Tag Archives: Peace

In Remembrance

Read Deuteronomy 24:10-22

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18 NRSV)

9-11-skyline-nightThirteen years ago from yesterday was a day that I will never forget. I was an iron worker at the time and was working on the roof of a building in Bridgewater, NJ. We were all well into our work, tying rebar down in order to create a mat that would become the reinforcement for the concrete floor of the roof. It was then that our supervisor came running up. He told us that a plane had hit one of the towers of the World Trade Center. We were shocked, perhaps a little confused, and we tried making light (if not sense) of it by joking that it must have been a Laguardia mess up. I mean, how else do you explain it?

So, we all went back to work, each of us silently processing it on our own. Each of us were trying to put those words together, “A plane has flown into one of the twin towers.” In ten minutes time, our supervisor came up again screaming, “It happened again, another plain crashed into the other tower!” We were being attacked. There was no doubt what was happening at that point. Accidents happen but not simultaneously in pairs. At that point our supervisor sent us home, not knowing what else to do. We were all in shock.

In fact, I am not sure how I made it home that day. I was in shock. I went to the daycare to pick up my daughter and she wasn’t there. I tried to call my wife but couldn’t make it through…the lines were tied up and service was down. It turned out that my daughter wasn’t in daycare that day as my wife wasn’t working. I was so beside myself as I listened to the devastating news reports that I became disoriented.

The news kept rolling in with reports of the Pentagon being hit and a plane crashing somewhere out in Pennsylvania! Once I got home, I turned on the news to see two smoking infernos that were the Twin Towers (which had been a part of the NY Skyline for my entire life and then some) and images of bodies falling out of the windows as they tried to escape being burned alive. There were images of people covered in ash, soot and God only knows what, walking around like zombies…in total shock…just aimlessly walking with blank faces. Other people were screaming, crying, running and it was clear that New York was not the same place it had been just two hours earlier. In fact, America and the Western world as a whole seemed to change on that day.

I will never forget where I was that day, and I am sure no one who was alive during that time will. What’s even more important for us to realize is that many people live in that kind of a horrific reality everyday. It is easy for us to distance ourselves from it because we live in a country that, barring a handful of horrific events, has generally been free from the war-wreaked devastation that a majority of the world is plagued by. But 9/11 is a reminder that even we are not immune to the jaws of hatred, violence and horrific destruction!

Let us not forget the victims of 9/11. Let us always remember that day and the terrible devastation it brought, not to be bitter or hold grudges or retaliate, but so that we remain prayerful for those who are suffering whether they be in this country or around the world. Let us honor those who died on 9/11 by reconciling with those we’ve wronged and by being peacemakers in our community and in this world. Doing such will serve to witness to the resolve of love, even against the forceful presence of hate. Like Peter, if we are founded on the rock (aka God’s love), even the gates of death shall not prevail against us!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
It is a full time job being honest one moment at a time, remembering to love, to honor, to respect. It is a practice, a discipline, worthy of every moment.

PRAYER
Lord, help me honor those who have been victims of hate, intolerance, war, famine, disease, poverty and all of the other things that people suffer, by being someone who stands up in opposition to such things. Found me in your love so that I may become a fortress of hope, healing and wholeness for those in my community who need it. Amen.

The Beast Within

Read Luke 15:11-32

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32 NLT)

wolfmanJust recently I sat down to watch the remake of the Wolfman. Of course, the original 1941 Wolfman starring Lon Chaney Jr., Claude Rains, Bela Legosi and Evelyn Ankers will always be one of my favorite monster movies ever; however, with that said, the 2010 remake of that film does pay homage to it, all the while adding its own twists and spins.The root of the story is the same. Larry Talbot returns home after his brother dies suddenly and horribly. Upon getting home Larry ends up getting bit by what he believes is a wolf, and when the moon shines full and bright in the sky, things begin to get a bit hairy for Larry (pun totally intended) as well as for the village. In the remake, which is where the film departs from the 1941 storyline, we learn that Larry and his father, who is cold and quite distant, had a falling out years earlier over the death of Larry’s mother (among other things). Since that time, Larry had distanced himself with his father and his family (including his brother), and did not wish to return…that is until he learns of  his brother’s death.

