Tag Archives: light

Beyond Our Ghosts

Read John 14:1-7

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in Me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NLT)

poltergeistFollowing suit with the previous devotional, I just recently watched another horror movie that is actually a remake of an older, yet still popular film by the name of “Poltergeist”. While the original, written by Steven Spielberg and directed by Tobe Hooper, will always be the favorite of the two versions, it is safe to say that this new film definitely delivers. Besides, who doesn’t love a good ghost story, even if retold, to send chills up and down one’s spine.

In case you are unfamiliar with the film Poltergeist, I will give you the gist of the plot. I will be referring to the 2015 remake, since it is the one I have seen most recently. Though the characters have different names, the plot is basically the same. Poltergeist is a film that follows a family that is moving into a new home in a development somewhere out in suburbia. Following their arrival, things start to get weird. The youngest daughter, Madison, starts talking to “imaginary friends” and their son, Griff, hears the tree growling at him. All of the family members, in different ways, come across seemingly random static electricity in certain spots of the house.

While at first the weird occurances are kind of fun and intriguing, they start to become more and more vicious and scary. Little Madison, begins having nightly conversations with “the lost people” in the television set, and eventually gets lured into the closet by mysterious lights, only to disappear. Following her disappearances, her frantic family starts to hear her talking through the static-laden television set. As it turns out, she had been kidnapped by the poltergeists who are trapped in the house in a world that between this life and the next. They are desperate to find a way out of the hellish purgatory they are in, and Madison’s innocence draws them to her, thinking that she can lead them to the light (aka to rest in peace on the other side).

Without giving anymore details away, or spoiling the rest of the story, I think it is fair to say that this film is full of thrills and twists that keep you at the edge of your seat throughout. What I have noticed in this film, as well as all films about paranormal hauntings, is that while the families being affected seem to be normal, average, everyday families, there is always something dark lying under the surface.

Again, without giving away too much of the story, it becomes clear fairly early on that the Bowen family in Poltergeist is a family that is struggling to remain together. Mom is an aspiring author who cannot find the time or energy to write because of the responsibilities of motherhood. Dad is unemployed and desperately seeking employment. My guess is that they have moved to this location because they could no longer afford to live where they were. To make matters worse, dad tries to calm the stress by spending money on his kids and wife. But that only adds to the stress, because every dollar is precious.

Griff, their son, has a tremendous amount of anxiety that goes unexplained throughout the film. One can imagine that much of it is caused by the uncertainty of their family situation, but there could be more to it than that. And their eldest daughter, Kendra, is a rebellious teen who is resentful of the family situation and their move. What’s more, she is a bad influence on her younger sister, Madison, who imitates all of the things she does.

As I mentioned above, it seems that this is a prominent theme in many cases of paranormal activity, and especially in films about “hauntings”. As I sit here reflecting on that, I think that is true even beyond hauntings and other tales dealing with the world of the hereafter. We as people invite the kinds of things we project into this world. What I mean by that is this is that if we are constantly surrounding ourselves with negativity and constantly have a negative outlook, chances are we will be tormented, or “haunted” if you will, by that negative outlook. What’s more, if we allow our faith and our spiritual disicipline erode, we become even more susceptible to succumbing to hopelessness and despair.

Today’s challenge is to be a people of light, a people of joy, and a people of hope. While life in this broken world will present us its challenges, Christ has overcome the world and we can too if we rest our faith and our trust solely in Christ. If we do so, if we move from our fears, our anxieties, our trials, and the negativity we surround ourselves with to FAITH IN CHRIST, we will be set free and rise above the negativity that can seep into our lives. I pray that we all can make the move byond our ghosts to the hopeful light and love of Christ.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win.” – Stephen King

PRAYER
Lord, I cast all my fears upon you. I give to you the ghosts that haunt me. Fill me with your light so that you, and not my ghosts, will win. Amen.

The Dark Woods

Read Matthew 5:13-16

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. So be as shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves.” (Matthew 10:16 NLT)

blair_witch-2016-headerJust recently I was watching the direct sequel to the Blair Witch Project entitled, Blair Witch. I can remember the first film like it was yesterday. BWP was a highly anticipated film. It was 1999, only two years prior to 9/11, and the way the director and filmmakers chose to promote it gives us an idea on the kind of world the ‘90s were. They chose to use the real actors’ names in the film, put their names and faces on milk cartons, and stated they were missing…FOR REAL. What’s more, and I didn’t know this at the time, they sent each of the actor’s families a letter offering their condolences over the disappearance of their children/siblings.

Yikes, can you imagine being those family members and getting a notice stating that your child was missing and believed to be dead? It was a total commitment to realism, but I can only imagine the heartbreak that caused. Of course, the actors had to hide away, lay low, and keep quiet until the film came out. What’s more, they made a “mockumentary” and aired it on national, and international, television leading up to the film. The marketing was, in a word, brilliant; however, it did have its consequences. Heather Donahue, the main star, stated that the film forever changed her life…and not in a good way. The film went down in history as being one of the most influential horror movies of all time, and it also spawned countless copycats and/or “found footage” horror films that now flood the theaters.

