Tag Archives: Jesus Christ

Context Is Everything

Read 2 Timothy 3:14-16

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Open my eyes, so that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” (Psalms 119:18)

Context Is EverythingWhat if I were to tell you that the Bible says that “there is no God”? What if I were to tell you that the Bible comes to the conclusion that “everything, including life, is meaningless, like chasing the wind”? What if I were to tell you that the Bible says that God wants people to endure slavery because God put the slave masters in authority over them? Or that God punishes generations of family members for the sins of their ancestors. Or that women are inferior to men and should be silent in churches as they are not fit to teach? Or that the Bible says that women are saved through childbearing?

On the one hand, the Bible does say such things. The words “there is no God” can be found in Psalm 14:1; the words “everything is meaningless” can be found in Ecclesiastes 1:2 and elsewhere in Ecclesiastes; God wishing people to remain slaves can be found in Ephesians 6:5, Colossians 3:22, Titus 2:9-10, and 1 Peter 2:18. That God punishes the descendants of sinful ancestors is found in Numbers 14:18, among other places. That women are inferior to men, are to be silent in churches, are not fit to teach and are saved through child-bearing can be found in 1 Timothy 2:11-15.

On the other hand, each one of these verses has something in common tying them together. That common thread is that they’ve all been taken out of context, perhaps in different ways, but they are definitely all out of context. In Psalm 14:1, the Psalmist is ACTUALLY saying that “the fool says in his or her heart that ‘there is no God.'” The words “there is no God was taken textually out of context. Ecclesiastes 1:2 is the opening to a philosophical treatise on how life, and all of its trappings, leads to emptiness and that, at the end of the day, people need to “fear God and keep his commandments” (12:13). While Ephesians and Colossians do state that slaves are to obey their masters, the historical context of this passage shows us a Christian community that is reacting to accusations that Christians are inciting slaves to riot against their masters (which was one of  many accusations that Romans were levying against Christians of the time period). That doesn’t justify the passage, but helps us understand it so that we don’t fall into the same trap.

It was a common tone in the ancient world that if you make God angry, God will punish you. Some of these texts were written in times of tribulation, such as the Babylonian Exile where people were wondering why they had been exiled to begin with. What had they done to deserve such an awful fate…or what had their parents or their parents’ parents done? This understanding is less “God’s word” as much as it is people grappling with their circumstances, though there certainly are many unintended and far reaching consequences to sin. And the bit on women is also a reaction to the fact that women, up until that point, had played prominent roles in the church (e.g., Romans 16:1-4, 7) and the Romans were levying that against Christians as yet another example of how Christians were vile and against Roman order.  Again, this historical context (plus Paul’s commendation of women leaders) helps us to discern and affirm that indeed God DOES call women into ministry and leadership, and that they are saved equally and in the same manner that all of human beings are: through faith (Romans 3:19-25; Galatians 3:28).

This is not an exhaustive discussion of those particular topics, but hopefully makes the point that CONTEXT IS EVERYTHING. The Bible is THE MOST IMPORTANT, and INSPIRED, source of our faith; however, it can be made to say anything when the context (textual, socio-economic, and/or historical) is missing. Don’t just read your Bible, but study it. Get into a good Bible Study that dives deep into the texts and gives you a good foundation not only on what the Bible says (keep in mind that we are not reading it in its original languages), but the context behind what it says. Buy books that delve into the Bible and provide the context behind it. Today’s challenge is for you to begin to not only read the Bible, but to build up a solid means of understanding it so that you can relevantly apply it to your life in a way that is true to the Spirit of the Word.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Context is worth 80 IQ points.” – Alan Kay

PRAYER
Lord, guide me in my studying of Scripture so that I may grow, not just in knowledge but also in understanding. Amen.

Jesus Is For Real

Read Matthew 13:23-58

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
But [Jesus] said to them, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.” (Luke 4:43)

heaven-is-for-realThis past Thursday, my wife, children and I went to the theater to see yet another faith-based film. It seems that 2014 is the year of faith-based films and, so long as they keep making them, my family and I will keep supporting them. The one we just saw was a film entitled, “Heaven Is For Real”, which is based on the bestselling book of the same name. The film chronicles a Wesleyan pastor, Rev. Todd Burpo, and his family through a tumultuous time.