When he does finally return he is not welcomed warmly, as is the case in the story of the prodigal son; rather, his father greets him coldly and indifferently. Clearly both father and son have a resentment toward one another and the result is, in the end, catastrophic. In more than one way, the fact that Larry ends up turning into a werewolf serves as a metaphor the hatred, bitterness, anger and unresolved hostility that is caged up inside of him. That is all being said as a matter of observation, without affirming or denying the justification he had to be angry, bitter, and hateful of a father who, in many ways, failed him from his childhood onward.

The truth is that we all have the beast that lies within us beneath the surface, don’t we. For most of us, we are able to supress the beast, to keep it locked away, and to move our lives forward in a positive, constructive and meaningful manner. Yet, there are some who have truly been beaten up in life, or at least the feel as if they have, and it is very hard for them to move beyond what has happened to them. It’s not right, or wrong, it just is. The problem is that, when we are unable to move beyond our past, that past comes back to haunt us and that is when that inner beast comes out in full force.

Today’s challenge is for those of us who have a hard time moving beyond our past, beyond the hurts, the pain, the abuse, and/or the perceptions we have of those we feel have wronged us (whether they have or not). If you are a person who struggles with this, know that forgiveness is attainable. There is a God who has forgiven us of our past and that same God is calling us to forgive others as well. Forgiveness does not mean that we forget what has happened, or that we somehow pretend it didn’t. Nor does it mean what happened to us is okay, or we should somehow justify it. Forgiveness doesn’t mean we ignore when wrong is being done, nor does it remove the obligation we have to seek justice, as well as reconciliation.

It is also important to note that forgiveness is not just to the benefit of the ones we are forgiving, rather, it is a benefit for us…perhaps even more so than the ones we forgive. Forgiveness is our way of saying that no matter what others do to us, God still loves us and cares for us and we aren’t going to harbor anything against anyone. We are defined by God not them, and in that recognition comes a liberation that not only keeps the beast at bay, but eliminates it altogether. Remember that no one is without the need to be forgiven; therefore, no one is above forgiving others. Forgive and be set free!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

PRAYER

Lord, give me the strength to forgive, even as I seek to be forgiven, and move me beyond my hurts and pains to a life of joy and peace. Amen.

The Garden

Read Genesis 2:4b-9, 15-25

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11:6-9 NRSV)

lion_wolf_lamb3We all dream about what living in a utopia would be like do we not. We’ve all tried to imagine what it must have been like to be the first people living in the paradise called the Garden of Eden. We often wonder how different the world would be if the garden were a reality for us today as opposed to being an origin narrative bound in a book.

Can you imagine the first people living in paradise, living in a garden that sustains eternal life? Can you imagine having all of the delicious plants and fruits that you could ever eat? Could you imagine living in a world where people didn’t kill people for greed, jealously, revenge and/or power? Could you imagine a world where animals (including humans) didn’t kill other animals for food, a world where pain, suffering, famine, disease and loss were never, ever experienced?

That is the kind of world that Genesis says that God intended for us, but even in the paradisiacal Garden of Eden tragedy, pain, suffering and separation lurked around the corner. It seems as if even the earliest humans couldn’t attain true peace and/or true happiness. If that is the case, why do we continue to long for it and what makes us think we can ever attain it?

The truth of the matter is that we can attain true peace and true wholeness. We can once again enter the garden if we are willing to do what it takes to live in harmony with with ourselves, with other humans, with all of creation and, ultimately with God. But, as you can plainly see, paradise isn’t free. Everything comes at a cost.

The question is are you willing to do what it takes to work your way back to the garden? Are you willing to turn your body back into the sanctuary God built it to be? Are you willing to take proper care of yourself (i.e., through a healthy diet, exercise, self-forgiveness, humility, spiritual discipline, etc.)? Are you willing to start living in harmony with your neighbors (friends and enemies alike)? Are you willing to live in a harmonious relationship with all of God’s creation? If so, the your answer is yes to the question of whether you want to live in a harmonious relationship with God.

God is calling you to begin your journey back to the Garden…back to the perfect paradise. The truth is we have kicked ourselves out of it and we are the ones holding ourselves from returning to it! God is wanting us to be reunited the divine image we were created to reflect and God wants us to return home. The truth is that you have been equipped by God to stop dreaming and start journeying back to paradise. The path is set before you and the choice is yours. I hope to see you in paradise!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“God comes first. Paradise is not cheap.” – Hakeem Olajuwon

PRAYER

Lord, place the desire for paradise in my heart and guide me toward discovering it. Lead me back to your garden. Amen.

