Tag Archives: Jesu

Love is Not a Dream

Read Matthew 5:38-48

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.'” (Matthew 26:52)

worldJust when Spring has finally sprung, just when warmth and life start to come back to the earth, just as people start to prepare for new hope and new opportunities for living life, a tragedy occurs that reminds us of how fragile and precarious life is. Today, as I was busy amid my day’s worth of work, a notification from the NY Times popped up on my iPhone, telling me that there were two explosions that went off during the Boston Marathon. As it turns out, these explosions were purposefully set off to harm, maim, and kill people. And the mission was accomplished. As of this writing, at least three people were killed, dozens maimed, and an entire nation is in a state of shock and panic.

Even following such tragic events like 9/11, all of the shootings that have happened and other devastating events, we still wonder who in the world would want to hurt innocent people. How can people be so cold, so calculating, and so vicious?  Why is it that the human race seems to be hellbent on blowing itself up? How should we respond to these and other acts of terror?

Before we answer those questions, let us think back to the world in which Jesus was born in. Christ was born into a world that is just as harsh as the world in which we live. He was born in a country that was occupied by a cruel and merciless Empire. He was born into a world that scourged and crucified its opponents. He was born into a world that shunned the poor and honored the greedy and powerful. It is into such a world that Jesus was born, and he was bound to experience the cruelty that this world had to offer.

Yet, what was his response? Did he respond out of fear? Did he respond out of hatred? Did he respond based off of his emotions? How did Jesus react with the world around him? What was his response to the cruelty, injustice, and horror that he was faced with everyday of his life?  The answer is as simple, and yet as profoundly irritating, as can be. Jesus responded with love.

Many, when hearing this, may think that I am just spewing a Christian cliché. Some may even go as far as to say that Jesus’ teachings work in theory, but not in real-world situations. After all, if we let people get away with murder, they’ll just keep on murdering? How does love solve the world’s problems?

The answer is, it doesn’t. But then again, neither does responding in hatred, violence and fear.  There is nothing that we can do to stop people from harming us, should they choose to. And a consequence of living in this broken world is that we run the risk of being caught in the fray of evil. And if we are honest, we sometimes perpetuate evil ourselves.

But we are not called to change the world; rather, we are called to change ourselves. We are called to rise above the fray and to love people, even when they don’t deserve to be loved. We are called to reach out to the starving, the naked, the angry, the disenchanted, the sick, the imprisoned, and all of those who are desperate people caught in desperate times. We are called to be the very presence of God in the lives of those who are desperately in need of the presence of God. In the end we have a choice, to react in fear or to react in love, to give in to the reaction the world is seeking after, or to embrace the reaction God desires of us. The choice is yours.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

Love is only a dream if you refuse to make it a reality.

PRAYER

Lord, we lay our fears down at the foot of the cross and pick up your love and your grace. Help us in this endeavor. Amen.

 

The Public Servant

Read Matthew 6:1-23

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled underfoot.” (Matthew 5:13)

il_fullxfull.252262749There once was a public servant who spent his entire life serving the public who continually voted him in. He was a decorated war hero who enlisted in the Army when he was eighteen. Following his military service, he put himself through college, then law school, and became a prosecutor who cracked down on criminals in his city. After years of service, he entered into the political arena and was elected to hold many different positions, including the mayor of his city.

One day, the mayor pulled up to city hall and found a car parked in such a way that his reserved parking spot was blocked. The mayor just couldn’t believe it! How could someone park in his spot! Didn’t they know who he was? Didn’t they know that he was the mayor, that he had spent his entire life serving the public, that he had earned that spot and was entitled to have it?

In a rage, the mayor called the chief of police directly and demanded that he take care of the situation!  “Get one of your boys down here and tow that car!” The mayor demanded. The chief of police, not wanting to stoke the mayor’s anger any further, immediately sent an officer to tow the car. Even upon the car being removed and getting his spot back, the mayor was seething over the incident.

Walking into the city hall, the mayor saw a woman sobbing profusely with a woman with another man sitting and sobbing next to her. “What’s going on,” the mayor asked?  The city clerk responded, that woman works here. She just found out that her son got into a car accident on the way to school and died. She called her husband who just came about ten minutes ago. He parked outside, ran in and as been with her since.” The mayor’s heart sunk. He just realized that the car he had towed belonged to the poor husband who had just lost his son and came to be with his wife.