According to the story, Todd’s son Colton ended up getting sick on a family trip to Denver. After bringing him home, his condition did not improve but got worse. It turned out that his appendix had ruptured and, close to death, Colton needed emergency surgery. During that surgery, he left his body and was able to see both his parents who were in separate places: his mom on the phone with family and his dad, who was in the chapel angrily praying and yelling at God.

Beyond that experience, Colton also experienced going to heaven where he met angels who sang to him and Jesus who came to him on a horse of many colors. Everyone in heaven, according to Colton, were young. While there he met his great-grandfather who he had never met in life, and he also met his unborn, older sister. At four years old, his son had never known his mom had a miscarriage and, to his mother’s surprise, he was suddenly aware that he had another “sister” who lived in heaven.

While the story is very moving, it is easy for us to get skeptical of such books and such accounts. Theologically speaking, when Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of Heaven was he really referring to another place where he would be riding a rainbow colored horse? Was he referring to a place where we all look like we did when we were in our early twenties? Some have criticized the book for presenting an “extra-Biblical” picture of what heaven is. From a scientific perspective, how do we know that Colton wasn’t just imagining Jesus out of things he had seen and/or heard at home or at church. His father, after all, is the pastor of a Wesleyan Church. Secular critics have criticized the book for it’s lack of “reason.”

I must confess that I have never read the book, but when watching the film the details of the boy’s personal experiences of heaven became secondary to the overall point of the film. Pastor Burpo, in one scene, stands before his congregation asks, “If we truly believed that heaven is for real, how differently would be be living our lives?” That is a profoundly good and important question to ask. If we truly believe in heaven, if we truly see that heaven is FOR REAL, if we truly understood that heaven can be brought here on earth and that we are called to be a part of ushering it in, we will be living our lives differently.

I believe that the personal and, by nature, subjective experiences of a four year old boy cannot be proven or disproven. To be skeptical and critical of the fine details of his experience is to miss the bigger point that not only is heaven for real, but THE RISEN JESUS IS FOR REAL and he is calling to us in different ways. For some it is in a near death experience, for others it is in a Scripture verse we accidentally stumble upon. Still others witness the risen Christ in a person they are helping or in someone who is helping them. There are some who have visions and dreams that lead them to the RISEN CHRIST who is calling them into a deeper commitment. No matter how Christ is experienced…the fact remains that HE IS EXPERIENCED and he is calling us to be agents of his kingdom…the very real Kingdom of Heaven…so that the world may come to be as God first intended it to be: A WORLD OF TRUE LIFE AND LASTING PEACE. Experience that Jesus is for real, that heaven is for real, and that your call, no matter what it is or where it leads you, is for real.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” – Jesus of Nazareth (Matthew 18:3, NRSV).

PRAYER
Lord, open my eyes that I may see and experience you. Change my heart that I may eagerly follow you. Amen.

Turning Your Scars Into Stars

Read John 19:20-29

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Look at My hands. Look at My feet. You can see that it’s really Me. Touch Me and make sure that I am not a ghost, because ghosts don’t have bodies, as you see that I do.” (Luke 24:39, NLT)

StarsA couple of weeks ago I was eating out at a restaurant with my wife and daughters. During the meal we were sharing in memories of the home we used to live in and we were laughing about how our cat, Sophie, was so cute and adorable when she was little. At one point, I looked up at my youngest daughter and I was reminded of a not so good incident that we had with the other cat we used to have, George. On my daughter’s right cheek is a huge scar and seeing that scar reminded me of the horrible memory of George, what he did to my daughter, and how we could not longer keep him.

