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Read Luke 5:1-11
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“[Jesus] said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus.” (Matthew 14:29 NRSV)
Okay, now we are getting close to Holy Week. As always, I have pulled out movies from my “Jesus movie” collection, and I have begun to watch them. This Sunday evening, I sat down to watch “Son of God”, which is up there on my list of awesome Jesus movies. While, it doesn’t quite stack up when it comes to the temple scene, which is often how I gauge the quality of Jesus movie, it stacks up just about everywhere else…making it one of my more favorite films on the subject matter. It is a theologically responsible, open-minded, historically aware, and spiritually grounded film and I commend the film makers, Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, for making it.
As I was watching the scene of Jesus walking on the water and Peter jumping out of the boat to walk with him, it occurred to me that there is a very theologically profound connection to an earlier story of Jesus and Peter. In the beginning of the film, Jesus came to the Sea of Galilee and began to call his disciples. When he got to Peter, he found him returning from an “epic fail” of a fishing trip. Jesus called to Peter, but Peter practically couldn’t be bothered, he was too agitated over not catching any fish. So, Jesus came to him. That’s right, he walked chest high into the water and stood beside Peter’s boat.
“You’re not just going to come up into my boat!” Peter exclaimed. “That’s right,” Jesus answered, “I could use a helping hand.” Jesus reached out and Peter reluctantly, and somewhat confused, grabbed his hand and pulled him up into the boat. To make a long story short, Jesus told Peter to go back out and cast his nets. Peter protested that, but in the end he gave in, went back out to deeper waters, and casted his net. Jesus then touched the water, and before Peter could believe his own eyes, fish were filling the nets literally by the boatful. At first, Peter wanted nothing to do with Jesus, so Jesus came to him and invited him anyway.
Jesus’ taking the time to be invitational to Peter led Peter to a place of solid and bold faith. The same Peter, who was once an agitated and disinterested fisherman, was now doing the reverse of what had happened on that day at the beginning of the film. Now, instead of Jesus coming into the boat, Peter was jumping out of the boat to be where Jesus was! This, to me, brought on a profound revelation, one that instantly hit me as I was watching the film. So often, we are looking for people to come to us…and we get discouraged when the don’t; however, which one of us is willing to go to them, like Jesus did with Peter? Which one of us is willing to pursue people, to be where they are, in order to invite them to build their faith enough to join us where Christ is?
At some point we, too, were the ones being invited. Some of us may have accepted readily, while others may have taken more time to accept the invitation. Still, regardless of the time it took, we are all members of the universal body of Christ as a result of it. Christ is calling you to be invitational to others. Christ is calling you to invite people to be in your life, to join you for worship at your churches, and to join you in ministry to your neighbors around you. It is in the invitation, and in the pursuit of such an invitation, that we find the secret to becoming “fisher of people.” Fishing takes time, it takes patience, it takes faith, and it takes pursuit. I hope to see you down by the shoreline.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Many [people] go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.” – Henry David Thoreau
Lord, climb into my boat and inspire in me a bold faith, so that I may become one of your fishers of people. Amen.
Read Mark 6:1-12
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me. And now, look, your house is abandoned and desolate.” (Matthew 23:37-38 NLT)
Have you ever had to make decisions on behalf of someone you love that you really, really didn’t want to make? As a parent, there are times that I have had to make decisions that had eaten me alive in the process of making them. For anyone who has been a parent, or has been responsible for someone else, you probably know exactly what I am talking about. Ever parent wants their kids to love them, every parent longs for their children to look up to them, to respect them, but also be close to them. The problem is that, by virtue of having the responsibility of parenthood, there are times that parents have make decisions, and take certain courses of action, in order to do what is right for their children…BECAUSE THEY LOVE THEM. Those decisions often come with consequences, such as the children not “liking” their parents and/or feeling sorry for themselves, which can only go to make the parent feel even worse for having to make the dreaded decision. With that said, it was the RIGHT thing for the parent to do.
One of the hardest thing for parent to do, one of the things that goes against a parent’s very fiber, is the decision and the act of letting their child go. In fact, that is not just a hard thing for parents to do, is it? That seems to be a universally hard thing for many people to do. Whether they are parents, siblings, family, or friends, it is hard for people to let the ones they love go; however, there are times when LOVE demands that one do just that. This perhaps is the most painful, and yet the most radically profound, act of love.