As Christians, we spend day after day trying to do the right things. We go to church, we serve others (to the best of our abilities), we work tirelessly on building a legacy of faith for our children and their children. We come to expect things to be done a certain way, and we feel entitled to have it done the way we want because we have worked hard and earned it! We may find ourselves getting angry when we perceive that things aren’t “the way they should be” or that “we aren’t getting the respect we deserve.”

But why is it that we are doing what we do? Are we doing it to garner attention for ourselves? Are we “serving” so that, in the end, we might be served? Do we as Christians, as followers of Jesus the Christ, really believe that we’ve earned our keep and that we deserve or are entitled to preferential treatment? If so, Jesus says that we will get our reward.

We will garner attention and throw hissy fits when we don’t. We will look good to all of the right people, and we will trample the insignificant under our feet. Yet, if that is what we are doing, let us also be aware that we are trampling the very heart of God under our feet. Let us not wake up one day and come to realization, as the mayor above did, that we are no longer the person we envisioned ourselves as being; rather, let us join Christ in turning our own standards upside down. Let us start to see that the first shall be last and the last shall be first. Let us realize that we are never done serving and that God has called us to be agents of GRACE not benefactors of entitlement. Let your sense of entitlement go, in all areas of your life, and be filled with the Grace of God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me’. – Erma Bombeck

PRAYER

Lord, let me not ask what you, and others can do for me, but what I can do for you and for others. Amen.

 

A Forest of Crosses

Read Matthew 2:13-23; John 21:1-19

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)

CrucifixionA father, a mother and their young three-year old boy are making a long and dangerous trip home. They had spent the past few years in hiding and decided that it was finally safe to return home. There wasn’t much certainty of what would be awaiting them upon their return home; however, they knew that they could not stay away forever.

As they finally reach their homeland, they are entering a hell that they cannot even begin to anticipate.  Their young son looks up, wide-eyed and frightened, left speechless by what his innocent eyes were witnessing.  The mother looks up and gasps, calling her husband to look up. Above them is a forest of crosses, erect and grotesque. To each of the crosses are lifeless corpses, blackened with the decay of death. The bodies are rotting and are torn open from the pecking beaks of birds and the gnashing teeth of jackals and other scavengers that have made a feast of the flesh.

I am guessing that many of you are probably pretty disturbed by the image that has just been painted in two short paragraphs. If so, just imagine what the how scarred the little boy must’ve been to look up and see the sight of those bodies nailed to a forest of crosses. Hundreds of them set in their places to send a message of fear to anyone who dare resist the law of the land. This little boy, whose name is Yeshua in his native language of Aramaic and whose known by the Greek translation of that name (Jesus), would never forget the images of the crosses that foreshadow the way he is ultimately going to die.

This is the scene of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus returning home from Egypt in the History Channel miniseries, “The Bible.”  And there can be no doubt that Jesus’ life in ancient, 1st Century, Palestine, would have been riddled with such horrific images. Jesus grew up in a world where the word “peace” equated to a cruel, merciless, and torturous death.  In Jesus’ world, there were was no democracy, there were no civil “rights”, and there was no middle class. There were only the haves and the have-nots.

When we hear Jesus telling his disciples that if they wish to be his disciples they need to deny themselves and pick up their crosses, let us not forget the image above of the forest of crosses filled with the rotting, decaying stench of corpses.  Jesus wasn’t talking about putting on a silver or gold necklace when he said “pick up your cross”; rather, he was talking about the Roman means of capital punishment.

As we move closer to Holy Week, and ultimately to Good Friday (the darkest day in the Christian calendar) let us reflect, not only on the sacrifice that Jesus made, but on the sacrifice Christ is calling us to make. If we are going to be Christ’s followers, if we really believe in Jesus’ message, then we will be willing to lose it all…no matter how bad it hurts…for the sake of Christ and his Good News.

While, I cannot tell you what your cross is, or how you are to bear it, remember that the only way to get to Good Friday is to pick up your cross and follow Jesus. The only way to get to Easter, to get to your own resurrection, is to die to all that you believe you are and to embrace who God proclaims you are.  The only way to truly live, is to die to whatever is holding you back from giving your all to God.  For most of us, this “dying is metaphorical”, but that doesn’t make it any less real.  We are called to die to ourselves, and be resurrected in Christ Jesus so that we may bring God’s hope, healing and wholeness to those who are in desperate need of the life that God has to offer.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

To deny yourself does not equal self-neglect; rather, it equals the recognition that you are not “YOUR” own.

