Tag Archives: Gospel

Psalms

Read Psalm 137

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“My God, my God, why have You abandoned me? Why are You so far away when I groan for help?” (Psalms 22:1 NLT)

psalmsOne of the most profoundly beautiful, haunting, and human books in all the Bible is the book of Psalms. It is literally a collection of poems and/or songs that were written by people who were going through a widely varying range of emotions. Some are extremely happy and ecstatic. Some are extremely melancholy with a sense of foreboding loss. Some are filled with hopes, others are filled with fears. Some are an emotional mulatto rollercoaster ride that truly leave the reader hanging on every word for the duration of the ride.

Some of the Psalms are filled with love, and some are filled with bitter anger and hatred. One such Psalm, number 137, is written by a person who is grieving the loss of his or her homeland in the midst of exile. The smoke could still be seen arising on the horizon from Jerusalem. The former jewel city of Judah, was lying in ruins. Bodies of the dead men, women and children still lying up and down the streets, which were running with the blood of the innocent. The author of Psalm 137 is bitter, angry and wants justice. Correction: This psalmist wants vengeance!

I can relate with the psalmists because I, too, write poetry and I have written my own psalms in the past. Here is one such Psalm that I wrote during a time where I was going through a pretty rough situation:

My God! O, my God!
Help me to escape
This darkened, shadowy
Valley of peril and death.
I am not far away from
The edge of the cliff.
Destruction awaits me
And despair consumes me.

O, the melancholy kills me!
Sadness enslaves me!
Should I be angered by
This senseless betrayal?
Or should I embrace my fate
Like an outcast child
Who is abused and abandoned
By those closest him?

My Lord, You are also outcast.
My God, you have been rejected!
I should rejoice, and praise my God
As Jesus first instructed.
It is hard to endure the pain.
Help me, O LORD,
To remain humble and to be
Made righteous in your sight.

Help me, my God,
to go your way.
As long as I dwell South of Heaven,
I shall be your disciple.
You will never leave me,
Nor will you forsake me,
For you are always faithful!
You never abandon your children.

You never discourage
Nor do you tear down your beloved.
Your love is encompassing
And your forgiveness is endless!
You are always present
And you are full of compassion!
Give me strength,
And grant me wisdom.

Bless the fruits that I produce
For your Kingdom.
I only serve you, my God,
Only you, do I worship!
Your name is EL Shaddai;
You are everything I need.
Your name is EL-Roi;
You know my heart!

Your name is EL Haggadol;
Great is your glory!
Your name is EL Chayim;
I am your child!
Your name is Immanuel;
I know you are with me.
God knows my brokenness
And continues carrying me.

My God, my Lord,
My everlasting Father,
Do not pass me by
But give me sanctuary.
Hear my petition, my God!
I cry out to you.
Let not your disciple
Succumb to his enemies!

I don’t normally share my poetry; however, psalms are meant to be read or sung collectively by the people. They witness both to our brokenness as human beings and they also witness to the power of God in our lives. If God can walk the Psalmist of Psalm 137 through the horrific tragedy of the Babylonian Exile, then God can walk me through the situations I find myself in. If God walks me through my situations (and God does)…I who am an unworthy sinner…surely God walks you through yours too!

Not only do I challenge you to journey through the Psalms, I also challenge you to begin to share your psalms with others as well. You don’t have to be a talented poet or songwriter to share your psalms, and there is no rule that states psalms can only be written in words on paper. Your psalm is any expression that shows your faith journey and how God is working in your life. Show people that they are not alone. Show them that you, too, have periods of doubt, of despair, of hope, of happiness, of joy, of anger, and of every other human emotion. Take the mask off and show people that they are not alone and, then, be willing to walk with them as they share with you that you are not alone either. That is what the Psalms do for us, and that is what we are called to do for others as well! Make your life a living psalm.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble.” (Psalms 46:1 NLT)
PRAYER
Lord, I lift my psalms up to you. Make my life a living psalm, a witness to all. Amen.

