Tag Archives: Gospel

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.

Sent to Siloam

Read John 9:1-11

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Then Jesus told him, ‘I entered this world to render judgment—to give sight to the blind and to show those who think they see that they are blind.’” (John 9:39)

siloamAt church I have been leading a summer Bible Study for those in our church that teach Children’s Sunday School during the year, so that they have time to be enriched as well as being an enrichment for others. The Study we have been doing is one called “Unusual Gospel” by Rev. Adam Thomas. In he covers the unusual Gospel of John and the unusual healings, the unusual people, and the unusual questions found throughout it. It is a very engaging and refreshing study.

One of the unusual healings is that of the man who was born blind. You may be wondering what is so unusual about that healing. Jesus healed many people, and he’s known to have healed the blind. The story of the man born blind is a very familiar one and is certainly one that many of us have heard if not have memorized. So what exactly is unusual about it?

In the story, Jesus approaches the man born blind, spits on the ground, makes mud and rubs it on the man’s eyes. Yuck! Then he tells the man to go and wash his eyes in the pool of Siloam. The man, who now has Jesus saliva and dirt mixture smeared on his face, goes to the pool and washes his eyes. As he does so, he finds that he is healed. When he returned from the pool the people around him were astonished. In fact, they were more than astonished…they were confused. Something looked familiar about this man…but they just couldn’t place him.

“Isn’t this the man who used to sit and beg,” his neighbors and other witnesses asked each other? Some replied, “Nah…this isn’t that man, he just looks like him.” The beggar kept assuring “I am the same one…I am the same one!” No one seemed to listen or recognize him…and when they did recognize him, they were more concerned with who healed him than the fact that he had been healed. The irony is that this man at one point could not physically see; however, his healing had revealed who was truly blind.

The people were blind to the blind man. They never really saw him for who he was. They only ever saw his limitation. When they looked at the blind man, they only ever saw blindness. And notice what I, the writers of the Bible, Jesus’ disciples, and the Bible translators often do…we all tend to label this man as “The Blind Man” or “The Man Born Blind”, despite that he was healed and HIS BLINDNESS wasn’t who he really was!

Jesus revealed that to him and to the disciples. Through the healing, Jesus also revealed the blindness of the man’s neighbors. They didn’t know anything about this man, but that he was blind. That is how they identified him…as blind. And Jesus revealed their own blindness to them. Through this unusual healing, Jesus reveals our blindness to us as well. How often do we identify people by their limitations. How often do we name them after their limitations. The Blind Person, The Drunk Person, That Suicidal Person, those Old People, that Young person. How often do we only see the label, the supposed “limitation”, but are blind to the actual person…the actual child of God that is before us.

Like he did in this unusual healing, Jesus is showing us our blindness and he is offering us healing from that blindness. If we humbly recognize that we have mud of our own on our eyes, if we obediently wash that mud off, if we open our eyes to the people that we’ve been blind to, we will be healed from that blindness. God wants us to see people as they really are, not for what we’ve deemed them to be. God is sending you to Siloam. Be healed and transformed!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Hate and mistrust are the children of [spiritual] blindness.” – William Watson

PRAYER
Lord, open the eyes of my heart for I want to see you in the people around me. Break me free from the chains of my blindness and give me the ability to see through your eyes. Amen.

The Task at Hand

Read Acts 20:20-24

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” (Philippians 3:12)

1600x1200-11587-nosferatu-wallpaper-hdI have been a life-long fan of the classic horror films. Lon Chaney, Sr.’s “The Phantom of the Opera,” F.W. Murnau’s “Faust”, Lon Chaney, Jr.’s “The Wolfman”, Henry Hull’s “The Werewolf of London”, Bela Legosi’s “Dracula”, Boris Karloff’s “Frankenstein” and “The Mummy”. My all-time favorite horror film from the Silent Film era, is F.W. Murnau’s “Nosferatu: eine Symphonie des Grauens” (translated as “Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror). The film is a German Expressionist film about a vampire coming to Germany to prey on its citizens and it was loosely based on Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”.

What makes me love this film is its use of lighting and shadow to pull off eerie special effects, the makeup work that was done to Max Schreck who plays the infamous “Count Orlok”, as well as Schreck’s amazing character acting. When watching the film, it is impossible to see Schreck’s Orlok as a “human being.” His rat-like features, pointy ears, sunken eyes, long tallon-like fingers, gaunt and lanky stature, and pale skin really make this character appear to be the monster that he is. Looking at him would make anyone’s skin crawl. Murnau created a film that is timeless and never feels dated, even though it is in black & white and has no audio aside from the music that has been added to it.

