Tag Archives: Holy Spirit

SON OF GOD: Holy Saturday

Read Matthew 27:62-66

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“’Go out and stand before Me on the mountain,’ the LORD told him. And as Elijah stood there, the LORD passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.” (1 Kings 19:11-13a NLT)

Jesus in the TombToday is Holy Saturday, which is the day in between Jesus’ death and his resurrection. It is on this day that his disciples sat in hiding. It is on this day that the uncertainty of death hung over them like a shroud, clouding them with the fear of the unknown and paralyzing them in that fear. They had followed Jesus for three long years and had invested all of their hopes and expectations in him. Now he was dead, gone, and the silence of the tomb echoed in their psyche about as loudly as a shrill scream in the night.

On the flip side, the powers that be that opposed Jesus were scrambling to keep the silence from becoming to uncertain. Caiaphas and other religious leaders were holding a meeting with the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, regarding what they were going to do with this dead trouble maker named Jesus. The religious leaders were claiming that his disciples might come and snatch the body in order to make false claims about some sort of bodily resurrection. Out of fear that the body might disappear, they all decided that it would be best if guards were posted at the tomb to ensure that nothing happened to the body.” These men, too, were disturbed by the silence of the tomb, for they were afraid it might remain silent. So they did everything they could to ensure that it would.

The silence of death and the tomb affects each of us in many different ways. It seems so final, yet so uncertain, and we are left feeling not only loss by a sense of hopelessness. And I need not be talking about the physical death of any one person, but death in the broader sense. Throughout life, aspects of our lives die off. We come to identify ourselves one way, or another, and for a season that identification endures; however, there comes a point when that identity, that aspect, that part of us dies off and we are with a tremendous sense of loss and of fear. Who are we? How do we respond to this particular loss? Do we, like the disciples, hide in the shadows afraid of what lies next? Or do we, like the religious and political leaders of Jesus’ day, place guard over the tomb to make sure nothing is out of our control?

Both of the above questions are pathways that we can take? Both seek to hang onto whatever control we have left. Paralysis and overreaction are on the opposite side of the same coin of control. However, there is a third option. We need not hide in the shadows or overreact in some outlandish way or through some sort of crazy power grab; rather, we have the option of letting go. We have the option of allowing the silence of the tomb to speak for itself. We have the option of letting go of control and allowing God to work resurrection in our lives. The reality is that no matter what we do, whether we hide in the shadows or stand guard over the tomb, that stone will be bursting forth with or without us. The question is not “if”, but “when.” When the Son of God sparks resurrection in your life, will be open to it or will you let it pass you by? The silence of the tomb gives you ample time to reflect on that very question. May that reflection be rich in the darkness and the silence of the tomb.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.” – Steve Jobs

PRAYER
Lord, prepare me for the death in life, and for the death of life, for I know that all ends are the beginnings of something new. Amen.

SON OF GOD: Holy Monday

Read Mark 11:12-14, 20-22

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’” (Matthew 13:31-32 NRSV)

fig_tree2Have you ever been in an apple orchard, or in a strawberry field, or in a garden and really desire to eat the food you come upon? One of my favorite things to do is to eat the fruit fresh from the tree. I get hungry walking through the orchards and the fields and, for whatever reason, the fruit tastes so much more fresh and desirable when freshly picked. There is nothing like it.

I can only imagine that Jesus, heading in to Jerusalem on that Monday morning nearly 2,000 years ago would have felt the same way as he passed that fig tree. The only difference is that, as he was passing, the fig tree was not in season to grow fruit. It only had leaves on it. Jesus surely knew this and understood it, yet when he arrived at the tree he cursed it upon the sight of it not having fruit. Odd, right? His disciples must have thought so.

Then this Jesus headed into Jerusalem, and went straight to the Temple. It is there that he began teaching against the religious establishment of his time period. You see, Jesus felt that they had become more focused on upholding their power and status, rather than being servants of the people. Rather than leading the people closer to God, Jesus felt the establishment was crushing the very people it was meant to serve. Jesus did not parse words as he levied the indictment of those who stood to gain from the establishment. On the way out of Jerusalem on the morning after that long and tense day, the disciples had noticed that the tree had withered and they remembered the curse Jesus had pronounced against the tree.

The tree is a symbol, a metaphor, and it represents the religious establishment and all of those who would claim to be God’s. When God comes, when God shows looking for fruit, we had better be bearing some. There are no excuses that will fly. We cannot claim to be out of season, or unaware of the coming of the Lord. Rather, we are called to ALWAYS be bearing fruit and we are not only called to bear fruit for some…but for ALL!

The question for us, as it was for those in Jesus’ day, is this: are we bearing fruit, or are we just a tall trunk with leaves? Are our branches far reaching, do they reach out to all who are in need of the fruit they bear, or are short and sparce? Are we like the great tree that grew from the mustard seed that shelters all of the birds of the air in its shade? Or are we a tree that shelters only the few and privileged? The Son of God wants us to bear fruit. The Son of God is calling us to recognize that all are children of God and all are chosen to receive the fruit of God’s love…the fruit of God’s hope, healing and wholeness. All we need to do is to root ourselves in God’s unfailing love and grow.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” – Jesus of Nazareth (Matthew 7:18-19 NRSV)

PRAYER
Lord, produce in me a clean heart. Prune away the dead branches and nurture me into a strong tree that produces much fruit for your Kingdom of hope, healing, wholeness, love, peace, justice, compassion, mercy, and humility. Amen.

A Love That Lets Go

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)

Letting GoHave 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
PRAYER
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.

Simply Believe

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)

LOVEMany 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
PRAYER
Lord, help me to believe in you…to truly believe…and not to be in a place of judgment of others. Amen.

God’s Caretakers

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)

shapeimage_2Recently, 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
PRAYER
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.

I Will Fail You

Read Deuteronomy 32:1-4

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48 NRSV)

ryanClarkHave 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

PRAYER
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.

Jesus Christ Superstar

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)

JCS-iconI 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

PRAYER
Lord, become a revolution in my heart and transform me with the power of your world rocking love. Amen.