PRAYER

Lord, I surrender myself to your will. Use me in a way that will bring about your Kingdom here on earth. Amen.

 

<3 Yourself

Read Matthew 14:22-23; Mark 6:45-46; John 6:14-15

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“To get wisdom is to love oneself; to keep understanding is to prosper.” (Proverbs 19:8)

HeartHave you ever stopped to notice how busy you are? Or have you ever stopped to notice how busy everyone around you is? This world is non-stop business, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and three hundred sixty-five days a year.  The world keeps on turning, spinning on its invisible axis, and there isn’t anything we can do about it.

Before we know it, years have gone by, our kids have grown up and we are wondering where the time went and not sure where we were when all of life blew past us like a jet plane.  We hear plenty of catch phrases like, “Don’t let the world pass you by”, or “Don’t take life for granted”; yet, we often do take life for granted because we simply are too busy to do otherwise.

As a pastor of a church, a district youth director, a chaplain, a husband, and a father, I certainly know too well what being busy is all about. Each one of those titles bears with it a whole host of different duties that give me plenty of places to be and plenty of things to do. In the midst of all of the stuff that I have to do on any given day, it seems so easy to forget the one title has always defined who I am. The title of being ME.

How easy it is to forget that, in the midst of all the stuff each one of us has to do, it is important that we not forget to care for ourselves in the process.  After all, God created us, not to be eternally busy, but to enjoy God’s creation. If we are a part of God’s creation, then it certainly follows that God created us to enjoy ourselves. But how many of us truly spend time on ourselves?  How many of us truly take time away from our jobs, our chores and our families to spend quality time with ourselves? My guess is not too many of us.

But God is calling us to spend time with ourselves. God wants us to get to know who we are, to intimately spend time building a relationship with innermost selves. Jesus certainly knew this. If anyone was busy, Jesus was. Between preaching and teaching and healing and traveling and all of the other amazing things, Jesus was just about as busy as anyone could get; however, he also had no qualms about going up to the mountaintop to be alone and to pray.

God is calling us to do the same. There is nothing wrong with being busy, and there is certainly a lot of work for all of us to do; however, there is something wrong with not taking care of ourselves. And if we do not take care of ourselves, we really have no business trying to take care of others.

That is why, since January of 2012, I have made a point of taking care of myself. I run, I compose music, I write poetry, I sketch using charcoal, I hike and do a lot of different activities that get me in touch with myself.  I have made it a part of my spiritual discipline to be alone and to care for me.

The question is not if you can do it…but will you do it? God wants you to get to know yourself, to spend alone time praying and meditating on Scripture. God wants us to not only be in relationship with God and with others, but to also be in relationship with ourselves.  It is only then that we will be able to find the strength to do all of the other things God is calling us to do.  Think about it. God is calling you to relax a little and enjoy being you! After all, you are a part of God’s good creation! So praise God and enjoy yourself!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Love yourself first and everything else falls into line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world.” – Lucille Ball

PRAYER

Lord teach me to love myself just as much as you love me. Then send me out with that love so I can share it with others. Amen.

Billboards and Bumper Stickers

Read Jeremiah 31:31-34

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)

Read-the-InstructionsEvery once and  a while I will pass a billboard sign or see a bumper sticker that will just irk me a little bit. It is usually a pretentious saying word, “Co-Exist”, that is made up of all different religous symbols. I mean, on the one hand, I get that the bumper sticker is telling people to get along, hold hands, and skip along the yellow brick road with one another while practicing different religions. In essence, it is calling for acceptance of religious pluralism, the notion that all paths lead to God (a problematic notion to say the least). On the other hand, the problem in the world is that we ARE CO-EXISTING!!!  We often don’t co-exist peacefully, but we are definitely co-existing. Co-existence does not equal peace.

With that said, the other day I was driving down the road and I happened to see a billboard sign that read, “When all else fails, read the instructions.” Underneath those words was a large picture of the the Holy Bible. On the surface, those words seem to make sense. I am a Christian who actively reads the Bible and try to live by what I believe to be the core teachings within it. But the words on that billboard are overly simplistic, they imply that the Bible is a last resort, and they do not accurately depict what the Bible actually is.