Back in 2011, I embarked on a project to rescore “Nosferatu.” There have been many attempts to rescore it, each trying to “update” the music in a way that makes it feel fresh and new; however, I have found every attempt (for the most part) to fall short of the film. None of the soundtracks seemed, in my opinion, to do justice to this film. So I figured I would rescore it, not trying to “update” the score with bells and whistles but, rather, trying to keep it simple and foreboding. I wanted a score that would give one the sense that evil was coming, and the urgency to rid the world of it.

As with all “great” ideas, it sounded much easier than it turned out to be. It is now July of 2014, and I have yet to finish the score. Life came in the way and I became preoccupied in other things. Inevitably, I let the rescoring of “Nosferatu” take a back seat to the “busy-ness” of life. Just recently, I decided to pick the project back up and to work on it whenever I have to the chance too. The more I work on it, the closer I get to completing it, the more and more fulfilled I feel. To be honest, whenever I start something without completing it, I feel incomplete.

While I have been using a “hobby” of mine as an illustration, how much more true is it that we feel incomplete when we don’t finish what Christ has called us, the church, to do. We are all called to be agents of God’s Kingdom of Heaven, of God’s hope, healing and wholeness, and we are all called to do different tasks in order to continue to usher in that Kingdom, on earth as it is in heaven. Yet, often times we get “burned out”, or the “busy-ness” of life gets in our way and we begin to fall away from the task that we’ve all been called to.

In the process, we find ourselves feeling incomplete. We often find ourselves lost, literally, in things that fill our time, but not our souls. Christ is calling us to reprioritize and to recommit our lives to the purpose that God has laid out for us. Let us not be a people that only starts projects, but never sees them through to completion; rather, let us be a people that completes that task at hand. Let us keep fighting the good fight and continuing on in the race. Let us remove the distractions of purposeless “busy-ness” and remember what it is that we’ve been called to do. Once we are realigned with our purpose, we shall feel fulfilled!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.” – John F. Kennedy

PRAYER

Lord, remind me of my purpose and spark a passion in me to see it through to completion. Amen.

 

Dying for Both Sides

Read Galatians 2

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Pray that I will be rescued from those in Judea who refuse to obey God. Pray also that the believers there will be willing to accept the donation I am taking to Jerusalem.” (Romans 15:31)

saint-paul-the-apostle-07In the Bible, there is a man named Saul who was born in the city of Tarsus in the Roman province of Cilicia. He was well educated and rose up to be a scholar of the Torah, a Pharisee, and a zealous defender of the Jewish faith. When a new sect of Judaism broke out claiming that a Nazarene rabbi by the name of Yeshua bar Joseph was the messiah and that Gentiles should be included in the Jewish covenant, he lashed out against the group, having many of them arrested. According to Acts, one was even killed.

With that said, this Saul encountered the risen Yeshua, you may know him by his Greek name Jesus, somewhere in or around Damascus, which is a city in Syria. This experience transformed Saul into a follower of Jesus. Paul tells us in his letter to the Galatians that, following the encounter with Christ, he went into Arabia for a while and then came back to Damascus. After three years he went to Jerusalem and met with Jesus’ brother James, and his disciples Peter and John.

To make a long story short, Jesus’ brother James and Paul didn’t really get along…at all. Peter and John weren’t too crazy about Paul either. James believed that in order for Gentiles (non-Jews) to become a follower of Christ they had to first become Jewish, since Jesus was a Jew. Paul thought this was ludicrous, seeing Jesus’ death and resurrection as the opening up of the covenant to Gentiles. If they had faith in Jesus who was likened to a Gentile on the cross (being under God’s curse as the Torah claims of anyone hung on a tree), then they would be brought into the Jewish covenant despite not being circumcised or being bound to any one of the Jewish laws.

Though they struck a deal and Paul left thinking he had their blessing to go and preach the Gospel as he felt Jesus had called him to do, James, Peter and John never really accepted Paul’s vision. We find out from Paul in his letter to the Galatians, and in Acts, that James and his followers were counteracting Paul’s Gospel message and causing people to question this “self-proclaimed apostle” who had never been an eye-witness of Jesus. This angered Paul, as anyone would imagine, but it did not stop him from trying.