My youngest, at the time she was around 7 years old, was playing in a big box as children often do. When she came out of the box, George attacked her clawing at her face. He severely scratched her on her right cheek and nearly got her left eye with the other claw (literally only a centimeter away). This wasn’t the first time he had done this. He had attacked her while she was hugging her mom, and had attacked her another time severely scratching up her legs. The first two times we passed off as being an accident. Perhaps our daughter was playing with him and he was playing rough. But the third time pushed us over the edge. We knew we couldn’t keep him, especially after he nearly took my daughter’s left eye.

The horror of that moment had flooded me and I started my shaking my head in disbelief. “What Dad,” asked my daughter? “I just can’t believe he did that to you,” I replied. “Perhaps we can get that cream the doctor had said helps to remove scars,” I said to her. My daughter put her hand over her face and shook her head no. “I don’t want to get rid of my scar,” my daughter protested. “I want to keep it because so I can remember George.”

George was her favorite cat. She loved him and it was very hard for her when we took George to the animal shelter, especially when we learned what they were going to put him to sleep because they could not give him to another family if he had a history of attacking people. It still hurts me to think of it and, clearly it still hurts my daughter as well. Even more that that, my daughter still loves him and wants to keep her scar because of her love for him. The more I reflected on that, the more I realized the truth behind it.

How often we go through life, picking up scars along the way. We get battered down by circumstances and, sometimes, we even get battered down by other people. Many of us try to hide those scars, to mask them, and to pretend they were never there to begin with; however, scars never truly go away, do they? There really isn’t some special cream we can rub on our hurts, our fears, our insecurities and all of the other scars we collect throughout life. There isn’t any magic elixir that will remove the scars we carry with us.

Even Jesus, in a post-Resurrection body, had scars to show his disciples when he appeared to them. The holes in his hands, feet and side were still there, still visible. In fact, those scars were very much a part of Jesus’ transformed identity, in the same way that my daughter’s scars are a part of hers. Rather that trying to erase the scars, rather than trying to bury them or hide them or pretend they never existed, we should acknowledge their existence. We should grieve the loss, the hurt, the circumstances that caused them and, just as importantly, we should also acknowledge the person we’ve grown to be as a result of them. While no amount of reflection will justify the suffering we’ve been through, it will help us to move beyond the suffering, remembering where we’ve come from, and resurrect into a person transformed by the grace of God in spite of the experiences that tried to keep us down. Allow God to, as Robert Schuller once coined, “turn your scars into stars.”

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Turn your scars into stars.” – Rev. Dr. Robert H. Schuller

PRAYER
Lord, help me to turn my scars into stars so that I can move beyond them, without forgetting them, into the life you’ve called me to. Amen.

Journey with Jesus: Holy Saturday

SCRIPTURE

John 19:38-42

tears_of_sadnessAN EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT

What on earth can we do now? Just last week things looked so promising. Jesus had done amazing things. He had healed the sick and gave the blind their sight back. He cast out demons and turned water into wine. He fed thousands of people with only a little bit of food and even walked on water.

Even beyond that, Jesus raised a couple of people to life after they had passed! Who can stop such a person? What on earth could possibly get in the way of such power? And yet, Jesus never claimed to have power. He was always giving credit to God, whom he referred to as Abba…father. He always…

Oh…what difference does it make? He’s dead now. What looked like hope for Israel, became another crushing blow from the Romans. I feel cold and empty. I feel lost with nowhere to turn. Where is God in this dark hour? Has God abandoned us? I was so sure I was called to be a disciple of Jesus…I was so sure that God wanted me to follow in his footsteps; however, now it seems utterly useless. The light in my life has been snuffed and my purpose has been snatched from me.

REFLECTION

On this day, two thousand years ago, Jesus’ cold, dead body lay in a tomb that was carved out of stone. Outside of the tomb hid is disciples, who were uncertain as to what their next move should be. In fact, the room within which they hid became a dark tomb for them. They were paralyzed by the event of Good Friday. Though they were physically living, the passion that was once burning strongly within them was snuffed out.

As Christians, like the disciples, we too start full of passion and zeal. But somewhere along the way, we find ourselves drained, lost and alone. What is it in your life that has become a tomb? What is it that keeps you from living passionately for Jesus? What fears keep you in hiding…tucked away from the purpose Christ has given you?