Letting go is an act of love that God knows very well. After all, God created this world and all that is in it, and God did so out of love. In that love, God created human beings in order to have a relationship with them. God gave them everything and tried to guide them to a life that was good for them; however, out of love God also gave them the freedom to choose and boy did humanity choose…not God, but themselves. So God let them go; God let them make their choices, regardless of whether they were good or bad.
That’s not to say that God completely stepped away, because God did try and intervene in order to get people to remember their relationship with their Creator. God even sent God’s own son in order to show people how much God loved them, yet the people either didn’t understand it, or they chose to reject it. That was their choice and, in that choice, God let them go. Even when they chose to torture, whip, and crucify God’s Son, God chose to let them go. Why? Why would God do such a thing? Because God loved humanity that much that God was willing let them go.
While it is not easy, God is calling us to do the same. As much as we want to control the relationships we are in, as much as we want everyone to love us and to understand how much we love them, as much as we want our relationships to remains strong and happy, the reality is that some will inevitably deteriorate and fall apart. We should try to mend those relationships if possible, we should try to reconcile ourselves with our family, friends and neighbors (if at all possible and regardless of whether we were in the right or wrong); however, if the door to reconciliation continually comes swinging shut, at some point we need to love the person and/or the people enough to let them go. Why? Because love demands that we do. Because in love for us, God has let us go. Letting someone go does not mean giving up on them, it simply means that you love them enough to let them choose to love, or not love you…no matter how painful that is. This Lent, I pray that, in those necessary moments, God gives you the grace and the strength to express your love for others through the act of letting them go.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Some of us think holding on makes us strong; but sometimes it is letting go.” – Hermann Hesse
Lord, help me to know when it is time to hold on and when it is time to let go of the ones I love. Give me the strength to do so. Amen.
Read John 3:1-18
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“If any of you wants to be My follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow Me.” (Mark 8:34 NLT)
Many who have grown up in the church have had to learn Bible verses/passages in Sunday School, or VBS, or for confirmation, etc. Many grew up learning the 23rd Psalm, many grew up learning Isaiah 40:28-31, and many others. probably the most learned Bible verse ever, if I had place my bets on it is John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Thank God for the poetic King James Version which only aids in the memorization process because it rings so clearly. With that said, it’s not always the most understandable translation, so I thank God for the more contemporary translations too.
John 3:16 has often been considered the verse of love, in a Gospel that has become known as the Gospel of love. We often hear that verse and are comforted by God’s graciousness in sending his Son to save us from our sins through Jesus’ death on the cross. We see this as God’s great love for all of humankind. The other thing that usually happens in the interpretation of this passage is that it becomes exclusive of anyone that doesn’t “believe” in Jesus, and with that the exclusion goes even deeper as there aren’t two groups of people on this planet that “believe in Jesus” the exact same way. So, this usually amounts to a “my group is saved because we believe, but yours shall perish because you don’t believe or because you believe falsely.”
What’s sad about this is that it takes what is a verse of hope, a verse of complete sacrificial love, and turns it into a verse of judgment and condemnation. Now, don’t get me wrong. I am NOT saying that anything goes and that Jesus’ death on the cross saves everyone unconditionally. Typically, when people try and have a discussion around salvation theology, accusations of “universalism” fly around like bullets out of a machine gun. I am not saying that anything goes because I believe that saying that cheapens what Jesus did for us; however, I am not so quick to turn this verse into a verse of judgement because I believe that ends up discounting and/or nullifying what Christ did for us, at least in the minds and hearts of those we affect.
Instead, I choose to let this verse speak for itself. Jesus Christ sacrificed his life, not just through his death but through his very life. In fact, John 3:16 mentions nothing about God sending Jesus to die…just that God sent God’s only begotten Son. Obviously, his death and resurrection play a vital part, but so did his life. Jesus sacrificed living a normal life, being a husband, being a father, and living out his days relatively peacefully in order to follow God and teach others how to do so as well. In his life, he showed us the truth and the life through his healings, his teachings and his example. Through his death, he showed us the way to the Kingdom of God. In his resurrection, Christ showed us that even death won’t conquer those who follow his way. Anyone who believes in Christ not only believes in his life and death and his resurrection, but also believes they are called to follow in his footsteps.
