Click here to view today’s devotion.
Click here to view today’s devotion.
Read Isaiah 45:1-8
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“No, O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what He requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8 NLT)
When you hear the word Messiah, who do you think of? When you hear the word Christ, what do you think of? Some of you may know that the words Christ and Messiah mean the same thing, that “messiah” is the English equivalent of a the Hebrew word “mâshı̂yach” (מָשִׁיחַ) and “christ” is the English equivalent of the Greek word “christos” (Χριστός). My guess is that when most people hear the phrase “messiah” or “christ”, whether they or Christian or not, they immediately think of the man who ended up becoming the figure head of the Christian religion, Jesus of Nazareth. Some may even mistakenly think that “Christ” is Jesus’ last name!
I am very certain that when most people hear the words “messiah” or “christ”, they do not think of Cyrus. In fact, if I were a betting person, I would bet that most people would not even know who Cyrus actually is. As it happens, Cyrus was the king of Persia. He ended up being the ruler who took over the kingdom of Babylon after it fell to the forces and the might of Persia. Within Babylon were the people of Judah who had been exiled there because of their trying to ally with Egypt against Babylon. When that happened, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon beseiged Jerusalem and, upon overtaking it, forced all of the leaders, the Temple priests, the scribes and people of import were exiled from Jerusalem and relocated in Babylon.
Once Babylon fell to Persia, King Cyrus (who was not a Jew and had no in depth knowledge of the Jewish religion) let the Jewish people return back to Jerusalem. What is even more striking than that, is that Cyrus seemingly had no agenda other than to just let them go home. He didn’t require them to send any money back to him, or pledge their loyalty to him in any way; rather, he simply let them go home to rebuild the city of Jerusalem and its Temple. In response to that, the Jewish priests and scribes wrote of Cyrus that he was the LORD GOD’s “anointed one”, or Messiah (which is “Christ” in Greek). Let me reiterate that. Cyrus, the non-Jewish, polytheistic, war mongering Persian King was the Messiah…the Christ…the LORD’s anointed one.
I bet you didn’t see that one coming. The Hebrew Scriptures are filled with such richness that really help point us to the nature of God. If we read Scripture carefully, there were many messiahs. Saul, David, Solomon, and every other King of Israel were all the LORD’s anointed ones. That’s different than being “the Messiah”, the one that some of the first century Jews were looking to come and rid them of their oppressors and reestablish the line of King David forever; however, there were many messiahs and each one of them were anointed by the LORD’s prophets. There really is nothing unusual about a king, or others, being called messiah. What is unusual is that this particular king does not even know, let alone worship, the God of Israel.
What does that say for us? It says that God constantly exceeds our expectations. It says that God will anoint anyone who is willing to have compassion, who seeks justice, who loves mercy, and who walks in the path of humility. Whether that person is a Jew or a Gentile, whether that person is a Christian or a Muslim, whether that person is a monotheist or a polytheist, whether that person is a male or a female, God will work in and through anyone who is willing to humble themselves and let LOVE rule the day. The fact is that God was calling Israel to live in that love, to be God’s chosen, and God worked through Cyrus to remind them of that. The fact is that God is calling us to live in that LOVE, to be God’s chosen, and once again is using Cyrus to remind us of that. Be reminded and live a life of LOVE that witnesses to the LOVE of God.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“This is not the time to shrink back in fear. This is the time to move forward in Faith. Get up every morning knowing you are anointed. You are equipped. You are empowered. You have everything you need to fulfill your destiny.” – Elton Sibiya
Lord, allow me to step out in faith, to see that you have anointed me to fulfill the work of love, compassionate justice, and mercy that you began at the outset of the world. Allow me to act upon that knowledge in service of others. Amen.
Read Hebrew 6:11-20
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God?” (1 Corinthians 6:19a, NLT)
Just the other day I had an opportunity to stop and see the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, NJ with a group of friends. The building was brilliant and awesome. I am huge fan of gothic architecture and this particular cathedral takes the cake in New York/New Jersey Metropolitan area. Yes, I have visited Saint Patrick’s Cathedral; however, the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart stands on its own without other buildings taking away from it’s immensity and beauty. The saints and gargoyles guard and protect the building and, standing at it’s base, the building ironically reminds me of Martin Luther’s hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” This place, even on the outside, feels like it would be a sanctuary on the inside.
