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Read Romans 7:14-25
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged.” (Matthew 7:1, NLT)
Every year, around this time, I read Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which is a tradition I have carried on since I was in high school. I absolutely love that tale, which is ultimately a tale about HOPE in the midst of darkness. There is one scene in the book that is absolutely striking to me. Mina Harker had recently been bitten by Count Dracula and, to make matters worse, had drank some of his blood. As we find out, this fuses Mina to him and begins to make her one of his. At one point, upon finding out that she drank Dracula’s blood (as she was in a trance when she did it), she cried out, “Unclean, unclean, God help me, I’m unclean!”
One can only imagine the absolute horror that Mina was going through. She had lived her life in a manner that was pure, always priding herself in her manners and behavior. She was a loyal person and loved her husband dearly, yet now she was tainted by this monster’s blood. She is absolutely revolted by the Count and horrified by what he as done to her; however, because she is spiritually bound to him, and as she begins to watch her humanity slowly fade away, she comes to a realization.
Looking up at her husband Jonathan, she asks that if she becomes like the count that he will put an end to her and put her soul at peace so that she may be with God. But her plea doesn’t end there. She also begs that he find the count and put an end to the monster so that the man trapped inside may find peace as well. Whoa! It is almost unfathomable for her husband Jonathan, but she makes him agree. He cannot understand how she could have even the remotest bit of sympathy for this savage beast, this wretched demon, this accursed vampire.
In Romans, Paul spent a good amount of time writing about the self-perpetuating cycle of sin. We know that certain things are good and often gravitate away from them. Conversely, we know that certain things are not good or healthy and yet we find ourselves doing those things anyway. No matter how hard we try, we often find ourselves stuck in the mire of our sins.
Paul knew, just as Mina came to realize, that there is a bit of monster in us all. We all let certain things get the better of us. We all are, to one extent or another, controlled by the negative things we allow into our lives. Perhaps some do more than others, but we all get caught up in things that God would otherwise wish to set us free from. Yet, we also tend to look at others as if they are worse than we are and, like Jonathan, we often get too caught up in our own self-righteousness to see that we are really in the same boat as the ones we judge.
Rather than being in the prison of our own judgements, we are called by God to be humble and to see the humanity in others, including ourselves. Even though we may not agree with the actions that people take, and even though we might even be forced to act against the evils that people perpetrate, we are still called to see the child of God beneath the sins that entrap them. We are all children of God, loved by God, and God wishes to free us all from our sins…in particular, the sin of judgment. All we have to do is be humble and let God guide us from the darkness of our judgments to the light of God’s unconditional love and grace.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The least amount of judging we can do the better off we are.” – Michael J. Fox
Lord, humble me so that I might not judge others. Open my eyes and my heart to your mercy, your love, and your grace. Amen.
Read Psalm 100
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty. (Revelation 1:8, NRSV)
Most, if not all, of us can sift through the years gone by and remember a time when we were children. Though it may be a while ago, and though certain memories might be fuzzy, we can with a little effort remember what it was like to be a child. What it was like to look at the world through innocent eyes, what it was like to rely on our parents, what it was like to have a mind like a sponge, soaking in all of our surroundings and feeding off of that knowledge with youthful energy and passion.
Of course, I am sure if we can remember those things, I am also pretty certain we can remember the not so positive things as well. I am sure that, with a little effort, we can remember being told that “children are to be seen and not heard.” I am sure we can remember being scolded for doing this or doing that, without fully understanding why we were getting scolded for behaving no differently than the adults do. I am sure we can remember people talking down to us as if we were too young to understand, or dismissing our thoughts and ideas as if they didn’t count because of our age.
On the flip side, I have seen the opposite occur too. I have seen people who are considered “older” passed off as being irrelevant. I have seen people’s ideas invalidated simply because “they don’t meet up with the times.” I have seen traditions scoffed at because they are “old” or “archaic”. We all can think to a time when we, or people we know, have made judgments against people because of their age.
Why is it that we are so focused on age? Why is it that a child is passed off as too naive to know what God is calling him or her to do? Why is it that an elderly person is invalidated because they are considered too old to know what is relevant for today’s generations? Does God discriminate based on age? Does God refuse to speak to and through people based on their age or their experience?
In Genesis, Noah was somewhere between 500 and 600 years old when God told him to build an Ark…he was 600 years old when the floods came (Genesis 7:6). God called Abraham to be the ancestor of many nations at the ripe age of 99 (Genesis 17:1). In Jeremiah, God called the prophet to speak despite Jeremiah judging himself to be too young (Jeremiah 1:6). The author of the first letter to Timothy, instructs the young minister to not let anyone think less of him because he is young, but to “be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity” (1 Timothy 4:12, NLT).
