In the segment a woman is sitting on the ground prepared to pet a baby elephant who approaches her like a cat or dog might do – nudging his head into her chest as a show affection. It seems the strength of the elephant was too much for the woman as she is knocked over into the muddy ground. Where most would be afraid, Ms. Frenchick erupts into a fit of laughter. This seems to trigger more joy in the elephant who wants more hugs and cuddles.
When she begins to show her own affection towards the animal, the baby elephant seems to slip in the mud and falls on the woman’s lap. However, I like to think it was purposeful. Something one might see when a baby runs and jumps onto her parent’s lap. This of course causes more laughter, which triggers more joyous affection.
It also triggered something in all of us walking laboriously on our treadmills. Laughter and smiles – the universal symbols of human joy. As I looked down the line of people, all eyes were focused on this one television set. The man next to me laughed out loud.
Looking at the words on the close captioning it seems one of the newscasters reported, “Boy, does that look messy.” And it was.
Love is messy. God proves that to us in so many ways by coming to us and loving us in our messiness. And does so with great exuberance and joy. As I watched the segment I wasn’t sure which one, the elephant or the woman, would best represent God.
On one hand, God is the elephant whose love knocks us over and causes us to react with joyous laughter. On the other hand, God is the woman who welcomes the baby into her lap and embraces us with such surprising joy. Either way, love abounds in ways that seem counter to who we try to be as guarded or overly protective humans.
Perhaps you can take some time out of your day and think of a way that you can greet a person in your life with such welcoming love. And then show that love to that person. Drop your defense mechanisms and let down your guard to allow love in - mentally, physically or spiritually.
I believe that it’s in such actions that we are not only able to receive God’s love but to also give it. Who knows, you might surprise someone to react as we all did at the gym or the way God does when we come jumping into love. That is to say, with awe and joy.
Prayer: Dear God, thank you for loving us in all our messiness. Help me to offer that same love, with the same joy that you give to us. Amen.
The neighborhood that we live in has had a lot of new construction going on, each with developers expressing their design choices and new plans for the use of space and their profit margins.
Many of these projects look to me like they are total teardowns. They are demolished buildings that were old and outdated and in their place, something new is being built back up.
Now, taking all but a wall down of some place and leveling the rest, then rebuilding everything around it and calling it a remodel is using the absolute broadest and/or loosest definition of the term- but that’s not the point.
The point is that if we think of this concept in terms of lent and we are the ones being remodeled- it makes a really nice illustration.
During Lent, we take a piece of ourselves and allow it to stand as our original structure but everything else around it is torn away, rebuilt as we might want it to look going forward etc. then by this definition of drastic change or ‘remodel,’ you might say we’d have a new house by the time Easter comes!
And given that once we have done the work, prepared it, landscaped it, make it all pretty- we then proudly show it to others. That is sort of a wonderful way to think of how lent can rebuild and remodel our faith and our expression of it.
Prayer: Dear God, It is comforting in troubled situations to remember that you are rock solid. You are totally dependable and your words will always help me. Today I ask for grace so that I will always trust in you to rebuild me – no matter what may fall apart in my life.
St Ignatius remarks that love is found in deeds rather than in words. Jesus praises good deeds over good intentions that are not carried out. I pray to be like a good servant who does the work assigned me by God.
Each Sunday represents a mini-Easter, which means we take the day off to celebrate Jesus' resurrection and what that means in your life. As you ponder that important event, I give you this beautiful video to watch. The singer is Audrey Assad, whose angelic voice brings to life the great hymn Be Thou My Vision.
When I listen to this song it is hard for me NOT to picture God's angel's singing this to me like divine sirens drawing me out of the wilderness and closer to God. I hope that it will have the same effect on you. Happy Sunday.
if you have trouble linking to the video, cut and paste this url into your web browser:
Lorica of St. Patrick
I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation.
I arise today
Through the strength of Christ's birth and His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion and His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection and His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.
I arise today
Through the strength of the love of cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In service of archangels,
In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In the prayers of patriarchs,
In preachings of the apostles,
In faiths of confessors,
In innocence of virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.
I arise today
Through the strength of heaven;
Light of the sun,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of the wind,
Depth of the sea,
Stability of the earth,
Firmness of the rock.
I arise today
Through God's strength to pilot me;
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's hosts to save me
From snares of the devil,
From temptations of vices,
From every one who desires me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone or in a mulitude.
I summon today all these powers between me and evil,
Against every cruel merciless power that opposes my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of women and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man's body and soul.
Christ shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that reward may come to me in abundance.
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.
I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through a confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation
St. Patrick (ca. 377)
God’s first official act was calling light into being. And then declaring it good!
Like God, light is both beautiful and mysterious. It can be separated into many colors but yet remains one. So it should be of no surprise that Jesus uses the analogy of light to describe his divinity in light of his humanity. He said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).
Jesus is the divine light that dispels the darkness and illumines our way. When life is cold or scary, he is warm and comforting. And, of course, his divine presence exposes the dangers that might trip us up. He is the light that is essential to our growth and wellbeing.
