. Bring God’s gift of hope, healing and wholeness to this broken world and desperate world. Then, and only then, will you be truly keeping CHRIST in Christmas!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” – Charles Dickens

Lord, guide me toward keeping YOU, not only in Christmas, but in my heart. Transform me into your vessel of hope, healing and wholeness. Amen.

From Fear to Faith

Read Matthew 14:23-33

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“For I, the LORD your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.’” (Isaiah 41:13)

20090908_walking_on_water_lake_erie1When I was growing up, I knew from a very young age that I was called into ministry. At three years old, I used to use my mom and dad’s 8-track (yes…I said 8-track) cassette tower case as a make-shift pulpit. From that “pulpit” I would preach to my parents, “God tells you to lub one anudder!” From that point on, I kept growing in my faith and in my knowledge of the Bible. By the age of ten, the pastor of my church was retiring and he pulled me and my mom aside and gave my mom his entire set of commentary to hold on to for when I got older. “That boy is going to be a pastor and, since I don’t need these anymore, I would like him to have them.”

Yet, as bold as I was in my faith when I was young, things were about to change. Without getting into all of the details, which could fill up a book I am sure, I began to become a person who was filled with fear. For one, I had several close family members pass away and that caused me to fear what happens beyond this life. I never quite fit in at school and I feared not being accepted by my classmates. I never seemed to quite do as well as I wanted to in school and I began to fear the possibility of failure. There were many different varieties of fear that crept into me as I grew from boy to teenager to man. In the end, those fears put me on a decade long detour that took me far away from answering my call before I found my way back to it.

In the story of Jesus walking on the water, we see a bold Peter step out on to the water to meet his Lord. How boldly he put his feet out on that water, how boldly he took his first few steps of faith. Yet, as he began to look at the environment around him, things started to change. The wind was fierce, the waves were tall and crashing down around him, the lightning was flashing, and Peter’s bold faith began to melt away into fear. The more he feared, the more and more he began to sink down into the water.

How many of us live our daily lives in fear? How many of us go day to day fearing this or fearing that…holding back from doing things that we know we should be doing. How many of us, in the end, feel as if our entire purpose in life is sinking beneath the treacherous waves of our fear? We often mask our fears by justifying them in away that makes us feel better; however, the reality is that we find ourselves in paralysis, we find our lives have stagnated, because we simply have not let go of our fears.

Like he did with me and with Peter, Christ is reaching down to you right now. He is reaching out his hand waiting for you to clasp it. He is waiting to pull you up out of your fears and into the boldness of your faith. It was a leap of faith for me to finally say “yes” to God’s call and enter into a life of ministry, uncertain of where God will lead me. It was a leap fo faith for Peter to move beyond his fears to clasp Christ’s hand and be pulled back up to the surface of the waters.

God is calling you, the reader, as well! What is it that God is calling you to do? What purpose has God given you? And, most importantly, what is stopping you from doing it? God is calling you to move from fear to faith, from hopelessness to a world of hope and wonder! All you need to do is put your trust in God and take that first step forward. God has revealed, and will continue to reveal to you what your purpose is; however, you have to have move forward in faith before you will ever begin to live into it. Move from fear to faith and begin to TRULY LIVE.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“If I wish to preserve myself in faith I must constantly be intent upon holding fast the objective uncertainty, so as to remain out upon the deep, over seventy thousand fathoms of water, still preserving my faith” – Søren Kierkegaard

PRAYER

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief. Help me to move from fear to faith so that I may fulfill your purpose for me. Amen.

Two Probing Questions

Read Mark 8:27-30; Matthew 16:13-20; Luke 9:18-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6)

who_am_iAnyone who has ever had me as their teacher in confirmation class can attest to the fact that I take confirmation very seriously. I have developed a curriculum that goes beyond teaching the meaning of membership to a curriculum that instructs the students to engage in Christian History from Jesus to our current day and age. The curriculum has the students actively engage theology and doctrine (and the history behind the formation of the doctrines) as well as learn about the meaning of membership in the church.

One of the exercises I have the students do as a requirement for the class is to write a 3 page paper, or longer if they desire, answering two very simple, and very Biblical questions. In Mark 8:27-30, in Matthew 16:13-20, and in Luke 9:18-21, Jesus asks his disciples who people say that he is and, following their various answers, he asks them who they say that he is. So, likewise, I have the students answer those two questions.

