Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Road Not Taken

I’ve come a long way since undergoing brain surgery to remove a large benign tumor this past July. It has been a long four months, but I’m feeling much more myself. To wit, I’ve experienced a remarkable increase in my physical stamina (my mental endurance is getting up there as well). I still can’t drive until mid-January, so I rely on friends for transportation.

My wife starts her mornings at a local elementary school. As the gym is on the way there, she usually gives me rides if I have an early morning workout. I pulled on my hooded sweater and trench coat over my shorts and t-shirt to keep me warm on the way over.

It was in the forties outside that morning.

As we turned into the gym’s parking lot, my wife casually asked who was picking me up that day.

“Oh, I’ll find a ride,” I replied.

With a hurried goodbye, I made my way into Gold’s and proceeded to prepare for my routine. I used to go six times a week (pre-seizure), and am back to going about every other day. One of the most difficult things I’ve discovered about recovery is that you need to let your body (as well as your mind) REST.

I was a couch potato the first month out of surgery. After seeing my neurosurgeon for the three week follow-up, he was amazed at how much I had progressed. He gave me the all-clear to return to my previous activities “as tolerated.”

The next few days I returned to Gold’s with a vengeance and began walking on the treadmill. A few days later, I was on the elliptical. I was still a little shaky on my feet, but I knew I would quickly return to form.

I started going back to work at the Library, began writing and started to plan on resuming pastoral duties at The River.

That’s when my speech began to regress.

We immediately made an appointment with a neuro-oncologist at UVA. He asked what I was doing. I told him about Gold’s, the Library, writing, and planning for The River.

“What?” he replied, “You’re two months out of major brain surgery. You’re taking on WAY too much at once. Take it SLOW,” was his recommendation. We scheduled a neuro-pysch test to determine if there were any neurological deficits.

That test (which took three hours of my life and made my brain feel like jell-o) was administered and we found out a week later that I had no significant neurological deficits.

The advice that I received from the doctor who gave the test was simply to ease my way back into doing my day to day activities and not to worry about regressing. “You’ll do fine, just take lots of breaks.”

As the weeks have turned into months, I definitely began to feel like myself again…that is, until I went to the gym and noticed that I was pear-shaped.

That freaked me out. Time for me to cut back on the burgers and start some serious cardio.

I began walking two miles a day on my non-gym days.

As I couldn’t drive yet, I was faced with a dilemma as I stood outside of Gold’s Gym on that cold morning.

Walking home.

Could I? Should I?

Now, by going up West Street and cutting across Yowell Meadow Park, it’s just two miles from Gold’s to my doorstep.

My first leg of the journey took me to CVS where I picked up a prescription. The second leg took me north on West Street to my office at The River where I worked on a few things. The last leg of course had me cut across Yowell Meadow Park, up and around the path, and onwards home.

It was on Virginia Avenue, just a few blocks from my townhouse, that my eyes met with a curious sight.

It was a smallish animal, with a furry black coat, and it was facing away from me. At first glance, I thought it might be a pig, but then it turned and I immediately recognized it as a pug.

A pug (which coincidentally is spelled the same as “pig” except for “U” instead of “I”), is a smallish-sized dog which appears to have its face pushed in.

“Oh, it’s just a pug,” I thought, then proceeded to walk past on the sidewalk. It paid no attention whatsoever to me.

“ROGER!” I heard a lady shout.

As I turned towards the voice, two snarling fawn-colored pugs ran towards me.


The lady (who was suffering with a cold) asked me to stop walking or else they would follow me.

I complied; and she stooped down to pick one up. As she rose, the little animal made a ferocious snarl (obviously empowered by her owner) and snapped at me. The black pug (which had been ignoring me till this very moment) now decided that he didn’t like me at all, and so he growled as menacingly as a dog that’s only a foot high can.

“ROGER!!! COME BACK HERE!!!” she yelled at him.

Roger was too busy snarling at me to pay attention to his owner.

Normally, I would patiently wait the situation out, and assist the lady. But I had just had brain surgery, and it takes a while for your brain to rewire itself.

I had had enough.

So, I just started walking again. I didn’t care.

“ROGER! ROGER!!!” I heard her shriek as I rounded the corner.

I turned to look back, but there was no pug, just empty street.

“Well,” I thought to myself. “This little episode has given me something to write about.”

And here it is.

I have driven on these streets hundreds if not thousands of times in the five years that we’ve lived here. But I’ve only walked these paths recently because of my need to get from point “A” to point “B”.

Robert Frost’s poetic masterpiece, The Road Not Taken, ends with the following lines:

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

Throughout the course of my recovery from this brain tumor, I have felt an overwhelming sense of peace.

Supernatural peace.

I have truly learned how to depend on God when I could hardly take care of myself. I have learned what it means to walk through the valley of the shadow of death without fear.

He is in control and I am not.

Many of the plans I had for this year have had to be postponed. No matter. God is not done with me yet!

He will give me just enough light to see where my next step should be.


Psalm 23
The LORD is my shepherd; I have all that I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength.

He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name. Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.

You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings. Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the LORD forever.

Psalm 18:1-6
I love you, LORD; you are my strength. The LORD is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety.