Beyond Our Ghosts

Read John 14:1-7

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in Me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NLT)

poltergeistFollowing suit with the previous devotional, I just recently watched another horror movie that is actually a remake of an older, yet still popular film by the name of “Poltergeist”. While the original, written by Steven Spielberg and directed by Tobe Hooper, will always be the favorite of the two versions, it is safe to say that this new film definitely delivers. Besides, who doesn’t love a good ghost story, even if retold, to send chills up and down one’s spine.

In case you are unfamiliar with the film Poltergeist, I will give you the gist of the plot. I will be referring to the 2015 remake, since it is the one I have seen most recently. Though the characters have different names, the plot is basically the same. Poltergeist is a film that follows a family that is moving into a new home in a development somewhere out in suburbia. Following their arrival, things start to get weird. The youngest daughter, Madison, starts talking to “imaginary friends” and their son, Griff, hears the tree growling at him. All of the family members, in different ways, come across seemingly random static electricity in certain spots of the house.

While at first the weird occurances are kind of fun and intriguing, they start to become more and more vicious and scary. Little Madison, begins having nightly conversations with “the lost people” in the television set, and eventually gets lured into the closet by mysterious lights, only to disappear. Following her disappearances, her frantic family starts to hear her talking through the static-laden television set. As it turns out, she had been kidnapped by the poltergeists who are trapped in the house in a world that between this life and the next. They are desperate to find a way out of the hellish purgatory they are in, and Madison’s innocence draws them to her, thinking that she can lead them to the light (aka to rest in peace on the other side).

Without giving anymore details away, or spoiling the rest of the story, I think it is fair to say that this film is full of thrills and twists that keep you at the edge of your seat throughout. What I have noticed in this film, as well as all films about paranormal hauntings, is that while the families being affected seem to be normal, average, everyday families, there is always something dark lying under the surface.

Again, without giving away too much of the story, it becomes clear fairly early on that the Bowen family in Poltergeist is a family that is struggling to remain together. Mom is an aspiring author who cannot find the time or energy to write because of the responsibilities of motherhood. Dad is unemployed and desperately seeking employment. My guess is that they have moved to this location because they could no longer afford to live where they were. To make matters worse, dad tries to calm the stress by spending money on his kids and wife. But that only adds to the stress, because every dollar is precious.

Griff, their son, has a tremendous amount of anxiety that goes unexplained throughout the film. One can imagine that much of it is caused by the uncertainty of their family situation, but there could be more to it than that. And their eldest daughter, Kendra, is a rebellious teen who is resentful of the family situation and their move. What’s more, she is a bad influence on her younger sister, Madison, who imitates all of the things she does.

As I mentioned above, it seems that this is a prominent theme in many cases of paranormal activity, and especially in films about “hauntings”. As I sit here reflecting on that, I think that is true even beyond hauntings and other tales dealing with the world of the hereafter. We as people invite the kinds of things we project into this world. What I mean by that is this is that if we are constantly surrounding ourselves with negativity and constantly have a negative outlook, chances are we will be tormented, or “haunted” if you will, by that negative outlook. What’s more, if we allow our faith and our spiritual disicipline erode, we become even more susceptible to succumbing to hopelessness and despair.

Today’s challenge is to be a people of light, a people of joy, and a people of hope. While life in this broken world will present us its challenges, Christ has overcome the world and we can too if we rest our faith and our trust solely in Christ. If we do so, if we move from our fears, our anxieties, our trials, and the negativity we surround ourselves with to FAITH IN CHRIST, we will be set free and rise above the negativity that can seep into our lives. I pray that we all can make the move byond our ghosts to the hopeful light and love of Christ.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win.” – Stephen King

PRAYER
Lord, I cast all my fears upon you. I give to you the ghosts that haunt me. Fill me with your light so that you, and not my ghosts, will win. 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.

