While it is important to keep moving forward, sometimes it is also important to pause and look back at what we’ve learned from the past. With that in mind, let’s take a look at this post from December 2012. It is just as relevant now as it was then.
While it is important to keep moving forward, sometimes it is also important to pause and look back at what we’ve learned from the past. With that in mind, let’s take a look at this post from November 2013. It is just as relevant now as it was then.
Excuses, excuses, excuses. This world is filled with them, isn’t it? And we don’t have to look too far to find a boat-full of excuses do we? The truth is that excuses flow from our mouths as much as they fill our ears. As a person, I have certainly made my share of excuses in my life. When I didn’t like a subject in school, I would come up with excuses as to why I COULD NOT succeed at it. In the past, I have excused myself for bad eating habits. I have excused myself for being in a bad mood, for having a bad attitude, for bad behavior and for a host of other things. It’s not that I am confessing something that would be surprising to anyone, whether they know me or not. If we are all to be completely honest with ourselves, everyone of us has made excuses for a variety of different things.
We Christians, it seems, are just as good at making excuses for ourselves as everyone else is. As someone who has both been in the church and has served the church in a host of different ways, I know the kinds of excuses that get made. For instance, when people are challenged to read the Bible more they will often come up with excuses such as, “I just don’t understand it,” or “Gee, I just don’t have the extra time to read it.” I hear excuses for why people can’t be a part of the life of the church, why they can’t lead in this way or that, why they can’t give more in one way or the other, and a whole host of excuses for not doing a variety of different things.
One excuse that really gets me is the one that people often make when it comes to living out the Gospel in their lives. It is quite clear when we read the Bible that Jesus called his disciples, and through them he called us, to live as he did. He calls us to love God with our whole being and to love our neighbors, including our enemies, as ourselves. Any preacher worth their weight in salt will most certainly preach that as one of the key components of the Gospel message and will challenge his or her congregants to answer that call; yet, when pressed, people will say, “Of course Jesus lived that way, he’s the Son of God. He was perfect…I’m not.”
I have always been one to call a spade a spade, and so I will be no different here. Not only is that an excuse, it is an affront to the Gospel and it goes against everything that Jesus taught and did. Jesus did not come to “show off” like some entertaining illusionist (though walking on water would be a neat trick to pull off); rather, Jesus lived the life that he was calling us all to join with him in living. In other words, Jesus does not buy our excuses and nor should we. We aren’t fooling God, even if we are fooling ourselves. I believe that, if we search deep down, we’ll find that we are not really fooling ourselves either.
Today’s challenge is to stop making excuses. Call things as they are. If God’s message of unconditional love, acceptance, forgiveness and compassion really move and inspire you, then start living that kind of life. Don’t excuse yourself for not doing it; rather, really start trying to live that way. It’s not about being perfect, but about being sincere. If you don’t want to follow God and live as God created you to, then just be honest and say it. Don’t excuse yourself, for that doesn’t change the fact that you simply don’t want to. If, on the other hand, you love God and want to live as a child of God, then start doing it. Persevere in holy living, in living that is set apart for God, and you will see yourself opened to the transformative power of God and to the hidden possibilities that God has for you.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.” – Thomas Jefferson
Lord, you know all things including the things about me that no one else knows. You know the life I’ve led and the real reasons why I have led it in the manner I have. I am not perfect, but I trust that through you I am being perfected. Strengthen me to be honest with myself and spark the desire in me to live as you have called me to live. Amen.
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.” (Mark 13:33)
I 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)
Lord, help me to be leave behind my complacency and to pick up the truth of your Good News for all people. Amen.
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)
At 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
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.
“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)
I 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
Lord, remind me of my purpose and spark a passion in me to see it through to completion. Amen.
“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)
In 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
Lord, help me to see you even in those who think and believe differently than me. Humble me, I pray. Amen.
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)
Michael 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.
Lord, love does not breed fear. Help me to snuff the flames of fear and be filled with your love. Amen.
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)
One 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
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.