I called on the LORD, who is worthy of praise, and he saved me from my enemies. The ropes of death entangled me; floods of destruction swept over me. The grave wrapped its ropes around me; death laid a trap in my path.

But in my distress I cried out to the LORD; yes, I prayed to my God for help. He heard me from his sanctuary; my cry to him reached his ears.

Psalm 119:105-112
Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path. I’ve promised it once, and I’ll promise it again: I will obey your righteous regulations. I have suffered much, O LORD; restore my life again as you promised. LORD, accept my offering of praise, and teach me your regulations.

My life constantly hangs in the balance, but I will not stop obeying your instructions. The wicked have set their traps for me, but I will not turn from your commandments. Your laws are my treasure; they are my heart’s delight. I am determined to keep your decrees to the very end.

Friday, July 22, 2011

In the Grip of His Grace

As a child (as well as an adult) one sound always made me scan the skies; the drone of an airplane engine. I grew up with a fascination with these amazing machines that could transcend the surly bonds of gravity and frolic above the wispy clouds. Some of my favorite memories of childhood revolve around planes. Going to air shows (that’s me in the ball cap, shades and shorts) and visiting an aircraft carrier fueled my passion, which led to building (and flying) paper, wood, and even a plastic model airplane.

The plastic model airplane was of an F-15 fighter similar to the one I’m standing in front of in the above picture. It required a pair of model rocket engines as well as “a bit” of modifications. My brother and I ran a large spool of wire from one end of the yard to the other (roughly 141 feet) attaching it to the fence on either side. We created a cradle for the model so that it would be guided along the wire. We fully expected to see the F-15 “fly” across the yard and coast to a stop by the time it reached the other side.

With great anticipation, we inserted the safety key, counted down, and pressed the control button on our rocket launcher.

This was in the days before YouTube videos, and I have always felt a (slight) pang of regret that we didn’t SOMEHOW capture what happened next for future generations to behold.

Only one of the two rocket engines ignited, and yet the F-15 shot forward like a bucking bronco that was stung by a hornet. It rotated on the harness after twenty or so feet down the wire, broke free of it and flung itself skyward where it exploded into a thousand pieces about thirty feet above the ground.

As an amateur pyromaniac, this was the crowning achievement of my childhood. As a wannabee aerospace engineer, NASA must be grateful that I never joined its ranks of rocket scientists (my inability to pass calculus in college kept that door of opportunity bolted securely shut).

Airplanes of all types fascinated me, but I knew I’d probably never be a pilot. The clouds always seemed to be just out of reach.

A few years ago, however, I got the opportunity to fly in a small private plane. A church member who knew about my interest in flight offered to take me up one Sunday.

With pride and joy, I climbed into the cockpit with him and we took off. It was a little windy, but I didn’t mind the bumpy ride.

I was in heaven.

About halfway through the flight, he asked if I’d like to fly the plane a bit. My mouth went dry as I took the controls.

He explained that I should hold the controls as if I were holding a bird. Too loose, and it would fly away. Too tight, and I would crush it.

I gently gripped the control yoke and began piloting for real for the first time in my life.

When we look back at our lives, we can see where we have been held in the grip of God’s Grace. This past week especially has been a series of proofs that God has been gently but firmly holding onto me.

My seizure on the 4th of July eventually led us to a neurologist who had the foresight to order a MRI. Finding out hours later that I had a mass in my frontal lobe, this doctor promised us that he would get us to the best doctors available ASAP. The next morning, we were sitting with a neurosurgeon at the renowned UVA hospital and scheduling surgery. The doctor was very confident that the surgery would be successful given the location of the mass. After lunch, we visited with a neurologist-oncologist across the street. Another MRI was scheduled for Sunday, and brain surgery was scheduled for sometime Monday.

Kathy and I have been amazed at the speed at which this has all taken place and are very grateful for how God has opened doors for this procedure.

Thank goodness that this is only brain surgery and not rocket science.

God willing, my recovery will be swift and complete. May we always look back and remember how God has carried us through the trials of life.


The following is from Charles Spurgeon.

"Forget not all His benefits."—Psalm 103:2
It is a delightful and profitable occupation to mark the hand of God in the lives of ancient saints, and to observe His goodness in delivering them, His mercy in pardoning them, and His faithfulness in keeping His covenant with them. But would it not be even more interesting and profitable for us to remark the hand of God in our own lives? Ought we not to look upon our own history as being at least as full of God, as full of His goodness and of His truth, as much a proof of His faithfulness and veracity, as the lives of any of the saints who have gone before? We do our Lord an injustice when we suppose that He wrought all His mighty acts, and showed Himself strong for those in the early time, but does not perform wonders or lay bare His arm for the saints who are now upon the earth. Let us review our own lives. Surely in these we may discover some happy incidents, refreshing to ourselves and glorifying to our God. Have you had no deliverances? Have you passed through no rivers, supported by the divine presence? Have you walked through no fires unharmed? Have you had no manifestations? Have you had no choice favours? The God who gave Solomon the desire of his heart, has He never listened to you and answered your requests? That God of lavish bounty of whom David sang, "Who satisfies your mouth with good things," has He never satiated you with fatness? Have you never been made to lie down in green pastures? Have you never been led by the still waters? Surely the goodness of God has been the same to us as to the saints of old. Let us, then, weave His mercies into a song. Let us take the pure gold of thankfulness, and the jewels of praise and make them into another crown for the head of Jesus. Let our souls give forth music as sweet and as exhilarating as came from David's harp, while we praise the Lord whose mercy endures for ever.