Paul had been gathering up a collection for the church in Jerusalem and he was going to bring that collection to them, hoping to reconcile their differences if it cost him his very life. Paul was afraid it would. His last written words, written to the church in Rome (a community he had never met), ask for prayers that the non-believing Jews won’t attack him (as he was a heretic in their eyes having abandoned his Pharisaic Judaism for this new messianic Judaism) and that the church in Jerusalem would accept his offering. Unfortunately, his prayers were not answered.

Paul was arrested, and eventually died, trying to get both sides (his and James’) to be unified, even if different, in the cause of Christ. Today, like then, the church is split on many fronts and we seem to get stuck on one side or the other. We fail to see Christ in the midst of our differences. Like Paul, we are called to see Christ in those who believe differently than us. We are called to find the balance of reconciliation, even while remaining true to what we firmly believe. There are many contentious issues dividing the church, yet there is still ONE Lord! Rather than deeming each other heretics, let us have the grace and the humility to see that Christ is indeed working in, through, and in spite of us all! Remember, he Gospel calls us to be a people who are unified in LOVE, even if divided by difference.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“You don’t get unity by ignoring the questions that have to be faced.” – Jay Weatherill

PRAYER

Lord, help me to see you even in those who think and believe differently than me. Humble me, I pray. Amen.

Time to Snuff the Flames

Read 1 John 4:7-17

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.” (1 John 4:18)

Servetus-1Michael Servetus lived during an incredibly tumultuous time. The Protestant Reformation had been raging across Europe, dividing the Western Church into Catholics and Protestants, and dividing the protestants into splinter protestant groups. Servetus, a doctor and a Roman Catholic, began to question the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity and also the practice of infant baptism, as there was no precedent and/or command for it in the Bible, which only prescribes adult baptism.

As for the Trinity, Servetus rejected the classical formulation as being non-Biblical, arguing that it came from the teachings of Greek philosophers. He felt that the Trinitarian formula, as laid out in the Nicaean Creed, went far beyond what is found in the Gospels. He began writing letters to Calvin, sharing his ideas and theology on the Trinity. This was common practice among scholars and academics to exchange, debate and refute ideas and Servetus thought he had an academic colleague in Calvin. But Calvin was not friendly to Servetus or his ideas.

Instead, Servetus had unwittingly made an enemy out of Calvin. When Servetus escaped from prison in France three days after his arrest by the Roman Catholic Church for heresy, he fled to Geneva in hopes to find sanctuary there. He even attended one of Calvin’s sermons and it was there that he was arrested and tried for heresy. In the end, Michael Servetus was found guilty of heresy and sentenced to be burned at the stake. Calvin protested burning Servetus and petitioned the council to decapitate him as that was “less cruel.” The council rejected that request. Regardless of his protest of the method, Calvin believed that Servetus deserved to be killed and supported the council’s decision. On October 27, 1533, Servetus was burned to the stake with his book chained to his leg.

As a Christian, I am horrified and deeply disturbed by this story. For me, it is a reminder of how far off the beaten path we as Christians have often strayed. I have grown up professing the Trinitarian doctrine and have personally experienced the Triune nature of God in my life; however, I also recognize the limitation of theology. After all, theology is how we talk about and relate to God. It is a tool for humans to understand that which is far beyond their comprehension. Therefore, to kill someone over theology seems to not only be futile…but totally against the very teachings of Christ.

Do not mistake what I am saying. I am not implying that theology is useless, or that it shouldn’t be taken seriously. I am certainly not saying that “any theology goes” either. I am simply asking us to pause and question ourselves for a moment. In our defense of doctrine and theology, are we defending Christ or our image of Christ? Are we following the life and teachings of Jesus, or are we superimposing our life and teachings upon Jesus? When we put theology and doctrine in a place of prominence over and above the teachings and example of our Lord and Savior, we fail to follow the one we claim to be “following.”

Christ does not call us to a life of defending the Gospel, but to a life of LIVING the Gospel. There will always be people who get caught up in the details and lose the big picture. There will always be critics of our way of understanding things and I am not suggesting that we just go ahead and accept everything that is presented to us as truth. All I am suggesting is that instead of getting lost in the details we “get found” in the application of the Gospels. Let us be a people of the Gospel message. Let us be a people who love God by loving others, no matter how different from us they are. What do we have to fear? What do we have to lose by LOVING others? Our lives? So be it! If we embrace the Gospels we will certainly err on the side of grace and embrace a life of compassionate love.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God. Amen.” – Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms, Germany, where he was being tried for heresy.