As I sought to take a picture of the glowing weeds, I began to see Jesus in a new light. With its dirt and filth, an alleyway is a place we tend to avoid – but Jesus never did. He does not try to avoid those places, but instead shines his light on the broken glass and weeds – and on us. In his light we are able to see ourselves differently, the way God sees us, beautiful in our brokenness and filth.
Lent is a time to not only walk in the darkness but to do so as the light of Christ. He was the one who tells you that, “You are the light of the world. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to the entire house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
Prayer: God of Light and Love, illuminate my mind to Christ, and his Spirit who came to us in the form of fire on Pentecost. Let me use the gift of this day to follow their lights, as I look forward to eternal light in God's kingdom where “Night will be no more, nor will they need light from lamp or sun, for the Lord God shall give them light” (Rev. 22:5). Amen.
Lent is a time to take a look in the mirror and see how God is present in your life. While my tattoos recall the crazy adventures of my past, or the well-disguised line across my neck speaks to my future, every cut, bruise, scar, grey hair or memory I have, is a life marker that screams out, “I am important to God.”
Dan Allender writes, “Take seriously the story that God has given you to live. It’s time to read your own life, because your story is the one that could set us all ablaze.”
The one thing all humans have in common is we all have a story to tell. And somewhere in yours, God is at work writing a great plot with a fantastic ending. Better yet, Jesus shares our story, just as we share in his. He knows what it’s like to be betrayed, to be hurt, or to feel abandoned. He also knows what it’s like to love and be loved, to forgive and to be forgiven, to give and to receive.
Being a part of Jesus’ story means our personal story will end in victory – our final chapter concludes with each one of us fulfilling our God-given destiny.
Your life may have begun “Once upon a time.” But thanks to our blessed Lord and Savior, all of our stories can end the same way: “They lived happily ever after.”
Prayer: God of my light and life, thank you for writing me into your story. As each day brings a new adventure, a new plot twist, or dramatic surprise, help me to live out the words that you have written on my heart. Amen.
* re-written from a sermon in August 2016
As part of an initiation into a martial arts group, the instructor reminds Randall that, “the world is not an easy place, especially for [black] men like us.” He then invites Jack to get into a push-up position, and tells Randall to lie down on his father’s back.
“Jack you’re back was built to carry your son through life. Are you willing to hold him up no matter what comes his way? To raise him to be a strong man, to be the best in the world that he can be; to lift him to greater heights even if it hurts?” With each question, Jack does a push up. And with each push up, my heart wells up with emotions as tears stream down my face. It’s a beautiful mess…but then again, This Is Us. And God loves us in all our messiness.
I think what gets me about this moment between a father and son is that it reminds me of how has God’s grace and love has carried me. Just as Jack shows Randall that he is willing to carry him through life – no matter what – God gave us the same promise when he sent Christ to carry us and shoulder our sin. This Is Us in God’s grace.
God didn’t pick the best of the people to call his own; God made a promise to carry all of us, even if we can offer nothing in return. Such faithfulness is sometimes hard to understand. We often prefer the idea of karma, in that what we do will come back to us. God’s love and grace refuses to play by the rules of reciprocity, fairness, and evenhandedness.
In a 2010 interview, Bono, of the band U2, had this to say: “Grace upended all that “as you reap, so you will sow” stuff…Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff.”
Moreover, it is by God’s grace alone that we are adopted into God’s family, and can participate in God’s redemption and restoration to the world. The grace we receive is shared in the world. It empowers us to love others with the love of Christ that was given to us.
Such love can be overwhelming - causing tears to well up and spill out from time to time. If and when that happens, I invite you to climb on the back of God who holds you, carries you, and lifts you up to be the best “you” that you were meant to be.
Prayer: Holy Parent, in your divine mercy, you have given me another day of grace. Allow me to not only receive it into my heart but to pass it on to others so that they too might be overwhelmed by your love and become your child in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
I also know that I could call someone to fix the problem. Or I could look up online how to repair the door myself. But again, what good is knowing all this stuff if it won’t lead to the door being fixed so it can go back to what it was designed to do.
Knowledge isn’t everything. The Internet is full of knowledge. Libraries are too. I hold a few degrees in various disciplines, and have spent years accumulating bits of information that help me do the jobs I’ve set out to do. But what good is this knowledge if I don’t actually do anything with it?
Action is also required if we want to put that knowledge to good use. I need to call a repairman or fix it myself. I need to physically change the direction of the sprinklers or simply shut them off. I know if I don’t do anything the door is going to remain open and the only thing that will happen is the problem will get worse.
Knowing God is kind of the same, don’t you think? We can look around the world and see “God” throughout creation. While knowing and recognizing God in your midst is a good thing, knowledge alone isn’t going to mean much if you ignore what God is calling you to do. I like to remind people that faith is a verb, and thus it requires us “to do.”
Lent is a time to take some kind of action that will better your life, or bring you closer to God or to discover what God is calling your to do. What might that be? If you want to get the knowledge then you have to do the work of finding, praying, contemplating, fasting, and asking. It’s in the doing that we move from belief (knowing) to faith (doing).
