For the next couple of weeks I will be away on a retreat, followed by a family vacation. While I will not be writing new devotions until I return, I wanted to leave you with daily reminders, for the next ten days, of God’s unconditional love for you. Read on per day and meditate on the scriptures (New Living Translation) throughout the day. Let them be a reminder to you that you are God’s special Creation, that you are loved unconditionally, and that God is calling you to do the same.
Tuesday, February 11, 2014
“Who is like You among the gods, O LORD—glorious in holiness, awesome in splendor, performing great wonders? With Your unfailing love You lead the people You have redeemed. In Your might, You guide them to Your sacred home.”(Exodus 15:11, 13)
“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)
At first she liked the attention. She even tried to help one of her bullied friends, letting him tell people that he had a tryst with her too. This led to other bullied kids asking her, and even offering to pay her, to let them claim to have had a tryst with her. At first, Olive agrees to all of this, thinking that she is in control of the situation; yet, as they often do, the rumors spun way out of control.
I won’t give anymore of the film away so as to not spoil it for those who haven’t watched it; however, I mention it because it is worth noting how easily people can get caught up in rumors. People just love gossip. All it takes is for one person to catch wind of something and, before long, the story has grown by leaps and bounds and has spread around an entire community and beyond. What’s more, rumors are seldom, if ever, based on truth.
As Olive found out, rumors are nothing to play around with. While most people don’t start rumors about themselves, people often participate in them about others. They catch wind of something about someone they don’t know well, or perhaps of someone they don’t like, and they begin to talk about it with others, who then continue to spread the gossip. At first, gossip often seems very innocent and harmless; however, gossip is anything of the sort. At best, gossip emotionally and psychologically hurts and scars those who are subjected to it. At worst, it can be spiritually and physically damaging, causing the subjects of such gossip to devalue themselves and even, in some cases, harm themselves.
The Apostle Paul certainly dealt with division and rumors in his churches. In fact, he did not hesitate to clearly state that gossip, slander and other abusive behaviors were sinful. There is nothing good or Godly that can come from the spreading of gossip. Paul went so far as to even say that anyone who participates in any sort of wrongdoing such as gossip, will not inherit the Kingdom of God. After all, if God is love, and God is at the center of the Kingdom of God, then it logically follows that Love is at the center of the Kingdom of God. Gossip is certainly not an expression of love. It has no place in love. Gossip seeks to separate not to support. It seeks to discriminate not to accept. It seek so to destroy not to build up. When one really thinks about it, gossip is antithetical to love; therefore, those who actively seek to participate in gossip are choosing to not participate in (aka inherit) the kingdom of God.
This, perhaps, is not an easy message for many of us. Most of us have been caught up in one form of gossip or another; however, it is a message we need to hear all the same. God does not want us to participate in gossip, no matter what reason we feel we have for doing so. In God’s eyes, there is NO REASON to gossip. Rather, let us seek to do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8). Let us seek to truly get to know someone, rather than scorning them based off of hearsay. Let us live into, and inherit, the Kingdom of God rather than sowing the seeds of envy, gossip and hate. That is what LOVE calls us to do!
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“There is so much good in the worst of us, and so much bad in the best of us, that it hardly behooves any of us, to talk about the rest of us.” – Edward Wallis Hoch
Lord, steer me clear of gossip, no matter how innocent it may seem. Let my words reflect your love for all people, and plant that love in my heart. Amen.
“Be to me a rock of refuge, a strong fortress, to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress. Upon you I have leaned from my birth; it was you who took me from my mother’s womb. My praise is continually of you.” (Psalm 71:3, 6).
This past weekend, my family and I went to see a high school production of Walt Disney’s Broadway play, Beauty and the Beast. We had been to see the production on Broadway and, to be honest, this high school production was just as good! They were all very professional on stage and we watched with delight as the story came to life before our very eyes.
Beauty and the Beast has always been one of my favorite fairy tales, and it is one of my favorite Disney movies. One of the reasons I love the film so much, is because I can totally relate with the Beast. And my guess is, so can many of us veterans of this comedy we call life.
When we were children, the world seemed big and bold and beautiful. Everything was colored by the lens of innocence and to us, as children, everything was perfect. But then, as we grew older we began to be tainted by the world. We became more knowledgeable about how harsh the world could be. Ever so slowly, we began to be changed by the surrounding world.
For those of us who were picked on, for those of us who never quite fit in, we began to grow bitter. We learned that we could not trust anyone and, in the process, we lost faith in ourselves. For those of us who have been cheated or abused, perhaps we began to mask ourselves with cold indifference, a defense-mechanism to shield us from being hurt anymore. For those of us who were popular, we began to realize the price of that popularity and felt as if we were imprisoned by it.