The direct sequel to this film, Blair Witch, was just released in 2016 and it, too, follows the same format as the first film. By now, most (and I do stress most as some still believe that BWP is a true story) people are aware that these films are fiction; however, the newest installment still delivers in terms of intensity, scares and a foreboding sense of doom. What makes this work in both films is that they are filming it in the woods, and a majority of the film is shot at night with very little lighting, only enough to see the actors and their immediate surroundings.

Have you ever been in the woods at night? I have. Well, I practically live in the woods but, that aside, I have been in the pitch black woods at night with nothing but a flashlight to guide my way. It is not a pleasant experience because one’s sight is so limited. Limited sight is scary enough on its own, however, add in the fact that around you could be bears, coyote, mountain lions (I swear they exist here), and any other number of wildlife. All one experiences in the woods at night is darkness, shadowy formations of trees, and sounds of critters moving and leaves rustling.

Being in the woods at night is a great metaphor for living one’s life as a Christian in this world. Jesus tells us that we are salt of the earth and the lamp on a lampstand. In order for us to not lose our flavor as salt, we have to be willing to have the courage and the faith to go where God is leading us. We have to be willing to go into the dark woods and to live our lives faithfully within it. In order for us to do so, we have to not hide who we are or whose we are, for to do so is to hide the light of Christ under a basket. That is treacherous at best for then we do not have the light of Christ to guide our way, and we do not have the light of Christ to draw others to the Salvation we bear in us.

Here’s the catch, we cannot be faithful Christians without entering the dark woods. Following Jesus is NOT about playing it safe, it is about risking safety in order to bring Good News to the last, the least, and the lost. Today’s challenge for us is to reflect on where we are. Have we left the safety of our sanctuary? Have we left the safety of the arms of Christ in order to venture out into the dark woods? Have we left comfort behind to embrace the darkened path that Christ has chosen for us? If not, I pray you will take that next step for the harvest is great, but the workers are few.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Love will find a way through paths where wolves fear to prey.” – Lord Byron

PRAYER
Lord, thank you for being my sanctuary no matter where I go. Help me rid myself of fear that I might bold step out into the darkness and shine your light. Amen.

The Sermon, part 3: The Light and the City

Read Matthew 5:14-16

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“He says, ‘You will do more than restore the people of Israel to Me. I will make you a light to the Gentiles, and you will bring My salvation to the ends of the earth.’” (Isaiah 49:6 NLT)

r4x3-1600Have you ever been in hiking in the woods at night? I have been. For anyone who has been camping, you know that it is pitch black in the forest at night. When I was a teenager, I went on an all night excursion on the Appalachian Trail with a couple of my friends.  I can remember how our parents were not so happy with us for doing that because of the danger of walking around the woods, over rough terrain, in the pitch-black darkness. Thankfully, we did have a couple of flashlights, otherwise we may not have been so lucky as it was really dark in there.

Speaking of flashlights, that brings me to this devotion’s focus within the famed Sermon on the Mount. Jesus tells his disciples that they are the light of the world. What could Jesus possibly mean by saying that the disciples are the light of the world? What is the purpose of a light, such as a lit candle, a lantern, a light bulb, or a flashlight? Why would anyone turn on a light?

For those who are thinking in terms of a “spotlight”, I would caution them to pause and look at the context of the passage. Jesus calls his disciples the light of the world and then reminds them that the purpose of a light and/or a lamp is best served on a stand, as opposed to being hidden under a basket. Why is that? Because, a lamp on a stand gives off light to everyone in the house, allowing them to see their surroundings and find their way from room to room without stumbling.

In other words, the light Jesus is referring to is the kind of light that points the way. It is the light that illumines the area for all to see where they are going. The purpose of the light is not to draw attention to the lamp, but to “The Way.” The disciples, according to Jesus’ metaphor, are the lamps that shine the light out for the world. The light is not shining for the world to see them, but for the world to see “the Way”, which is Jesus Christ our Lord.

Along side of this metaphor Jesus puts forth another one, only that this one stands in contrast to the other. Jesus says, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.” This metaphor points us to an inherent truth of what it means to be Christ’s disciples, as well as what it means to be the bearer of the light. Though these two metaphors are in contrast with one another, they are so purposefully and the one cannot work without the other.

If you have ever gone to the city of San Francisco, it is a magnificent city to see. It rolls up and down hills and is impossible to miss as you approach it. Jerusalem was also a city on a hill and Jesus’ metaphor is also a warning. In Isaiah 2:2-5; 42:6; 49:6, we see that God refers to Israel, and Jerusalem, as being the light for the gentiles. God had planned for God’s people to be the city on the hill, for all to see. It was by the example of Israel, by their righteous (just) living, and by their visible relationships with neighbor, with each other, and with God that the world was to be redeemed. God had hoped that people would see Israel, as a younger sibling looks up to their older brother or sister, and follow their lead.