PRAYER
Lord, love does not breed fear. Help me to snuff the flames of fear and be filled with your love. Amen.

The Walking Dead

Read Acts 2:1-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth.” (Matthew 23:27)

WalkingDeadOne of my favorite TV shows as of late is called “The Walking Dead.” I’m kind of a late comer to this show, as I am to all shows, and have been catching up on the three seasons that are available on Netflix. At some point, the fourth season will be out and I will catch up on that too, hopefully in time to catch the fifth season as it airs on TV. Needless to say, I am hooked on the show and for good reason.

The Walking Dead is a series that is about the zombie apocalypse. For those of you who are not already aware, zombies are en vogue in today’s society. It used to be that when we talked about the apocalypse, we discussed seven headed beasts, “the antichrist”, or even nuclear warfare. We may have even thought of machines we originally designed to kill our enemies turning against humanity in general and altering their mission to “terminate” all of human kind. Nowadays, when the word apocalypse is talked of people think of the living dead wandering the earth in search of human flesh to feast on. Mmmmm. I apologize if you are reading this while eating.

In the series, a group of survivors make their way place to place trying to avoid contact with the walking dead in order to not get bitten and turned into the walking dead themselves. As it turns out, the walking dead are in the state they are because of a virus that reanimated them into walking corpses. The kicker is that living humans are actually carrying this virus and, when they die, they too will become walking corpses. Pleasant, right?

What I love about the show is that, though on the surface it is dealing with zombies, it really is a metaphor for our world and society today. When we turn on the news we can see lots of instances of “the walking dead.” From our government, to crazed individuals, there are lots of people and institutions that just seem to have lost their way. They were created and/or designed for a specific purpose…but that purpose is dead to them and they are just wandering mindlessly preying and feasting upon others. What’s more disturbing is that, most people, are not fighting against such a state of being as much as they are fighting to maintain their status quo…only to become “the walking dead” themselves.

In this season of Pentecost, we think of the Holy Spirit filling the disciples with new life and a sense of purpose. We hear of the fire that was kindled within them that raged out of control and spread to 3,000 people on that day, which then turned to tens of thousands, millions and eventually billions of people. The church was God’s antidote to the virus that creates the “walking dead.” Yet, from time to time the virus seems to creep into the life of the church as well. Every so often, the Holy Spirit raises up a leader such as Paul, Martin Luther, John Wesley, Mother Theresa, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., etc. to go against the status quo and act as an antidote to the virus that is consuming us.

The Holy Spirit is calling you to be an antidote to the Walking Dead virus in the church. The Holy Spirit is calling you to stand up against the injustices, oppression and bonds that the world, including the Church, put upon people. Are you going to be among the countless zombies lurking around in the shadows looking for people to mindlessly feast on, or are you going to be filled with the TRUE LIFE of the spirit and become an agent of God’s Hope, Healing, and Wholeness. Christ is calling us to be in a deeper relationship with him so that, instead of reanimation, we find RESURRECTION and LIFE! Rise up with Jesus, be filled by the Holy Spirit and become an ANTIDOTE that brings life and resurrection to the LOST and NEGLECTED!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“What is my task? First of all, my task is to be pleasing to Christ. To be empty of self and be filled with Himself. To be filled with the Holy Spirit; to be led by the Holy Spirit.” – Aimee Semple McPherson

PRAYER
Lord, fill me with your Holy Spirit so that I may be guided into serving others and bringing them your Hope, Healing and Wholeness. Amen.

The Labyrinth

Read Mark 4:1-9

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.” (Matthew 13:16)

The LabyrinthToday was just one of those days. You know, it was a Sunday afternoon, the sun was out and shining, the breeze was gentle and refreshing, and the temperature was perfect. It was one of those days that, despite having a terrible sinus infection, I just could not be inside. So, I decided to take a contemplative stroll through the labyrinth in my backyard. Yes, you read that right, I have a labyrinth in my backyard and I love it!

As I was walking around, though, I started to notice that it had become quite unkempt as things were finally springing to life after a cold, long and harsh winter. So, I got inspired to start moving the rocks, pulling weeds, leveling the dirt and mulch, and placing the rocks back in place. It felt so refreshing, spiritual and serene doing that simple, yet physical work. I felt very attuned with God as I worked at caring for and tending to the labyrinth.