Regardless of what category we found ourselves in, we began to believe the images that other defined us as. We began to lose who we were created to be. We began to see something other than ourselves staring back at us in the mirror, and we despised what we saw. All we could see in the mirror was a beast glaring into our eyes.
But like the Beast, we are not meant to be prisoners. Like the Beast, we are not meant to be locked away in darkness, watching the pedals fall from what’s left of our lives. God did not create us to be depressed, cynical, angry, and stressed out. God did not create us to be successful, popular, clickish, aggressive, overly competitive or power-hungry. We let the world define who we are rather than listening to the One who truly knows us, who knew us before we were even formed in our mother’s womb.
God did not create a beast when God created you; rather, God created a beauty. Each one of us is unique, each one of us has something special to offer, and each one of us is beautiful. Look deep inside yourself, look for the beauty that is within you. Stop look at yourself through the lenses the world taught you to wear. Stop seeing yourself as worthless and recognize that God doesn’t create worthlessness. You are a child of God, made in the very image of God, and you are unconditionally…and I stress the word “unconditionally”…loved by God. Accept that love and be recreated in that love! Learn to love yourself, and learn to love others just as God loves you!
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“We are made in the image of an imageless God” – Dr. Michael Kogan
Lord, strip me of all of the images the world has come to define me with. Show me who I truly am. Amen.
Read Matthew 5:1-16; 6:7-15; 13:1-34; Mark 12:28-34
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.'” (Matthew 10:7)
I was just listening to the song “Imagine” by the late, great John Lennon. The song has long since been heralded as the global anthem of world peace and was Lennon’s best selling song of his entire solo career. The song challenges the listener to imagine a world without possessions, without war, without greed and poverty. John takes things that are commonly held to be the cause of war and suffering, and challenges the listener to imagine a world where those things didn’t exist, which John assumes would be a world where the “world would be as one.”
At the top of John Lennon’s list of things to imagine the world without, was the notion of heaven, and conversely, the idea of hell. To the Christian, such lyrics should make us pause. Why would John Lennon want us to imagine a world without heaven? What would such a world be like? John then takes it one step further and ends that verse with this, “Imagine all the people living for today.” For John Lennon, the concept of heaven is one that is foreign to this earth. It is a place far, far away; it is a place that is someplace other than this earth.
Christianity has often taught that this world is something to be discarded, that we are to await “a place that is far better than this world.” Heaven has been taught, by Christians, to be the very antithesis of Earth. Yet, in the Bible we find a different understanding of heaven. Jesus didn’t speak of the Kingdom of Heaven as a place that was far, far away; rather, for Jesus heaven was right here, right now. Jesus taught that not only could we see and experience heaven on earth, but that we could inherit it. All that we needed to do was open our hearts to God and see the world through God’s eyes.
For Jesus, heaven and hell were the opposite sides of the same coin. As he walked the streets of Galilee and Judea, he saw hell all around him. Starvation, extreme poverty, disease, neglect, abuse, and other terrible things are all examples of the hell Jesus witness all around him. His entire country was experiencing the hell of being occupied by the oppressive and tyrannical Roman Empire.
Yet, despite all of the hell Jesus saw, he also witnessed to the very real presence of heaven in the world. When he chose to heal instead of harm, when he chose to love instead of hate, when he chose to forgive instead of bear grudges, when he chose to stand up for right rather than sit down for the status quo, he was not only witnessing to the presence of heaven but he WAS THE PRESENCE OF HEAVEN…the very presence of God in this world.
And we can be the presence of heaven too. We just need to be willing to get a little dirty, to feel a little uncomfortable and to step outside of the boxes we put ourselves in. We need to be willing to reach out and be LOVE in the lives of those around us. We need to be willing to become vulnerable, just as Jesus became vulnerable, for the sake of those around us. To do such things is to bear witness to the reality of heaven on earth.
While John Lennon is calling for us to imagine there to be no heaven out there in the sky, he is also calling us to imagine a world in which heaven exists here on Earth. But he has missed an important truth that Jesus has been pointing us to all along: we don’t have to imagine heaven on earth…we only have to live it. Pointing to others not living it is not proof that it doesn’t exist. It does exist if WE choose to LIVE it!
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Imagine what would happen if you stopped imagining and started living what you imagined.
Lord, I thank you for my imagination and for equipping to make what I imagine become a reality. Guide me to be your shining light, witnessing to the reality of heaven! Amen.