Unfortunately, time and time again that had failed to come to fruition. Israel split from Judah, Judah became as corrupt as the next kingdom, and the people had failed to truly witness to the world the hope, healing and wholeness that God was offering to the world. Jesus’ metaphor is reminding his disciples that Israel’s call is their call, that God is wanting them to live justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with their Lord. In doing so, the world would see them and follow their lead. Yet, as the light metaphor reminds us, it wouldn’t be them that the world would be actually seeing and following, rather it would be “The Way” to which they are pointing.

In order for people to see Christ through us, we have to be visible to them. We have to truly display Christ in our lives, in our attitudes, in our actions, and in everything we do. When our actions, words, thoughts, and examples are mirror reflections of the world around us, we fail to be the city on the hill, we fail to be the lamp on the stand, and we fail to be the light of the world. The question for us is, will we let the world get the best of us and fail in our mission. Will we be agents of division, politics, biterness, strife, enmity, and the things of this world, or will we be Christ’s lamp on a stand, like a city on a hill, visibly representing Christ and shining the light on “The Way” that is Jesus Christ? Now is the time to choose.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The lamp burns bright when the wick and oil are clean.” – Ovid

PRAYER
Lord, clean my wick and fill me with your holy oil that I may burn bright and shine the light on the way. Amen.

THE CHRISTIAN MANIFESTO, part 10: God’s Favor Revealed

Read Luke 4:14-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Remember me, LORD, when You show favor to Your people; come near and rescue me.” (Psalm 106:4 NLT)

The light in young woman hands in cupped shape. Concepts of shar

Recently, a fellow colleague and friend of mine got into a conversation about the scripture passage I was preaching on at the church that I serve. The passage is Luke 4:14-21 and is on Jesus’ first recorded visit to the synagogue in Nazareth following his baptism and wilderness experience. In that passage, Jesus is handed the scroll of Isaiah and he opens it up to the following passage: “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, for He has anointed Me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the LORD’s favor has come.” Inspired by the conversation, I have decided to devote a series of devotions on this particular passage, which has become known as “The Christian Manifesto”.

Part 10: God’s Favor Revealed. What does it mean to have God’s favor? Often times, we look at people who have everything going for them as though they have been favored and/or blessed by God. We look at the wealthy, the successful, the fashionable, the sociable, the famous, the strong, the powerful and others such as these as if they have been showered with God’s blessings. It goes without saying that, if God is showering blessings upon people that they must be favored by God.

What does it mean to need God’s favor? Often times, we look at the lowly, the poor, the destitute, the ignorant, the uneducated, the socially awkward, the loners, the timid, the weak, and the powerless as being those who are in major need of God’s favor. Of course, it goes without saying that those “living in their sin”, however we define that, are also in need of God’s favor. These are the people we look down upon, we pity, and we distinguish ourselves from.

In regard to the answers to both questions above, not much has changed in the 2,000 years since Jesus walked the earth. If you seemingly had everything going your way, you were considered to be under God’s blessing and, in essence, favored by God. If you’re existence was viewed as miserable and with pity, then you were considered to be under God’s curse and, in essence, IN NEED of God’s favor. In part, the book of Job tries to dispell this bad theology by showing that even those favored by God suffer and, conversely, those who are wicked sometimes triumph in their sin and evil. Despite the difficulty that aforementioned book presents to us theologically, there can be no doubt that the reality is that our discernment of who’s favored and who needs favor is skewed and injustly biased.

In the synagogue of Nazareth, Jesuths proclaimed the time of YAHWEH’s (aka the LORD) favor. In the context of the Jewish year of Jubilee, as well as in the context of the Isaiah passage Jesus is reading from, it is clear that those who need favor are the ones who are poor, imprisoned, blind and oppressed. As has been asked before, who are the poor, the imprisoned, the blind and the opressed? We always tend to think of these labels in terms of people who are financially poor, physically imprisoned, literally blind, and socially/economically/politically/physically oppressed.

The truth is that, while Jesus was proclaiming the year of the YAHWEH’s favor upon such people, he was not proclaiming that favor ONLY for them. The truth is we all need God’s favor…we all are in need of God’s salvation and the freedom that comes with it. People can be spiritually and relationally impoverished, as well as financially. They can be imprisoned in their hatred, in their short-sighted worldviews, and in virtually every other pitfall in their lives. They can be blind from seeing truth, from seeing their need for God’s grace, from seeing their neighbor through the lense of loving compassion and hospitality. The truth be told, we ALL are oppressed by our sins and our propensity to miss the mark when it comes to living in UNCONDITIONAL LOVE. The power of the Gospel is, that it is to such people…to all people…TO US…that they year of God’s favor has arrived and it is US that Christ chose to spread that favor.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“People who demand neutrality in any situation are usually not neutral but in favor of the status quo.” – Max Eastman

PRAYER
Lord, help me to realize my need for you and help me to realize your need for me to spread your Good News to all. 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.