It is amazing how challenging such an exercise is. Most of us can easily and quickly come up with a long list of the things that people say Jesus is; however, when it comes to who we say Jesus is, if we are going to take the exercise seriously, it becomes much more difficult to articulate. But each of my students have been through the exercise and each have come away saying that the experience of it was rewarding, leaving them with a richer sense of who Jesus is to them.

When God created humanity, God did not create robots. It was not God’s intention to have an android creation that just mindlessly, and robotically, did whatever God wanted them to do. Rather, God created a free-willed, free-spirited, and free-thinking people who had the ability to not only choose to be in a relationship with God and, in that relationship, seek to come to an understanding of God and of self in the context of that relationship. As human beings, we do not only define ourselves by our own thoughts of who we are, but rather we define ourselves by the relationships we have with ourselves and with others. Who am I without my mom, my sister, my friends, my wife, my children, and myself?

Thus, if we are Christians who claim to be in a relationship with God and with Jesus the Christ, then doesn’t it make sense that we would seek out who Jesus is? Doesn’t it make sense that we would not just settle for who people say Jesus is, but that we would find out who Christ is to us? Doesn’t it makes sense that we would want to get to “know” the person we claim to love and to follow?

Perhaps it wouldn’t hurt for you to write down Jesus’ two probing questions: “Who do people say that I am?” Who do you say that I am?” God is calling you to probe deep into your faith. It is never okay to just accept things at face value. God is calling you to move beyond what you’ve been taught into the realm of personal, experiential knowledge. Who is Christ for you? How have you experienced the power and the love of Christ in your life? How has Christ healed you, been present with you, changed you, and/or challenged you? Where does your story and the Gospel story intersect? God is calling you to truly discover who Jesus is and to deepen your faith in him. Such an invitation leads to transformation and conviction. Get to know your Lord and be convicted to bear his hope, healing and wholeness to world.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“The steady discipline of intimate friendship with Jesus results in [people] becoming like Him.” – Harry Emerson Fosdick

PRAYER

Lord, take me deeper in my faith that I may more intimately know you and grow more and more like you. Amen.

 

Walking on Water

Read Matthew 14:22-33; 2 Corinthians 5:7

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“If you do not stand firm in faith, you shall not stand at all.” (Isaiah 7:9b)

Jesus_Walking_on_WaterOne of my favorite contemporary Christian worship songs is a song called “Walk by Faith”. It was written by Jeremy Camp while on his honeymoon with his wife Melissa. He had known that she had cancer when he decided to marry her, but he was hoping that perhaps a miracle would happen and the cancer would go away. After all, she had gone through chemotherapy and seemed to be getting better. Her hair was growing back and all seemed to be going well.

Yet, on their honeymoon, Melissa started to have stomach problems and ended up being rushed to the hospital.  While in the hospital, Jeremy and Melissa found out that the prognosis wasn’t good. The cancer had spread rapidly and there was nothing that the doctors could do to stop it. Melissa had mere months to live.

The song, “Walk by Faith”, was written prior to Melissa passing away and another great song by Jeremy, “I Still Believe” was written directly after she passed away. The story has always given me goosebumps thinking about it, especially in light of these words, “Well I will walk by faith, even when I cannot see, well because this broken road prepares your will for me.” How can someone have such faith in the midst of such tough circumstances? How can someone endure through all that life throws one’s way without losing his or her faith?

While faith does not explain why “bad” things happen, nor does it give easy answers to tough questions, it certainly does allow for one to see God in the midst of one’s trials and to rise out of the ashes of tough times in order to see what God has done in the midst of them. For instance, prior to her dying, Melissa expressed to Jeremy that she wanted to be a witness to people of God’s presence and unconditional love. Though she passed away, her legacy lives on in Jeremy Camp and, through his testimony of her life, many have truly witnessed God’s presence in the midst of a terrible situation.

So often people, and even churches, get caught up in their fears. They feel like the world is collapsing around them. Whether it be due to their finances, their status, their health, their relationships, or anything else, people can very quickly lose faith. It is very easy for us to let our fears get the best of us. It is very easy for us to forget that on our good days we claim that God equips us with everything we need. It is very easy, in the midst of challenges, to forget that WE ARE NOT ALONE.

All we need is FAITH.