Jesus didn’t die because he was forced to, or because he HAD to, or even because God willed him to; rather, he died because humanity’s sinful nature rebuked and reviled him. He accepted that reality and took on death because he LOVES US THAT MUCH. He accepted death on a cross because to him, and to God, we MATTER THAT MUCH! Jesus saw in us the what we often fail to see in ourselves…the presence of the Living God. So, why take what is an ENORMOUSLY POSITIVE verse and turn it into something negative? I am not God, nor are you, nor is any other created being in God’s creation. Only God is God, and through Christ, God has showed us the way of love through self-sacrifice. We are to believe, but we are not to judge others who we THINK might not believe. Rather we are to SIMPLY BELIEVE to the point of being moved and transformed from who we are to who GOD is calling us to be. Those who do shall find everlasting peace and life.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.” – Jesus Christ
Lord, help me to believe in you…to truly believe…and not to be in a place of judgment of others. Amen.
Read Genesis 6:11-22
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’” (Genesis 1:27-28 NRSV)
Recently, I sat down and watch the film Noah with my wife. The film, starring Russell Crowe, Anthony Hopkins, and Emma Watson, is inspired by and loosely based off of the account of Noah in Genesis 5-10. I say loosely, because the film is artistic in it’s approach. It takes five chapters, what could amount to 30 minutes (an hour tops) and builds out of that source material a film that is two and a half hours long. It includes all of the characters from the Biblical narrative and it includes new characters. Most importantly, it pays close attention to the obscure stories within the larger story of Noah, and it interprets those stories in light of the larger one. While many Christian critics said the film disregarded the Bible, I find that the film actually paid the Biblical text much more attention than other adaptations. With that said, it did so unconventionally.
In the film, the “bad guy” is a man by the name of Tubal-Cain. To make a long story short, he is a descendant of Cain (as in Cain and Abel), whereas, Noah is a descendant of Seth who was born after Abel was murdered and Cain was banished. Tubal-Cain is a power-hungry person, as are all (or most) of the people who descend from Cain. Noah, and his family, are not. They are peaceful, vegetarian, and living in harmony with the earth. In one scene, after having helped Tubal-Cain recover from injuries, one of Noah’s sons happens to see Tubal-Cain eating meat and he tries to stop him. “The beasts are precious,” he protested. Tubal responded, “The beasts are for us. The Creator needed to take dominion over it and subdue it. He created us. This is our world, Ham. Seize it.”
As I was watching this scene, it occurred to me that that both sides are founded by the same story. Both Noah and Tubal-Cain have grown up knowing and living by the same story. In the beginning, God created everything, including humans. God created humans in God’s own image, and God put humans in charge of creation by saying, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth” (Genesis 1:28). What separated Noah from Tubal-Cain (according to this film, not necessarily according to the Bible) is that Noah understood that the command to take dominion and subdue, meant to tame and care for, as opposed consume and destroy.
In fact, when you read the Scriptures carefully, it seems that God created human beings and placed them “in charge” of all that God created. To be a ruler with dominion is to have a position of great responsibility and power. God gave humans that power so that we would care for a creation that God loves, for a creation that God says is “good.” Why would God want humans to consume and destroy creation? Why would God create animals for people to abuse and torture them? Why would God create plant-life for humans to slash and burn?
I am not suggesting that humans shouldn’t eat meat (though I choose to abstain), nor am I suggesting that people shouldn’t farm or utilize natural resources; however, I am suggesting that God created us to be caretakers of creation and that, “have dominion and subdue” does not equal “consume and destroy.” We are all called to be caretakers and lovers of God’s creation. We are all called to be as responsible as possible in how we utilize resources. We all need to eat and live, and things die (both plants and animals) as a result of that need; however, that does not give us free reign to consume and destroy at will. It’s time, as children of the Creator, that we hold each other accountable to being better stewards of creation. It’s not just “what’s right”, but it’s also what we were created for.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“When we heal the earth, we heal ourselves.” – David Orr
Lord, help reconnect me with my purpose as a caretaker for all of your creation, including the people you have placed in my life. Amen.
Read Deuteronomy 32:1-4
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48 NRSV)
Have you ever been failed by anyone? Have you ever put your trust in someone, almost elevating them to the status of “perfect”, only to be let down by how not “perfect” they actually are? Perhaps you have done this with celebrities? Perhaps you have done this with public officials, perhaps you have done this with pastors, with friends, and/or with family members. You think that they are wonderful people, that they can do no wrong, that they have your best-interest in mind, only to find out that they were not able to live up to all you thought that they were.
Have you ever failed anyone, including yourself? Have you ever had people put their trust in you, have you had people look up to you like you could do no wrong, only to let them down for one reason or the other, revealing to them how much wrong you could actually do? Have you ever been relied on, looked up to, and placed in a position that you felt you had to live up to, only to find out that your attempt, in the end, was an epic fail? My guess is that, like me, everyone can pretty much answer “yes” to each one of the above questions.