As I was pulling the rocks away, I noticed the some of the grass and weeds surrounding them were very easy to pull out. It took no effort at all. As it turned out, the roots were growing in only a an inch or two of dirt that had collected in between the rock. Once I removed the rocks, I could easily get rid of them.

As I was weeding my way around the labyrinth, a parable of Jesus’s came to mind. The parable where Jesus talks about the seed that get sowed in rocks, in weedy areas, in shallow soil and the seeds that are sown in the good soil. He was saying that if the seeds are sown right, the plants that grows will grow hardily and not easily be removed. This was a metaphor for faith that Jesus was using to instruct his disciples, and those listening, on the importance of being rooted deeply in one’s faith and not just having a surface faith rooted in shallow soil or, worse yet, having a dead faith that never rooted at all because the seeds were tossed on rock and/or hard soil and eaten by birds.

But sometimes, like the weeds in the labyrinth, our faith seems to be rooted deep; however, that depth is no more than an illusion. Sometimes we discover that our faith is actually shallow and only appears to be deeply rooted because those roots and shallow soil are being secured by the boulders around us. Once those boulders are removed, our faith gets tested and shown to be nothing more than weeds that are easily plucked and thrown into the wind.

But there is good news here…there is indeed hope. As painful it is for us to remove the boulders weighing us down, once they are removed and once those shallow rooted weeds are plucked, we begin to clear a path that twists around like a labyrinth that leads us to the good soil. It is there that we begin to realize where our seeds of faith need to be sown. It is there that we begin to cultivate a holy and sacred garden, at the heart of God’s temple!

Christ is calling you to remove the boulders in your life! Christ is calling you to pluck the weeds that are hindering your path. God is calling you to journey further in the labyrinth, plucking and pulling out the shallow rooted weeds until you get to the center, until you get to the place of deep, good soil. Christ is sowing the seeds of God’s love…of God’s hope, healing and wholeness…of God’s Kingdom in your heart. Allow God to nurture and cultivate that divine garden and let the love of God spring forth from you like the well spring of life! God is recreating Eden within you and calling you join him in the Garden! I’ll see you there!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked, in which you can walk with love and reverence.” – Henry David Thoreau

PRAYER

Lord, help me weed my way to the good soil, so that my faith may grow into a luscious, sacred and holy garden. Amen.

Sabbath Is Holy

Read Exodus 20:8-11

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.” (Luke 5:16)

JCS.ht266Just recently I went to Moravian College to watch their production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar. That is one of my favorite musicals and one of my favorite portrayals of Jesus. What I love about it, in particular, is how human and relatable Jesus is in that film. It makes no presuppositions of who Jesus is in terms of his divinity; rather, it leaves that open for the interpretation of each individual in the audience. While this may make some faithful Christians uncomfortable, I believe it is powerful because it presents Jesus much in the same way his disciples would’ve come to see him and know him…each with their own expectations of who he is and what they hoped he would accomplish.

And Jesus certainly feels the weight of those expectations. There’s one scene where he’s dreaming of people who are in need. First it is just one poor beggar. Then another person, this time crippled. Then another person shows up needing healing from leprosy. Jesus reaches out to help these people but, before he knows it, he is surrounded by a crowd of needy people. Each one of them want Jesus to touch them, to heal them, to make them well. Each one of them wants a piece of Jesus and, as more and more crowd him, Jesus realizes there’s just not enough of him to go around. “Heal yourselves,” Jesus cries out into the darkness as he awakens from what became a nightmare.

Jesus certainly feels the weight of those expectations. There’s another scene in the film where Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane, praying out to God to spare him from the torture and humiliating death he’s about to face. In this heart-wrenching song, Jesus pleads with God and sings these words: “I only want to say, if there is a way, take this cup away from me for I don’t want to taste it’s poison and feel it burn me; I have changed, I am not as sure as when we started. Then I was inspired, now I am sad and tired. Listen, surely I’ve exceeded expectation, tried for three years…seems like thirty…could you ask as much from any other man?”

Every time I hear those words I begin to cry. The song forces me to reflect on Jesus’ ministry and all the things he tried to say and do, all the miracles and signs he performed, in order to usher in the Kingdom of God. I think of Jesus weeping on the hill overlooking Jerusalem, knowing that this city will reject him and condemn him to die. I also cannot help but reflect on my ministry and all of years that have led me to where I am now. While I am not, to my knowledge, going to be crucified any time soon (hopefully never), doing ministry can and is exhausting work. Caring for others is draining work. Anyone who has ever cared for their sick parent(s), for family or for friends knows just how draining that can be.