On this Holy Saturday, take time to reflect on the tombs in your life. Take time to evaluate all of the things that keep you hidden away from your true self in Jesus Christ. Know that Christ is not dead in your life…in fact, Christ has never been more alive. Know that in Christ there is resurrection and that even the darkest of tombs cannot prevent the light of Christ’s resurrection from bursting forth in all of its radiancy. Know that on Easter, Jesus has you in mind. Are you ready to rise from your tomb(s)?

PRAYER
Lord, in this season of darkness, prepare me to see the light. Amen.

 

Loving the Unlovable

Read Matthew 5:42-48

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.” (1 Corinthians 2:13)

back1994512The past couple of weeks have been fraught with a number of scary and tragic scenarios. A Malaysian 777 airliner went missing for no apparent reason, but the there seems to be some connection with the pilot who seemingly and purposefully took the plane off course. There was the mass shooting at Fort Hood where one of the soldiers went into the Fort armed and shot at fellow soldiers who were unarmed, killing three and wounding at least sixteen others.

There was a man who accidentally hit a ten year old boy who might have been in a group playing chicken in the road. When the man stopped his truck, got out of it and went over to he boy to see if he was alright, a mob of people attacked him and beat him to near death. Finally, just on Wednesday, a sophomore at Franklin High School in Murraysville, PA, went into his school and stabbed and/or slashed 24 people with two kitchen knives. At least five of those twenty-four were critically injured and are currently fighting for their lives.

In moments such as these, it is impossible not to hold your hand to your mouth in shock. It is hard not to question, “what is going on with this world?” We sit in horror as we watch these news stories unfold before our very eyes. We can’t help picturing ourselves and/or our loved ones in those situations. I remember when the Newtown, CT massacre happened, I couldn’t help but cry as I thought about kissing my own children before sending them to school. I fully expected them to return home (and they did), just as I am sure those parents did.

On the same note, it is also hard for us to distance ourselves from the people who perpetrate such heinous and seemingly evil crimes. We often say, “What could possibly drive a person to do such things”; however, we often don’t really reflect on it as much as we just ask the question. Perhaps we the question is a part of our process to make sense of it all, but the reality is we cannot make sense of it. This often leads us to a place where we dehumanize the perpetrator and label him or her as evil.

But the reality is far more complex than that. It is true that such acts are evil, yet are the people themselves evil? Were they born differently that you or I? Are they just “bad seeds” who were evil from the very beginning? Or are they, themselves, victims? Are they people who were crying out for help but never received any? Are they people who slipped through the cracks, for one reason or another, and unfortunately ended up spreading their misery, pain and suffering to other people?

These reflective and probing questions are not being asked to make light of what they did. Nor are they being posed to take away from the real pain, suffering, and misery they’ve caused countless people. Rather, these questions are calling us to be quick to show compassion, resolute in seeking understanding, and slow to make judgment.

These questions are ultimately asked in order to get us to reflect on an often tough, but necessary, question: What more can we do? What steps can we take to spread hope, healing, and wholeness to those in need. That is not to say that we can always prevent such things from happening; however, it is a constructive way of working toward a solution as opposed to pointing the finger at someone and calling them the devil. Christ has called us to love all people, including those wishing to harm us, and to avoid judgment. Perhaps working toward helping people struggling with inner pain and turmoil is one way we can carry that call out.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“To love means loving the unlovable. To forgive means pardoning the unpardonable. Faith means believing the unbelievable. Hope means hoping when everything seems hopeless.” – Unknown

PRAYER

Lord, use me in a way that brings love to those I may otherwise deem as unlovable, as we are all your children. Amen.

Beyond Proof

Read Philippians 2:12-18

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“The LORD looks down from heaven on humankind to see if there are any who are wise, who seek after God.” (Psalms 14:2)

11175915_800This past weekend I took my girls to the theater to see the latest Christian film to hit the big screen. The film is called “God’s Not Dead” and it is about a freshman in college who enrolls in a philosophy class. At the beginning of the class the professor tells the students that he’d rather not waste time on discussing the age old question of whether or not God exists. He lists a ton of academics who have all determined that God does not exist and states that it would be better to move on to other things, rather than rehash the topic of God’s existence.

