Monday, August 22, 2016

Two Churches and a Boat

A few days ago I was in Brussels, Belgium, being a tourist. It was a California-swimming-pool-blue sky day and I walked the city with my wife and her mother. We stopped in cafés and shops and museums and experienced the city as much as one can in two days.

We walked to a cathedral at the top of a hill, a massive building with twin column towers reaching to the sky. Flags lazily flapped in the breeze at the cathedrals highest point. I was sure the inside of this building would be as impressive as the outside. Having seen the cathedral in Cologne several times, I was anticipating a similar feeling of dumbfoundness when I walked inside the sanctuary.
I was disappointed when we couldn't find a single door that would open. We walked all the way around it. I tugged on a door with St. Peter carefully engraved on it, nothing. St George's door? Nope.

I was upset. And not just because St. George gets to be a Saint because he killed a dragon when we know there aren't such things as dragons. I was upset because I hate the idea of locked doors on churches. The only thing I hate more than locked churches are churches that charge admission, looking at you St. Mark's in Venice.

Later that evening we walked after dinner. I love to walk after dinner. It makes me feel like Woody Allen, but not like weirdo-maybe-pervert Woody Allen, but like cool-artist Woody Allen. Really more like a character in a Woody Allen movie. I love having a delicious meal with people I like and then walking with them, talking mostly about how good the meal was. It's one of the few distinctly urban experiences I enjoy. So we walked. We meandered through the skinny streets of the old town and then came upon a small square with cafés and bars (Brussels ain't running out of cafés or bars anytime soon) and there was a church in the middle of the square.

This church was old, sure, but not special. The outside of it looked like any number of churches in Europe. It could have been a small Catholic church in about 20 countries. Its door, however, was open. We walked up to it and were shocked. The inside was jammed with stuff. Just tons of things. This tiny church had paintings in gold frames all over the walls, a crucifix ten feet tall hanging in the entryway, and not one empty space. Individually, each piece of art was beautiful. Piled together with ninety other things and a giant shrine holding the bones of thirty or so martyrs, it just looked busy. We took off, overwhelmed.

Sometimes we can be closed off. Maybe full of truth and beauty, but unavailable to anyone. We have a lot of good ideas about God but don't ever share them. Or maybe we like our people, but don't want to be open to those people, whoever they are. We can be closed up cathedrals.

We can also be so full of stuff. We can let people in, only to show them everything we have immediately, scaring them off. We can be "vulnerable" but really all we mean is we are OK sharing a ton in small group or praying out loud. We over-share in an attempt to be more pious or to cover up what is really wrong. We pile religious things up in our lives, like they will help us.

I saw a refugee boat in the entryway of the Cologne cathedral a week ago. It was an actual boat, about 6 yards long, that had held 100 refugees on their quest for a new life. Many of those people had died on the journey, suffocated to death by the bodies of other refugees. Scared people looking for hope. Projected on the floor in front of the boat, it said "Christ sits in the refugee boat." Nothing in any church has moved me as swiftly and deeply as that image. I needed a moment. An empty boat tells a story of hope and loss and suffering and need. It asks for compassion and understanding and Love. Christ is there in it and in me. He is in the boat, and He is in me, so maybe I can see myself in the boat.

Not a closed cathedral, not a church full of religious trinkets, but a refugee boat might be the best image of Christ's love inspiring us to participate in His work. Let it be so.

Monday, July 11, 2016

We're All Guilty, We're All Crazy, We're All Wrong, We're Alright.


The world is on fire. Maybe not on the surface, and it may not be visible all the time, but there is a spinning and burning tornado of flame under the surface and anything that gets close to it has a chance of burning. The smallest step, the slightest wrong, the wrong turn of phrase will ignite and burn up as the world's furnace gets hotter and hotter. We have done this to ourselves, as we are seemingly unable to coexist with other human beings who look, believe, act, or feel differently than we do. It's a shame.

A few days ago a black man was killed by a police officer in Minnesota. His name was Philando Castile and he was shot when a policeman overreacted to his possession of a firearm at a routine traffic stop. In America, his possession of a firearm was completely legal and within his rights. The police officer made a terrible mistake, or was a terrible person. In a world on fire, you don't get to make mistakes. Especially the kind that cost someone his life.

Conclusions were jumped to, lines were drawn, sides were taken, photos were found to prove Castile was this or that type of person--as if any type of person deserves to be shot at point-blank range in front of his girlfriend.

The very next day a peaceful protest of the police killings of black men in America was taking place in Dallas, one of my home towns. The world is on fire, and peaceful protests rarely stay that way when they get too close to the flames. A madman opened fire into the crowd, targeting police officers as some sort of retribution for the killings of black men in America.

There's a myth called Redemptive Violence. It is as old as humanity and is deeply rooted in even the earliest stories we told ourselves around ancient campfires. If there is chaos or suffering, then violence can solve the problem. The hero can knock enough heads in to free the princess or the bad guys will always be beaten by the good guy whose guns are super cool. We even name our missiles Peacemakers. We truly believe, down to our core, that violence can bring about peace and justice. We believe that fire can be fought with fire.

Any progress made at the peaceful protest--any brotherhood or forgiveness made possible by the selfies with cops and handholding street songs sung by the protesters was eliminated faster than a speeding bullet. The protest was hiding the fire, but fire burns everything eventually.

Empathy is impossible when we're yelling. When the fire is burning, we can't see the Other for who he or she is. We can't see that even when we are not at fault directly, we are at fault. Life is not black and white, Us and Them, because the world isn't that way. Living dualistically will only lead you to become more judgmental, more angry, and more convinced you are right and those people are wrong.

In the book of John, Jesus in confronted by some people who are convinced they are right. They have caught a woman in adultery (it isn't clear what happened to the man she was caught with, but it's likely not much because life stunk for women back then) and have the right to execute her. She was wrong. She made a mistake. The world was on fire and she got too close. These men were going to show her and everyone else what happens when you aren't right enough.

Jesus starts writing in the dirt.

Some say he was writing scriptures, or listing the sins of the accusers, some say he was writing the names of the women they committed adultery with. No matter what he wrote, his next statement is enough to instantly extinguish the fire. "Let anyone who is without sin be the first to cast a stone at her." Immediately he injected empathy into the situation. He allowed the men to see themselves and their sin in her. They were the woman caught in adultery and they couldn't condemn themselves to death.

What empathy does is it allows you to understand how infinitely capable you are of wrong. You can hate with the best of them. A few decisions separate you from the worst person in prison. The difference between having an impulse and acting on it is the difference between many of us and many of the people behind bars today. Understanding and embracing that is how empathy can begin working itself into the system of the world, putting out the fires.

Empathy only happens effectively when we listen to stories different from our own. When we understand people aren't making up their shared experiences. There is a problem in race-relations in the United States. There is a problem in policing in the United States. There is a problem with Hate in the United States. There is a we and them problem and we see how connected we are to them, and how connected our happiness is to theirs, we will begin to see the flames die down around us.