When asked what the most important commandment was, Jesus boils all 611 commandments down to “Love God and love your neighbor: there is no commandment greater than these.” These echo the words (knowledge) of a famous rabbi from Jesus’ days, Rabbi Hillel, who said to an overzealous young rabbinical student in Judea, “What you find hateful do not do to another. This is the whole of the law. Everything else is commentary.”
Both men taught, knowing the law was good, but living the law in the way you live your life is what God is calling you to do. Saying you love someone is not nearly as effective as showing someone how you love them; be it God or a neighbor.
In Revelations, John reports Jesus as saying, “ Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.” His words make me think of my garage door a little differently (knowledge). Perhaps God wants it, like my hearts and mind, to remain open (action). This way it can always be open and ready to do what it was designed to do best, be an open invitation “to be” in the presence of the Lord where we gain more wisdom.
Prayer: God, your Spirit has awoken something in me. I pray that today it will move me to act upon it in a way that will bring glory to your name. Amen.
Jesus says, “Don’t worry about tomorrow because tomorrow will bring worries of its own.”
Life is always changing. And since we are a part of life, we can’t escape the inevitable. We are going to change.
Some of these changes are good and then some are not. We age daily, changing slowly with each passing day. When you’re young, that’s often seen as a good thing. When you’re older, it’s not so much welcomed or embraced.
There are changes we have no control over, like height and weight that fluctuates and moves in all sorts of directions as if they have a mind of their own. And some we do control but maybe not exercise, Like clothes, tastes, or opinions seem to come to mind.
A change of diet might help you live longer; changing your position might help you see better; and I could add changing from one behavior to another might help you as well as society.
Some changes are easier to embrace. Yesterday the weather was nearly perfect at 72 degrees and sunny; not a cloud in the sky! This morning, I awoke to a cold, rainy greeting. And that's perfectly acceptable in my opinion.
But some changes are harder to handle. One minute you’re planning a dinner date with someone you love, and the next minute you’re planning his or her funeral. Inevitable, or unavoidable, but not necessarily welcomed.
Of course there are those for whom moving into something new can be difficult, while others find it invigorating. Changing a job or a career because you have to out of necessity to survive is not the same as starting a new job that you carefully discerned in hopes for a better life.
My family knows this all too well. We left a life behind one life to make a new life in a new state, a new school, and a whole new church community. A few years later, when we moved back we found our old community was no longer what it once was. This change brought us new schools, a new church, and even new friendships. I can’t say that it was easy, but each new experience has brought about new growth in each one of us.
Some changes are major and make a huge impact on your life or own who you might become. But most changes go by unnoticed until it's too late to reverse the action. For some reason going bald falls on either side.
It’s inevitable. We are going to change.
While the bible gives us examples of God changing God’s mind, I believe it’s safe to say God’s infinite grace never changes; nor does God's faithfulness or promise to us. We can always count on God to be the same, and yet is constantly different all the same. God is always moving because God is always present. And unless we reject God from our lives, that presence isn't going to change even if location or our state of mind does.
Just as the caterpillar changes into a beautiful butterfly, so too are we able to be transformed as God's beloved children. In his infamous letter to the Roman churches St. Paul writes, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect" (Romans 12:2).
Change is certain just as it is mysterious. It's also unexpected as it is transformative. It takes on different shapes, and has different meanings depending on any number of factors. That's what I love about it. And I try to live as best as I am able in the great unknown; always anticipating and anxiously awaiting what will happen next. (Of course, this is also what gives me the most anxieties.)
By not knowing what tomorrow will bring, allows me to stay in the present moment. This is the place where real life happens in real time. This is where changes occur most frequently and most organically. More than simply a practice of mindfulness, living life without a notion or a clue of where the Spirit will lead me allows me to move as God moves. And it forces me to rely solely on God for grace and mercy, and faith and strength.
This spiritual practice is what gets me through the difficulties I often face when I fast during Lent. It also helps me celebrate the feast of Lent to the best of my abilities. And even those abilities are bound to change. At least, that's the goal of Lent, right? To change our behavior or grow spiritually closer to God?
Perhaps this is why Jesus says, “Don’t worry about tomorrow because tomorrow will bring worries of its own” (Matthew 6:34). Instead live in the present, where “Today’s trouble is enough for today” and the Spirit of God remains active.
Prayer: Lord God, deepen in me the vision of what is yet to come, that I may find in every change, not an ending, but a beginning; a sign of a new creation within me.
Remember Sunday's are mini Easters where we feast on the celebration of a resurrected life. Today we are allowed to step away from our fasting (if you desire) and to enjoy the great gifts God has given you.
While I step away from writing a devotional, I would like to offer you a video to watch. It was produced by the Brehm Center from my seminary Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, CA. It is a short interview with Bono from the rock band U2 and the legendary theologian and author Eugene Peterson who wrote the magnificent work, The Message, a realistic and poetic translation of the Bible.
Please take the time to watch this short film: The Psalms (click here)