Being that the professor believes the debate to have been won by the atheistic academics, he asks the class to write “God is Dead” on a piece of paper and sign their name to it. If the whole class does, great…they can move on. There’s just one problem, the aforementioned freshman is a Christian and he is not willing to write “God is Dead” and sign the paper. Because of that the professor challenges the student to utilize three classes to prove the antithesis of that statement. In other words, the student needs to prove that God’s NOT Dead and he needs to convince the class who have all signed off on God being dead.

The student decides to do just that. He spends his time in the library looking up the debate on the existence of God. He reads atheists such as Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawking, and others who put for the proposition that God is nothing more than a fairy tale. He also looks up theist authors who put forth the proposition that there is a God. He searches the internet for other debates and pieces together his arguments. Standing before the class, the student opens up by saying, “Professor Radisson will tell you that I cannot prove God exists, and he is right. I cannot. With that said, he cannot prove that God does not exist.”

Of course, following that last statement, the student continues throughout the course of the film trying to “prove” that God does exist. And, to be fair, there wouldn’t have been a film if he didn’t. Actually, to be doubly fair, the film is about more than just the student trying to prove God. Yet, the reality is that he should have left it with just that: “I cannot prove that God exists and you cannot prove that God does not exist.” Yet, he feels the necessity to try and prove.

I am not one to shy away from such debates. A good discussion on the existence of God tickles the fancy of philosophical minds, and I certainly have one of those. In fact, it is because I have engaged in such discussions that I have come to the realization that trying to prove “God” to people who are trying to disprove “God” to you is a fruitless endeavor.

Rather than trying to prove God exists, be living proof that God exists. In other words, don’t waste your time on fruitless words about God, as if God can be fully explained and proven by our words. If you believe in God, if you are a person of faith, then you will do as your faith dictates. If you believe in God you will live a life of love, a life of compassion, a life of justice and a life of mercy. You will live your life in a way that reflects your beliefs.

Today’s challenge is to stop trying to prove what you believe. To quote my mom, you don’t need to prove anything to anyone but God. If you believe in God, then live according to your beliefs. That will go a lot further than words do. When people see you living a life that reflects the reality of God, that will be a greater witness to God’s existence than anything you can say in a fruitless debate. Be at peace in your faith and live according to it.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“For those who believe, no proof is necessary. For those who don’t believe, no proof is possible.” – Stuart Chase

PRAYER

Lord, I believe in you and know you have called me to live out my beliefs. Guide me in that direction and equip me for your work. Amen.

Doubting Thomas

Read John 20:24-29

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the LORD. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find Me.’” (Jeremiah 29:11-13, NLT)

The Tomb of St. Thomas. Mylapore, India.Do you remember learning about the twelve disciples in Sunday school? To be honest, I don’t remember learning about the twelve disciples. I remember learning about the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Only two of them were were named after one of Jesus’ disciples. I remember learning about Peter and Andrew as well as John and James. They were the two pairs of fisherman in the group. There was Matthew (formerly known as Levi the tax collector) and Phillip (though I am not sure what he did prior to joining Jesus). And, of course, there was Judas Iscariot. Everyone knows Judas as he is the disciple who infamously betrayed Jesus with a Kiss.

The other disciples are largely skipped over and not taught about, in my experience, with the exception of one: Doubting Thomas. He was the guy who is infamously known for his doubt. Ironically, Thomas is only shown in one Gospel to portray that “doubt”, and only in one place. What’s more, that Gospel, John, was the last of the Gospel’s to be written and does not follow the same format or chronological timetable that the other three (Synoptic) Gospels follow. Thomas is seen in John 20:24-29 as not believing the other disciples when they tell him that Jesus had risen from the dead. Thomas says, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in His hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in His side.”