Depraved

Read Mark 7:14-23

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)

depraved-skullI am sure you are looking at this title and going, “Oh, no! Where’s he going to go with this.” I can assure you that I am not about to pull my inner Calvinist out. As a theologian, I do not subscribe to much of the five points of Calvinism. Still, on the point of “total depravity”, even John Wesley said (in a letter to John Newton dated May 14, 1765) he did not “differ from [Mr. Calvin] an hair’s breadth.” After all, the Bible clearly teaches that humanity strayed from the love and grace of God, allowing sin and evil to enter into the picture; however, the grace of God has given us the ability to choose good over evil and to choose holiness over sinfulness.

So, even though I don’t agree with the other four points of Calvinism, I am not going to take this devotion to a comfortable place in regard to human depravity. We all have that potential to fall to reject God and fall back into our depraved state. I see evidence of this in Scripture as well as in every day life. I would have to be morally blind and completely naïve to think that human depravity doesn’t exist in this world. All we have to do is turn on the news to find it. In fact, along with covering the depravity of human beings around our communities, our country and our world, the news networks (and I mean ALL of them) themselves engage in depravity.

I was just recently watching the news and seeing college kids at the University of California Berkley rioting on campus because a conservative/liberatarian speaker was coming to give a speech. When I say rioting, I mean wearing masks, throwing molotov cocktails, shooting fireworks at the school library, pepper spraying a woman who had a “Make America Great Again” hat on, knocking down power lines and making a bonfire out of school property. All of this because people are opposed to the current administration and, as a result, conservatives in general.

On the flip side, conservatives have done their share of riling up anger. They have engaged in irresponsible rhetoric, led a brutal campaign unlike I think anyone has ever seen before, thoughtlessly executed laws that have done harm to people, and engaged in “tit-for-tat” bomb throwing on social media. What’s more, as is usually the case when any side wins an election, there has been a lot of gloating as well. Not to mention the white supremacists and other morally debase people coming out of the wood work, spray painting swastikas on playgrounds, shouting racial slurs at people of color, and chanting “build that wall” at our Latino and Hispanic brothers and sisters, most of whom are citizens.

Don’t mistake me here, I am not engaging in political discourse or taking sides. As I see it, both sides are wrong. We live in an age where we no longer can look at one another as brothers and sisters, as fellow human beings, as children of God; rather, we look at others as enemies, as evil, as monsters, as ignorant, as dangerous, as threats, as demons that need to be sent back to the fires of hell. Burn, baby, burn.

This world is on fire with depravity right now. No, it’s not the first, nor even the worst time in the history of the world, but we are descending into the depths of destruction faster than anyone of us could have ever anticipated. People I once stood side-by-side with in serving others, are now chanting “fight fire with fire”. People I once could have an intelligible conversation with, are no longer stopping to listen anymore. Everyone anymore seems to be screaming expletives past each other, without stopping to pause and notice that they have lost the high ground.

Is this what God wants? Is this what God envisioned for us when we were created? How can we claim to love God when we hate our neighbor? How can we claim to listen to God when we cannot even have the respect and love to listen to one another? We have become a depraved people, spanning generations. I recognize that that NOT EVERYONE has engaged in the extremes of the depravity we have been seeing; even so, most of us who have not have laid quietly in fear of standing up IN LOVE against it.

Do you believe in Jesus Christ? Do you believe in all that he did and taught? Do you believe in the power of his resurrection and the coming of the Kingdom of God? If you answer yes to all of those questions, then you are called to be the peacemaker of the world around you. All of us who believe are. We are to look for truth on all sides and bring people together, rather than divinding them further apart. We are to take the long, hard, painful road of loving all people, especially those we disagree with or call our enemies. We are to be the hands and feet of our risen, living Savior. We are to counter depravity with the goodness and righteousness (aka justice) by the grace of Christ who is Lord. Will you join me in that? I hope so.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“All we are saying is give peace a chance.” – John Lennon

PRAYER
Lord, help me to assess my own fears and feelings so that I may rise above depravity and be a peacemaker in the world around me. Amen.