I am Philando Castile, and I am the cop who killed him. I am the cops shot in Dallas, and I am the murderer who killed them. We are connected because we are all human. Empathy has to rule the day, or we will all be burned up in the fire. We are all guilty and we are all crazy and we are all wrong and, because of the merciful Love at the center of all things, we are alright. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Daily Devotional: May 17


The Gospel According to Mark, Chapter 10

Perhaps the greatest sermon ever preached on Mark Chapter 10 was given by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on February 4, 1968. This sermon, "The Drum Major Instinct," (please listen to it here) masterfully expounds on not only Mark 10, but also a unique darkness that exists in each and every one of us.

James and John are walking with Jesus as they did almost every day during His ministry on earth. I've done a few group hikes in my life, and funny conversations and arguments can help pass the time on tedious parts of the trail. Jesus and his posse walked everywhere. I can imagine how boring it would be to be walking for hours a day, and can imagine how my mind would cook up bizarre theories and ideas as it looked for ways to keep itself occupied. James and John are walking with Jesus, and they ask Him an innocent enough question:

"Hey, when this is all done, can we sit on either side of your throne in Heaven?"

Dr. King's sermon identifies the single driving force behind human activity is the Drum Major Instinct. This instinct, this desire to be recognized, is the gas in our engines. We want people to think we are important, we want people to desire us, we want people to listen to us. Dr. King points out that our very first cries as infants were cries for attention and affection, and it never stops as old as we get. James and John were acting out of their Drum Major Instinct because all of us do. All of us want to be the greatest. 

Jesus in one of the few instances where He gives specific instructions for living, tells His followers exactly what is needed to be first among them. Be last. If you want to be great you must be a servant to all.  Using Himself as an example, as we all should, Jesus says He did not come into the world to be served, but to serve. 

I'm not a nice person when I get stressed, cold, or hungry (or am in an airport). I become even more selfish and needy than I usually am. My selfishness is born out of my Drum Major Instinct to be served. I deserve speedy service and good food. I deserve recognition for the good things I do. 

Our desire to be recognized, to be in the lead of the parade, isn't inherently evil. It is easily corrupted by our hearts, but is also something we can use for good. We can be drum majors for Love. We canbe drum majors for Hope. We can lead by serving. At the end of the sermon, Dr. King gives his hopes for what people would say about him when he dies. 
"I'd like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others.
I'd like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody.
I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question.
I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry.
And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked.
I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison.
I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.
Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace.  I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.  I won't have any money to leave behind. I won't have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. And that's all I want to say.
If I can help somebody as I pass along,
If I can cheer somebody with a word or song,
If I can show somebody he's traveling wrong,
Then my living will not be in vain.
If I can do my duty as a Christian ought,
If I can bring salvation to a world once wrought,
If I can spread the message as the master taught,
Then my living will not be in vain.
Yes, Jesus, I want to be on your right or your left side,  not for any selfish reason. I want to be on your right or your left side, not in terms of some political kingdom or ambition. But I just want to be there in love and in justice and in truth and in commitment to others, so that we can make of this old world a new world."
Amen. 


Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Flour & Yeast & Salt & Water & Grace & Peace



There's cheese and then there's cheese. The former comes in a resealable bag and the latter usually has a funny french name and funnier smell. The earliest records of cheese being made by our ancestors is from 8000 years before Jesus would have been dipping bread into oil and fresh goat-cheese.

There's bread and then there's bread. The former comes from a plastic bag with a twist-tie and the latter comes from an oven. The former has tons of funny sounding ingredients, the latter usually has about four. Humankind had been baking wheat flour into bread for up to 30,000 years before Jesus said he was bread.

Most evolutionary biologists say homo sapiens acquiring the ability to cook food is what allowed us to grow our big brains and earn our place at the top of the food chain. Our ability to make milk and heads of grain into things like cheese and bread allowed us to develop agricultural societies, and civilization itself.

But we didn't have to make good cheese. We didn't have to bake good bread.

There really isn't a reason, from a strictly evolutionary perspective, for our desire to constantly innovate and create good food for our families. The ancient Egyptians cooking bread in ovens in 8000BC probably wouldn't immediately recognize the need for the five dollar red velvet cupcake at Sprinkles in Dallas, but they would find it delicious.

Something in us drives us to create. Something in us drives us to enjoy delicious food, and to share it with the people we love. We aren't just creators, we are--by our very nature--sharers of our creations. Tonight I baked a loaf of whole-wheat bread from scratch, dipped it into balsamic vinegar, placed a slice of chèvre and three slices of cherry tomatoes on top, and took a big bite. I don't deserve food to taste that good.

I mushed some ingredients together and shoved them into an oven, but then something else took over and made it into bread. At the most I put seeds into the ground and watered them, but something else took over to make tomatoes. I just bought the cheese at the store! I did next to nothing and was given a gift of a delicious bite of food. The next bite was my wife's, as I ran and made her try this delicious bread.

About 2000 years ago, Jesus was speaking to a large crowd of people next to the shores of a lake. Many of the people in this crowd had been present when He performed a miracle, feeding thousands with a few loaves of bread and some fish. He made an allusion to that miracle, then to the feeding of the Israelites in the desert by God, and then made a declaration.

"I am the bread of life. Anyone who comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty."

As important as bread is in our lives, in Jesus' day it was even more important. One of the Aramaic (language Jesus spoke) words for bread was the same as the word for life. Jesus was saying "I am the life of life."

Because there's cheese and then there's cheese. There's bread and then there's bread. There's life and then there's life. 

The understanding of how little I deserve and how much I get anyway comes only from the understanding of what life is. Humility isn't thinking less of myself, it's thinking of everything around me in proper perspective with respect to my needs. It's understanding the entirety of my life is contained within Christ's energy moving through the world. In Him there are miracles everywhere I look. In Him I live, move, and bake my bread. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Past Few Weeks



The daily blog posts have died, but I will be resurrecting them soon. In the mean-time, let me fill you in on what has been going on in my life. 

 The entirety of the human experience can be summed up in the anxiety, frustration, and nervous laughter of a man about to see his bride come down the aisle. You're anxious because you've been planning this moment since you got engaged--or at least you know she has, and you can't screw it up. You're frustrated because you had to be engaged for so long, and you're just ready to be married. You're nervous because you're in front of a bunch of people, most of whom you barely know, and you are trying to keep it all together. Something great is about to happen, and you can't wait, but you already wish it was over. That's the human experience. 

Our wedding was gorgeous, or at least the pictures tell me it was. I don't really remember most of it, because I was navigating a fog of nerves and handshakes. There was one moment that I remember clearly. Just before I walked down the aisle with my mother, she asked me if I was nervous. I told her I felt like I was having an out of body experience. 

I was floating three feet above myself, looking at me from behind and watching me prepare to walk down the aisle. I am certain that's what was happening. As certain as I am that I am currently holding a computer typing. I was both outside of the moment and in the moment. I think that might be what transfiguration is like, but I'm not sure. I just know I've never felt more present at any event in my life than I felt in that singular moment. It was beautiful and terrifying, the things that make a moment memorable.