Related Verses
Psalm 103
A Psalm of David

Let all that I am praise the LORD; with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name. Let all that I am praise the LORD; may I never forget the good things he does for me. He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases. He redeems me from death and crowns me with love and tender mercies. He fills my life with good things.

My youth is renewed like the eagle’s! The LORD gives righteousness and justice to all who are treated unfairly. He revealed his character to Moses and his deeds to the people of Israel. The LORD is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. He will not constantly accuse us, nor remain angry forever.

He does not punish us for all our sins; he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve. For his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth. He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.

The LORD is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him. For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust. Our days on earth are like grass; like wildflowers, we bloom and die.

The wind blows, and we are gone— as though we had never been here. But the love of the LORD remains forever with those who fear him. His salvation extends to the children’s children of those who are faithful to his covenant, of those who obey his commandments!

The LORD has made the heavens his throne; from there he rules over everything. Praise the LORD, you angels, you mighty ones who carry out his plans, listening for each of his commands. Yes, praise the LORD, you armies of angels who serve him and do his will! Praise the LORD, everything he has created, everything in all his kingdom. Let all that I am praise the LORD.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Boom Box

Every visit to Radio Shack as a child of the eighties was a trip into an electronic wonderland. They had everything from robot arms for picking up small objects to TRS-80 Micro Color Computers (with FOUR kilobytes of RAM)! Over the years we collected quite a haul from this store.

It turns out, however, that our most “hair-raising” purchase was a grey, rather pedestrian looking, portable cassette radio.

Before the days of isolating ourselves in our own private “pods”, music was seen as something to be shared with those around us. The bigger, the badder, the louder the better!

Enter the “Boom Box”.

Now boom boxes came in all sizes, from petite to truly gargantuan. The trick was to find one that you could JUST rest on your shoulder so as to get your auditory canal as close to the ear shattering blasts of sound waves as possible.

People would actually walk around with these monstrosities perched on their shoulders like noisome robotic parrots.

Years later, legions of chiropractors are reaping the rewards.

Our boom box was on the puny side. It could receive its power from a trunk load of batteries or from an electrical cord. Batteries costing what they did, we made do with the power cord.

Now we didn’t exactly ABUSE this radio, but it did get a fair amount of use. Enough use to rub a bare spot on the power cord. A bare spot about six inches from the radio that sizzled with 120 volts of Alternating Current.

I was unaware of the existence of the aforementioned bare spot; I just wanted to listen to music from a boom box like “everyone else” did.

Now who hasn’t done something to make themselves feel a little normal?

So one day, I turned on the radio, cranked up the volume, and planted the box on my shoulder, pinching the power cord onto my left collarbone.

At first, I thought I was stung by a bee. I heard a very angry buzzing sound coming from my clavicle. As I thrust the radio off my shoulder, the buzzing stopped and I saw a welt where I had received the electrical burn.

I have never, to this day, placed a radio on my shoulder again.

Great power flows through the electrical circuits in our house. When this power is allowed to “run its course” as intended, wonderful things come as a result. Light to banish the darkness, heat to ward off the chill, and microwaves to cook food for our nourishment.

The Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, also gives power that can revolutionize our lives.

The Holy Spirit is not some impersonal source of power or energy that flows from God. He is God. He leads us towards truth. He fills us with peace that surpasses our understanding. And by living inside us, He transplants His very nature within us.

It is His work within us that sets us apart as a curious people.

God the Father created us, God the Son saved us, and God the Holy Spirit sanctifies us.

May His Power flow through us.


Related Verses
Genesis 1:1-2

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.

John 14:15-31
“If you love me, obey my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you. No, I will not abandon you as orphans—I will come to you. Soon the world will no longer see me, but you will see me. Since I live, you also will live. When I am raised to life again, you will know that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me. And because they love me, my Father will love them. And I will love them and reveal myself to each of them.”

Judas (not Judas Iscariot, but the other disciple with that name) said to him, “Lord, why are you going to reveal yourself only to us and not to the world at large?”

Jesus replied, “All who love me will do what I say. My Father will love them, and we will come and make our home with each of them. Anyone who doesn’t love me will not obey me. And remember, my words are not my own. What I am telling you is from the Father who sent me. I am telling you these things now while I am still with you. But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.

“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. Remember what I told you: I am going away, but I will come back to you again. If you really loved me, you would be happy that I am going to the Father, who is greater than I am. I have told you these things before they happen so that when they do happen, you will believe.

“I don’t have much more time to talk to you, because the ruler of this world approaches. He has no power over me, but I will do what the Father requires of me, so that the world will know that I love the Father. Come, let’s be going.

John 16:5-15
“But now I am going away to the One who sent me, and not one of you is asking where I am going. Instead, you grieve because of what I’ve told you. But in fact, it is best for you that I go away, because if I don’t, the Advocate won’t come. If I do go away, then I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment. The world’s sin is that it refuses to believe in me. Righteousness is available because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more. Judgment will come because the ruler of this world has already been judged.