Unlabeled

Read James 4

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“So God created human beings in His own image. In the image of God He created them; male and female He created them.” (Genesis 1:27 NLT)

fetusinwombIt seems like labels make the world go around, right? We label everything, do we not? Labels seemed to get attached to just about everything that exists in our society and in our world. Of course, we label objects so that we can distinguish them from other objects. We label food so that we can tell what is in the food before we purchase and consume it. These types of labels are good and useful.

Unfortunately, our labeling doesn’t stop there. We also label people as well. I know this all too well as someone who has been labeled more times that I can probably remember. What I am about to share may be uncomfortable for some who read it; however, if so you are not alone, because they were more than uncomfortable for me. Throughout my life, I have been labeled in ways that were very hurtful and scarring.

For instance, I have been labeled a “fag”, a “homo”, a “queer”, and a “queerbate”. I have also been labeled “slowpoke”, “turtle”, “unteachable”, “spaced out”, “retarded”, “aloof”, “dunce”, and “dumb.” Beyond those labels, I have been labeled “ugly”, “fat,” “freak,” “extreme”, “odd ball”, “loser”, “unfit”, “weakling”, “Satanic” (I still laugh at that one), “false prophet”, “unchristian”, “naïve”, and a whole host of other things. This is totally NOT an exhaustive list.

I list these not to evoke a pity party, I have survived all of the labels that have come my way and, thankfully, have grown to be a stronger person as a result of them; however, that is not to say that they did not leave their mark. They did. Since I first started being labeled as child in school, I have had to struggle with a lack of self-confidence, low self-esteem, poor body image (yes, guys can have this too), depression and even, at times, misanthropy.

What’s more, they didn’t just leave their mark on me in those ways. As is often the case, I sometimes turned to labeling others and treating others the way I was treated. I make no excuses for that. It is not uncommon for victims to become the victimizer, and I occasionally did. I didn’t do that often, because it is NOT fundamentally who I am; however, when I did participate in that in order to be accepted or to lash out, I was wrong.

One of the current ways that we are labeling others can be seen in the immigration and refugee situation going in in the United States. We label people as “threats”, as “illegals”, as “aliens”, as “criminals”, as “job thieves”, as “potential terrorists”, as “gangbangers”, as “them”, as “they”, and a whole host of other labels. These labels are established to distinguish “us” against “them”. They are established to rank one as more “superior” and/or “deserving” than the other.

Yet, time and time again God has called us to become unlabeled. God has pleaded with us, commanded us even, to stop labeling ourselves and others. Human beings are not illegal, they are not alien, they are not dumb, they are not queer, they are not oddballs, they are not ugly, they are not unteachable, and they most certainly aren’t less worthy than anyone else is. Rather, human beings are God’s creation and are created in the very image of God. To denigrate another human is to denigrate the One who created God. The challenge for us is to begin to remember how we’ve been labeled and how that felt when we went through it. If we remember that, we will be more likely to begin to break the chains of the labeling we find ourselves doing. It’s time to become unlabeled.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“I try to look for the good in everybody, regardless of the way they’re labeled.” – Richard Thompson

PRAYER
Lord, help me to shake the labels I have been given, as well as to stop participating in labeling others. Help me to see your divine image in all people. Amen.

The Inner Skeptic

Read Psalm 14

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“And you must show mercy to those whose faith is wavering.” (Jude 1:22)

chirrut-imwe-and-jyn-ersoEveryone knows that I am a HUGE fan of Star Wars. Recently, the latest film in the Star Wars Universe was released, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”. The film follows a series of mostly new characters who are on a mission to get the blueprint plans of “The Death Star” from the evil Galactic Empire. If they succeed, it is possible that they can find a weakness that will help them destroy a weapon so powerful that it can eliminate entire planets in a matter of seconds.