If the Bible is a divine manual given to us so that we can follow its “instructions”, which instructions should we follow first? Perhaps, we should stone our children when they’ve dishonored us (Deuteronomy 21:18-21). Perhaps we men should remain unmarried and make ourselves eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom (Matthew 19:12). If we are going to follow the “instructions” then shouldn’t we get rid of our personal property and share it in common with the church (Acts 4:32-35) and shouldn’t women cover their heads (1 Corinthians 11:6) and remain submissively silent (1 Timothy 2:11-12)?

The fact of the matter is that what we have in the Bible is much more than a set of “instructions” for us to follow. While there are laws, rules and regulations, the Bible is also a collection of writings that reflect each author’s understanding of the human-divine relationship, as well as their commentary on the socio-economic and political situations of where they lived. The Bible is very much a living testament to the faith journeys of the ancient people who wrote and compiled it. The Bible is also a foundational text that we relate to and from which we spiritually grow.

While the Bible is certainly an important part of our Christian journey, and while I certainly encourage people to read and study it, I do believe that we Christians tend to get confused on what the Living Word of God really is. Is God’s Word a mere book, a mere set of rules and regulations on how to not upset the big daddy in the sky? Is the Word of God a book that has both a beginning and an end, a book that is finite and limited to words on a page? Is the Word of God bound in a book that can be used and misused?

If we are going to have a traditional Christian theological understanding of what the Living Word of God is, we might want to take a hint from the first chapter of the Gospel of John. The Living Word of God is not a bound collection of ancient books written by people who were inspired by God; rather, the Living WORD of God is the risen Jesus Christ.  That WORD cannot be bound nor contained. It knows no limits and it reaches different people in different ways. The WORD of God is not stagnant and typeset on flimsy paper, it is living and breathing through Christ who not only lives in us, but also through us.  When all else fails, know that the Word of God, which is living within you, does not!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Every creature is a word of God” – Meister Eckhart

PRAYER

Lord, I thank you for the Bible and for the inspired words within it. But my greatest praise is for your WORD, Christ Jesus. Amen.

Forgiven

Read 2 Samuel 11; Psalm 51; Matthew 6:14-15

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

Then Peter came to Him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?” “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven! “ (Matthew 18:21-22)

King_DavidHave you heard the tale of King David?  When I mention his name, images of a ruddy-faced shepherd boy might come to mind. Perhaps, you are seeing a sling-shot and a stone in the hands of a puny boy facing a monstrous giant named Goliath? Or perhaps you see the rising star of a man, named David, who quickly climbed the political ranks in Saul’s military. Perhaps you see David being chased down by an envious King who was desperately trying to hold on to the power that was never his to begin with.

But, when the name David is mentioned, do you think of the man who slept with another man’s wife and got her pregnant? Do you think of a man who had her husband sent to the front lines in a battle to be killed so that her husband would not know of the affair? Do you think of a King who has gained so much power that he forgets the very God who gave it to him?  When we read Psalm 51 and reflect on the lamenting of its author, it is hard to not think of David when he finally realizes that he was not powerful enough to hide his sins from God.

Whether or not Psalm 51 was actually written by David or not is beside the point. The fact of the matter is that the Psalmist, whoever he or she was, was certainly feeling desperately in need of God’s forgiveness. It is fitting that this Psalm gets traditionally attributed to David, in light of the great and scandalous sin that David committed. It is a Psalm that we all can relate to, as we have all found ourselves getting caught in the act of doing something we should not be doing.  We have all found ourselves on our knees, at some point or another, begging God to forgive us.

Seeking forgiveness is a part of the Christian journey.  John the Baptist preached the message of repentance…as did Jesus…as did the apostles and all of the Christians since then.  But for Jesus, seeking forgiveness was not enough. Anyone, given the right circumstances, can be pushed to do that; however, Jesus taught that it was equally important for us to be forgiving of others. “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15).

Now, most of us recognize that it is important to forgive others. It may be hard, and we may not want to forgive everyone, but we know that forgiveness is something God would want us to do. Yet, when we speak of forgiveness, we often only think of others.  After all, we are to forgive others, right?  What we don’t realize is that God not only wants us to forgive “others”, but God also wants us to forgive ourselves.  In fact, if we don’t forgive ourselves, how can we ever be in a place to forgive others?