“There is so much more I want to tell you, but you can’t bear it now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future. He will bring me glory by telling you whatever he receives from me. All that belongs to the Father is mine; this is why I said, ‘The Spirit will tell you whatever he receives from me.’

Friday, July 1, 2011

Tempus Fugit

I run on Cuban Time. If all the activities I had to go to were scheduled half an hour later in the day, I would be early for everything! Then again, I might end up arriving a half-hour later anyways (one should be consistent, you know).

“Real” time runs at a different pace than my internal clock. Have you ever tried to count sixty seconds inside your head? I’ve tried when attempting to only rest a minute between workout sets in the gym. This always yields varying results, so I “count on” my watch (or iPod timer) to tell me when I’m due for my next set.

For me, this weird sense of time also extended to my early understanding of history. Don’t blame Mrs. Murphy (my beloved kindergarten teacher), but as I watched the inauguration of President Ronald Reagan, I was surprised to find out that he was NOT our country’s THIRD president (after George Washington and Abraham Lincoln). People seem to pay more attention to the bigger events in our history, which sometimes serves to compress time.

One example is that I thought for years that Jesus had a REALLY short life. You celebrate His birth in December, and then around three to four months later, you jump into talking about His death (as an adult) on a cross and subsequent resurrection.

As I grew older, I came to understand that Jesus also grew up. He went through childhood (and adolescence!) and grew into maturity. He taught us how to live trusting in Him and suffered and died for our sins. He proved Whom He claimed to be by conquering death, and then returned to heaven to rejoin God His Father.

One day He will return to call His own.

In His time.

God, you see, is not bound by time as we are, and yet God the Son entered time and enveloped Himself with living breathing flesh. And this is just one of the reasons why God the Son is so amazing. He chose to give up His privilege and position to meet us face to face. To literally point the Way to Life.

The story has often been told of a man who decided to stay home on a wintery Christmas Eve instead of attending a Christmas Mass with his family at their local church. He was not a bad man; he just didn’t understand all the hoopla about the incarnation. “Why did God have to become a man?” he mused to himself as his family left the house singing carols.

As he reclined by the fireplace reading a book, he was startled to hear tapping on the window. He got up and cautiously approached where the noise came from, but saw no one.

Just a wintry blanket of snow across his property.

Suddenly, a tiny bird rammed into the window. That’s what was making the noise. The bird must have been desperately cold, and was seeking refuge in his warm house. Out in the fading light, the man saw other birds huddled in the cold, and his heart became tender.

He decided to open up his barn to keep the birds from freezing to death.

Bundling up, he walked outside, opened the barn door and tried to shoo the birds in. But all his efforts only served to terrify them and they scattered as he approached. They would then weakly head back to the window.

“If only,” the man thought, “I could become like a bird, they wouldn’t be frightened and I could tell them how to get in the warm barn.”

At that moment, the church bell sounded, and he finally understood.

The reason I believe that Jesus is the only hope of this world is because I believe His claim that He was the Son of God. He not only came to show the Way, but rising from the grave proved His mastery over death and disconnection.

While God the Father created us, God the Son redeemed us.

Power to change lives comes through the Third Person of God, the Holy Spirit.


Related Verses
John 1:1-18

In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.

God sent a man, John the Baptist, to tell about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony. John himself was not the light; he was simply a witness to tell about the light. The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.

He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.

So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.

John testified about him when he shouted to the crowds, “This is the one I was talking about when I said, ‘Someone is coming after me who is far greater than I am, for he existed long before me.’ ”

From his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses, but God’s unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. But the one and only Son is himself God and is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us.

Colossians 1:13-23
For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins. Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth.

He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see— such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him. He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together.

Christ is also the head of the church, which is his body. He is the beginning, supreme over all who rise from the dead. So he is first in everything. For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.

This includes you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault.

But you must continue to believe this truth and stand firmly in it. Don’t drift away from the assurance you received when you heard the Good News. The Good News has been preached all over the world, and I, Paul, have been appointed as God’s servant to proclaim it.


Friday, June 24, 2011

In His Image

It was a sunny day at Florida International University. I had on a pair of Ray Ban aviator sunglasses that were given to me during high school by one of my sisters. I was so enamored when she gave them to me that I left them on even as evening approached. When she suggested that perhaps it was getting a little late for the shades, her boyfriend at the time chuckled and remarked, “When you’re cool, the sun shines 24 hours a day.”

Anyways, as I was strolling along the university sidewalk that connects the Library to the Graham Center, I happened to glance at the mirrored windows of the cafeteria and almost stopped dead in my tracks.

Where my body was reflected in the glass, I saw my father looking back at me.

I saw his image.

We each carry a part of our fathers around with us, don’t we?

What do you think of when you hear the word “father”?

I know there are many people who have been deeply wounded by their fathers. Some harbor bitterness that follows them throughout life. The mere mention of the word “father” unsettles them. Others move forward and do not allow memories of pain, abuse and neglect to stain their present lives.

I count myself very fortunate to have a dad who actually wanted to spend time with me as I grew up.

Our experience with our fathers often spill over into who we believe God is, and what we believe God is like.

God is described in Scripture as a Trinity. Three Persons in One. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Volumes have been written attempting to nail this concept down, but none do it justice.