Leaving Denver with Sarah is one of my favorite moments. So many times in our relationship one of us has dropped the other off at an airport. I've boarded too many planes without her, and it was such a feeling of accomplishment to board that one with her, knowing our days of crying goodbyes in terminals had come to an end.

We spent a few nights in Casablanca, as far away mentally and physically and spiritually as can be from Denver. We loved it there. Sarah is amazing at finding her niche in new cultures and places. She travels well. We found dirty sandwich shops in the locals' area of town that we loved, ate fancy seafood dinners overlooking the sea, and got swindled by souvenir dealers. It was a great start to the honeymoon.

In Tangier we fell further in love, both with the city and with each other. I have never immediately loved a new place as much as I loved that place. The smells and sounds are completely foreign and somehow comforting. The people are friendly, talkative, and funny. They are glad you are there, as if they have a secret they've been dying to share with someone. 

You can drink your weight in mint tea in Tangier, and we did. Its syrupy sweetness is attractive both to good conversations and swarms of bees. We sipped mint tea in cafés once frequented by Tennessee Williams, Bob Dylan, and the Rolling Stones. We stayed in a hotel decorated by a famous French decorator I hadn't heard of. We took our breakfast each morning on the roof, where we could watch the city come to life. 

Traveling is the only way to guarantee a week will change who you are. Get away from everything you find familiar and become the person you want to be. Once you find this new identity, you can go home. A honeymoon is a great place to do this. Sarah and I left on our honeymoon as newlyweds, and came home a real couple, with real habits and new connections. I think that's the point. Plus I'm always in favor of people finding an excuse to travel to someplace warm.

Now we are settling in our home in Germany. There isn't any of Denver's snow or Morocco's tea. No one drives a Subaru here like Denver and they don't sit for hours everyday at cafés watching people walk by quite like they do in Tangier. This is our home now. We are having fun making it our home now. I am thrilled to have someone else at home, now.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Daily Devotional: March 24


The Gospel according to Mark, Chapter nine

Doubt is not the absence of faith. Too often we are told we either have faith or we don't--we either are "strong" in faith or we are are weak. This isn't the case. Many people who we would consider spiritual giants have wrestled with doubt. Every journey of faith will encounter unbelief, and it is time we acknowledge doubt's role in our lives.

Doubt can keep us humble. There's nothing anti-Christian about remaining humble in our faith. To acknowledge that our entire system of belief is, in fact, belief, and not knowledge is a good thing. It keeps us from starting religious wars. 

In Mark nine, we find Jesus meeting a dad whose son needs help. There can be no more miserable feeling than being unable to help someone you love. This father is desperate for his son to be made healthy again. He will do anything to help him, so he has come to Jesus.

If you can do anything, take pity on us

It takes a lot of humility to ask someone else to take pity on you. It takes a firm grasp of reality, which is the true meaning of humility. To be humble is to be aware of your place in the world and your status compared to all others around you. This father knew where he stood. He knew Jesus' disciples were unable to help him, but he believed Jesus might.

Jesus assures the boy's father that He can do anything. More importantly, "all things are possible for those who believe." 

The father believes.  

Just like those of us who have chosen to follow this homeless Palestinian carpenter's teachings.

We are like this father. We need Jesus' help, but sometimes we aren't sure. We have tried other things and nothing else seems to fill the void. We have made a mess of so much and just need a re-do. We are scared of admitting we still don't feel like our faith is where it needs to be. 

I believe. Help me with my unbelief.

Two lines. Let them be our prayer as we dance between faith and doubt with a God who has mercy on us.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Daily Devotional: March 15


Week 8, Day 1, The Gospel according to Mark, Chapter Eight

Suffering is one of the most constant facts of the human condition. We will all encounter suffering in our lives and will all seek to deal with suffering in our own ways. Every spiritual teacher, guru, or leader must at some point come to terms with how we are to deal with suffering. Who do we turn to, what do we do, how should our attitude be?

Jesus is more than a magician. In this chapter we see Him making calculated steps towards distancing Himself from the teachings of the Pharisees and the Zealots (a group that wanted to overthrow Rome). He wasn't doing things their way. He wasn't their to clarify a rule book. He wasn't there to usher in a political revolution. Jesus was there to teach them, and us by proxy, how to live. 

Deny yourself

We each have some deep suffering in our lives. Whether it's an illness or grief or disappointment, we each have some burden we are carrying. Many people would try to tell us to put those burdens down, to blame them on someone else, or to find ways to not think about them. What Jesus says here is fascinating. He says to deny yourself. Some of us need to stop there with this command and ponder it deeply. What does it mean to deny ourselves? 

Sometimes a fast or a cleanse is a good way to deny ourselves of temporal things. Sometimes it just means doing something for someone else, and thinking of ourselves less. It means to think of making life easier for others before you worry about yourself. Denying our selves runs completely counter to a culture of indulgence and comfort. We have an extremely hard time denying ourselves things that make us more comfortable, especially when we feel we have "earned" them.

Take up your cross

The problems in our lives--our suffering--are not to be avoided. We are not trying to put an end to suffering by forgetting about it when we come across it. Instead, Jesus says to take up our cross--to pick up the thing that makes us suffer and carry it with us. We are to go through our suffering. 

Many counselors will tell you that avoiding your problems will never solve them. If we choose to deny the existence of our suffering, or to blame our mistakes on others, we will never grow through them. The only way to resolve conflict, suffering, or pain in our lives is to first deal with it head-on. We have to carry it for a while. 

Follow me

This is a remarkable statement. The image I chose for today's meditation is the way I picture this statement. We are carrying our crosses, but Jesus is carrying His too. He knows what we are going through and is sympathetic to us. We have a leader who knows how we feel. He's not telling us to do anything He hasn't already done. He is in front of us, always our example, carrying His burdens and ours. 

In following Him, in denying our selves, and in taking up our crosses, we will find true life. Not "heaven" because that's not what He is talking about here, but real life right now. Our lives are better when used for others. Our lives are better when we deal with suffering in positive ways. Most importantly, our lives are better when we follow the example of Christ.


Saturday, March 12, 2016

Daily Devotional: March 12


Week Seven, Day Five, The Gospel according to Mark, Chapter seven

Jesus is getting tired of the Pharisees' hypocrisy. In a world in which your social standing was based on your pious adherence to arbitrary rules, Jesus was out of place. These people had subjected the poor and downtrodden to their interpretation of the Jewish law, and cared more about how religious they looked than how they actually felt. 