As a result, Thomas has forever gone down in history as the guy who DOUBTED the resurrection. Jesus chastises him following his sudden change of heart upon seeing the risen Christ: “You believe because you have seen Me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing Me” (John 20:29). Poor Thomas, upon seeing Christ, had let go of his doubt and chose to believe, only to receive a cold shoulder from “[his] Lord and [his] God” (John 20:28). It’s as if Christ is saying, to all believers everywhere, “Do NOT doubt. For if you doubt your faith, in the end, is worth less than those who believe in me without doubting.”

For many people, these words have been a stumbling block to faith. To be fair to the text, they were meant to encourage people who had not been eyewitnesses to the resurrection to continue believing even though they had not seen; however, since then, they have become words of admonishment for those who DARE question the veracity of the resurrection, let alone any other matter of faith. The clear message that is taught to children in Sunday school is, shut down your questions lest you be found to be like doubting Thomas. Unfortunately, that fearful message has hindered the growth of many people who have suppressed the urge to question.

Yet, people fail to realize where Thomas’ “doubt” led him. He may or may not have questioned the resurrection; however, he did, without question, find himself in India preaching the Good News of his resurrected Lord. It is there, thousands of miles away from home, that he was martyred for Jesus and it is there, in Mylapore India, that his body lays at rest. Thomas’ doubt led him to be grow into a great proclaimer of the hope, healing and wholeness of his risen Lord and Savior.

Don’t let fear stop you from questioning and, even, from doubting. Doubt is neither good nor bad. It exists whether we want it to or not. Even as a pastor, I doubt. It is not doubt that is bad, but what we do or don’t do with it. Embrace your doubt, ask the tough questions, and allow the risen Christ to appear to you. Then it will be come REAL for you and you will grow in leaps and bounds in your faith. Christ does not admonish you for your doubts; rather, he calls you to embrace them, rise above them, and grow beyond them!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Modest doubt is called the beacon of the wise.” – William Shakespeare

PRAYER

Lord, teach me to not deny my doubts, but to rise up and grow as a result of, and in spite of, them. Amen.

 

Disciple

Read Luke 8:1-3

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.” (John 20:1)

Mary MagdaleneIn the film that came out a little while ago, Son of God, the story of Jesus of Nazareth was chronicled. It started off with Jesus walking toward the Sea of Galilee, heading to its shores to recruit a certain fisherman by the name of Peter. From there he gathered up more disciples, twelve in all. Of course, Jesus also had many followers who followed him around from place to place as he traveled the Galilean countryside.

In this film, they actually have an extra disciple. Now, I bet you are pausing here and questioning: “An extra disciple? If Jesus had an extra disciple there would’ve been thirteen disciples, but the Bible clearly says twelve.” But you did hear me right. In this film, the extra disciple was a woman by the name of Mary of Magdala (also known as Mary Magdalene). In the film, they show her following Jesus around, handing out the loaves and the fish, sitting in on his lessons to his disciples, and even questioning him on how they should pray. “Mary Magdalene,” you might be asking, “wasn’t she the prostitute who followed Jesus and ended up witnessing his resurrection at the tomb on Easter morning? How could she be considered a disciple?”

If you are questioning that I would like to pause here for you and explain. Mary Magdalene is often mistakenly identified as a prostitute; however, if one reads the Gospel accounts you will not find such a description of her anywhere. The most one can find of Mary, prior to her knowing and following Jesus, is that she was among the women whom Jesus “cured of evil spirits and infirmities.” In fact, the author of Luke says that Jesus had cast “seven demons” out of her (Luke 8:2).

Luke’s Gospel, which was the third one written (circa 80-90 C.E.), is the only Gospel to mention that Mary was possessed by demons, so it is hard to tell whether or not Mary was known for being demonically possessed in the time of the earlier accounts of Mark and Matthew (Note: Mark 16:9 also mentions that Mary was possessed by seven demons; however, Mark 16:9-20 is a later addition to Mark and not in the original manuscripts), or if it is a later addition to the story. Regardless, Mary was certainly not a prostitute and was certainly a close follower of Jesus as she is mentioned as such multiple times throughout all four Gospels.