Without spoiling the story for you (as I run a strict, no spoiler, ship), the characters of Jyn and Cassian are the unlikely leaders of a slim-to-none chance to infiltrate the enemy base and steal the plans of the dreaded battle station, “The Death Star.” All throughout the film, the characters are constantly being tested in their abilities, in their trust of one another, and in their faith.

In fact, wrestling with faith is a MAJOR theme in this film. Each of the characters, in their own way, find themselves wrestling with their faith in the existence of the force. One of the characters, Chirrut Îmwe, is a member of the Guardian of the Whills, which is a religious order that at one time were protectors of the Temple. Following the Temple being raided by the Galactic Empire, the Guardians remained true to their beliefs and sat out in the streets preaching about the Force.

What’s important to note is that thought the age of the Jedi and their use of the force, are not far removed from the time period that this takes place, many question the existence of such a “Force”. The Jedi themselves are quickly fading into mythological obscurity. How quickly hope fades, how quickly people fall from faith into the hopless state of despair. This is, honestly, the human condition.

When Jyn runs into Chirrut, he asked her if she knew what she was wearing around her neck. The crystals she was wearing were what the Empire had come to the Temple to raid, they were what powered the lightsabers. Chirrut sees it as a sign that the Force was alive and well. In fact, throughout the film, this monk kept reciting a powerful mantra, “I am one with the Force,  the Force is with me.”

Throughout the film, there are many skeptics who question this monk’s devotion to what they see as nothing more than a fairytale. Yet, his unwavering faith to the Force witnesses to these people and causes them to see beyond the inner skeptic within them. One by one, each of them is confronted with the choice between placing their faith in the Force or in continuing to deny the Force that is within them and all around them.

What I want to make clear is this, today’s Scripture is NOT calling the one who wrestles with his/her faith a fool. Everyone should be wrestling with their faith in God. It is was makes that faith real and it is how one grows in faith; however, the Scripture is stating that the one who concludes, absolutely and definitively that THERE IS NO GOD is foolish. Such an absolute proclamation leads nowhere but placing oneself in the place of God.

To make that proclamation is to shut oneself off from the discovery of the divine. There is not a single human being that can definitively know Ultimate Reality and, therefore, it is ultimately foolish for them to shut themselves off to the possibility of God based off of whatever limited “evidence” they may think they have. Not one of us can possibly have ALL of the evidence to make any conclusive and definitive proclamation.

We all operate on faith. We operate on the faith that there is a God or we operate on the faith that there is no God. Skepticism is good and healthy; however, it only gets us so far. The question for us is this, can we silence the  inner skeptic? Can we get to the place where we move beyond skepticism and acknowledge the faith that we are already operating on? If so, we can continue to wrestle with our faith and grow in it. I pray that, if you are struggling with your faith, this devotion may be your inner Chirrut Îmwe, reminding you that you are one with the Force (aka God) and that the Force/God is with you. I pray that you choose to move beyond faith in “no God” to faith in the God who is wanting to work miracles in you and through you.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

PRAYER
Lord, I believe. Help me in my unbelief. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: All Authority

bflw-devotional-800x490Writing the Life-Giving Water devotionals is not only an important ministry, but is a deeply rewarding spiritual discipline for me as well. This is the month of retreats for me, so as I am busy leading them, here is a LOOK BACK to a devotion I wrote in the past. Read it, reflect on it, be challenged by it. Who knows how God will speak to you through it and how it will bear relevance in your life today? May the Holy Spirit guide you as you read the suggested Scripture and subsequent devotion.

The Sermon, Part 28: God’s Will

Read Matthew 7:24-27

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“And God said to Noah, ‘I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence because of them; now I am going to destroy them along with the earth. Make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch.’” (Genesis 6:13-14, NRSV)

shii-choblastdeflectI can only imagine that what you are thinking right now is the following question: “What kind of fool builds a house in such a vulnerable place?” I mean, even a moron would know to pick rock over sand to build a house upon. This parable itself almost seems so outrageous that one has to wonder why Jesus told it in the first place. To whom could be likened to the fool of this parable? The Pharisees? The Sadducees? Jesus’ followers? We know it could not be the Herodians, so named because they were supporters and court members of King Herod Antipas, whose father built marvelous and enduring structures. Heck, even the common peasant would know better than to build their house on sand.