In reality, we serve an ageless God who is not limited by the limitations we place on ourselves and on others. God is neither young nor old; rather, God IS. With that said, God IS calling us, whether young or old, to live in a way that values others. God IS calling us, whether young or old, to live in a way that is humble. God IS calling us to recognize that there are no limitations in God, that all things are possible. God IS calling all of us to knock down our walls of segregation and discrimination and to open ourselves to God’s spirit working in, through and in spite of all of us. Today’s challenge is to answer that call to see God working in and through all people…including yourself.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“God is not limited by the limitations we place on ourselves and others.”
Lord, I know that you are not a God of limitations, but of eternal possibility. Remove my biases against myself and others. Use me in a way that promotes growth and brings hope, healing and wholeness to those in need of it. Amen.
Read Matthew 23
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” (Romans 3:22-23, NLT)
Anyone who knows me knows that my favorite rock band is Bon Jovi. From a young boy through the present day, I always found Bon Jovi’s music to be relatable. Their songs are often about life for the average person. If you’ve ever had to work hard and struggle to make end’s meat then you can certainly relate to Bon Jovi’s music. If you’ve ever been jaded in love, or fallen head over heels for someone, then you will certainly find a home in Bon Jovi’s lyrics. Over the course of nearly thirty years, Bon Jovi has written and recorded an extensive musical catalog that speaks to almost every aspect of life.
One of my favorite songs off of their album, New Jersey, is a song called “Living In Sin.” The song actually tells the story of two lovers who are wanting to be with each other and are meeting resistance by the girl’s parents. In the song Jon sings: Is it right for both our parents Who fight it out most nights, then pray for God’s forgiveness when they both turn out the lights. Or wear that ring of diamonds when your heart is made of stone. You can talk but still say nothing…stay together but alone.”
Here, Jon is questioning the “moral” restrictions that people put on being in love. If you cross the boundaries without being married, then you are living in sin; yet, in our culture, the same people upholding those restrictions are also failing in their relationships. Jon, in the character of this girl’s boyfriend, points out the hypocrisy that is often found among people who claim the moral high ground all the while failing to reach the moral high ground themselves.
This song, while it certainly does not excuse bad behavior and while it certainly does not eliminate the need to strive to live a moral life, causes the listener to ponder the nature of hypocrisy. How often have we, as an individual, failed to live up to the standards that we put forth for others to follow? How often have we preached one thing and failed to follow what we preach?
While the Bon Jovi song, “Living in Sin”, is about love and marriage, the song should cause us to reflect on the bigger picture. Are we so quick to judge another person’s behavior without carefully examining our own? Are we living examples of what it means to be holy or are we besmirching Christ with a holier-than-thou persona teeming with hypocrisy. Does our attitude represent Christ or repel people away from Christ?
When people see us preach one thing and do another, it causes them to look at the message itself as flawed, judgmental and hypocritical. Jesus warned against being the type of person that does not practice what he or she preaches. Jesus grew angry with people who taught one way and lived another. According to Jesus, if you are going to claim the moral high ground, you had better live up to that claim. The question is, which one of us can truly claim the moral high ground?
We are not called to be kings and queens of the moral mountain; rather, we are called to be ambassadors to the kingdom of compassionate mercy and unceasing grace. Rather than trying raise the bar up to a level we have yet to live up to, we should embrace humility and extend to others the grace and love that God has extended to us. Once we do that we will no longer be living in sin; rather, we will be living in the love that conquered all sin on the cross.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying, ‘Friend, let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.” – Jesus of Nazareth, Luke 6:41-42
Lord help me to live out your love so that I may adequately be a reflection of your hope, your healing and your wholeness. Amen.
Read Ephesians 6:10-18
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world.” (James 4:7-8, NLT)
One of my favorite horror movies is the Omen, which stars Gregory Peck who plays an American Ambassador to Great Britain. Peck and his wife, played by Lee Remick, have a child; however, Peck’s character learns that the child died during labor and is offered a chance, by a priest, the child of a mother who died in labor in place of the couple’s dead child. “No one need know,” the priest assures, “You need a child, and that child needs parents.” Peck is convinced and brings in the baby, never telling his wife what happened.
Needless to say, that action was a HUGE mistake and, as the child grows, more and more weird and crazy things start happening. At the child’s 6th birthday party, the nanny hang’s herself after yelling, “It’s all for you, Damien! It’s all for you!” Eventually, after his wife has been seriously injured by their maniacal child, Peck’s character learns that the child he was given was actually the son of Satan; in other words, his child was the unholy incarnation of evil.
While many of us flock to the movies to watch “evil” play out in various ways, and while many of us acknowledge the existence of evil when we see it splashed across the new channels, most of us live our lives as if evil doesn’t exist. We wake up and carry out our days activities as if we aren’t affected by evil in the slightest. Worse yet, many of us think of evil as something alien to us…after all, we could never do any evil, right?