We still do this in our own way. Or society for the most part doesn't care about pious adherence to religious law, but in many church circles, that is still the case. Humans are often quick to draw party lines regardless of the situation. We love belonging to a group, and the best way to identify who is in our group is do identify who is out

All these evils come from inside

We often blame outside forces for our mistakes. It's natural. In nonreligious circles, we blame other people. In the church, we often blame the devil. What Jesus makes clear in this teaching is the devil doesn't have to do much, we do his job for him most of the time. I'm not denying the existence of Satan ("the accuser" in Hebrew) but I am saying we are often our own Satan, our own accuser. We can be terribly accusatory of others who don't fit our system of belief. We can be terribly accusatory of ourselves for falling short of our own expectations of what a "good person" is.

All these evils come from inside

Quick to judge, slow to love. That describes us so often, but it does not describe God. He is slow to judge, quick to  love. Always merciful, forgiving, and affirming of us. He isn't concerned about the cleanliness of our hands. He isn't concerned with how well we jump through religious hoops. He is only concerned with how clean our hearts are. 

If we are slow to judge others based on our definition of "good," or "religious," or "christian," then we will be transformed into the type of person Jesus was. A loving, caring, and kind person. The problems we face, and struggles we have are often a result of ourselves or others acting in a way unlike Jesus. And all these evils come from inside.

Clean hearts is our prayer. Non-judgemental eyes are our goal.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Daily Devotional: March 10


Week Seven, Day Four, The Gospel according to Mark, Chapter 6

The disciples were exhausted. Mark makes a point of saying they had been so busy they didn't have time to eat. Ministering to and helping others can be tiring. Counselors talk about something called "compassion fatigue," a phenomenon where those who are listening to the pain of others constantly can become overcome with the weight of that pain themselves. It can drive many ministers, counselors, teachers, and social workers to burn out. Jesus recognizes this in the excited disciples as they recount all they had seen and done, so He takes them to a secluded place for rest. 

The place is desolate

When the crowd hears word of this plan to cross the sea, they beat Jesus there and are waiting for more miracles and teachings. Jesus teaches them, because He loves them, and is moved with compassion for them. Then the disciples, who are already exhausted ask Him to tell the people to leave. They want to rest. He promised them rest. 

The place is desolate

It would cost too much to feed all these people. Jesus asked them to see what they already have, which was five loaves of bread and two fish. Jesus blessed the food, split the crowd up into groups, and then the meager amount of food was multiplied to fill everyone's need. 

The place is desolate

Many of us have read this story or heard it hundreds of times, but how many times have we noticed that phrase. The place is desolate. The disciples had nothing left to give. They were burned out, exhausted, running on fumes. Their hearts were now desolate as they had succumbed (naturally) to compassion fatigue. 

It is in these desolate places where we see Jesus continue to operate. In the desolate places, He provides sustenance. In the desolate places, He provides energy. The love that holds the universe together provides strength and power and sustains all things. When we give it what we have, no matter how empty the basket looks beforehand, Christ can use it to bring hope to desolate places. 

John Chrysostom, one of the earliest followers of the Jesus way, said this about this passage:
Even though the place is desolate, yet the One who feeds the world is present. And even though the hour is late, yet the one who is not subject to the hour is conversing with you.
May we feel Hope in the desolate places. May we feel comfort in our exhaustion.
 

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Daily Devotional: March 9


Week Seven, Day Three, The Gospel according to Mark, Chapter Five

Jesus in the midst of miraculous ministry. His signs and wonders are drawing a crowd of admirers and onlookers. Skeptics and believers alike were following Him. In Mark five, Jesus heals a man afflicted with a multitude of demonic possessions, and then is asked to follow a religious official named Jairus to his house to heal his daughter. 

On the way to Jairus' house, Mark introduces the reader to a woman. Her name isn't given, and everything written about her paints her as the outcast of the outcast. She had been suffering from a disease for years. She had found no relief from what passed for a doctor in the first century, and she was now penniless and living on the street. The nature of her affliction would have made her "unclean" by the religious rules of the day. Her affliction, which was not her fault, would have cut her off from society. 

Daughter

If you were touched by an unclean person, you became unclean. For this woman to have the guts to touch Jesus as He passed her, shows how desperate she was for help. She is completely destitute, in pain, and alone so she makes a move, having faith that maybe this new teacher would have mercy on her. 

Jesus notices her. Even though the disciples argue there's no way to find out who touched Him in the crowd they were in, He knew she was there. Instead of cutting her off further, instead of labeling her as a sinful woman--or as unclean--Jesus heals her and calls her "Daughter."

Daughter

This statement wasn't degrading, it was uplifting. To call her daughter was to identify as being with her. She is one of us, she is worthy, she is a person. Jesus heals her from her disease, yes, but He also affirms her identity. He sends her on her way, telling her to be healed of her affliction.

But she was already healed. 

What was the affliction He was talking about?

Her loneliness, her status as outcast, her lack of social or material capital would have been almost a worse affliction than the disease. Jesus heals her of both with one word. He identifies with the outcast, the destitute, and the afflicted. Jesus is with us.

Jesus calls us His family, and that is our identity. It means we are wanted. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Daily Devotional: March 8

The Storm on the Sea of Galilee, Rembrandt, 1632
Week Seven, Day Two, The Gospel according to Mark, Chapter Four

Fear is a destructive force. It causes people to act in ways they wouldn't normally act. It turns rational, sophisticated people into animals--initiating the fight or flight instinct dormant in our 21st Century brains. In Scripture fear is often referred to in negative terms because fear is the absence of love and hope. 

Who is this then?

In Mark Four we see the disciples and Jesus continuing their ministry near the Sea of Galilee. We then see them get in a boat and take off towards the far shore during the night. Jesus, likely exhausted from long days of ministry and teaching, is asleep on the boat when a storm begins shaking the frame of the boat all around the disciples, terrifying them. 

Who is this then?

When the disciples wake Jesus, they ask Him if He cares if they all die. He woke up and simply commanded the waves to be quiet, and they were. This showed His superiority over nature, but also how little He was worried. He wasn't overcome with fear, and He wasn't shaking with anxiety. There were times in Jesus' life where He became overcome with stress and worry, but over things He knew to be within God's plan. In this moment, against what would be a terrifying storm to anyone on a tiny boat in the middle of a sea, He was calm and confident. 

Who is this then?
Jesus' response to the disciples pierces to my insecurity. He asked them "Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?" Fear is our reaction to things we don't understand, or can't control. By it's nature, it is the opposite of faith. Fear leads us to hate others, faith leads us to love them. Fear leads us to superstition, faith leads us to communion. Fear leads us to see Jesus in our presence and ask Him why He isn't doing enough for us. Faith leads us to see Jesus acting even when we can't see Him in our presence. Fear comes from the natural world, from our animal brains, from our desperate need to survive. Faith comes from our Christ-brains, from God, from our identity as commingling participants in the divine reality.

I assume Jesus went back to sleep after asking them these questions. The ultimate picture of Divine serenity and contentment. The disciples were now more freaked out than before. They began asking themselves what would become the single most important question in the history of the world.  

Who is this then?

Answer that question for yourself. Who is He? Does He lead you from your fears and into faith?