Born to Follow

Read John 21:15-22

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.” (1 Peter 2:21)

circlehq5It is no big secret that my favorite band in the world is Bon Jovi and that I have been listening to them faithfully for almost as long as I can remember. As a boy, I heard their songs on the radio and loved it every time they came on. My parents, who wouldn’t just buy me anything I wanted, allowed me to listen to them (and even bought me some of their albums) because, for the most part, their lyrics were clean and often inspirational…especially to a young boy from Jersey.

This band, which is also from New Jersey, have written and recorded 12 studio albums, have sold more than 100 million records worldwide, and have performed more than 2,700 concerts in over 50 countries for more than 34 million fans. Over the years, their music has spoken to me in many ways. With all of the ups and downs that comes with life, there is literally a Bon Jovi song for each of them. That is powerful stuff, and that is why they have been so successful. People can relate!

With that said, in 2009 Bon Jovi released the single, “We Weren’t Born to Follow” from their album “The Circle.” The song itself delivers everything a Bon Jovi fan has come to expect from the band. The lyrics are calling for people to become leaders, for people to pick themselves up off the ground and live life to it’s fullest no matter what comes their way. The chorus of the song is as follows: “We weren’t born to follow, come on and get up off your knees. When life is a bitter pill to swallow, you gotta hold on to what you believe. Believe that the sun will shine tomorrow and that your saints and sinners bleed. We weren’t born to follow, you gotta stand up for what you believe.”

At first glance, one might be questioning what is wrong with those lyrics. They seem to have a positive message and seem to be pushing people to be independent and to persevere; however, it is in that message that lies the problem. The lyrics are very heavily self-reliant. “We weren’t born to follow” implies that being a “follower” is bad and being a “leader” is good. Yet, I find these lyrics to be inherently backwards.

WE ARE BORN TO FOLLOW. God created us in God’s image and has been calling us to follow God’s way of living…of loving. It is is when we think we are INDEPENDENT…it is when we think that we can DO IT ON OUR OWN, that we run into trouble. It is our thinking that WE are the answer to our problems and self-reliance is the key to surviving life that leads us down a road that not only hurts others, but also brings us to the brink of self-destruction.

God has called us to lead in being followers. With God as OUR leader, we are called to lead others in following God…in following LOVE. That is the key to not just surviving life…but living it abundantly. So long as we are following the ultimate source of LOVE we will never be led astray and that LOVE will pick us up and carry us when we fall. God is not calling us to a life of INDEPENDENCE, but rather to a life DEPENDENT on GOD.

Like any parent, God wants us to live abundant and fruitful lives and wants us to recognize the source of our lives. If we fail to do that we will never see the great hope that lies within us, nor will we see the great hope that lies within others. Today’s challenge is to recognize that God is with you, that you are dependent on God, and that God is calling you to follow in order that you might lead others, by example, to a life of following!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“One cannot lead without first having followed.” – Rev. Todd R. Lattig

PRAYER

Lord, I submit myself to you and follow your lead. Lead me toward following your example and leading others to do the same. Amen.

The Task at Hand

Read Acts 20:20-24

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” (Philippians 3:12)

1600x1200-11587-nosferatu-wallpaper-hdI have been a life-long fan of the classic horror films. Lon Chaney, Sr.’s “The Phantom of the Opera,” F.W. Murnau’s “Faust”, Lon Chaney, Jr.’s “The Wolfman”, Henry Hull’s “The Werewolf of London”, Bela Legosi’s “Dracula”, Boris Karloff’s “Frankenstein” and “The Mummy”. My all-time favorite horror film from the Silent Film era, is F.W. Murnau’s “Nosferatu: eine Symphonie des Grauens” (translated as “Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror). The film is a German Expressionist film about a vampire coming to Germany to prey on its citizens and it was loosely based on Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”.

What makes me love this film is its use of lighting and shadow to pull off eerie special effects, the makeup work that was done to Max Schreck who plays the infamous “Count Orlok”, as well as Schreck’s amazing character acting. When watching the film, it is impossible to see Schreck’s Orlok as a “human being.” His rat-like features, pointy ears, sunken eyes, long tallon-like fingers, gaunt and lanky stature, and pale skin really make this character appear to be the monster that he is. Looking at him would make anyone’s skin crawl. Murnau created a film that is timeless and never feels dated, even though it is in black & white and has no audio aside from the music that has been added to it.