The truth is that we can do evil and are most definitely affected by the evil we do and the evil that is surrounding us. John Wesley said that a life of faith is one that seeks to do no harm, “by avoiding evil of every kind” (United Methodist Book of Discipline 2012, 52). As people of faith, we should be seeking to do no harm. How? By avoiding every kind of evil.
If you see someone in need and don’t help them. That is evil. In this case, you avoid evil by helping those in need. If you judge others, even the Hitlers and Stalins of the world, that is evil; rather, pray for such people and work to change yourself in a way that brings hope, healing and wholeness into this world. If you see injustice of any kind taking place, it is evil to do nothing about it. Be a person who stands up for what is right and seeks to do justice on this earth.
Evil takes many shapes and forms. It is not just murder and the grotesque things found in Hollywood horror movies; rather, it can be ever so sublte. Evil is anything that keeps you from living the way that God has called you to live. From murder to holding a grudge, we are called to do no harm by avoiding evil of every kind. And the only way to avoid evil, is to resist it, to counter act it, to take a stand with Christ and oppose evil with God’s love. May God strengthen you as you seek to live this out.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The power of choosing good and evil is within the reach of all.” – Origen
Lord, I seek to not only avoid evil, but to resist evil. It is from you that I gain my strength and through you everything is possible. Amen.
Read 1 Corinthians 9:22-27
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” (Proverbs 1:7, NLT)
One of the things that profoundly attracts me to Wesleyan Christian theology is the focus on spiritual discipline interwoven into it. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, strongly believed in the importance of maintaining a life of spiritual discipline. It was not just enough, for Wesley, to pray the “sinners prayer”, ask Jesus in your heart, and be done with it.
While Wesley did believe that we are saved by faith, and faith ALONE, he believed that such faith would manifest itself in good works. In other words, good works are the fruit that grow on the tree of faith. And the way to grow as a tree of faith is to practice spiritual disciplines such as observing a sacred time of rest (aka Sabbath), daily reading of the Scriptures, attending regular worship service and/or being active in the life of the Church, living out one’s faith through acts of compassion and mercy, studying, and other such things.
Today, in our fast paced world, it seems that we barely have time to brush our teeth and tie our shoes. Just this past week, I took my daughters to a couple softball games, softball practices, and a school Spring concert. And that stuff was just for my children. How can I or anyone find time to incorporate spiritual discipline? Yet, in reality, we do have time. We have all the time in the world for the things we prioritize.
The truth is that, if we are to be honest, most of us don’t prioritize practicing spiritual discipline in our lives. It’s not that we don’t have time to read the Bible, to pray, to observe a time of sacred rest, to be an active part of a community of worship, or to be a presence of love, mercy and compassion to those around us who need it; rather, it’s that we have not prioritized doing those things. Sure, we may do them here or there, but if the truth be told, we don’t find them to be THAT important in our lives.
Neglecting to nourish our soul, it’s no wonder many of us find ourselves so burned out and depressed. It’s not wonder some of us feel so overwhelmed by the challenges that seem to burden us day in and day out. If we are to maintain a healthy balance in our lives, if we are going to be whole and well beings, then we must maintain our spiritual health as much as we do our physical, emotional, and psychological health. Just like it does your body good to consume fresh vegetable and fruit produce and to feed your body whole and wholesome foods, it does your soul good for you to feed it the “food” it needs. Remember, you are not just a body or a mind, you are also a soul and if you are going to truly care for yourself—the way God wants you to—then you will make sure to prioritize spiritual discipline in your life.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Catch on fire with enthusiasm and people will come for miles to watch you burn.” – John Wesley
Lord, help me to prioritize spiritual discipline in my life, that I may draw ever closer in my relationship with you. Amen.
Read Psalm 22
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for You are close beside me. Your rod and Your staff protect and comfort me.” (Psalms 23:4, NLT)
While riding down to the Farm Market to get myself some fresh produce, I was listening to the album, “Fallen”, but Evanescence. For those who don’t know, Evanesence is a hard rock band that was formed in 1995 but had their big break in 2003, when “Fallen” was released. The band is headed up by the hauntingly beautiful and beautifully talented Amy Lee. She is not just beautiful in terms of her physical appearance, but her voice is amazing and there is a depth to it that allows one to peer into her soul.
One of my favorite songs on the album, which also happens to be a cover of song written by a Christian band, is the song Tourniquet. In it, Amy Lee agonizingly sings the following lyrics: “I tried to kill my pain but only brought more so much more. I lay dying and I’m pouring crimson regret and betrayal. I’m dying, praying, bleeding and screaming am I too lost to be saved? Am I too lost? My God my tourniquet return to me salvation! My God my tourniquet return to me salvation!”