Monday, March 7, 2016

Daily Devotional: March 7


Week Seven, Day One, The Gospel according to Mark, Chapter Three

In Mark three, Jesus is continuing His ministry at a furious pace. Not pausing for the Sabbath has made some of the religious elite upset, but not as upset as Jesus' justification for it which pointed at their hypocrisy. The religious elite, certain of their righteousness, accused Jesus of performing miracles using the power of Satan. 

Then He will plunder his house

How many times does our spiritual arrogance cause us to judge a different interpretation or stream of faith to be bankrupt or lacking or even evil? Certainty is the enemy of spiritual growth. You can't grow in faith if you are content with your faith, or if you think you have it figured out. 

In Mark three we see the groundwork for one of the earliest theological thoughts of what came to be known as Christianity. Jesus makes a remark while defending Himself from the accusations of the Pharisees, saying He isn't working under the power of the devil, and that "no one can enter the strong man's house and plunder his property unless he first binds the strong man, and then he will plunder his house."

This remark came to be the bedrock of something called "Christus Victor" theology which many believe to be the earliest doctrine of atonement of the early Church. Christ's Incarnation, death, and resurrection was the binding of the strong man. This was God method of gaining victory over the forces that held humanity enslaved to death. Instead of a view of a God who is angry and thirsty for blood to satisfy His rage, we see a God who is desperate enough for people who He loves to risk death to rescue them. 

Then He will plunder his house

Jesus didn't come to heal a few sick people, He came to end sickness. He came to conquer death, so we don't have to experience it anymore. Jesus didn't sneak out of heaven to try to get us to repent so God would stop being angry with us. Jesus is what God is saying to us. He loves us, and has rescued us. 

Any act that brings more happiness, joy, health, or love to the world is an act of plundering the strong man's house. In this view, the forces of the world have already been defeated, and Christ is already victorious over them. We are now to continue His robbery of Satan by spreading love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in this world. 

Then He will plunder his house

Don't wait for a future victory. It has already happened. Be urgent in your actions today, bringing about forgiveness and mercy, love and hope, peace and kindness everywhere, to everyone, all the time. 

Friday, March 4, 2016

Daily Devotional: March 4


Week 6, Day 5, The Gospel According to Mark, Chapter 2

Mark takes some time with this story at the beginning of Chapter two. This story is one of my favorites in the Gospels and I remember the old flannel-graphs in Sunday school growing up, teaching me lessons of friendship. 

Sin is a sickness. It doesn't just cause sickness, but it is a disease that infects all of us with death. Jesus' has come to defeat death, and to heal the sickness of sin from the world. In this story, we see this theology played out in flesh and blood. A man has a physical ailment--in this case something that has led to paralysis--as well as the spiritual ailment of sin. Jesus, in a effort to show not only are sins and physical ailments not related, but also He is on earth to cure both. 

Pick up your pallet and go home

This story has amazing characters. The friends of a sick man wanted their friend healed so badly they were willing to dig a hole in the roof of a house in order to get their friend an audience with Jesus. These friends were heroes. They recognized a problem and a solution. Our problems have a solution, and we need to simply find ourselves in front of it. We need to be receptive to the forgiveness offered--the unconditional Love that requires nothing of us. We need to feel the healing, and then we need to pick up our pallet and go home.

In chapter two, we also read the story of Levi following Jesus. In Mark's typical fashion, we don't get much drama in this story, just the facts. Levi was a tax-collector. He would have been hated by his countrymen and by his neighbors. He worked for the occupiers, and not the occupied. He was a 'sinner' to the religious elite--someone to be ostracized. 

Pick up your pallet and go home

We see the sickness of sin mentioned again when the religious leaders criticize Jesus for associating Himself with Levi. Jesus calmly responds to them "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners." The sickness of sin, and it's elimination, was the purpose of Christ's incarnation. He came to call us, and to heal us, and to send us back into the world to find others. 

Jesus wants to hang out with you. He wants to be around you, and to heal your sickness. But He also wants you to go home and find others who need to hang out with Jesus. He wants you to be the man on the mat, and also the guys digging the hole in the roof. He wants you to be the tax-collector Levi, and also the man Matthew (same guy!) who wrote the book of Matthew. 

We have to be able to experience the healing of Jesus, and also be able to show it to others. 


Thursday, March 3, 2016

Daily Devotional: March 3

Icon of St. Mark the Evangelist, 1657
Week 6, Day 4, The Gospel According to Mark, Chapter 1

We have finished with Matthew's account of the life and teachings of Jesus and are now starting on the book traditionally attributed to Mark. This book is the oldest of the Gospel accounts, and the shortest. You can feel the bare-bones nature of the writing as you read it, as if Mark was rushing to get this on paper. The events of Jesus' life were still fresh in the mind of the author. He was writing this during the 60's AD, probably in Rome, and was writing to a mostly non-Jewish audience. These were tumultuous times for the early church, as Nero was persecuting and murdering hundreds of believers a year. 

What Mark 1 shows us is the urgency of Christ. He only ministered for around three years, and had a lot to accomplish in that time. From the moment Mark begins, Jesus is hitting the ground running. It reads like someone out of breath telling you about the best concert they've ever seen. 

Immediately

The translation I usually read is the NASB, and in its account of Mark 1 alone, the word "immediately" is used 10 times. Often we think of "God's timing," as slow, methodical, or just not as fast as we want it to be. We have problems, we need solutions. We want God to act instantly. We want suffering to end swiftly.

Immediately

The Greek phrase that has been translated into "and immediately" is kai euthus and it is repeated over and over again throughout the Gospel of Mark. Remember this book was written while Christians were having their homes and bodies burned by Nero and the Jews were revolting against the Romans--these were urgent times. This phrase, its repetition, and the stripped down, just-the-facts nature of Mark reflects when it was written. People needed to hear this story. In a world that seemed to be on fire, people needed to hear about a God that had changed the world.

Immediately

The world is still on fire, it seems. Things seem to be spinning out of control, and everyone is terrified of everyone else. We like to think of ourselves as progressive and advanced, but we are still scared, violent humans just like they were in the first century. We still need the urgent action of Love that was unleashed on the world in the first century. We are too easily pulled backwards into regressive actions of violence or hatred or legalism when the truth is all of those actions were rendered obsolete. When we realize we don't have to live in fear or hate or legalistic restriction any longer, our lives change.

Immediately

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Daily Devotional: March 2



Week 6, Day 3, The Gospel According to Matthew, Chapter 28

If your best friend had just been murdered by the state and every leader you are supposed to respect, if the one teacher you had ever felt taught like He knew something worth knowing had just been tortured to death, if the person who brought you life like never before had just been brutally killed—would you risk going to his grave? In today’s passage, we see two brave women risk being persecuted in order to respect their dead friend.

Jesus, the giver and bringer of Life couldn’t stay dead. Because love does nothing but create life, the Christ would have to come back from the dead. God is a singularity of self-giving and creating love at the center of all things. Christ is this essence of God working in the world. Jesus, being the manifestation of this essence, was the “first-born from among the dead,” as St. Paul would later say.