Like Peter, we may find ourselves out in rough waters. Like Peter, we may find ourselves sinking further and further down. Like Peter, it may seem like we are suspended over 70,000 fathoms of water with no chance of possibly surviving. Yet, hush. Listen. Listen to the voice of Jesus calling out to you, just as he did to Peter, saying, “You of little faith. Why did you doubt?” Look with the eyes of your heart and see that you are NOT alone. See that there truly is NOTHING to fear and that Christ is there to help you rise above your fears to a place of faith. For nothing, truly nothing, is impossible through Christ who gives you strength.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

PRAYER

Lord, I step out in faith and trust that I am not alone. Through you, everything is possible and I have nothing to fear. Amen.

 

Shake What Will Be Shaken

Read Luke 6:27-37

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“And forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.” (Matthew 6:12)

65376-bigthumbnailIn his book, “The Great Divorce”, C.S. Lewis wrote, “Hell is a state of mind – ye never said a truer word. And every state of mind, left to itself, every shutting up of the creature within the dungeon of its own mind – is, in the end, Hell. But Heaven is not a state of mind. Heaven is reality itself. All that is fully real is Heavenly. For all that can be shaken will be shaken and only the unshakeable remains.”

If the above quote is taken as an absolute truth, I certainly take issue with it because I have seen, as I am sure most of us have, plenty of examples where hell is more than just a “state of mind.” The holocaust, apartheid, abject poverty, starvation and many other examples surely show that hell can be a very physical reality. But I am not so sure that C.S. Lewis, who was a rather brilliant person, was proposing that hell was merely a state of mind.

What Lewis seems to be getting at is that the person who gets locked up in themselves, a person that cannot move past their own reality to understand the reality that others are experiencing, the person who put themselves over and above others is a person who finds themselves locked in hell. After all, God created us to live in community with other. God wishes for us to view others, even the ones we don’t like so much, as children of God. We are, as it is written in Scripture, to love our neighbors as ourselves (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:39).

But there are many people who go through life ignoring that commandment. I have seen people hold on to grudges with an iron grip, not letting them go even up to the point of their deaths.  I have seen families split and destroyed, friendships ruined, relationships obliterated, and enemy lines drawn all as a result of the unwillingness to forgive. I have also seen that kind of hatred breed in the next of kin and their next of kin, fulfilling the word’s of Exodus 20:5 that state that the sins of the parents affect the entire family, even to the third and fourth generations.

I have also seen people simultaneously struggle with themselves in the midst of their hatred. I have seen them watch their families, friends, and even enemies slip away as they seethe in anger. I have seen such people end up completely alone, questioning if God still loves them. And what has been gained from all of that hate? It seems that, indeed, such people are stuck in the “dungeons” of their own mind. It seems to me that such people are really locked inside their own personal hell.

As children of God, we are supposed to look upon all of the people of the world as being our kin. We are all kin of God’s and we are all equally loved by our divine creator. It is that love that forgives us when we have done wrong, and it is that love that requires us to forgive others when we feel we’ve been wronged. To hold on to bitterness, hatred, and an unforgiving attitude is to throw ourselves in our own personal hell.

Rather than doing that, rather than trapping ourselves in a hell that is locked from the inside, why don’t we let go of our hurts and pains. Why don’t we try to reconcile ourselves with others. Whether or not we succeed in such reconciliation, if we have a forgiving attitude and pray for those who refuse to live into God’s love, we can move on into other meaningful relationships without getting caught in the hell of anger, resentment and hatred. God wants us to shake what can be shaken, to get rid of all of the things that separate us from God, until only the unshakeable remains.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“I willingly believe…that the doors of hell are locked on the inside.” – C.S. Lewis

PRAYER

Lord, free me from my own prison and fill my heart with your love and forgiveness, in order that I might give it to others. Amen.

Our Father’s House

Read Luke 6:37-49

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:12)

still-of-hayden-christensen-in-life-as-a-house-large-pictureThere’s a movie that came out several years ago called, “Life as a House,” which was about a man who finds out he has terminal cancer. This man was a guy who fell short in many of his relationships, none more so than the relationship with his son.  After telling his ex-wife about the diagnosis and prognosis, she agrees to send their son to spend the summer with him. The son didn’t really want to spend the summer with his father; however, he has no choice in the matter and begrudgingly went.

The father had decided that he was going to build his dream house, the house that he always talked about building but never got around to it. It was the house he had promised his son’s mother that he would build when they were still married; it was the house that he failed to build. The father also decided that his son was going to help him build this house and, as with going to stay with his father in the first place, the son had little choice in the matter and begrudgingly agreed to help his dad build the house.