There’s no doubt Jesus got tired, even exhausted, throughout his three-year ministry. But Jesus also set the example that a part of doing ministry includes caring for yourself. Jesus would take time a part from his ministry, from the crowds and even from his disciples and he would go up on the hillside to pray. There are times when we just need to be alone, to have that precious down time where we can rest, reflect and even spend time in conversation with our God.

If you are feeling tired and exhausted, if you are feeling worn down, know that it is not only okay for you to rest, but it is absolutely healthy and important for you to. Jesus did it, I do it from time to time, and you should too. You cannot minister to others if you are unable to minister and take care of yourself. Today’s challenge is for you to set apart some down time for you and get recharged for the work God is calling you to do. Sabbath is HOLY.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“In dealing with those who are undergoing great suffering, if you feel ‘burnout’ setting in, if you feel demoralized and exhausted, it is best, for the sake of everyone, to withdraw and restore yourself. The point is to have a long-term perspective.” Dalai Lama

PRAYER

Lord, guide me to withdraw the busy-ness of my life so that I may find refuge and renewal in you. Amen.

Loving the Unlovable

Read Matthew 5:42-48

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.” (1 Corinthians 2:13)

back1994512The past couple of weeks have been fraught with a number of scary and tragic scenarios. A Malaysian 777 airliner went missing for no apparent reason, but the there seems to be some connection with the pilot who seemingly and purposefully took the plane off course. There was the mass shooting at Fort Hood where one of the soldiers went into the Fort armed and shot at fellow soldiers who were unarmed, killing three and wounding at least sixteen others.

There was a man who accidentally hit a ten year old boy who might have been in a group playing chicken in the road. When the man stopped his truck, got out of it and went over to he boy to see if he was alright, a mob of people attacked him and beat him to near death. Finally, just on Wednesday, a sophomore at Franklin High School in Murraysville, PA, went into his school and stabbed and/or slashed 24 people with two kitchen knives. At least five of those twenty-four were critically injured and are currently fighting for their lives.

In moments such as these, it is impossible not to hold your hand to your mouth in shock. It is hard not to question, “what is going on with this world?” We sit in horror as we watch these news stories unfold before our very eyes. We can’t help picturing ourselves and/or our loved ones in those situations. I remember when the Newtown, CT massacre happened, I couldn’t help but cry as I thought about kissing my own children before sending them to school. I fully expected them to return home (and they did), just as I am sure those parents did.

On the same note, it is also hard for us to distance ourselves from the people who perpetrate such heinous and seemingly evil crimes. We often say, “What could possibly drive a person to do such things”; however, we often don’t really reflect on it as much as we just ask the question. Perhaps we the question is a part of our process to make sense of it all, but the reality is we cannot make sense of it. This often leads us to a place where we dehumanize the perpetrator and label him or her as evil.

But the reality is far more complex than that. It is true that such acts are evil, yet are the people themselves evil? Were they born differently that you or I? Are they just “bad seeds” who were evil from the very beginning? Or are they, themselves, victims? Are they people who were crying out for help but never received any? Are they people who slipped through the cracks, for one reason or another, and unfortunately ended up spreading their misery, pain and suffering to other people?

These reflective and probing questions are not being asked to make light of what they did. Nor are they being posed to take away from the real pain, suffering, and misery they’ve caused countless people. Rather, these questions are calling us to be quick to show compassion, resolute in seeking understanding, and slow to make judgment.

These questions are ultimately asked in order to get us to reflect on an often tough, but necessary, question: What more can we do? What steps can we take to spread hope, healing, and wholeness to those in need. That is not to say that we can always prevent such things from happening; however, it is a constructive way of working toward a solution as opposed to pointing the finger at someone and calling them the devil. Christ has called us to love all people, including those wishing to harm us, and to avoid judgment. Perhaps working toward helping people struggling with inner pain and turmoil is one way we can carry that call out.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“To love means loving the unlovable. To forgive means pardoning the unpardonable. Faith means believing the unbelievable. Hope means hoping when everything seems hopeless.” – Unknown

PRAYER

Lord, use me in a way that brings love to those I may otherwise deem as unlovable, as we are all your children. Amen.