I am with you. Always.

Love is the central fact of the universe. It is the energy that keeps atoms arranged and planets spinning. The universe is expanding into an existence less infinite than the love on which it floats. Any war or hatred or persecution or bullying or prejudice that exists is the last-ditch effort of a world-view that has lost so completely it couldn't even keep one man dead. Love will always win, because love is in control.

When Jesus meets His disciples, some are immediately overcome with joy and worship Him. The interesting thing in Matthew is the inclusion of the phrase “but some doubted.” What would it take for those people to believe?

I am with you. Always.


Sometimes we doubt. Sometimes, even though I have had experiences with the love at the center of the universe, I still doubt it. I can be covered in love, wrapped in it, and feeling nothing but God’s presence, and then ten minutes later forget the whole experience. That is part of faith. We are all insecure because the world around us tells us we have to do or be or buy differently in order to be better than we are. Some religious leaders will try to tell us that we have to do or give or pray more in order to feel God’s presence.

I am with you. Always.

In the silence, He is there. In grief, He is there. In doubt, He is there. In pain, He is there. In the times we win, He is there. He is there because He is holding the universe together and also deeply in love with me.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Daily Devotional: March 1


Week 6, Day 2, The Gospel According to Matthew, Chapter 27

During Lent it is very easy to wait until the week before Easter to focus on the Passion Story. I am thankful for this meditation series and for great pastors whose podcasts inspire me. I borrow pretty heavily from guys like Brian Zahnd, and I want to point you guys to him as well because I know he can influence you too. 

Today we are reading what must have been a tough passage for Matthew to write. We have reason to believe he watched these events unfold first-hand. Even though he knows the end of the story as he is writing it, he must have found it hard to think about his best friend and Lord being beaten and rejected and murdered.

Give us Barabbas 

The last chance for Jesus was this moment where Pilate offers the crowd the release of one prisoner. He thinks they will surely pick Jesus of Nazareth, because this man was a hero. Another man, Jesus Barabbas, who ironically shared a first name with Jesus Christ, was in prison. He was a different kind of hero. He was in prison for basically inciting a riot. Historians believe he was a revolutionary, the type of man who believed in armed conflict against the Romans. He was a political prisoner of the Roman state. 

One man offered peace at all costs, one man believed in a quick-strike revolution. One man stood for a revolution of mercy and forgiveness, the other for a political revolution. We see who the crowd chose. We often think of them as being under the influence of mob mentality, or of some sinful spirit and that's why they would choose Jesus Barabbas over Jesus of Nazareth, but that doesn't have to be the case.

Give us Barabbas

We shout the same thing when we choose the easy way out, the way of destruction. We shout the same thing when we look to our finances or guns to save us. We shout the same thing when we want to protect our necks at the cost of some other people group, religion, or race to be wiped off the face of the earth. We shout the same thing when we want to build walls and not bridges.

Give us Barabbas

We want it our way! We don't want the peaceful hero, we want the guy with the biggest gun! Give us the biggest bombs! Give us the kingdom we want, or else!

Don't choose Barabbas. Choose the other Jesus, the one who offers love and mercy.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Daily Devotional: February 29

Christ in the House of Simon, Dieric Bouts, 1440s
Week 6, Day 1, The Gospel according to Matthew, Chapter 26

We are nearing the end of Jesus' life. He knows it. Matthew packs tremendous emotion and drama in these pages, and even makes an interesting choice in terms of narrative. Before the story of Jesus' arrest, before the trial before Ciaphus, before the bargain Judas makes for Jesus' life, we see the event that led to Judas' downfall.

Christ's anointing by perfume at Bethany is in a weird place in Matthew. It occurs in all four Gospel accounts, but the other three place it earlier in the life of Christ, only Matthew places it in the midst of the last trip to Jerusalem. I think he does that to further show why Judas acted the way he did. Again, Matthew is a master at giving us a person in the story with which to identify. Again, it's never the person I want it to be.

Why this waste

We want to be liked, and we want to fit in to the group. It's in our nature. We also want to impress people we like. In some circles, this can mean being falsely pious. We put on religion like armor from the real world as a way to separate ourselves from the godless. We stand in churches and sing about mercy and then actually have no interest in offering any to anyone. We point out what we think is overspending on behalf of others, without ever taking into account our own judgemental heart.

How much energy have I wasted trying to show how much better I am than other people? How much energy have I wasted trying to look cool or knowledgeable or spiritual? We, like the disciples, pretend to care about the poor while we are around certain people when we actually couldn't care less.

Why this waste

Jesus points out the only person in the room acting authentically is the woman "wasting" perfume. She is acting out of pure love and submission to Christ, while the disciples are still playing the religion game. Jesus doesn't say, "the poor you will always have with you," as a way to justify inaction on their behalf. He says it to point out the inadequacy of the disciples to actually act of the behalf of the poor as long as their attitude is still to please other people.

"If you're really worried about the poor," Jesus is saying, "They are there and they will be there next week long after I am gone." He knows their hearts. He knows they aren't worried about the poor. He knows they are only trying to impress Him. Meanwhile, the woman just weeps and pours out her best because it's all she can do for the Love she has received.

Why this waste

It's the great juxtaposition of Faith. Any action, no matter how noble, done for selfish gain is a waste. Any action, no matter how menial, done out of devotion and love is to be praised.

We need to stop judging people for how they experience love. We need to stop pretending. We need to waste a lot more time, energy, and money in service to Love.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Daily Devotional: February 26


Week 5, Day 5, The Gospel according to Matthew, Chapter 25

In today's reading, Jesus is again warning His followers about the trials and problems that they will encounter in their lives, and then He transitions to talking about the last days of humanity. One of the ways this parable has been traditionally interpreted is that the sheep are Christians and the goats are non-Christians--condemned to Hell. However, I think that interpretation falls a bit short in a few ways.

There is no mention of belief or faith on the part of the sheep, it is merely their actions that saves them, and throughout the Gospels we see the idea that actions are not the mode through which God saves us. If this were the case, our salvation would entirely be dependent on how we treat the poor. While I want us to treat the poor with dignity and respect, I don't think my treatment of them is getting me to heaven.

Are you aware of where Jesus is

The point Jesus is making to His followers is they will find Him if they look for Him where He is. Just like in His life, Jesus is present among the poor and oppressed--among the fringes of society. If we want to experience Him, we have to look for Him where He is. The first step in growing in righteousness is to find Jesus and be where He is. 

When we find Him, and do the things He is doing, we will be given more and more responsibility. That is the point of the other parables in this chapter. If you aren't responsible with what you've been given, you won't be given more. However, if you cultivate holiness by practicing God's presence and going to the places Jesus would go, you will be given more and more. 

Are you aware of where Jesus is

How often do you find yourself where Jesus would be? Would He be at your favorite places? This point hits me hard because of how often I find myself in coffee shops and cafés and how seldom I find myself in homeless shelters and with the less fortunate. If I want to build my understanding of Jesus, I have to be where He is. 