So, naturally we decided that we would take a walk inside to see its beauty from within; however, as we approached the doors and began to pull on them, we found them to be locked! Bummer. We really, really wanted to see the inside of it…but we were barred from entering. This took me by surprise as every Roman Catholic church I had ever been to had always been open for people to come in, pray, meditate, confess, etc. Yet, these doors were locked and we were not able to enter into the sanctuary within.
When talking with a fellow colleague the following day, I was reminded that the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart was located in Newark, which is a major city that has, whether right or wrong, been known for it’s crime. Now, I am not sure if that is the reason the doors were locked or not, and another colleague pointed out that if we went one of the other side doors and knocked someone would have let us in, but the fact remains that the doors were locked and that was enough to turn us away.
While I am certainly not blaming the cathedral caretakers for locking the doors, I see a powerful metaphor here that can illumine our own lives. According to Paul, our bodies are to be God’s temple. We, as God’s children were created to be sanctuaries. The church, not the buildings but the people of Christ, was called to be a sanctuary of hope, healing and wholeness for all who seek refuge; however, often times, the church finds itself weathered and beaten. We find ourselves being reshaped by the experiences of the world that surround us in our daily lives and, as a result, we become more like a locked fortress than an open sanctuary.
What’s important to stress here is that the church is not called to be a fortress; rather, the church (meaning the people of Christ) are called to be living and breathing sanctuaries. We are called to be open. If we look at the aforementioned hymn by Martin Luther, we will notice that GOD is our fortress. GOD strengthens and fortifies our hearts so that they won’t be changed by the weathering and beating that the storms of the world so often cause in us. The fact of the matter is that if we have become fortresses on the outside, it is because the world has hardened us on the inside.
We are called to be LOVE on the inside. If we have faith in God, if we trust in God to be our fortress, then we have nothing to fear in remaining open as a sanctuary for others. God will not abandon us and God will protect us from the weathering that tends to lock us up into stone fortresses. All we need to do is remain open to God, who will lead us to be open sanctuaries for all who are weary and heavy laden. Have faith in God and be the sanctuary you have been called to be.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Come to Me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” – Jesus of Nazareth, (Matthew 11:28 NLT)
Lord, re-enter into my life and secure me in your love. Give me the peace and the foresight to open myself to others in the same way that you have opened yourself up to me. Amen.
Read Matthew 22:34-40
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are My disciples.” (John 13:35)
When it comes to how Christians should treat each other regarding theological and doctrinal differences, there is a seventeenth century quote that says, “In the essentials unity, in the non-essentials liberty, in all things, charity (meaning love).” Yet, it seems as if that is much easier said than done in Christianity, or any religion for that matter. People tend to invest themselves in their religions, and they identify themselves by their beliefs, and so doctrines and theologies become awfully personal.
As such, attacks against one’s beliefs often ends up getting translated as an attack against oneself. I have, no doubt, been both on the receiving and the giving ends of those attacks. If we are honest, most of us have been. Sometimes when one questions someone’s beliefs, he or she is not meaning to “attack” at all; however, it gets interpreted that way because of the personal nature of faith. Yet, there are many times that one just vehemently disagrees with the beliefs of another, often feeling that their beliefs are threatened the opposing beliefs of another, and so they react in ways that are both spiritually damaging and ungodly.
Sometimes it isn’t even beliefs that called into question, but personal practices or forms of expression. For instance, I have been questioned before because I have eight tattoos. I have been asked, “What would Jesus think of you having those tattoos? Surely, you must know that Jesus was a good Jewish boy and he would not have condoned your marking your body up like that.” What does one say to such a comment? It is true that Jesus would not have been down at the tattoo parlor getting WWJD and fish symbols tattooed to his body; however, it is also true that Jesus wouldn’t have been eating shrimp. He wouldn’t have eaten pork. He wouldn’t be wearing clothing with mixed fibers (e.g. shirts made with cotton and polyester). Yet, the majority of Christians have no problem eating and wearing such things.
Of course, I could go on quoting Jesus on what defiles a person, or perhaps quoting Paul on how Christians are free to do all things in Christ, though not all things are beneficial. But that is beyond the point. How do we, as people of faith, live into the quote above? First off, what are the essentials? It seems that there are no groups of Christians that can agree on just what the essentials are. One group will hold the Apostles Creed as the essentials; however, other groups might dispute one or more of the Apostle’s Creed as essential. What’s more, even if they accept the Apostle’s Creed as essential, they might interpret its parts differently than others, leading to conflict. If people can’t agree on what is essential, then it is impossible to move beyond to what is non-essential.