God is not male, He is not female, He simply IS.

Genesis says that among the incredible diversity of Creation, we alone were made in His image.

As Father, He is seen as our Maker; the One who knit us together.

And we are made in His image.

What does it mean to be made in the image of the Father?

What does God the Father look like?

The writers of scripture did not expend a lot of ink describing the physical characteristics of God. However, they DID spend a vast portion on His attributes; what He is like.

They did this through describing His work in history, His beauty in poetry, and His justice in prophecy.

He is the source of all that is good.

Unfortunately, the more we gaze at these portraits of the Father, the more we come to realize that He and His attributes are far above anything we can even hope to attain. For those who see religion as an opportunity to improve themselves nearer to this Standard, they quickly fall into a vicious cycle of pride and failure.

However, there is hope.

The next Person of the Trinity is God the Son.


Related Verses
Genesis 1:26-27

Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like ourselves. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.”
So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

Psalm 139:13-16
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

Deuteronomy 32:1-6
“Listen, O heavens, and I will speak! Hear, O earth, the words that I say! Let my teaching fall on you like rain; let my speech settle like dew. Let my words fall like rain on tender grass, like gentle showers on young plants. I will proclaim the name of the LORD; how glorious is our God! He is the Rock; his deeds are perfect. Everything he does is just and fair. He is a faithful God who does no wrong; how just and upright he is!

“But they have acted corruptly toward him; when they act so perversely, are they really his children? They are a deceitful and twisted generation. Is this the way you repay the LORD, you foolish and senseless people? Isn’t he your Father who created you? Has he not made you and established you?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Kingdom Like No Other

“This isn’t Mister Roger’s Neighborhood.”

I frowned. I’d been watching a promotional video for a church and heard those words which left a sour taste in my mouth.

He’s right, this isn’t Mister Roger’s neighborhood, I thought, but does that mean we roll around in the muck of this world? That we give in and give up?

I believe I know what the pastor was trying to say. That their community of faith grapples with “real life” in all its pain-filled iterations…

And yet, to slam Mister Roger’s Neighborhood seemed like a cheap shot.

I, as well as countless others, grew up watching the mild-mannered gentleman whose life’s work revolved around helping children to come to grips that they were special and loved.

Mister Rogers never downplayed reality. He often used the “Neighborhood of Make-Believe” as a sort of test lab where he could teach kids through stories about “real life”.

Things like anger, pain, loneliness and fear.

About how things don’t always turn out like we expect them to.

That sometimes people’s feelings get hurt and all we can see is one big mess.

I was not surprised to learn that Fred Rogers was an ordained minister. That he used his television show to touch the lives of children with wonderfully good news;

“You are loved.”

So many people do not live with this knowledge. So many people live unaware of God’s unrestrained love for them.

Jesus prayed “May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.”

We often speak of God answering prayers, but how can we live in such a way that He uses US to answer this prayer?

A Kingdom Like No Other
A kingdom where the poor are rich and the lonely find family. Where justice and mercy slow dance. Where hearts, souls, and minds are opened and wisdom expands. Where we pour love on Jesus' tired, dirty, beautiful, aching feet whenever we serve another person. A kingdom where we receive our name and engage our calling. Where shattered lives and fragmented dreams find the hope that leads to restoration. We have caught a glimpse of this kingdom and we have found it captivating. We as the church have been called to get this kingdom started on earth as it is in heaven. The keys to this kingdom are in our hands. When are we going to unlock these gates? Who will help push the boundaries of this kingdom until it swallows up all that causes disconnection and suffering? As this River bursts forth we will flood our community with the tangible presence of Jesus Christ.


Related Verses
Colossians 1:3-14

We always pray for you, and we give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. For we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and your love for all of God’s people, which come from your confident hope of what God has reserved for you in heaven. You have had this expectation ever since you first heard the truth of the Good News.

This same Good News that came to you is going out all over the world. It is bearing fruit everywhere by changing lives, just as it changed your lives from the day you first heard and understood the truth about God’s wonderful grace.

You learned about the Good News from Epaphras, our beloved co-worker. He is Christ’s faithful servant, and he is helping us on your behalf. He has told us about the love for others that the Holy Spirit has given you.

So we have not stopped praying for you since we first heard about you. We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better.

We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy, always thanking the Father. He has enabled you to share in the inheritance that belongs to his people, who live in the light. For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins.

Galatians 5:16-26
So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses.

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another.


Saturday, June 11, 2011

A Church in a Strip Mall

Father Emilio Martin (who retired as a Monsignor last October from the Miami Catholic Archdiocese) spent many years as the pastor of St. Joachim Catholic Church just off of Quail Roost Drive in South West Miami.

My dad was a friend of Padre Martin, so I grew up with many fond memories of this great man of God. Father Martin is a kind and humble man who always wore a welcoming smile. A genuine smile. He spoke Spanish with a Castilian accent, so his “s” lisped in the form of a “th”. We attended many services at San Joachim, and would often get a behind the scenes look at preparations for Mass (literally, the room behind the altar). Dad would usually hang around to chat in his office afterwards as well, so we’d often catch Padre Martin somewhere in between his full liturgical robes and his plain black clerical suit. We’d sometimes even visit him at his home just behind the church building.