The lyrics are dark and the music is haunting and driven with urgency. When one listens to this song, they cannot help but feel the despair of the person who wrote them. can you imagine what it must be like to be at the end of your rope, trying to hold on to life and yet feeling like your about to lose everything? Can you imagine the pain of lingering on depressed and desperate with nothing but the agonizing feeling of being all alone? Perhaps you can.
I have often said that the one fear that ties us altogether is the fear of being alone. Human beings are social creatures who are designed to be in relationship with other humans. We need relationships to survive and this is a need that we have from the moment we are born. A baby born into a world that fails to provide it with human interaction cannot survive. It will die. And so it makes sense, and the Bible certainly picks up on it, that we humans desire to be in the presence of others and will do anything to keep from being truly alone.
With all of that said, there is also profound hope in the song. “My God, my tourniquet, return to me salvation!” This simple and yet profoundly deep sentence almost sounds like it comes straight out of the Psalms. This sentence reminds us that, no matter how lost we feel, no how matter how dark it gets, no matter how desperate we become, we are NEVER ALONE. God is always with us and we are always in God’s presence. Just like the Psalmist who goes from “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me” (Psalm 22:1, NLT) to “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me” (Psalm 23:4, NLT), so to the writer of this song goes from the agonizing over being alone to crying out to a God who is very much with him/her.
And so it is true in our lives as well. When you think you are alone, when you think that God has abandoned you, when you think there is nowhere left for you to turn, when you think that life is not worth living, and/ or your think that there is no hope left for you, remember this song, remember the worlds, “My God, my tourniquet, return to me salvation.” Remember the God who is with you, who HAS saved you from trials and tribulations in the past, and WILL pull you out of the midst of your despair when ever you call out for help! YOU ARE NOT ALONE!
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Security is not the absence of danger, but the presence of God, no matter what the danger.” – Anonymous
Lord, I acknowledge your presence with me and hand all that is burdening me over to you. I trust that you will take care of me. Amen.
Read Matthew 6:14-15; Luke 6:27-30, 32-36
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“And forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.” (Matthew 6:12, NLT)
I have always been a huge Star Wars fan. The latest three films center around a character by the name of Anakin Skywalker and takes place before the original films. Anakin is filled with great hope and promise; however, he is also filled with fear and regret. He was taken away from his mother and taught to be a Jedi Knight. His mother, who once was a slave, finally gets her freedom and marries a man. But, this isn’t a fairytale for her. The man, though he loved her, failed at protecting her and she eventually gets kidnapped, raped, tortured and killed by a group of bandits.
Anakin cannot forgive the man–nor can he forgive himself. After all, he was a Jedi Knight, yet he could not protect his own mother. Though his lover (Padame), friends and mentors alike try to steer Anakin past his fears and regrets, they cannot do it. They have too great a hold of him and Anakin slips further and further into the dark side.
In one of the final scenes of the third installment, Anakin finds himself in a volcano fighting against Obi Wan Kenobi who used to be his greatest friend. He believes that Obi Wan has betrayed him, and he believes that Padame has betrayed him and, out of anger, he nearly destroyed Padame and is on the move to kill Obi Wan.
In the fight, Obi Wan gains the better ground and warns Anakin not to advance toward him. But Anakin is too angry to listen and leaps forward to attack. In self-defense, Obi Wan slices off Anakin’s legs and left arm and Anakin falls to ground, his leg stumps in touching the lava. While catching on fire and burning alive, Anakin can be seen reaching toward the man who used to be his best friend and teacher. “I hate you,” Anakin screams. “I hate you!!!” Just as the fire is consuming his body, so too the rage fully consumes Anakin. The fight may be over, the scars of the battle will forever haunt Obi Wan’s memory.
While the film focuses on Anakin’s fear as being the root cause of his problem, I see forgiveness being a key issue as well. Anakin can never find it in himself to forgive those who have done him wrong. He can never find it in himself to forgive himself either! As a result, hatred builds up in him and he becomes Darth Vader, who is a walking embodiment of Hell.
In the Scripture today, Jesus warns his disciples and followers that forgiveness is absolutely vital. If we are not willing to forgive others, including ourselves, how can we ever expect to receive God’s forgiveness? To want forgiveness and refuse it to others is hypocritical to say the least. But beyond that point, those who don’t forgive often find themselves not being able to forgive themselves…and no matter how much God forgives someone, it is in vain if they will not receive it.
Thus, the challenge for all is to be humble and to fight the battle that rages within us. We need to recognize that none of us are perfect and that each and every one of us is in need of forgiveness. Rather than letting hate, bitterness and rage consume us, like it consumed Anakin Skywalker, we need to turn from our hate and stubbornness and learn to forgive. If we can do that, then perhaps we’d have less to fear. Learn to forgive and learn to be forgiven. This is what God is calling you to do.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Fear is the path to the Dark Side; Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.” – Yoda
Lord, soften my heart and teach me to forgive others, as well as myself. Amen.