The more you look for Jesus, the more you'll find Him. Jesus is constantly affirming the divinity of the mundane. Every moment, every breath is a chance to experience God. The eternal punishment is missing this fact. Living a life devoid of the joy that comes with living with Jesus now. 

Be aware of Jesus. Where is He? What is He doing? How can you be a part of it?

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Daily Devotional: February 25

The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans Under the Command of Titus, A.D. 70, Daniel Roberts, 1850
Week 5, Day 4, The Gospel According to Matthew, Chapter 24

Today we are reading an extremely controversial bit of Scripture. For many Christians, especially evangelicals, this chapter is interpreted as a warning or prophecy about the end of the world and the Second Coming of Christ. However, I don't think the warning Jesus was giving had much to do with that event. 

Almost every event described in Matthew 24 actually took place before AD 70. Even the expression "the Gospel will be preached to the whole world," is used by Luke in the book of Acts to describe the preaching of the Apostles at Pentecost. Jesus is warning his followers about one of the worst events in the history of Jerusalem. It will be this warning that will save many followers of Jesus' lives when that event takes place. That event will cause many followers of Jesus to flee the city and move elsewhere, taking this faith to the ends of the world. The destruction of the second temple in AD 70 was a physical representation of something Jesus taught about for His entire ministry.

Take it outside

At the beginning of the chapter, the disciples are marveling at the size of the temple. For these guys, most of whom were fishermen from the country, this would have been the most amazing structure they would have ever seen. The size of these buildings, their gold decorations, and the weight of the symbolism contained within the Temple would have been almost overwhelming to these men and women. Jesus knows that, and again reminds them the whole temple system is about to be obsolete. 

For too long, religion tried to keep God behind walls. Walls are Jesus' enemy number one. He continues to affirm a more inclusive, loving, and unconditional form of faith than any teacher prior to Him. He is asking His followers to not be so easily impressed by the glitz and glamour of man-made systems when the Love of God is much more impressive. It can't be contained.

Take it outside

When we see beautiful buildings, flashy cars, and giant homes we can be easily impressed. None of those things matter in the long run. All of those things will one day be torn down, crushed, or burned. When we waste our times on the temporal, we lose chances to take part in the eternal. Every one we meet is an eternal being, and they deserve the respect that comes with their identity. Every one we meet is already loved by a love that can't be kept behind walls and rituals. 

Walls need to be torn down. Walls between races, walls between classes, walls between religious groups. We made these walls, and Jesus can tear them down. The temple is an example we should look to for God's continual movement towards people. He doesn't want us to try to contain Him.

Be amazed by relentless love.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Daily Devotional: February 24

Khabouris Codex, Matt. 23:13-25 (c.a 1000CE)

Week 5, Day 3, the Gospel According to Matthew, Chapter 23

The way Jesus has behaved in our readings over the past few days, it is almost as if He is trying to get Himself killed. Every opportunity to disrupt the system in Jerusalem, He does. In today's passage, we see the most straightforward and deliberate attack of those in power in the entire book of Matthew.
The Pharisees, if you haven't been reading along with these every day, were a sect of Judaism gaining popularity in the first century. They were the power brokers in Jerusalem because many people viewed them as a group of exceedingly righteous men, and in those days your righteousness was social currency.
Jesus is constantly followed by Pharisees and some scholars believe it is because the Pharisees were trying to decide if Jesus was one of them. Some even go as far as to say Jesus was a Pharisee Himself, which is how He is able to admonish them so directly so often. Whatever the case may be, they are a symbol in the gospel of Matthew of religious fundamentalism.
Are you straining gnats?
Jesus' main beef with the Pharisees in this passage isn't one of theology, but one of practice. It's the difference between knowing what to do, and doing it with the right intentions. Winning converts but then burdening them with dead religion is worthless. Following the letter of the law while completely ignoring your neighbor in need is the height of religious nonsense. How many times do we see the argument against Christianity boiled down to the exact things Jesus admonishes the Pharisees for in this passage. 
Are you straining gnats?
In today's passage, the Pharisees are the audience surrogate, in my opinion. They are standing in for us. For any of us who have been guilty of going through the motions of spirituality without ever changing our hearts or minds. For any of us who have judged the sin of someone without giving any thought to that person's burden. For any of us who have been pleased when someone recognizes our "goodness." We have all at times been whitewashed tombs.
We have all strained gnats and swallowed camels. Whether you consider yourself a Christian or not, hypocrisy is part of the human experience. It is in our bones to be disingenuous. We have to be vigilant to protect our hearts from becoming this way. 
Are you straining gnats?
Do you hold people to a standard you can't keep? Do you judge people by their actions and forget about their heart?   

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Daily Devotional: February 23

A Denarius featuring the face of Tiberius Caesar.
Week 5, Day 2, The Gospel According to Matthew, Chapter 22

Matthew 22 has Jesus in Jerusalem teaching crowds and answering difficult questions. His days are numbered, and He is spending His last few days making sure there is no doubt as to what He is doing. In this chapter, we see Him warn the Jewish people in the crowds that their "chosenness" is no guarantee of their goodness. He again makes it clear that the celebration of God's Kingdom is open to more people than they can imagine. 

One of the questions He is asked has to do with allegiance to the Roman Empire. It was a popular form of civil disobedience in those days to withhold taxes, and many people were divided as to what they should do. Most people in Jerusalem were tired of being ruled by Rome. They believed they were God's chosen people, and that one day God would deliver them in glorious victory over Rome. That was what the Messiah was supposed to do, according to them. Having never lived under occupation, I can't really pretend to know what that feels like. I can understand the frustration of giving money to an occupying force that seemingly keeps its boot on your neck.

Do you have a debt to Caesar?

The thing is, the people asking Jesus this question really didn't hate Rome as much as they pretended. They benefitted from the system Rome put in place. They benefitted from the social order, the class system, and the economic growth Rome brought. The Pharisees were protected by Rome, and allowed to exploit the people by Rome. Sure, they wanted a Messiah to come overthrow Rome, but only on their terms. 

When Jesus asks for a coin, it doesn't take long for one of them to produce one. They are deeply immersed in the economy of the State. They have a debt to Caesar because they love the comfort he provides them. We do the same thing today. We call it patriotism, but often it is more like idolatry. Jesus' answer plainly says to pay your debt. If you have a debt you've incurred to the State, you are going to need to pay it. If you have decided to be a part of the world's system, you are responsible for that decision. If you want to live in the Kingdom of the Christ, you have to give yourself to God instead. 

Do you have a debt to Caesar?

Right now, my home country is in the middle of an extremely embarrassing election cycle. I can see on my facebook news feed people who are rendering themselves to Caesar. People caught up in service of the comfort the State provides them are pledging allegiance to whatever candidate will best serve those interests. 

We have to be able to separate what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God. We need clarity, and we need to be devoted to the Kingdom of Love. 