The father wanted the building of the house to be the rebuilding of his relationship with his son. He wanted to bond with his son so that, after the cancer finally killed him, his son would know that he loved him and would have the house as a reminder of his father’s love for him. But the son wanted none of that. He thought the entire project was stupid. He couldn’t understand the point of it all. The boy’s pride was keeping him from seeing the bigger picture.

To make a long story short, the boy does end up bonding with the father, but just as he starts to bond, the father tells his son that he doesn’t have long to live. He grows angry with his dad and can’t understand why his dad didn’t tell him to begin with that he had cancer. Again, the boy’s pride kicks in and he refuses to talk to his dad any more and refuses to work any more on the house…until his father falls ill. Once his dad was dying the boy was faced with the choice of forgiving his father or holding a grudge…of building the house or letting his father’s dreams die with him. Thankfully the son chose to complete the house and in the end the father willed the house to his son and his ex-wife.

Many people, just like the son, let their pride hold them like prisoners. They hold grudges and refuse to forgive only to watch their relationships disintegrate before their very eyes. What a tragedy that in this short life, people would choose to waste it by locking themselves in the prison of pride. What a tragedy that anyone would selfishly refuse to forgive others, especially since each of us have been on the receiving end of forgiveness.

Jesus taught of the importance of being humble and forgiving.  If we think we are better than others, if we think that others are less deserving of grace and forgiveness than we are, then we truly are prisoners of our pride, locked away in our own unrelenting personal hell. Is any grudge worth the price we pay in the end? Is any wrong committed against us worth the hell we put ourselves through by hatefully holding grudges? Today’s challenge for us is to let go of our grudges, and let God begin to sow the seeds of forgiveness in our hearts. If we do that we will truly inherit the house our heavenly father is building for us: the house of Hope, Healing and Wholeness.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” – Lewis B. Smedes

PRAYER

Lord, give me the strength it takes to be humble and to forgive, as I recognize that I, too, have been forgiven. Amen.

Why Not Me?

Read Matthew 20

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“The greatest among you must be a servant. But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:11-12)

trafficEvery year around Spring and Fall, as the pollen starts to float ad nauseum in the air, I have been known to come down with killer sinus infections.  These infections come on like the Flu, literally, and I am rendered useless until I go to the doctor and get it treated. Every time, I get hit with such a sinus infection, I begin to look up at the heavens and question, “Why me? I mean, why do I always end up with these blasted infections! It’s just not fair!”

There are definitely other scenarios that cause me to ask the same question, “Why me?” When I get stopped at the traffic light…”Why me?” When I get behind a slow car…”why me?” When I get served the wrong food or the service is too slow…”why me?!?!?” The truth is that I am certainly not alone in asking that question! I can’t tell you how many times I have heard that question asked and, of course, there are host of different reasons for people asking it.

If we are going to be honest, though, any “reason” we come up with for asking that question is superficial; rather, to be completely honest would be to recognize that such a question stems from a sense of entitlement, which stems from our own self-centeredness.  It is because I am concerned with “me” and the way “I” feel that causes me to ask the question “Why me?” I guess, the real question we should be asking ourselves is, “why not me?”

Why shouldn’t I get sick? Why shouldn’t I get stuck at a traffic light or behind a slow car? Why should I get served by only the most perfect people and only the most timely of manners? What makes me so special that I should feel entitled to stuff that no one else in the entire world is entitled to? Do I live up to the perfection I expect out of others?

When I went to the Bay of Bengal in India, I walked among the fisher people who lived in houses that were smaller than my office; they were sharing that tiny space with their extended family. There are children who have to walk miles one way to get to a clean source of water. No matter what country you are from, there are people within your very communities that suffer from poverty, malnutrition, abuse, addiction, cancers,illnesses and any variety of things. Is it okay that they have to go through such things? Are we thinking of them when we begrudgingly cry out, “Why me?”

Entitlement didn’t sit right with Jesus, who taught us to look beyond ourselves and to put ourselves in the shoes of others. Jesus stood up in opposition of people who felt entitled, who felt that they were in a better place than others. Jesus stood in opposition to self-centeredness; rather, he called for people to deny themselves, to pick up their crosses, and to follow him (Matthew 16:24).