I have been listening to my favorite Christian metal band, “Demon Hunter”, a lot lately. On their latest album, “Extremist”, there is a song called, “I Will Fail You.” In that song, Ryan Clark sings, “I will fail you, of that I’m sure. I will remind you of the pain forevermore. And when my sins are just a memory, faith restored, I will fail you to the core.” In the video for the song, Clark is seen driving a car at night…like for the WHOLE VIDEO. As the song progresses, Clark goes from just driving, to lighting up a cigarette and smoking. Finally, he opens up a bottle of pills and takes several of them, which are presumably narcotics. In the end, Clark becomes dazed and incoherent as headlights shine through his window. The video then pans to the passenger side of the car where a man who is bound, whose mouth is shut with duct tape, tries screaming to wake the drugged driver up. The video cuts to black; the video, like the driver and passenger in the car, has come to an abrupt end.
Clark, who is the frontperson and chief song writer for the band, explained the song by saying that, especially as Christian artists, there is a lot of pressure for them to be perfect. Because they are Christian, people expect them to be the ultimate role models, to be the staunchest Christians (as defined by each individual looking to them that way), and to live perfect lives. The reality is, however, that at some point they will be let down. Imperfection and the tendency to fail are a part of the human condition. What’s more, if we try to be perfect or elevate someone up to the status of perfection, we are totally setting ourselves up for epic failure.
The only one we should look to for perfection is God. While Christ called us to “be perfect as God is perfect,” Christ was not calling us to raise up anyone, ourselves included, as idols of perfection. Rather, Christ was calling us to strive to live into the essence of God, which is to have compassion, to be a peacemaker, to forgive others, to be agents of hope, healing and wholeness, to seek justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God. If we do those things, if we seek after God’s righteousness rather than an unattainable human perfection, we will find that God’s righteousness will be flowing in and through us for the transformation of the world around us. I will fail you…but GOD WILL NOT!
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Do not fear mistakes. You will know failure. Continue to reach out.” – Benjamin Franklin
Lord, help me to place my faith in you for you will never fail me. Help me to grow in my love and compassion to others who, like me, embody the human condition. Amen.
Read Philippians 2:1-11
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
Then Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, “Are you also going to leave?” Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of God. ” (John 6:67-69 NLT)
I have always been a fan of plays and movies about the life and teachings of Christ. One of favorites, which started as a play and has been made into a movie, is Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar. The story starts off toward the end of Jesus’ ministry, and it opens with Judas Iscariot questioning what the Jesus movement has become. They had followed him for three years, hoping that he would be their Messiah, and hoping that he would overthrow the Romans and establish his kingdom and reestablish Jewish sovereignty.
Yet things had seriously changed since that day that Judas first joined the band of disciples. Back then, everyone thought of Jesus as another human being, albeit a holy, prophetic, and kingly human being. Since those first days, weeks, months as Jesus’ disciples first joined him on his mission. He started performing miracles, he started developing a following and, according to Judas, he had started developing a God-complex. In the song, “Heaven on Their Minds”, Judas belts out in his high Tenor voice, “I remember when this whole thing began, no talk of God then, we called you a man. And believe me, my admiration for you hasn’t died. But every word you say today gets twisted ’round some other way, and they’ll hurt you if they think you’ve lied.”
While no one knows the real reason behind Judas’ decision to betray Jesus; however, it is clear that all of the disciples followed Jesus with their own hopes and expectation of who Jesus was and who he was going to be. They were hoping he would be a superstar, to use today’s terminology, and they wanted to ride that wave into the Jewish history books. Of course, Jesus certainly did become a superstar and he certainly etched his way into all of the world’s history books; however, Jesus was not the kind of superstar they were all hoping he would be.
He amassed tons of followers, tons of notoriety, and gained a ton of attention; however, Jesus’ message was not one of violent revolt against the Romans, but a peaceful revolution of his own people. While he was no “friend of Caesar”, he also became no “friend” of the political and religious leaders of his own people. He felt that, as the Messiah, his revolution was one of the heart. It was one that would reestablish the greatness of GOD through love, compassion, sacrifice, discipline, justice, mercy, and humility. This kind of revolution made enemies with the Romans and the elites among his own people. Consequently, this Jesus Christ Superstar made enemies among his own friends and followers. Jesus was a superstar for sure, but that superstardom would not result in people crowning him…but crucifying him.