So, who would be so foolish as to pick a vulnerable spot to build their home? While the parable itself might seem foolish, when one thinks about it, people build their homes in vulnerable places all the time. Look at the city of Pompeii at the foot of Mt. Vesuvius? Or how about all the lovely beach homes down in Florida. Or the city of New Orleans built in a bowl-shaped depression that sits below the sea level? Or those living in the Mid-West, also known as Tornado Alley. Of course, one cannot forget Californian cities, such as Los Angeles, which lie upon (or above) two humungous, shifting rocks (known as tectonic plates).

Though I think this should be obvious, I feel compelled to point out that the purpose of this building analogy is not to give instruction on the best practices. Nor is to state that building on “the rock” is without its faults (pun intended); however, the point transcends all of that. The point that Jesus is making has little to do with construction and more to do with foresight and discernment. The question is this: do you have enough foresight to see the signs of the times and build your life appropriately?

Before we go further, I would like to pull in one of my favorite film series into this: Star Wars. There is a scene in the original film (now titled, Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope) where Luke is being trained by Obi-Wan Kenobi to use the Force. In it, a Jedi training device is floating around a blind-folded Luke Skywalker’s head and it is shooting small blaster beams at him. They are not powerful enough to do any real damage, but Luke can feel them every time he gets zapped.

The idea of this is that Luke is supposed to use his light saber to deflect the blaster rays and avoid getting zapped, but he isn’t succeeding. How can he deflect something he cannot see. For Master Obi-Wan, the answer is simple: “Use the Force”. In other words, if Luke could just tap into the force and feel what stirs with in it, he would have the foresight to know where those blaster beams are about to strike.

Eventually, Luke does master that training and is able to use the force. I use this scene in the film as an analogy for what Jesus is trying to teach. The builders aren’t smart or foolish based off of their skills, but based off of their foresight, or lack thereof. In ancient Palestine, if one built a house in the dry season, the hard, sandy ground would not seem like a bad place to build a home; however, anyone with foresight would know that when the rain comes…it really comes…and that hard sandy floor turns to a torrent of mud and grit that would wipe the home right out of existence. If the builder had enough foresight to see the potential of what could lie ahead, then he or she would build that house on solid rock, raised above the hard, dried, sandy land. Or, sometimes, like Noah one needs the foresight to forego building a house and start building a rather large boat!

The question for us is this, do we have the foresight to see and understand the will of God? Can we, to use the Star Wars terminology, sense and feel the force within us? Can we see its direction and understand what path it is guiding us down? Can we feel the Creator of the universe, the Lord of all Creation, with in us and do we have a sense of what God wills for us? If so, our faith is founded on the rock and we will have the foresight to do what God is willing for us. If not, our faith is founded on the sand and when the times meet up with the signs, we will not survive the flood. Like Luke, like Noah, like Abraham, and all of the people guided by their faith, we too can have such foresight and be a part of what God is doing in the world.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Through the Force, things you will see. Other places. The future…the past. Old friends long gone.” – Jedi Master Yoda

PRAYER
Lord, I open myself up to your will. Give me the foresight to sense it and act upon it. Amen.

The Sermon, part 27: The False Ones

Read Matthew 7:15-23

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 24:11-13 NRSV)

vaderandpalp“Beware of False prophets”, Jesus warns his disciples in the Gospel According to Matthew.” This is not a warning of outsiders coming into Christian circles to lead them astray, but of insiders. This is a warning that Jesus makes to his disciples regarding other Christians who call Jesus, “Lord, Lord,” but are only do so with their mouth and not with their deeds. Their words produce praises of Jesus, but their actions contradict and stand against the will of God as given through Jesus Christ.