Back in 2011, I embarked on a project to rescore “Nosferatu.” There have been many attempts to rescore it, each trying to “update” the music in a way that makes it feel fresh and new; however, I have found every attempt (for the most part) to fall short of the film. None of the soundtracks seemed, in my opinion, to do justice to this film. So I figured I would rescore it, not trying to “update” the score with bells and whistles but, rather, trying to keep it simple and foreboding. I wanted a score that would give one the sense that evil was coming, and the urgency to rid the world of it.

As with all “great” ideas, it sounded much easier than it turned out to be. It is now July of 2014, and I have yet to finish the score. Life came in the way and I became preoccupied in other things. Inevitably, I let the rescoring of “Nosferatu” take a back seat to the “busy-ness” of life. Just recently, I decided to pick the project back up and to work on it whenever I have to the chance too. The more I work on it, the closer I get to completing it, the more and more fulfilled I feel. To be honest, whenever I start something without completing it, I feel incomplete.

While I have been using a “hobby” of mine as an illustration, how much more true is it that we feel incomplete when we don’t finish what Christ has called us, the church, to do. We are all called to be agents of God’s Kingdom of Heaven, of God’s hope, healing and wholeness, and we are all called to do different tasks in order to continue to usher in that Kingdom, on earth as it is in heaven. Yet, often times we get “burned out”, or the “busy-ness” of life gets in our way and we begin to fall away from the task that we’ve all been called to.

In the process, we find ourselves feeling incomplete. We often find ourselves lost, literally, in things that fill our time, but not our souls. Christ is calling us to reprioritize and to recommit our lives to the purpose that God has laid out for us. Let us not be a people that only starts projects, but never sees them through to completion; rather, let us be a people that completes that task at hand. Let us keep fighting the good fight and continuing on in the race. Let us remove the distractions of purposeless “busy-ness” and remember what it is that we’ve been called to do. Once we are realigned with our purpose, we shall feel fulfilled!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.” – John F. Kennedy

PRAYER

Lord, remind me of my purpose and spark a passion in me to see it through to completion. Amen.

 

Guilt-Free Zone

Read Psalm 22:1-11

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

griefAs a pastor and a spiritual counselor, I often deal with people who are going through rough times in their lives. Perhaps they have just lost a loved one and are beginning to go through the grieving process. Perhaps they are struggling in their relationships with others or with God. Perhaps they have been separated (for whatever reason) from their loved one(s). Perhaps they are struggling with alcoholism and/or addiction, or perhaps they know and love someone who is. Perhaps they are going through rough times financially or physically and they do not know how to begin to cope with the problems that are piling on top of them.

Whatever the case may be, each of us struggles in life one way or another. There is not a single person in this world who breezes through life without a host of “somethings” weighing them down. Each of us have our own set of struggles that we go through. I personally have suffered from teenage depression, the loss of loved ones, sudden and unexpected unemployment, financial difficulties, relationship struggles, and a whole host of other issues. And there were times I felt so burdened down by the weight of everything that I wondered if I could even carry on.

It is human to question ourselves, our surroundings, our situations and even God when things seem to be pressing down on us and crushing the life out of us. It is natural and human to be angry at God, to cry out from the depths of our soul in despair, to question where God has been in our lives. It is natural and healthy for us to be able to engage God with those questions; however, often times we feel guilty for doing so.

When we get angry at God, when we question why God is allowing stuff to happen to us, and when we begin to wonder if God is even there at all, we often will feel guilty because we feel that such anger, such questioning, and such “doubt” is a sign that our faith is weakening, or that it is a sign we don’t have faith, and that God will somehow hold that against us. We often pressure ourselves into repressing our emotions and shutting ourselves off from asking the questions that we so desperately need to ask.

What I would like to impart to you today is that you DO NOT need to add guilt to your grief. First, I would like to challenge you to rethink the question, “why is God allowing this to happen to me?” Is God “ALLOWING” something to happen or does life happen, with all of its ups and downs, despite what God does or doesn’t want? Second, God is love. God is grace. God is present. Repeat those words to yourself, make them your mantra and trust that God is with you, that God wants NOTHING MORE than for you to have hope, for you to rise up out of the situation you’re in, for you to heal, and for you to experience wholeness.