As we are in Lent, let us challenge ourselves to reflect on who we see Jesus to be. What are your hopes and expectations of Jesus? Are they realistic? Are they self-serving? Are they based on what others have told you about him or are they Biblically based? Do you see Jesus as being in your image? Or are seeking the kind of transformation that will lead you to look more and more like Jesus? What’s more, will your hopes and expectations of Jesus lead you to continue growing in your love, admiration and service of him, or will it lead you to grow more and more frustrated and disconnected from him? Remember that Jesus is the King of kings because he cannot be corrupted, manipulated, or bent to our ways. Jesus is Lord because he is unrelenting in his mission of hope, healing and wholeness, and he is uncompromising in his revolution to transform the heart. I pray that, in your Lenten journey, you come to be transformed by this divinely radical revolution.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Neither you, Simon, nor the fifty thousand, nor the Romans, nor the Jews, nor Judas, nor the twelve, nor the priests, nor the scribes, nor doomed Jerusalem itself understand what power is, understand what glory is, understand at all.” – Jesus Christ in Jesus Christ Superstar
Lord, become a revolution in my heart and transform me with the power of your world rocking love. Amen.
Read Matthew 18:1-10
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I tell you the truth, all sin and blasphemy can be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. This is a sin with eternal consequences.” (Mark 3:28-29 NLT)
It was October of 1996, I was 18 going on 19 years old, and I remember the religious fervor that was being struck up by a band that had just hit the mainstream airwaves a year before with their cover of the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of These).” Though this band came out in 1994, it was clear that this latest album would become it’s defining moment; for some Christians, choosing to listen to that album would be a soul-damning moment, one that had eternal consequences, and this is just what the band Marilyn Manson was banking on.
It’s not that they were banking that their album, Antichrist Superstar, would send people to hell; however, Marilyn Manson were banking on the religious fervor that inevitably ignited against it, and they rode that money train all the way to the bank. The album, to date, has sold over 7 million copies, with 1.9 million of those copies being sold in the United States alone. That’s probably not what the protesting Christians were hoping for, but it was an unintended consequence of all of their protests.
One of my favorite songs off of the album is the title track, “Antichrist Superstar.” In it Manson writes, “You built me up with your wishing hell, I didn’t have to sell you…cut the head off, grows back hard. I am the hydra, now you’ll see your star.” Many Christians feared that Manson was the Antichrist, that he was leading kids to Satan and ultimately to hell, and that the end of the world was near with the rise of someone who seemed so blatantly Satanic. But when you look at the lyrics, we find some substance beyond all of the theatrics. It is Christians who created this “Antichrist”, and it is Christians who were now protesting his rising like a star.
Brian Warner grew up going to a Christian school that taught him all about the devil. It taught him to fear Satan, but to fear God even more. He was taught that if he didn’t do the right things, think the right things, say the right things, and pray the right things, he would end up going to hell. He grew up having nightmares of the Antichrist coming and devouring him, he grew up having nightmares of God damning him to hell for not living the “good” life. This was what Brian Warner (aka Marilyn Manson) grew up believing Christianity was. The lyrics to his song, “Antichrist Superstar,” are a mirror of how Christianity represented Christ to him. It was Christianity that had built him up to fear, it was Christianity that taught him God was a God of wrath, and it was Christianity (sadly enough) that helped drive him away from Christ. Of course, it was only a certain brand of Christianity; however, it was the brand he grew up knowing and fearing. Though he attempts to show he’s broken free of that fear, his album is really more of a reflection of how that fear still consumes him.
As Christians, we are not called to be driving the “fear” of God into anyone. Satan only has as much power as we give him. If all we do is focus on evil, on the possibility of misstepping, of the possibility of damnation, then we imbue power into our fears of such things. God has not called us to do that; rather, God has called us to focus on the hope, healing and wholeness that comes through a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. What saddens me is that Marilyn Manson, and countless others, have not gotten that memo because the ones who were representing Christ were too busy pushing fear rather than love and acceptance. Let us not be such a people. Let us not fail the little ones who look up to us and model themselves off of us. Let them see within us the light of God, rather that the fear of darkness. Let us not build up antichrists by our wishing hell, but let us build up Christians by showing the love and the light of heaven in all we do.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“This is the culture you’re raising your kids in. Don’t be surprised if it blows up in your face.” – Brian Warner
Lord, teach me to move beyond fear and into your eternal arms of love. Help me to grow in that love and share it with others. Amen.