The church, however, had not always met in that building. Although the church was officially started as of June 22, 1972, the building itself didn’t materialize until years later. In the interim time, it met in a storefront. One of my earliest recollections of a worship service was at that storefront church not too far from our house.

You could say that I learned first hand that “church” wasn’t about buildings. Indeed, the first “church building” wasn’t built until at least two centuries after the resurrection of Christ. Early Christians had to meet secretly in homes because of the threat of persecution from the Roman Empire. Despite this, the church thrived.

When you hear the word “church”, what does it make you think of?

We try to articulate this in the sixth part of our vision:

Gathering Together
Once a week, all these groups gather together. Why? So we can honor God as a community of faith. We have had gatherings of the church in warehouses, garages, train stations, and houses. During these gatherings we take time to worship God through music, art, scripture, reflection and questions. We believe in a life that wrestles with questions. It's how we grow as individuals as well as a community. These gatherings are not about numbers. It's not about getting a crowd to sit in our seats; it's about helping people find out how they fit in God's story. A story about a kingdom unlike any other in human history. A kingdom not based on political might or brute force but rather the power of reconnection and restoration that can only be found in the love of God.

Related Verses
John 4:1-30, 39-42

Jesus knew the Pharisees had heard that he was baptizing and making more disciples than John (though Jesus himself didn’t baptize them—his disciples did). So he left Judea and returned to Galilee.

He had to go through Samaria on the way. Eventually he came to the Samaritan village of Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there; and Jesus, tired from the long walk, sat wearily beside the well about noontime. Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Please give me a drink.” He was alone at the time because his disciples had gone into the village to buy some food.

The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?”

Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”

“But sir, you don’t have a rope or a bucket,” she said, “and this well is very deep. Where would you get this living water? And besides, do you think you’re greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us this well? How can you offer better water than he and his sons and his animals enjoyed?”

Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.”

“Please, sir,” the woman said, “give me this water! Then I’ll never be thirsty again, and I won’t have to come here to get water.”

“Go and get your husband,” Jesus told her.

“I don’t have a husband,” the woman replied.

Jesus said, “You’re right! You don’t have a husband—for you have had five husbands, and you aren’t even married to the man you’re living with now. You certainly spoke the truth!”

“Sir,” the woman said, “you must be a prophet. So tell me, why is it that you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place of worship, while we Samaritans claim it is here at Mount Gerizim, where our ancestors worshiped?”

Jesus replied, “Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem. You Samaritans know very little about the one you worship, while we Jews know all about him, for salvation comes through the Jews. But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”

The woman said, “I know the Messiah is coming—the one who is called Christ. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

Then Jesus told her, “I AM the Messiah!”

Just then his disciples came back. They were shocked to find him talking to a woman, but none of them had the nerve to ask, “What do you want with her?” or “Why are you talking to her?” The woman left her water jar beside the well and ran back to the village, telling everyone, “Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did! Could he possibly be the Messiah?” So the people came streaming from the village to see him.

Many Samaritans from the village believed in Jesus because the woman had said, “He told me everything I ever did!” When they came out to see him, they begged him to stay in their village. So he stayed for two days, long enough for many more to hear his message and believe. Then they said to the woman, “Now we believe, not just because of what you told us, but because we have heard him ourselves. Now we know that he is indeed the Savior of the world.”


Friday, June 3, 2011

What Superhero are You?

It was just another day in my abbreviated life as a superhero. What made this day different was that I was expecting a new side kick and had to wait for him to walk to my house from his home just a block and a half away.

The day you get a sidekick is a momentous one for an elementary-aged superhero who has nothing to show for his training and conditioning except a cape, a mask and a strong imagination (piles of comic books in your closet are your certificates of competence).

All I can remember is that my cape and mask were dark blue fabric. I wore them atop a white t-shirt and my tan “adventure pants”.

For the life of me, I can’t remember what I was going to call myself. I’ll refer to the unremembered name as ___________.

What I DO remember is that his name was George.

George was a neighborhood kid about my age who described himself as “hyper” (which should have been a red flag for me). Anyways, one day as I was nearing the end of my training, I decided that I needed a sidekick. I swore George to secrecy, and let him in on what I was doing.

Ecstatic, he agreed to make his own costume and meet me in my backyard the next day for training.

He showed up the next day in jeans, a striped polo shirt (muted colors, of course) and a fist-full of garbage bags.

My costume was neatly rolled up in a bundle.

“Where’s your disguise?” I asked.

He proceeded to unroll the bags with a toothy grin. His suit was made up of black garbage bags. A strip of plastic with two eyeholes that didn’t quite line up with his own, and a large single garbage bag as a cape.

It would have to do.

Looking right and left to make sure none of the other neighbor kids were around, I donned my mask and cape.

I stood up; feeling empowered by my super-suit, and immediately dove behind a planter.

My next-door neighbor and some of his friends had just walked into his backyard. I hoped that my disguise did its job, but was uneasy about ____________ being spotted in the Boronat’s backyard.

George however, in his garbage bag costume, didn’t budge.

He looked down at where I had hidden myself and began to wave and yell to the other kids, “Hey, it’s Joe! Look, it’s Joe!”

Later, when I asked him why he blurted out my no-longer secret identity, he sincerely apologized.