With that said, you do not need to add guilt to your grief. God doesn’t do guilt; guilt is not from God! It is not only okay for you to express your anger and doubt to God, but God WANTS YOU TO. It is a part of the grieving process, when we are grieving any type of loss or circumstance, and it is necessary to our health. Anger, doubt, and asking God the tough questions does not show a dying faith or a lack of faith; rather, quite the contrary…it shows a STRONG FAITH and a STRONG RELATIONSHIP with GOD.

So fear not, God is with you! Be liberated in the fact that you are not alone in your struggles. That in spirit, and in the lives of those supporting you, GOD IS WITH YOU. Do not add guilt to your grief, for your grief is enough to bear on its own. God is calling out to you through the words of Jesus, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, for I will give you rest.”

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“I am with you. I will not fail you or forsake you.” – God (Joshua 1:5)

PRAYER

Lord, thank you for your undying presence in my life and thank you for your listening to me in my times of need. Help me to see when I cannot and to have the peace of your presence when the storms rage on and I feel alone. Amen.

Dying for Both Sides

Read Galatians 2

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Pray that I will be rescued from those in Judea who refuse to obey God. Pray also that the believers there will be willing to accept the donation I am taking to Jerusalem.” (Romans 15:31)

saint-paul-the-apostle-07In the Bible, there is a man named Saul who was born in the city of Tarsus in the Roman province of Cilicia. He was well educated and rose up to be a scholar of the Torah, a Pharisee, and a zealous defender of the Jewish faith. When a new sect of Judaism broke out claiming that a Nazarene rabbi by the name of Yeshua bar Joseph was the messiah and that Gentiles should be included in the Jewish covenant, he lashed out against the group, having many of them arrested. According to Acts, one was even killed.

With that said, this Saul encountered the risen Yeshua, you may know him by his Greek name Jesus, somewhere in or around Damascus, which is a city in Syria. This experience transformed Saul into a follower of Jesus. Paul tells us in his letter to the Galatians that, following the encounter with Christ, he went into Arabia for a while and then came back to Damascus. After three years he went to Jerusalem and met with Jesus’ brother James, and his disciples Peter and John.

To make a long story short, Jesus’ brother James and Paul didn’t really get along…at all. Peter and John weren’t too crazy about Paul either. James believed that in order for Gentiles (non-Jews) to become a follower of Christ they had to first become Jewish, since Jesus was a Jew. Paul thought this was ludicrous, seeing Jesus’ death and resurrection as the opening up of the covenant to Gentiles. If they had faith in Jesus who was likened to a Gentile on the cross (being under God’s curse as the Torah claims of anyone hung on a tree), then they would be brought into the Jewish covenant despite not being circumcised or being bound to any one of the Jewish laws.

Though they struck a deal and Paul left thinking he had their blessing to go and preach the Gospel as he felt Jesus had called him to do, James, Peter and John never really accepted Paul’s vision. We find out from Paul in his letter to the Galatians, and in Acts, that James and his followers were counteracting Paul’s Gospel message and causing people to question this “self-proclaimed apostle” who had never been an eye-witness of Jesus. This angered Paul, as anyone would imagine, but it did not stop him from trying.

Paul had been gathering up a collection for the church in Jerusalem and he was going to bring that collection to them, hoping to reconcile their differences if it cost him his very life. Paul was afraid it would. His last written words, written to the church in Rome (a community he had never met), ask for prayers that the non-believing Jews won’t attack him (as he was a heretic in their eyes having abandoned his Pharisaic Judaism for this new messianic Judaism) and that the church in Jerusalem would accept his offering. Unfortunately, his prayers were not answered.

Paul was arrested, and eventually died, trying to get both sides (his and James’) to be unified, even if different, in the cause of Christ. Today, like then, the church is split on many fronts and we seem to get stuck on one side or the other. We fail to see Christ in the midst of our differences. Like Paul, we are called to see Christ in those who believe differently than us. We are called to find the balance of reconciliation, even while remaining true to what we firmly believe. There are many contentious issues dividing the church, yet there is still ONE Lord! Rather than deeming each other heretics, let us have the grace and the humility to see that Christ is indeed working in, through, and in spite of us all! Remember, he Gospel calls us to be a people who are unified in LOVE, even if divided by difference.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“You don’t get unity by ignoring the questions that have to be faced.” – Jay Weatherill

PRAYER

Lord, help me to see you even in those who think and believe differently than me. Humble me, I pray. Amen.