Monday, February 22, 2016

Daily Devotional: February 22

The Purification of the Temple, Jacopo Bassano, 16th Century

Week 5, Day 1, The Gospel According to Matthew, Chapter 21

The cleansing of the Temple is easily one of the weirdest passages of the Gospel. Oftentimes it is misused by people trying to justify their own lust for violence. It is very rarely understood for what it is. Jesus' Guerrilla Interactive Theater Piece. 

Over the centuries, God's prophets had done crazy or dramatic things to draw attention to themselves and their messages. Jesus is aligning Himself squarely in this tradition. He is showing His place in the timeline of prophets bringing the Truth of God to the people of God. In Matthew's depiction of this event, Jesus turns a few tables over and then begins healing people and ministering to the needs of the people around Him.

Hosanna, save us from ourselves

If money can be made off of something, someone will find a way to make money off of it. That is one of the oldest rules of our species. In the case of the first century Temple of Jerusalem, the sacrificial system--a system that kept the people worried they were out of sorts with God--presented an opportunity to make a few people extremely wealthy. As people became convinced they needed to do more, buy more, give more, sacrifice more in order to keep God happy with them, they were met with open arms by people willing to take their money. It isn't hard to see the parallels in our culture today. So many people are still convinced by religious leaders that they aren't good enough, and if they just gave a bit more or did a bit more, Jesus will be happy.

Hosanna, save us from ourselves

Any system that keeps some people extremely wealthy and others extremely poor is the antithesis of the message of unconditional Love. Tables need to be turned in our society, in our hearts, and in our lives. We need to turn over the tables that keep people convinced they are worse than others. We need to turn over the tables that block anyone from the feeling of Love and acceptance offered by Christ. Jesus shows us that sometimes the Gospel looks less like KLove and more like Rage Against the Machine. 

Jesus turns the tables over, then begins ministering to the people there, because He had just removed anything that stood in the way of experiencing the healing Presence of God. We can't be effective followers of Jesus without calling out inequality, breaking down walls, and turning over societal tables of an unjust culture. 

We cry Hosanna today, acknowledging our need for a Savior, and asking for deliverance from a culture of greed. 

Friday, February 19, 2016

Daily Devotional: February 19

Parable of Workers in the Vineyard, Rembrandt, 1637
Week 4, Day 5, The Gospel According to Matthew. Chapter 20

This Parable cuts me to the core of my Western Christian heart. In Matthew 20, there are great stories. We see the mother's request, Christ predicting His death, and even two men being healed from blindness. The parable of the workers in the vineyard leads the chapter and is one of the great examples of Christ explaining His new kingdom and how different it is from what we might want.

We have a strong sense of fairness. We want those who do good to get good things and those who do evil to get bad things. We want some sort of justice to rule the day, and appoint ourselves as judges and juries in our own lives. The idea of karma comes from this deep feeling that somehow justice will prevail and we will get a reward for the good things we have done. Most of the time, we really just want to be proven to be better people than our neighbors. 

Are you envious because He is generous?

The thing about unconditional love is that it's unconditional. It doesn't matter how long you've followed God or how many times you've been to church, it's the same love. It doesn't matter if you become aware of Christ's love as a six year-old or a sixty year-old, it's the same love. Some of us, who have been doing the church thing our whole lives, want this to not be the case, if we are honest. We want to be treated better because of our years of service. We want karma. 

In this story, Jesus shows us the generous heart of God. All who come, no matter when they come, will be given the same amount. There is no karma. We all get love, we all get acceptance, we all get Grace and that is what makes it amazing. No matter who I am or what I have done or am doing, God's Grace covers me. The idea of karma flies at the face of the generous Master who wants to give to everyone who labors on the earth. 

Are you envious because He is generous?

The example of the Master in the story is one all of us who have bank accounts that aren't overdrawn should heed. He gives generously, regardless of whether someone "deserves" it. This idea wouldn't win many elections, but Jesus isn't trying to be the President--He is already the king. Jesus is advocating for a sort of justice that affirms the inherent equality of all humanity. Nothing we do robs us of our humanity, or makes us less worthy than anyone else. 

For those of us who aren't perfect, this is such good news. We are loved and accepted and found worthy of an inheritance. For those who think they deserve more than others, this is a cautionary tale. We should not be envious because He is generous to all. We get the same infinite Love and Grace and Mercy as everyone else! Our lives should be marked with gratitude. 

Spend time today asking for eyes to see everyone as worthy of the Love you have been given.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Daily Devotional: February 18

Papyrus manuscript of a section from Matthew 19, 350 AD. 
Week 4, Day 4, The Gospel According to Matthew, Chapter 19

To be honest, I have read this passage of scripture so many times that I have a tendency to breeze over sections of it without absorbing all of it. Today I had to slow down and chew on several words I hadn't wrestled with before. I hope this walk through the Gospel of Matthew is allowing you time to do the same. Slow down when you read Jesus' words, they are important. 

Jesus is approached by an important young man. Some translations call him a "rich young ruler" and some a "rich young man," but it is obvious the people in the crowd would have thought this person was important. The young man asks Jesus "What good things must I do to get eternal life?"

Why do you ask me about what is good?

Jesus' answer is confusing. The more I thought about it this morning, the more I see myself in the face of the young man. When we think about God in polarities "good vs. bad," then we are quick to desire to do the good things we think will please God. The more we retreat into tribalism, the more we seek to "do good" and surround ourselves with others who "do good" all for the desire to be loved by God--and to separate ourselves from those who aren't--the more we miss the point. 

The young man's motivation was to please a god he had created who needed him to follow a list of rules, to be better than others, and to constantly strive to keep the god's favor. His view of God was too small and Jesus used him as an example.  Jesus' question points to the motivation of the young man.

Why do you ask me about what is good?

Jesus gives the man what he wanted. He tells him a further list of things to do, things the young man will never be able to do. None of us can accomplish that list. It's hard for a rich person to do this because they have a high desire to accomplish, to gain, to "earn." The God Jesus shows us cares so little about how well we accomplish, gain, or earn anything that it is rendered useless in light of His Grace. 

There is only One who is good, and He loves unconditionally. No matter what. No matter how hard you work, or how much money you make, or who your dad knows. This is madness to those of us who come from a culture of work, earning, and success. We define things by how well they are made. We define ourselves by how well we do our jobs. We want to accomplish a task and then conquer the next one.

Why do you ask me about what is good?

In the ocean of Grace (an ocean that engulfs everything) there is no room for tiny islands of earnings. God's Grace is in every blade of grass we see touched by the sun! Until we understand our effort has nothing to do with our acceptance by God the Merciful, we will never be able to follow Jesus. 

Give up. Spend a moment giving up. Surrender because you'll never do enough on your own. Pray to understand how much you are loved unconditionally. Kill the polarities in your view of God and accept the unconditional love of a Father. 

About Drew

My photo

A follower of Jesus, trying to build myself and others up from the inside out.