Since I am in a huge Star Wars mood at the moment, I will liken Jesus’ warning to the first three episodes of the Star Wars franchise. Young Anakin Skywalker had such potential to be a powerful and just Jedi, as well as to be the one who restores the balance to the force and defeats the evil Sith. Yet, Anakin is seduced by the very evil that he is sworn to oppose. That evil, however, did not come in the form of evil. Instead, it came in the form of a kind and seemingly generous old Senator from the noble planet of Naboo.

Senator Palpatine was seemingly a patriot, a friend and ally of the Jedi, and someone who consistently stated he wanted to restore justice to the Republic. When he met young Anakin Skywalker, he acted as a grandfather like character and, behind the scenes, secretly mentored the young Jedi padawan. Unfortunately, behind his kindly words and seemingly sagely advice, lie the sinister and poisonous tongue of an evil and powerful sith Lord.

Over time, Palpatine gained the loyalty of Anakin Skywalker, and was able to lead him to the dark side of the force. Just as Palpatine was being revealed as the Sith Lord Darth Sidious, what good was left in Anakin died and he became the Sith Lord Darth Vader. Together, they would topple the democratic Republic and establish the evil Galactic Empire, ruling the entire galaxy in complete and utter tyranny.

This tragedy is what Jesus is warning his disciples against; however, we need to pause before move to the final point. This particular passage troubles me; however, I do not dismiss it or pass it off as untrue or unimportant. It troubles me because the accusation of “False Prophet” gets weilded around Christianity like Darth Sidious weilded the world “Rebellion” and “Traitor”. It gets thrown out against other Christians who hold different theologies and doctrinal understandings but self-righteous and zealot Christians who think that their way of understanding is the ONLY and RIGHT way of understanding.

I can tell you that I have been called a false prophet, as have many Christian leaders out there. I don’t just mean modern Christians either. Paul was called a “false Apostle” by his Jewish-Christian brothers and sisters. Even Jesus was called a false prophet and false Messiah by some of the Jewish leaders who opposed him. Using the label “false prophet” in such away is not only counter to Jesus’ intent here, it also bears the kind of evil that we see in Sidious and Vader who accuse and destroy their opponents.

To throw this accusation out willy nilly because one doesn’t agree with another brother or sister in Christ, not only besmirches them, it also spiritually damages them and blasphemes the Holy Spirit working within them. That kind of blasphemy, according to Jesus, is the ONLY unforgiveable kind of sin because it goes beyond mere sin and enters the realm of evil. One no longer sees God as supreme, but places onself in the seat of God’s supremacy. Such a person is no longer aware of their own sin, but sees their sinfulness and sinful nature as just and righteous. Of course, not all who have been afraid of false prophets, or thrown that accusation around, are irredeemable. I believe no one is irredeemable; however, Jesus’ warning is rightfully strong, because once someone has crossed over that threshold, it is very hard to come back.

Thus, here is Jesus’ point. Not all who call themselves Christian are TRULY followers of Lord Jesus Christ. Only those who do the will of God are. This isn’t measured in one perfectly following the will of God; however, it is measured in their heart and in their overall fruit. Only God can judge the heart, but we can see evidence of the fruit. So, what kind of fruit does a Christian bear? That is simple: LOVE. Those who strive to love God, love neighbor, love enemies, and follow the golden rule, are the ones who are true followers. Those who claim to be Christian but bear the fruit of judgment, self-righteousness, bitterness, envy, hatred, resentfulness, and pride are the ones Christ is warning us against. Be warned and be self-aware.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Words are cheap, heart-driven actions are costly.” – Rev. Todd R. Lattig

PRAYER
Lord, steer me away from all who are false, and steer me away from being false. Amen.

The Sermon, part 26: Two Roads

Read Matthew 7:13-14

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” (Matthew 12:30 NRSV)

two_roads_by_jelly_bonWe have now entered into the final section of Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount”, which is a series of three eschatological (end-time) warnings. The first of the warnings is a very famous and often misunderstood teaching which utilizes two roads, one which is broad and wide with many traveling on it, the other which is long and narrow with few ever finding it, let alone travelling down it. The more desirable road leads to the desirable gate EVER; whereas, the less than desirable road leads to the most desirable gate of all.