“I was hyper because I had a cookie before coming here.”

Superman can be stopped by kryptonite, The Green Lantern has trouble against the color yellow, and George went hyper because of a cookie.

Betrayed by a cookie.

Some dreams we have as children evaporate in the morning mist. They’re replaced by other, “more sensible” and realistic dreams.

What a waste.

Where is that spirit of adventure and abandon that fills our hearts and minds until we “grow up”? I’m not saying that we should forgo our responsibilities. I’m saying that we need to recapture some of that wonder and in doing so, remember who we were created to be.

God’s children.

It is God who gives His children gifts and abilities. And only as we discover and put these gifts to use that we find our full potential and live out our dreams.
What gifts have you been given? What are you doing with them?

Part five of our vision deals with this.


Discovering Identity
What’s your name? We believe there is so much more to our identity than a jumble of letters assigned to us at birth. That’s why we are focused on discovering God’s name for us. Who are we really? What drives us? What are our passions? How are we gifted? How do we go from feeling like just another member of the human race to finding out who we were created to be? This isn't about what you do to get a paycheck; it's about your calling in life. As we discover our calling, we find ourselves walking alongside other people who share our passion and talents. Artists and Poets, Storytellers and Musicians, Dancers and Singers, etcetera, all find communities where they can connect with others. This quest for identity is a journey we cherish and celebrate.

Related Verses
Exodus 31:1-5

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Look, I have specifically chosen Bezalel son of Uri, grandson of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. I have filled him with the Spirit of God, giving him great wisdom, ability, and expertise in all kinds of crafts. He is a master craftsman, expert in working with gold, silver, and bronze. He is skilled in engraving and mounting gemstones and in carving wood. He is a master at every craft!

Romans 12:1-21
And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us. Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.

In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!

Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the LORD.

Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.”

Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.


Friday, May 27, 2011

Faith and T-shirts

I’m a t-shirt and shorts kinda guy. So much so, that half my closet space is reserved for them.

I have new t-shirts, old t-shirts, and ANCIENT t-shirts (my oldest and softest is my high school gym class shirt; a purple cartoon eagle showing off his biceps). Many of these shirts carry sentimental weight and so I have found it difficult to part with them.

Over time, some shirts just can’t keep going and I sadly relegate them to the garage for rags. Such was the case a few years back with a bunch of my old “Christian T-shirts”.

Back in college, most of my t-shirts came from either local Christian bookstores or youth ministry conferences. They all shared a common thread; the t-shirt designers would find some popular slogan and “baptize” it. Hence, “GOLD’s GYM” became “LORD’s GYM” and “No pain, no gain!” became “His pain, your gain!”

I found the following survey at an online retailer of “Christian Clothing”:
How many times a week do you wear a Christian t-shirt?
I Don't Wear Christian Clothing (415) 28%
Once A Week (323) 22%
Twice A Week (198) 13%
Three Times A Week (137) 9%
More Than Three Times a Week (329) 22%

Christian Clothing? What is that? Seriously. Does wearing a t-shirt make you more of a follower of Christ? On the flip side, does your refusal to wear emblems that represent your faith mean you’re somehow ashamed of Jesus?

Now, I’ve heard people say that these t-shirts/bumper stickers/fish/WWJD (don’t get me started!) bracelets, etc. help them to be a better witness for Christ by keeping them from doing what they shouldn’t. But shouldn’t we be living from the inside out instead of vice versa?

That’s the reason I stopped wearing “Christian Clothing” years ago.

I discovered that (for the most part) the people I knew who were most like Jesus never wore their faith on their sleeves. They were being transformed on the inside, which showed up on the outside.

The Christian’s hope is rooted in the Person of Christ changing them from the inside out. This is an organic process, a journey that takes a lifetime.

A t-shirt won’t speed it up.

This is reflected in the fourth part of our Vision:

Inner Growth
No Lone Rangers are allowed here. We were created to live in community with God as well as each other. We want to be like Jesus so we take hold of His identity and allow Him to wrap His life around us, above us, beneath us, yes, even within us. We recognize that truly following Jesus is a process that does not come from just reading the latest books and taking a bunch of classes. Rather, we learn His ways as we serve others and walk with those on the Journey. The Way of Jesus is caught more than it’s taught. As we follow Jesus, we begin to see changes that we couldn’t bring about in ourselves. Miracles happen. We become more loving, joyful, peaceful, patient and self-controlled. We choose a lifestyle of purity because it’s how we were designed to live and who we are called to be.


Related Verses
Matthew 23:27-28
“You're hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You're like manicured grave plots, grass clipped and the flowers bright, but six feet down it's all rotting bones and worm-eaten flesh. People look at you and think you're saints, but beneath the skin you're total frauds.

John 15:1-17
“I am the Real Vine and my Father is the Farmer. He cuts off every branch of me that doesn't bear grapes. And every branch that is grape-bearing he prunes back so it will bear even more. You are already pruned back by the message I have spoken.

“Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can't bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can't bear fruit unless you are joined with me.

“I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you're joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can't produce a thing. Anyone who separates from me is deadwood, gathered up and thrown on the bonfire. But if you make yourselves at home with me and my words are at home in you, you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon. This is how my Father shows who he is—when you produce grapes, when you mature as my disciples.

