Tag Archives: Peace

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.

Evil Begotten

Read Romans 12:9-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)

Maleficent2Boy do my wife and daughters know how to make me feel special. For Father’s day, following church and fellowship, they treated me out to see: Disney’s “Maleficent”, which stars Angelina Jolie in the title role. What a spectacular film to get to see and it actually exceeded my expectations, which were quite high, in ways I never foresaw.

While I am not going to ruin the film with spoilers, I will address a theme that is predominant in the film in a way that does not give away anymore of the plot than the trailers and/or previews give. The movie starts off with a young fairy named Maleficent, who was actually anything but Maleficent. She was kind-hearted, thoughtful and filled with the love of life. But all of that changes after her heart, her trust and her hope are broken because of the evil deeds of a greedy and vengeful king.

The evil that was perpetrated against her land, and the evil that was perpetrated against her and her kind, caused her to grow angry and resentful. It drove her to hate the king and all humans for what they had done toward her. It spiraled her downward into becoming a hellish, shadowing, and vengeful queen seeking to bring curses against the ones who sought to destroy her. Evil had begotten evil.

For those of you who have seen the original Walt Disney classic, Sleeping Beauty, you know what becomes of Maleficent and what the evil begotten above did to her. Evil never stays in one place and it found it’s way into the life of an innocent girl named Aurora, who was to be princess of the land. Because of Maleficent’s evil curse, this princess was doomed to be in a “sleep like death”, which could only be broken by “true love’s kiss.” What a sad and tragic story indeed. Where does the evil end?

Some of you might be screaming, “Time out! Why is it that this world wants you to sympathize with the villains? Who cares why Maleficent did what she did?!?! It was wrong and there is no excuse for it!” That is true, there is not excuse for the evil that Maleficent perpetrated on others; however, the world is not so black and white. It is easy when we look at the Maleficents of the world and point the finger, but not so easy when we are forced to look in the mirror at ourselves. How has evil affected you? How have you let the hurts you’ve endured and the challenges that you have faced to effect you? Have you ever lashed out at others because you yourself were hurt and/or vulnerable?

For each of us, the answer to these questions and others like them will be different. Each of us carries around our own set of baggage. Each of us have fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) and have been a participant in sin, and even evil, whether we realize it or not. The point of this is not to shame you or make you feel guilty, but to humbly liberate you from the judgmentalism we so often get trapped in.

Sitting in the judgment seat of God (as Maleficent ended up doing), is not the way to stop evil in its tracks; rather, the best way to stop evil is to simply choose not to participate in it and to counter act it with our love and compassion. We have the choice to repent of our own participation in evil, to reject its pull on our lives, and to rise up out of it with the strong wings of God’s grace. Though we have all suffered, one way or the other, as a result of evil…we can choose not follow suit. So, say NO to evil and YES to the “true love” that God is willing to fill you with.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. – Jesus of Nazareth, Matthew 5:44-45

PRAYER

Lord, pull me away from temptation and deliver me from evil. Fill me with your forgiveness so that I may forgive. Amen.

 

The Walking Dead

Read Acts 2:1-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth.” (Matthew 23:27)

WalkingDeadOne of my favorite TV shows as of late is called “The Walking Dead.” I’m kind of a late comer to this show, as I am to all shows, and have been catching up on the three seasons that are available on Netflix. At some point, the fourth season will be out and I will catch up on that too, hopefully in time to catch the fifth season as it airs on TV. Needless to say, I am hooked on the show and for good reason.

The Walking Dead is a series that is about the zombie apocalypse. For those of you who are not already aware, zombies are en vogue in today’s society. It used to be that when we talked about the apocalypse, we discussed seven headed beasts, “the antichrist”, or even nuclear warfare. We may have even thought of machines we originally designed to kill our enemies turning against humanity in general and altering their mission to “terminate” all of human kind. Nowadays, when the word apocalypse is talked of people think of the living dead wandering the earth in search of human flesh to feast on. Mmmmm. I apologize if you are reading this while eating.

In the series, a group of survivors make their way place to place trying to avoid contact with the walking dead in order to not get bitten and turned into the walking dead themselves. As it turns out, the walking dead are in the state they are because of a virus that reanimated them into walking corpses. The kicker is that living humans are actually carrying this virus and, when they die, they too will become walking corpses. Pleasant, right?

What I love about the show is that, though on the surface it is dealing with zombies, it really is a metaphor for our world and society today. When we turn on the news we can see lots of instances of “the walking dead.” From our government, to crazed individuals, there are lots of people and institutions that just seem to have lost their way. They were created and/or designed for a specific purpose…but that purpose is dead to them and they are just wandering mindlessly preying and feasting upon others. What’s more disturbing is that, most people, are not fighting against such a state of being as much as they are fighting to maintain their status quo…only to become “the walking dead” themselves.

In this season of Pentecost, we think of the Holy Spirit filling the disciples with new life and a sense of purpose. We hear of the fire that was kindled within them that raged out of control and spread to 3,000 people on that day, which then turned to tens of thousands, millions and eventually billions of people. The church was God’s antidote to the virus that creates the “walking dead.” Yet, from time to time the virus seems to creep into the life of the church as well. Every so often, the Holy Spirit raises up a leader such as Paul, Martin Luther, John Wesley, Mother Theresa, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., etc. to go against the status quo and act as an antidote to the virus that is consuming us.

The Holy Spirit is calling you to be an antidote to the Walking Dead virus in the church. The Holy Spirit is calling you to stand up against the injustices, oppression and bonds that the world, including the Church, put upon people. Are you going to be among the countless zombies lurking around in the shadows looking for people to mindlessly feast on, or are you going to be filled with the TRUE LIFE of the spirit and become an agent of God’s Hope, Healing, and Wholeness. Christ is calling us to be in a deeper relationship with him so that, instead of reanimation, we find RESURRECTION and LIFE! Rise up with Jesus, be filled by the Holy Spirit and become an ANTIDOTE that brings life and resurrection to the LOST and NEGLECTED!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“What is my task? First of all, my task is to be pleasing to Christ. To be empty of self and be filled with Himself. To be filled with the Holy Spirit; to be led by the Holy Spirit.” – Aimee Semple McPherson

PRAYER
Lord, fill me with your Holy Spirit so that I may be guided into serving others and bringing them your Hope, Healing and Wholeness. Amen.