With that said, being a follower does not necessarily make one a disciple. Disciples were students, and thus as Jesus students the disciples had greater access to the Jesus than the mere follower did. They learned from him, they aided him in his ministry and they were given an inside look at his parables and at Jesus’ messianic plan. While the Gospels do not explicitly name Mary as a disciple of Jesus’ in the formal sense, they do show her being among the women following Jesus. Not only that, but she and the other women were supporting Jesus’ ministry with their resources (Luke 8:3). What’s more, it is to Mary Magdalene and the other women, that Jesus reveals himself to immediately following his resurrection. It is Mary and the other women who first get the command to go and tell others of the Good News (aka Gospel) of Jesus’ resurrection.

Again, while the Gospels may not explicitly call Mary a disciple, I feel there is little doubt she was. The Gospels, ALL FOUR OF THEM, have Mary being the first witness of the risen Christ and the first one to spread the Good News to the rest of the disciples. If Mary, in a time when women were considered little more than property, can be considered a disciple of Christ, who can’t be? That is, indeed, the GOOD NEWS! Jesus Christ has risen and ALL are called to be in on what he’s about to do next! ALL are called to be a part of his messianic plan of redeeming the world and returning it back to a paradise where all creation lives in love and peace! Are you ready for what God is going to do? Be like Mary and respond to that call!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“It is only because he became like us that we can become like him.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

PRAYER
Lord, I wish to be your disciple. Teach me all that I need to do your work in this world. I give to you my time, my presence, my treasures, and my all. Amen.

Trading Twilight for Sunlight

Read Romans 3:10-233

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin.” (Romans 7:24-25)

twilightJust recently my girls were re-watching the Twilight series. Do you remember that movie series, which ended a couple of years ago with “Breaking Dawn.” Before “New Moon”, “Eclipse”, and “Breaking Dawn” came out, I had read all of the books. I guess I found the movie “Twilight” captivating enough to read the books. My favorite of those books, to this date, is “New Moon” because I love the character development of one of the supporting characters, Jacob Black. In that book, he goes from a boy to a man and, though ending up on the short end of the stick in terms of getting the girl, I would argue he would be the better for it if it weren’t for the author’s contemptuous ending.

But that is neither here nor there. I have a love/hate relationship with that book series. I thought the author did a great job in capturing teenage love, to a “T”, and really transported the older readers back to High School, which for me was more of a nightmare than a pleasure. But still, she did do a good job of that. WIth that said, the entire series, minus one section of the last book, was completely written in the first person. The story is being told as if it were the thoughts of the main character, Bella Swan. SIDE NOTE: Bella means “beautiful” in Italian, so her name really translates to “Beautiful Swan”. Mein Gott!

Despite her name, being inside her head was anything but beautiful. It was in there that I saw her justify manipulating people such as Jacob Black. She used him in order to fill a void in her life that her boyfriend Edward couldn’t fill. And, when she was finished using him, she dumped him like a bag of hot coals. But it wasn’t enough for her to dump him, she had to make him feel guilty for not just wanting to “be friends.” I also saw her manipulate her other friends, her father, and even Edward in order to get the things that she wanted.

I could go on and on about this, but it should suffice to say that being inside her head made me feel trapped. I wanted to get out of in the worst way. Let me pause here, because I don’t want to be too unfair to Ms. Swan. She may be a flawed character, but which one of us arent. Every day we live inside our own heads and every day, we think and do things that aren’t always the most virtuous things to do.  It is the nature of being subjective human beings, isn’t it? We know what we are thinking and feeling, and those thoughts and feelings always take precedence over what others are thinking and feeling. After all, we really don’t know what others think and feel…it’s kind of out of sight and out of mind.

Even as I sit here and criticize Bella Swan for being manipulative, I fully recognize that I, too, have been manipulative in the past. Which one of us hasn’t been? If we are honest, we will readily admit that none of us are perfect. As Paul writes, we “all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory” (Romans 3:23). But Christ calls us to move beyond our shortcomings and to enter into a new life of living in Christ’s mind as opposed to ours.