Where is charity in all of this? Where is love? Thankfully for us Christians, Jesus answered what is MOST important for all people of faith, and I will extend this decree to all people of faith…and not just Christians. What is most important, what is essential, is this: that you LOVE God with all of your being, and that you LOVE your neighbor as yourself. For Jesus, those two commands summed up all of the laws of Judaism and were what was essential to that religion. As such, that is what is essential for Christians as well, and be hard pressed not to see that as essential for all people, regardless of faith. If we all were more unified in our LOVE of God, as opposed to our LOVE of OUR IDEA OF GOD, and if we were all unified in our LOVE OF NEIGHBOR, then we would find out that the non-essentials would fade away and that CHARITY would rule the day. This is what we, as beings created in the image of God, are called to do…to LOVE and to never cease in that LOVE.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“So don’t make judgments about anyone ahead of time—before the Lord returns. For He will bring our darkest secrets to light and will reveal our private motives. Then God will give to each one whatever praise is due.” Paul of Tarsus, (1 Corinthians 4:5)
Lord, give me the grace to be graceful and give me peace enough in my own beliefs so that I do not feel threatened by the beliefs of others. In you, I am secure. Fill me with your love so that I may, in turn, love others. Amen.
Read 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10b)
Have you ever had one of those days where you take two steps forward only to feel like you are still ten steps behind? Have you ever had one of those weeks where absolutely nothing seems to be going your way? Have you ever had one of those years where you feel like the stars, the planets and perhaps even God seem aligned against you? Have you ever sat and asked the question “why me?” Or, have you ever exclaimed in frustration, “I can’t stand this life!”
Whether you admit to it or not, these feelings and under-the-breath questions and exclamations are common to the human experience. Often times, it is very hard for us to see beyond the situations we are in. When caught in stressful moments, or in the midst of life’s trials, it is very hard for human beings to see anything but the small picture. We are caught in the moment, as it were, and the bigger picture often escapes us. It is in moments like these that we literally begin to make a mountain out of the proverbial mole hill. It is also in moments like these that we are in need of just a little perspective.
As a minister I have seen some people go through pretty tough circumstances. Many of these people have witnessed to me with their faith, in spite of their circumstances. These people went through things I couldn’t even wish on my enemies, and yet they were the last to complain about their circumstances. I have seen veterans who have lost limbs and nearly their lives, who have suffered through homelessness and other terrible situations, striving to find ways to help other vets so that they don’t have to go through the same things. I have seen people who are terminally ill, worrying about others who are suffering over and above the things that they, themselves, are going through. I have seen people who are suffer from debilitating diseases giving thanks for all that they have. In India I saw young and impoverished children, infected with HIV/AIDS, dancing with joy over being visited by us at their orphanage.
On the flip side, I have seen people who are relatively well off complain over the slightest things. I have seen people who have been given so much complain about having so little. I have seen people take their lives and the blessings in their lives for granted. I have seen people who have been given so much in life feel entitled to for that much more. I have seen people who have everything in the world to be happy about walking around completely miserable about everything.
What I have come to understand is that we all have been blessed with the lives we have, whether we realize it or not. Being blessed in life does not mean that everything will go as I wish it to. It does not mean that I will never have bad days or that things will ALWAYS go easy. In fact, how blessed would I really be if I never had to work hard for anything? The fact of the matter is that we are alive…and that is a blessing.
This is not to guilt anyone for feeling lost in their situations; rather, this is being written as a hope-filled reminder that no matter how bad things may be, and no matter how bad we may think things to be, we have a lot to be thankful for. Let us become a people witness to the blessing of LIFE that we all have been given. Let us be a people who are thankful for whatever we have, whether it is little or plenty! Let us be a people who realize that we are blessed so that we may become a blessing and, then, let us become that blessing for others.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“In the bulb there is a flower; in the seed, an apple tree; in cocoons, a hidden promise: butterflies will soon be free! In the cold and snow of winter there’s a spring that waits to be, unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.” Natalie A. Sleeth
Lord, help me to have perspective in the midst of my trials so that I may find joy even when I am not happy, and feel blessed even when I cannot see any blessing. More importantly, use me in a way that is a blessing to others, for then I will truly be blessed. Amen.