The truth is that we should all be asking ourselves, “why not me?” Why shouldn’t I be challenged by life in the same ways that others are challenged? Why shouldn’t I be in a position to learn more patience? Why I shouldn’t I be in a position to acquire more humility? Why shouldn’t I be in a position to compassionately put myself in someone else’s shoes before judging them? Why not me? If we pause for even a moment to ask ourselves that, perhaps we will not only recognize the real hurt others are in, but we will also step up to do something about it. Today’s challenge for us is to set aside any sense of entitlement and to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“When we feel impatient, we are agitated & unhappy in the moment. When this happens, ‘name’ it, breathe & release your sense of entitlement.” – Unknown

PRAYER

Lord, guide me to a place of contentment and use me in a way that brings blessings to those who are in need of them. Amen.

All Ears

Read Matthew 15:21-28

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“My child, listen and be wise: Keep your heart on the right course.“ (Proverbs 23:19)

earFamily time has always been important to me. As a child, I grew up in a home where both my parents valued and encouraged family time. One of the ways that we spent time together as a family was at the dinner table.  My mom and/or my dad would cook dinner and we would sit together and eat. Our dinner time was not just about eating; however, it was very much centered on good, ole’ fashioned conversation.

As an adult and a parent, I still hang on to that value. If you ask my wife or my children, they will tell you how important it is to me for us to be spending family time together, including but not limited to the dinner table. And at the dinner table, aside from my egging them all on about how unhealthy their food is (I mean I have to have some fun as a vegan), we spend a lot of time listening to each other. We listen to how each of our days were, we listen to all of the things that excited us, we listen to all of the things that upset us, we listen to each other express ourselves in a variety of ways.

Perhaps what I just wrote above strikes you funny, or perhaps you didn’t pick up on my wording at all, but the key action that ties our time together as a family is listening to each other.  One of the most important, yet most neglected, things in our culture is the art of listening.  In today’s world we are so inundated with our own personal soundtracks, our own agendas, our own judgments, biases and egos to silence ourselves. No one really seems to care to listen anymore. Rather than take the time it requires to listen to what others are saying, to what they are truly expressing, we head off into rash judgments and close the doors to any sort of beneficial dialog.

In Matthew 15, we see Jesus being urged by his disciples to not take the time to listen to the Gentile woman who was begging for Jesus to heal her daughter. They wanted him to send her away, after all, she was bothering them with all her begging. The disciples were not truly listening to her, they weren’t compassionately putting themselves in her shoes. In some ways, even Jesus didn’t truly listen to her at first, as evidenced when, in essence, he told her that it wouldn’t be right for him to heal her daughter since she was a Gentile. Yet, in the end, Jesus did listen and, in her expression, Jesus saw her heart and her faith. Rather than pushing her away, rather than silencing her plea for the healing of her daughter, rather than invalidating her need for his help, Jesus listened to her and, following that, a miracle happened.

The point of all of this is that God is calling each of us to speak less and listen more. Whether we need to take the time to listen to others or we need to pause and take the time to truly listen to ourselves, listening is an essential component to the human relationship. It is through the art of listening that relationships grow and prosper. It is through the art of listening that we gain understanding of others and of ourselves. It is through the art of listening that we find ourselves open to the miraculous things that God has in store for us. Be still and learn to listen.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.“ – Bryant H. McGill

PRAYER

Lord, teach me to be a better listener to other as well as to myself. Amen.

 

Extreme Faith

Read Genesis 22:1-19

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“You don’t have enough faith,” Jesus told them. “I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.” (Matthew 17:20)

indyOne of my favorite movies growing up was Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Though I love all of the Indy movies, this one has always had a profound impact on me, especially on my understanding of faith. The story follows Indy on an adventure to save his dad; however, little does he know that this rescue mission will not only be about rescuing his father, but also rescuing his faith; he’s journey, over time, become a soul-searching quest.

In one scene, Indy finds himself standing at the edge of an abyss. He is facing a test unlike any other he had ever been challenged with. He quickly realized that the only way across was to take the proverbial leap of faith. The only problem was that the leap was about the length of a football field, if not longer. How is that humanly possible? How can anyone hope to get across such a huge abyss? Surely it is absurd to believe he could actually do it.

Yet, Indy must take that leap as his father’s life is bleeding out onto the cavern floor. He has to reach the Holy Grail, with the hope that the fabled treasure will restore his father’s life. Slowly, Indy places his hand over his chest as if to try and calm his heartbeat.  Could he really go through with this. All reason points to him plummeting to his death. Yet, he raises his right leg and lets his weight fall forward. As he falls forward, his foot lands on an invisible walkway. Indy has passed the test.