We can beg God for forgiveness all day long; however, if we are unwilling to accept God’s forgiveness, then we will never receive it.  The fact of the matter is that God has already forgiven us and is waiting for us to move beyond the ashes of Lent and lamentation into the warm and bright light of Easter. Whether we are as powerful as King David or as humble and meek as a peasant child born in a stable, God is calling us to be a people of the resurrection…a people who have been forgiven, who forgive themselves, and who extend that forgiveness to others. Such people embody God’s hope, healing and wholeness!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves.” ― Dalai Lama XIV

PRAYER

Lord, teach me the discipline of forgiveness…first for myself and then for others who have wronged me. Let my willingness to forgive bear witness to you! Amen.

 

From Top to Bottom

Read Matthew 5-7; Luke 6:12-49; Mark 10:42-45

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

And [Jesus] to them, “Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me; for the least among all of you is the greatest.” (Luke 9:48)

Nepal_Mount_Everest_And_AmaMany people talk about the power of God in their lives. Many people speak of God as having control over the course of their lives. Many people convey that it is God who has brought them as far as they are and that God has blessed them.  But the question is, what has God blessed them with? Where has God brought them to, how has God been in control of their lives, and what in their lives displays God’s power.

On the surface, such claims sound good and humble. It is great to give God credit and to praise God for being present in our lives.  But when one looks past the surface, it becomes clear that these praises are often in light of success.  For instance, Ray Lewis praised God for his team’s Super Bowl win. Some celebrities publicly thank God for blessing them with success. Countries the world over thank God for making them “the greatest country in the world.”

Why is it that we attribute God’s power, God’s presence, and God’s blessing with being at the top. Why is it that God is in control of our lives, that automatically means we will be successful, prosperous, great, and at the top of the pecking order?  And we need not look at football stars, or celebrities, of countries to see this understanding of God’s presence in our lives.  We only need look at the church and we see hierarchy and power struggles and the desire to be the biggest, the best and the most successful.

Yet, Jesus presents a different view of God’s power, presence and what it means to have God in control of your life.  Rather than being the best, the greatest, the most successful, or at the top, God calls those who wish to inherit God’s Kingdom to be the least of these and a servant of all. What’s that? Come again? In order to be the greatest I have to be the least? You mean to tell me that in order to be a leader I need to be the servant of all? What kind of flip-flop theological mish-mash is that? It’s called the Gospel.

The Good News for the folks at the bottom is that God IS WITH YOU! The least of these are the greatest in the eyes of God; however, that is not to say that the greatest are left behind or considered rubbish either.  God is with all people and loves all people. The truth, though, is that God calls those who think the great to become the servant of those who are the least. In other words, those who have should be serving those who have not. Just think of what kind of world this would be if God were TRULY in control of our lives. Just think of what miracles would be worked through us if we TRULY opened ourselves up to God’s power? Just think of where we would be led if we TRULY knew that God’s blessing is the gift of being a blessing to others?

Rather than getting caught up in power plays, we should give up “our power” and claim the power that God has give us…the power to LOVE as God first loved us.  Rather than seeking to be the greatest, the most successful, and/or the best, we should seek to be among the least of these, our brothers and sisters. It is only when we do that, it is only when we surrender all to God, it is only when we live out the Sermons on the Mount (in Matthew) and on the Plain (in Luke) that we will come to realize how blessed we really have been.  It is then, and only then, that we will be giving credit as living witnesses to God’s awesome power and presence.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

Greatness is relative. From the moon the great Mt. Everest looks like a wrinkle on the earth.

PRAYER

Lord, humble me to be a bearer of the Good News of your present and imminent Kingdom. Amen.

The Magnifying Glass

Read Luke 1:46-55

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“As for me, I would seek God, and to God I would commit my cause.” (Job 5:8)

The Magnifying GlassSo, it is the day after Christmas Day and as the angels in the heavens said to the shepherds two millenia ago, “I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:  to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”  But before we move out of the Christmas season and into the New Year, I would like to take a moment to reflect on a psalm spoken by Mary when she first learned she was pregnant with Jesus.