Read Isaiah 55:8-13
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much.” (1 Corinthians 8:2)
We live in a world that often only sees in black and white. Things are either right or wrong, good or evil, bad or good, up or down, this way or that and there is no possibility for anything else in between. People who think this way often fear that if you start giving leeway in allowing for more possibilities, or allowing for people to interpret things differently, you start to head down a “slippery slope” toward the pit of destruction.
For example, since the publication of his book, “Love Wins”, Rob Bell has been branded a heretic by people who disagree with his propensity to question Christian dogma in order to shed light a deeper and more profound truth. The book “Love Wins” happened to question the Christian doctrine of Heaven and Hell, or at least the doctrine as it has been understood in the last 2-3 centuries. Much of the criticism against him was launched before the book was even published. All that his critics had to go on (as they obviously hadn’t read it yet) was the title of his book and a short video trailer that featured Rob asking questions such as, “Will only a select few make it to heaven and will billions and billions of people burn forever in hell? And, if that’s the case how do you become one of the few?”
In the video, he points to the fact that many have been taught that the central point of the Gospel message is that God will send you to hell unless you believe in Jesus, who came to save you from God’s wrath. “But what does that say about God,” Rob Bell asks? “What that ends up implying is that Jesus has come to rescue us from God.” The video goes on to ask even more questions, with the hope of sparking a desire in the viewer to refelct on these questions, on heaven, on hell, and on “the fate of every human being to have ever lived.” As his book title suggests, and if you haven’t read it…I highly recommend it, in the end, “God is Love” (1 John 4:8), and love wins!
People really got in a frenzy over this book. Christian book stores started to ban Rob Bell’s books from their shelves, some Christians started to refute the claims that they hadn’t actually read, but assumed were in his book. Franklin Graham went on cable news and called Rob Bell a heretic for not believing in hell, despite the fact that Rob’s book never denied hell as much as re-framed it. Rob’s critics stated that his questions would open up the proverbial can of worms and lead many people away from Christ. The problem is that slippery slope arguments are not logical. It does not follow that by asking questions one will necessarily LEAD people away from Christ. In fact, the fervor over the book actually drew more attention to the book, to the doctrines of heaven and hell, and to the teachings of Christ, as well as to Christianity; it seems that the book helped draw more people to at least stop, pause and theologically reflect on some pretty big theological questions. What’s the harm in that? What’s the harm in trying to point people to the LOVE, as opposed to the WRATH, of God?
Today’s challenge is two-fold. First, do not allow yourself to get caught up in fear. Unchecked fear is paralytic and keeps us from moving forward from where we are to where God wants us to be. Second, don’t get caught up in the slippery slope. There are more than one way to look at things, and not everything is black and white. There is a lot of gray in the world, and whole spectrum of colors beyond that. Open your eyes to the beauty of God’s world and allow all of the possibilities to be presented before you jump to conclusions. Remember that God’s grace is wide and far-reaching, it calls to all people, and no fear in the world will ever change that.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“I am wiser than this man, for neither of us appears to know anything great and good; but he fancies he knows something, although he knows nothing; whereas I, as I do not know anything, so I do not fancy I do. In this trifling particular, then, I appear to be wiser than he, because I do not fancy I know what I do not know.” – Socrates (found in Plato’s Apology)
Lord, humble to realize that I do not know it all, and allow me to avoid the slippery slope of thinking I do. In you all things are possible. Amen.
Read Ruth 4:13-17
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations.” (Mat 1:17)
Do you know Ruth? Some people might be saying, “sure, I know a ‘Ruth’ or two.” So, I will ask this question again, do you you know Ruth? I am not referring to someone you might know with the name “Ruth” who may or may not be among your family, friends, and/or neighbors; however, I am referring to the Biblical character of Ruth, who happens to have her own book in the Hebrew Scriptures. In fact, out of all of the books that bear a person’s name throughout all of the Bible, Ruth is just one of two books bearing the name of a woman. What’s more, Ruth wasn’t even a Hebrew by birth; rather, she was a Moabite. In fact, the author of Ruth reminds us that she is a Moabite seven times, and that she was from the land of Moab (in other words, she’s a Moabite) four times; that’s a total of eleven times within four short chapters, which is the length of this small, yet important, book.
Now let me ask, how many of you know Moabite when you see one? The fact is that Moab was a kingdom that existed in what is now modern-day Jordan. The Moabites worshiped the god Chemosh and would, as was customary for the time and geographical location, often offer human sacrifices to their god. This kingdom also found itself at odds with the Kingdom of Israel, which eventually split into the kingdoms of Israel (in the North) and Judah (in the South) following the reign of Solomon. To make matters worse, in the eyes of the Israelites, Solomon had built a temple to Chemosh to help promote trade between the two kingdoms. That may have been a wise political move, but it did not sit well with the devout followers of Yahweh, the God of the Israelites.