As Christians, we often take our faith for granted. We say we believe in God, we say we believe in miracles, and we even say that we KNOW that God exists and that miracles happen; however, if we truly KNEW such things, would we really need faith? If Indy knew that the walkway existed, would he have had to calm his heartbeat? All that Indy thought he knew was that he was bound to plummet to his death.

Christ calls us to be a people of faith. Like Abraham, who did not know God was going to stop him from sacrificing Isaac, like the prophets who didn’t know if they would survive proclaiming God’s judgment to the kings of Israel, just like Jesus who faced the gulf of the unknown in the olive garden, just like the disciples who did not know what fate awaited them in foreign lands, we too are called to live a life of extreme faith.

Søren Kierkegaard, once said that the faithful are like those who are suspended over 70,000 fathoms of water and yet they still have faith and are joyful. Why? Because, though it might be absurd to have faith in the midst of such uncertainty, they trust that God will come through. It may be absurd to the rest of the world, but the person of faith holds onto that absurdity in faith. I challenge you to be a people who have such trust in God. I challenge you to be living examples of extreme faith, to be tiny mustard seeds that move the mountains and shake the foundations of the earth.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“If I am capable of grasping God objectively, I do not believe, but precisely because I cannot do this I must believe.” – Søren Kierkegaard

PRAYER

Lord, help me to grow in my faith so that I may be equipped with your grace, enough to move the mountains with your hope, healing and wholeness. Amen.

A Modern Parable

Read 2 Corinthians 5:17-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.’ (Matthew 18:21-22)

say_hello_2_heavenHave you ever pondered about heaven and hell? Often times they both seem so distant, they both seem so very far away. We all hang on to life, thinking that the longer we live the longer we can put off having to find out what lies beyond the great divide. Yet are heaven and hell that far away?

One day, while pondering on the nature of heaven and hell, I pictured hearing what Jesus would say about the two if he were living on earth today. What sort of parable would he tell, what kind of illustration would he use to describe the reality of heaven and hell? We all know the imagery he used in the New Testament; however, if Jesus were living on earth today, what example would he provide us? And then I thought of an event that had happened a while back and decided to put the exercise on paper. It went like this:

One day a man came up to Jesus and questioned him, “Rabbi, teach us of hell.”

Jesus looked deeply into the man’s eyes and began to answer in parables.  “Hell is like a schoolhouse of Amish children.  One day a man entered into the schoolhouse, lined up all the girls along the wall, and bound their ankles and hands together.  He called his wife to say goodbye and then started shooting the girls in the back of the head, one by one.  Finally, the man took his own life, leaving several Amish parents without their children, leaving his own children without their father, leaving his wife without a husband, and leaving his parents without a son.

In reaction to the incident, people around the nation began judging the man and his family.  His face was shown all over the television with the words, ‘The Face of Evil‘ written underneath.  People judged him as an evil person and before long such judgments would justify their harassing the killer’s wife and children.”

The man looked back at Jesus in utter astonishment.  “What then of heaven, Rabbi,” he asked.

Jesus answered,  “The Kingdom of Heaven is like the Amish parents who, after their children were mercilessly and brutally murdered by a gun man, met with the family of the murderer.  They brought food, tears, and prayers to the killer’s wife’s door, sat with the wife and kids, ate with them and prayed with them.  They said to the wife, ‘In our hearts we have already forgiven him.’  They also begged the wife, ‘Do not leave this area. Stay in your home here. We forgive this man.’”

While these words are obviously not the actual words of Jesus, I do believe that they are true insomuch as they shed light on the nature of heaven and hell.  The fact of the matter is that hell, often times, surrounds us; however, as followers of Christ, we are called to be ambassadors of heaven. The Amish in the parable above, pulled from a real life event, acted as heavenly ambassadors would. Though they were the grieving victims of a heinous, evil crime, they chose to act out of love and forgiveness, rather than out of vengeance and hate. It may be a tall order but, as the Amish proved, it is not an impossible one. May the love of Christ permeate you so that you can show it even to your enemies.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Love seeketh not itself to please, nor for itself hath any care, but for another gives its ease, and builds a Heaven in Hell’s despair.” – William Blake

PRAYER

Lord, teach me to love, regardless of the cost. Just as I am forgiven, give me the humility and the strength to forgive. Amen.