Now, can you imagine the scene of this?  An angel appears to this 14 year old girl and tells her that God is going to make her pregnant. Come again!?!?  “Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin'” (Luke 1:34)?  Can you picture the horror of the idea of this, in a time when women were considered property; in a time when women were stoned for “getting pregnant” outside of marriage?  Mary must have been truly frightened, yet she answered, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

Following this, she praises the Lord with an original Psalm that comes from her heart.  She starts it off with the following statement, “My soul magnifies the Lord” (Luke 1:46). Now if you are reading that statement carefully, it should cause you to pause and ponder. How can the soul of Mary, a mere peasant girl, magnify the soul of El Shaddai, or rather, God Almighty?  How can the soul of a lowly human being ever magnify God…shouldn’t it be the other way around. Shouldn’t it be that God magnifies Mary’s soul?

Yet, in Mary’s statement we see an inherent truth that perhaps sets her apart from most people.  Whereas, when we think of God, we are looking for something big, Mary saw something small. Where we are looking for a grandiose Zeus in the sky sitting on a golden throne, Mary saw a precious, vulnerable, and helpless baby.  To take it one step further, not only did Mary see God in her child, but she saw God in herself.  And it was in her qualities of humility, of meekness, of lowliness, of smallness, and of faithfulness that she saw God magnified.

We are so busy looking for something big, something out of this world, and something magical that we often miss the presence of God entirely. In the movie, Enter the Dragon, Bruce Lee says, “Like a finger pointing to the moon…don’t concentrate on the finger or you will miss all of that heavenly glory.” Often times, we focus so hard on concentrating on miracles…looking here and there for them…that we miss the miracle itself.

Mary did not miss the miracle.  She knew the miracle was not just around her, but within her.  That she was born in a time when many babies died…Miracle.  That she was not stoned for being found with child outside of marriage…Miracle. That Joseph accepted a dream as reality and accepted Jesus as his son…Miracle.  That anyone would see God within them…including Mary…Miracle.

Rather than looking for Kings and kingly gifts, rather than looking for dazzling parlor tricks and illusions, let us recognize the true Miracle of Christmas…that God is not only with us, but revealed and magnified within us.  If your soul rejoices in God the way Mary’s did, how differently will you begin to live your life.  Make this your New Year’s resolution: See God within you and let your soul be a magnifying glass…not only in word but in deed. Let your soul say, as Mary’s did, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“People see God every day, they just don’t recognize him.”  – Pearl Bailey

PRAYER

Lord, help me to see you within me, and help let my soul magnify you, O Lord God. I am your servant. Amen.

 

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

Read Matthew 1:18-23

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Then Isaiah said: ‘Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.’” (Isaiah 7:13-14)

O Come, O Come, EmmanuelIt is hard to put into words the fear, anxiety, sadness, depression and confusion that ran through most people’s minds at the close of this past Friday, December 14. By the end of the day we had learned, following spending the day watching the drama unfold on live TV, that 28 people had been shot and killed at an elementary school in Connecticut. Out of the 28, twenty of them were children between the ages of six and seven years old.

Often times, in tragedies such as this, people ask the question, “Where is God in all of this?”  After all, what kind of God would allow children to be born and grow up in a world that is seemingly as evil as this one is?  What kind of God would create “monsters” who go out and destroy those who are innocent?  What kind of God would be so cold as to not intervene when the lives of the innocent are at stake?

These are all valid and good questions to ask ourselves.  It is also safe to say that there really aren’t any answers that fully satisfy our need to understand how evil and God co-exist? I could offer a ton of Christianese clichés that sound good off the cuff, but that would only be to simplify something that is very complex; so, rather than offering easy answers to really tough questions, I will provide one of many possible ways in which we can reflect on what happened and what our response will be.

It is very easy for us to look at where we don’t see God only to miss out on where we are seeing God.  For instance, we look at Adam Lanza and see his actions as a prime example of God failing to be with us. Yet, we also fail to see that God was with the principal who lunged at Adam and was the first to be shot and killed. God was with the teachers as they did everything they could, including cover children with their own bodies, to save their students.  God was with the first responders.  God is also with those who are looking at ways to address the societal issues that end up allowing people like Adam to fall through the cracks unnoticed until it is too late. When Jesus called his disciples to care for “the least of these”, that included those who suffer from mental illness. Yet, in our society, mental illness is stigmatized and our health care system often doesn’t provide affordable ways for people suffering from mental illness to get the kind of care (not just drugs and a locked asylum door) that they need.