So, Ruth was from a Kingdom that the Israelites detested; yet, there we see her not only prominently displayed in Hebrew religious literature, but also prominently revered in Hebrew history. As it turns out, this Moabite woman named Ruth ended up marrying a Hebrew man named Boaz (read the book of Ruth for the full story) and bearing him a son named Obed. From there we find out that Obed was the father of Jesse who, in turn, was the father of David. Yes, as in King David…arguably the greatest King that Israel ever had. What an odd, odd story. What kind of people attest to their King being born of a woman who was not even one of their own? And don’t forget the ancient Mosaic law that forbid the Israelites from marrying outside of the Hebrew gene pool for fear that the they would forget their covenantal relationship with God (Deuteronomy 7:2-4). Yet, here is Ruth, a convert to Judaism from Moab (the enemy of Israel), shown to be the mother of Israel’s greatest King…and the ancestor of, if we believe the Gospel recording of lineage, Jesus of Nazareth.
The power of this story is that it reminds us that GOD does not choose sides, or favor one people over the other. It does not matter who we are, what religion we do or don’t claim to follow, or anything else we humans choose to be divided over, God is the LORD of us all. And God will choose ANYONE who is open to the call to LOVE GOD with all of our being and to LOVE OUR NEIGHBOR as ourselves.
That is what the LORD requires of all creation…LOVE. Ruth was filled with LOVE. She LOVED GOD, she LOVED HER NEIGHBORS, she even LOVED HER ENEMIES, and God blessed her for it. And, as with all people who have been truly blessed, Ruth BECAME A BLESSING to and entire kingdom of people, and went on to be a BLESSING to many throughout the whole world through the followers of her descendant, Jesus of Nazareth. I pray that you, too, will open yourself up to GOD, who is the ULTIMATE REALITY, just as this remarkable Ruth did so many years ago!
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried.” – Ruth (Ruth 1:16-17)
LORD, build up in me the faith of Ruth that I may boldly go where you lead me and boldly love everyone, no matter how different they are from me. Amen.
Read 2 Timothy 3:14-17
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalm 119:105)
I have written a bit about the importance of developing spiritual discipline in our lives as a people of faith. A great spiritual practice to get into is to read the Bible. Today many people take the Bible granted as something that’s there if they need it, but not to be bothered with otherwise. But that is a luxury only this modern Western world really affords. For many, throughout history, the Bible was something that the common person was not permitted read and, even if they were, they weren’t literate enough to read the Bible anyway. Many people gave up their lives to ensure that EVERYONE could read the Bible for themselves, and many have given their lives, and still are, to ensure that people have equal opportunity in education.
But history aside, many people in today’s age do not read the Bible and, for those that do, many do not even know where to begin. Should they start in Genesis and read through Revelation? Should they just randomly open up the Bible and read the first thing they come to? What should they read first and in what order should they read the Bible? The truth is that there is no right or wrong way to read the Bible. It is not a book that is compiled in the order that the books were written and the books don’t always follow chronological order in terms of connecting stories from previous books with the stories they are telling. Thus reading the Bible from front to back is not the only way to read the Bible and, in fact, it probably isn’t even the best way to read it.
What complicates things even more is that the Bible was not written in a vacuum; rather, it was written in a specific time, place and context. Thus, reading the Bible goes beyond just reading the words, but digging deep into the historical, socio-economic, and political contexts of the times the texts were written. It is also important to note that the Bible was not written by just one person, but that the Bible is actually a collection of books written by different people, and those books often have many more than just one author. In other words, behind a lot of the books in the Bible are narratives, histories, poems, songs, wisdom teachings, prophetic writings, and theologies written by many different people pulling from different sources that span over the course of thousands of years.
This is not to scare you off from reading the Bible, but is an invitation to more than JUST reading the Bible. It is an opportunity to do some time travel, to take a journey back into worlds and worldviews that are foreign to us. The Bible is actually a world full of adventure awaiting for you to unlock and unleash its mysteries. If you can take off your twenty-first century glasses off and put yourself, to the best of your abilities, the shoes of the people writing the texts, you will be awakened to a whole new world (thank you Aladdin) of opportunity when it comes to understanding who God was to the ancients. Once you have that understanding, you can then pull that understanding into our own time and context and make it real for us today. Of course, not every word or edict will be applicable to your life, but the basic spirit behind ever word in the Bible will come to life in you, and you will be writing your own chapter (figuratively speaking) by living your faith out today.