Today’s challenge is to step outside of yourself. Begin to see, feel and experience things as Christ did. How do you do this? By entering into a relationship with Christ, one in which you hold yourself accountable to his teachings and to his way of living. Ask the questions, daily, what did Christ do? Then, without a moment’s hesitation, step out and start doing what Christ did. Start caring for the poor, the sick, the differently-abled, the imprisoned, the homeless, the naked. Start being a presence of HOPE, HEALING, and WHOLENESS in the lives of others and you will see that you are no longer trapped in your own head, but are free in Christ’s. Go forth, live and die for others as Christ did.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Above all the grace and the gifts that Christ gives to his beloved is that of overcoming self.” – St. Francis of Assisi

PRAYER
Lord, help me to conquer being stuck in myself and give me your mind, filled with love and compassion for others. Amen.

Don’t Feed the Trolls, Part Deux

Read John 1:1-5; 3:16-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

Jesus said to [Thomas], “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

wbjyqd3k-1393300595Last week I wrote a devotion about trolls and trolling. If you recall, or perhaps you haven’t read that one yet (if not you should read it now), trolls are not just some fanciful creature found in fairy tales, but are human “creatures” we find lurking in the shadows of the Internet. They can usually be found on social media web sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other such sites. They are found in the comment sections of blogs, news sites, and other places that are open to people’s comments and opinions.

These trolls are, by definition, people who “deliberately post provocative messages with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument.” They are the kind of people who are just looking to get under someone else’s skin, putting out bait (such as a provocative message) for people to snap at. When someone does take the bait, they are in for a world of hurt. Trolls can be ruthless and when they get going, there is little one can do to stop them…short of leaving the conversation of course.

Of course, when you think about it, trolling isn’t just unique to the Internet. Trolls can be found throughout life in general. There are just some people out there who love to get an edge on someone else, who love to rile people up, to see people get flustered. There are also the trolls who aren’t purposefully trolling, but are just miserable people who are are angry at the world, who always have a negative spin on everything and are the types of people who tend to bring others down with them.

This latter type of troll is more of an accidental troll. Most people don’t start off life looking to be miserable or down all the time. Most people WANT to be happy and to make others happy. Call me an optimist, though if I am I find myself to be a rather realistic optimist, but I believe that the majority of people are good people. Yet, good and “perfect” are not the same thing. Good people can fall into the trap of seeing life through dark and dreary lenses, especially if they have been hurt or burned one too many times.

What’s more, anyone of us can become this kind of troll. If I am to be completely honest, I have been this kind of troll before. Perhaps you have too. Perhaps, in honesty, you can admit that you have been an accidental troll and have allowed anger, bitterness, negativity, sadness, and other things to bring yourself and others down. If this is the case, I am not writing this to shame you or to make you feel guilty, but I do believe it is important for us to recognize those tendencies and to address them before they completely take us over.

We don’t have to be trolls, we don’t have to be constantly down about everything, we don’t have to bring others down with us. There is a way out of the negativity; there is a light shining in the darkness for all to see. Christ is that light and Christ points us away from feeding the inner troll. Jesus said to Thomas, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to God but through me.”

Christ is calling us to stop focusing on ourselves. Christ is calling us to stop feeding our inner trolls. If we focus on Christ and on living as he did, then we will find that Christ’s WAY leads to the truth that life is full of HOPE and can be beautiful for everyone if we only work toward that. If we seek Christ’s way we will discover the truth that GOD is planning HOPE, HEALING and WHOLENESS for the entire world. And if join God in that quest, we will certainly experience what it means to truly live.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Quit thinking that you must halt before the barrier of inner negativity. You need not. You can crash through… whatever we see a negative state, that is where we can destroy it.” – Vernon Howard

PRAYER

Lord, shine your light in me so that I may see who I am and whose I am. Call me to your purpose and keep me from feeding into negativity. Amen.