The fact of the matter is that bad things do happen. People have free will and choose to do all sorts of things that God would not wish for anyone to choose. But aside from that fact, we still have a God who loves us, a God who is with us, a God who provides hope even in the darkest of circumstances.  The Nativity story is a reminder of the hope of Emmanuel, or rather, the hope of God being with us. This God came to earth and became one of us; this God put others first and sought to be present with all people, regardless of their status or condition. This God was crucified by God’s own creation and resurrected back to life despite being put to death.  This God is the same God who was present with the teachers, administrators and first responders who worked desperately hard to save as many as possible, risking their own lives in the process. This God is the same God who is turning the media’s attention from labeling Adam as “the face of evil”, to looking at how people like Adam haven’t received the care they need.

While we cannot definitively answer the question of why bad things like this happen, aside from the obvious answers, we certainly can still have the hope of Emmanuel. Let us not forget that God never leaves us, nor forsakes us.  We can know that God is with us, and we can let God guide us to be instrumental in sparking the changes that are needed in the communities around us, the very changes that could protect other children and people from such acts of evil. Let us welcome Emmanuel in this world, by seeing God’s revelation in us.  We have been equipped to be the presence of God in the lives of those in need, whether they are children in distress or Adam Lanza’s slipping through the cracks. Let us be like the writer of Hebrews who with confidence proclaims, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid” (Hebrews 13:6).

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

We need not look any further than our own hearts, and the hearts of those around us, to find God.

PRAYER

Lord, I thank you for always being preset me, and thank you for revealing your presence in me. Let me witness to that Good News! Amen.

 

Woken Up in a Dream

Read Matthew 1:18-25

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)

Woken Up in a DreamI would like to tell you as story of a teenage girl who lived in a very tight-knit community.  She was, like the rest of her peers, expected to attend to the daily chores that were given to her each day. She was expected to carry herself in a way that brought dignity and honor to her family.  Like all families, her family expected that she was always on her best behavior and that she didn’t do anything to hurt her family’s name or image.

Her father was blue-collar, working class man. The girl’s family was pretty impoverished and what little they had came at the cost of much blood, sweat and tears.  The family never knew what tomorrow might bring and they could not afford to take anything for granted.  In fact, an offer had come to the teenage girl’s parents, one that her family could not afford to pass up.  A man had asked the girl’s father for her hand in marriage and, with such an offer, a dowry was sure to follow.  The girl was expected to comply with her parents and to marry the man they had arranged for her to marry.

But then one day, in the midst of their engagement, the girl is seen to be with child.  The groom-to-be is astonished. He swears to the parents that he has never known her the way a husband knows his wife; he swears that the child growing in her belly cannot be his. The parents, horrified, could not believe what their daughter had done; the community she lived in shunned her as a sinner, everyone looked down at her with contempt.

This is the story of Mary, a young teenager from Nazareth, who was suddenly found to be with child even though she had not yet been married.  Can you imagine the panic and terror that must have filled her when she first realized she was pregnant. Though, the author of Matthew tells us that Mary was with child “by the Holy Spirit,” one has to wonder whether she knew it or not. The author of Matthew doesn’t exactly say.  What he does point out is Joseph’s initial reaction to the situation.  He could not believe she was pregnant and he knew the child was not his; one thing was for sure, he was not going to marry her.

When we read this story, we often pass Joseph’s reaction off because we know how the story ends. We know that Jesus is the Son of God and, therefore, Joseph just seems like a guy who has little faith, until God wakes him up in a dream.  Yet, in reality, we all need to be woken up in such a dream.  After all, how many times have we passed judgment on the actions of others without truly seeing what God has in store for them? How many times have we seen a pregnant teen, an unruly child, or some other person who doesn’t fit our understanding of pure and wholesome? How many times have we passed judgment on those people?

Often times, we are much more like Joseph, quick to let our thoughts and our judgments run wild before really pausing to listen to what God is saying to us.  We often need to be woken up in a dream that shows us that the very things we are laying judgment on are filled with God’s potential if we just show love, acceptance and support rather than scorn, contempt and judgment.

Thankfully, Joseph woke up from that dream with a changed heart and chose to embrace Mary and the Christ child she was bearing! Thankfully, Joseph laid his judgments down and, as a result, unto us a hope, healing and wholeness was born into the world. The question is, will we be woken up in a dream like Joseph? This Christmas, may the advent of that awakening be within you; indeed, may it be within us all!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” – Mother Teresa

PRAYER

Lord, help me to avoid falling into the trap of judgment. Instruct me in your ways of unconditional love, O Lord. Amen.