So, read the Bible! You’ll be amazed at how alive the texts become when you begin to engage them from all angles. There’s a reason why the Bible has been referred to as THE LIVING WORD…because it is rich with context and deep in meaning. It points to a people who are foreign to us and yet similar to us at the same time. It points to us, and it calls us to live a life devoted to our timeless God who created us all, ancient or not. Read the Bible, you won’t regret it. If you are looking for a place to start, try the Gospels. They will be the topic of the next devotion.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The book to read is not the one which thinks for you, but the one which makes you think. No book in the world equals the Bible for that.” – Harper Lee
“Lord, spark in me a desire to engage the Bible with humility and in a way that not only gives me understanding of your people in the past, but also transforms who I am in the present. Amen.
Read Genesis 1
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Many people have set out to write accounts about the events that have been fulfilled among us.” (Luke 1:1 NLT)
We are a people who thrive on stories. Whether they be stories told around a campfire, stories bound in a book, stories acted out on as stage or before a film camera, we are a people who tell and love to be told stories. It is no wonder then, that we are people who lend serious weight to stories when they are told to us. In stories we come across characters we can relate to, as well as characters that we feel the need to distance ourselves from…just like in life. In stories, we discover truths as well as uncover and expose lies. Stories are, and have been, ways in which we pass down our history and our heritage from one generation to the next and, without a shadow of a doubt, stories are also how, in part, we have passed our religions and morals down from generation to generation.
The Bible is full of such stories. Please keep in mind that my use of the word “story” here is not to claim, one way or the other, on their historical veracity. In fact, even history is a “story”, is it not? And history is often one side’s version of that story. But back to the Bible. It is filled with stories of creation and origin, stories of heritage and lineage, stories of kingdoms and conquest, stories of faith, historical stories and even prose and poetry that recount stories of love, life, happiness, sadness, tragedy, despair and every other category in between.
What’s more important, and not always recognized by people, is the realization that the Bible is a collection of many different stories, some that don’t even agree with each other. For instance, some stories talk about King David as a king who had very few flaws (1 Chronicles). Other stories show him to be a flawed and proud character who eventually had to be humbled by God through the prophet Nathan (1 and 2 Samuel). Different stories also reveal different aspects of God, which is why the ancient Jews decided to include them all in the same book. They didn’t look at them as contradicting stories, as much as they saw them as stories of opportunity to grow in depth of our understanding of God. So, in one book and/or passage, we might discover that “God is slow to get angry, is full of compassion, forgiveness and mercy, and doesn’t harbor judgment forever (Exodus 34:6; Numbers 14:18); however, somewhere else we read that God put Onan to death for NOT getting his sister-in-law pregnant (yes, you read that right, see Genesis 38)! When we read these stories, some of them resonate with us…other stories we read disagree with us…and still, they all challenge us to wrestle with OUR OWN STORY of who God is, and how God relates with us.
In today’s time, some people have become snobbish toward stories of faith; they look at the stories of faith as being ways that “more ignorant” people explained things, while seemingly being completely ignorant to the fact that they are carrying on that same tradition of story telling…even if their versions of the stories have somewhat, or even drastically, changed. Take the big bang theory, for instance. Is that no more a story than the story of Creation? Is one story right and the other wrong? Or do both point to different angles of the same truth…namely, the truth that WE EXIST AGAINST ALL ODDS.
Today’s challenge is to NOT be snobbish to the stories of the past, but to learn from them. Recognize that these stories do inform us of where we came from, who we are, and who God is calling us to be. These stories are the foundations of our very lives, and not one person is devoid of those stories. Thank God for the blessing of those stories, and be willing to wrestle with them. In doing so, you GROW and see a fuller picture of who God is and who YOU ARE! In doing so, you will become a LIVING PART of the story, as well as a partner in passing them down!
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“I love to tell the story, ‘twill be my them in glory, to tell the old, old story of Jesus and his love.” – Katherine Hankey
Lord, thank you for all of the blessing of stories and for my being taught of you through the stories that have been passed down to me. Use me as a faithful storyteller, sharing your good news in all the ways that I can. Amen.
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)
Thirteen 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.
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.