Of course, we all know which roads these are, even though they are literal roads. Even if we have never stepped foot into a church or picked up a Bible, there are very few in the Western World (and beyond) that haven’t heard AC/DC’s Highway to Hell song blaring out of the speakers. Conversely, many know the less than desirable road as the road or the way to Heaven. In the late 80’s and early 90’s, Michael Landon even had a show called “Highway to Heaven” which, despite it’s name, showed the “straight and narrow” road of God through the eyes of an angel seeking to do good in the world.

Pretty simple so far, right? It seems pretty clear that the well-traveled road leads to hell and the least traveled road leads to heaven, right? It seems clear that those on the highway to hell are outside of Christ, while those on the jagged trail to heaven are those who belong to and follow Christ, right? If all of this is true, it then follows that the warning is for all of the people who are choosing the wrong road, right? It must be a warning for all of the people choosing the “easy way” over the straight, narrow, rugged trail that leads to heaven.

Who do you think we’d find on the highway to hell? Perhaps, the adulterers, the addicts, the theives, the sex offenders, the greedheads, the liars, the cheaters, the prostitutes, and the wild partiers? In some Christian circles, anyone listening to AC/DC or bands like Marilyn Manson are traveling the Highway to Hell; if you think about it though, that is kind of like a badge of  honor to Rock N’ Roll and Heavy Metal bands! I mean, for real! Beyond the Highway to Hell, who do you think are going to heaven? Well, duh! Christians, right? As for music, what could possibly be better than listening to the Newsboys sing “God’s Not Dead” live for an eternity in heaven. Yes, that was sarcasm.

While all of this may seem clear and obvious, it is actually wrong to assume all of the above. First, we must remember that Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount” is being addressed to Jesus’ disciples, not to the masses. Yes, the multitude gathered are listening in and they do apply to them as well; however, Jesus’ warning is not geared toward the outsider; rather, it is being delivered for the insiders.

The roads to hell and/or heaven are not predicated on what music you listen to, what your view on same-sex marriage is or isn’t, or whether or not you are Christian. Hard to believe, right? Well, it is the truth. In fact, Jesus preached this Sermon before the term Christian (let alone the relgion) even existed. Rather, these roads are being presented as a warning to Jesus’ followers who have just been instructed on the standared God is calling us to uphold.

The “Highway to Hell” is the easy road. It is the road  most people travel because it requires little work or commitment. It does not have much, if any, accountability. The Highway to Hell is the road that tells us that we can be the judge and jury of what God wants. It is the way that abandons the very heart of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. The rugged, narrow and long road to heaven is hard to find and remain on because it requires an absolute commitment to Christ and his way of being. It means making Christ’s way our way, and since Christ’s way leads to the cross, most would rather just not go there.

When I say “most”, one must avoid the inevitbale pitfall of thinking “non Christians”. Again, as a reminder, Jesus is addressing his disciples. These are the people who are following Jesus, not the ones who are not. What this means is that Jesus is warning HIS DISCIPLES to avoid choosing the easy way, over his way! The only way to heaven, according to Jesus, is summed up in the Golden Rule, “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you, for this is the Law and the prophets.” The Golden Rule, of course, is the summation of the two Greatest Commandments.

Thus the easy way to love oneself, one’s agenda, one’s idealogy, one’s theology, one’s doctrine, one’s religion, one’s whatever over and above loving others as oneself. To do this is to also love onself over and above God. That is the easy way and most, if not all, of us find it without any trouble at all; however, Christ is calling us to a wholly different and harder way and warning us that our way leads to our own destruction. Christ’s way, however, leads to the Kingdom of God.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
The long and rugged pathway to heaven is the cross; it is the way of love.

PRAYER
Lord, help me to embrace the long and rugged pathway to heaven. Amen.