“I've loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. If you keep my commands, you'll remain intimately at home in my love. That's what I've done—kept my Father's commands and made myself at home in his love.

“I've told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I'm no longer calling you servants because servants don't understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I've named you friends because I've let you in on everything I've heard from the Father.

“You didn't choose me, remember; I chose you, and put you in the world to bear fruit, fruit that won't spoil. As fruit bearers, whatever you ask the Father in relation to me, he gives you.

“But remember the root command: Love one another.

The Message

1 Thessalonians 4:11-12
Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before. Then people who are not Christians will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others.

1 Peter 3:13-17
Now, who will want to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you suffer for doing what is right, God will reward you for it. So don’t worry or be afraid of their threats. Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way.

Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ. Remember, it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is what God wants, than to suffer for doing wrong!


Friday, May 20, 2011

The North Star

Kathy and I recently visited Paris. I mean, we were in the neighborhood and thought, “Why not check it out?”

Paris, Virginia (population 51) is comprised of an antique shop, an inn/restaurant, a church, and a street lined with nice houses. I should add that we saw many expensive cars parked out front of these nice houses.

We were in the neighborhood because we were visiting a little gem of a state park called Sky Meadows.

Sky Meadows (on Route 17 a few miles north of Delaplane, Virginia) is known for wide expanses as well as forested trails. The wide expanses are taken advantage of by local astronomers once a month. Kathy and I have been to one of their “star parties” which usually take place on the first Saturday of the month during the warmer months of the year.

On May 7, 2011, the Northern Virginia Astronomy Club hosted Astronomy Day 2011. A field of telescopes sprouted up throughout the course of the afternoon in eager anticipation for nightfall and the eye-popping clarity of the rarified air (that is, when it’s not raining or overcast as it was for most of that afternoon). During the daylight hours, various lectures and demonstrations were given…if anything to speed up the clock till nightfall.

Kathy and I happened to catch a demonstration concerning the earth and its position in the solar system. If you watch a time-lapse movie of the night sky, you’ll see a parade of constellations, and one barely moving point.

Polaris, or the North Star is almost exactly lined up with the earth’s axis of rotation. That’s why it doesn’t seem to move. If you can find the Little Dipper, you can find Polaris. If you find Polaris, you can be certain where north lies.

The North Star has been used for navigation for this very reason for millennia. Countless sailors on the open seas have staked their lives on being able to find a tiny point of light in the darkness.

It is used because it is trusted and true.

The word “true” gets tossed around quite a bit. Can something that is “true” shift over time? Is what is “true” for me necessarily “true” for others?

Is “truth” a series of statements of doctrine, or is it more than that? I believe truth is found in the person of Jesus Christ. I believe that through His death and resurrection, He made it possible for all to reconnect with God.

For that reason, I see the person of Jesus Christ as not only the King of Kings and Lord of lords, but my guiding star. In a stormy midnight sea, I need not be afraid because I hear His voice which always leads my soul to safe harbor.


Part Three of our Vision:
“We stand for truth. The Truth that shouted "It is finished!" and passed into death, only to reclaim life three days later. We believe that because of the Cross and only because of the Cross, broken people like us can reconnect with God. And we believe that this reconnection is only the beginning of true life. God is making all things new. We believe that God's vision of heaven, a kingdom of reconnection and restoration, starts here and will one day culminate with the return of Jesus. Everything will be restored to the way things were created to be. That longing in our hearts that something just isn't right in this world will vanish along with death, pain, sorrow, and isolation.”

Related Verses
Psalm 25

O LORD, I give my life to you. I trust in you, my God! Do not let me be disgraced, or let my enemies rejoice in my defeat. No one who trusts in you will ever be disgraced, but disgrace comes to those who try to deceive others.

Show me the right path, O LORD; point out the road for me to follow. Lead me by your truth and teach me, for you are the God who saves me. All day long I put my hope in you. Remember, O LORD, your compassion and unfailing love, which you have shown from long ages past.

Do not remember the rebellious sins of my youth. Remember me in the light of your unfailing love, for you are merciful, O LORD. The LORD is good and does what is right; he shows the proper path to those who go astray. He leads the humble in doing right, teaching them his way.

The LORD leads with unfailing love and faithfulness all who keep his covenant and obey his demands. For the honor of your name, O LORD, forgive my many, many sins.

Who are those who fear the LORD? He will show them the path they should choose. They will live in prosperity, and their children will inherit the land. The LORD is a friend to those who fear him. He teaches them his covenant.

My eyes are always on the LORD, for he rescues me from the traps of my enemies. Turn to me and have mercy, for I am alone and in deep distress. My problems go from bad to worse. Oh, save me from them all!

Feel my pain and see my trouble. Forgive all my sins. See how many enemies I have and how viciously they hate me! Protect me! Rescue my life from them! Do not let me be disgraced, for in you I take refuge. May integrity and honesty protect me, for I put my hope in you. O God, ransom Israel from all its troubles.


John 8:31-36
Then Jesus turned to the Jews who had claimed to believe in him. “If you stick with this, living out what I tell you, you are my disciples for sure. Then you will experience for yourselves the truth, and the truth will free you.”

Surprised, they said, “But we're descendants of Abraham. We've never been slaves to anyone. How can you say, ‘The truth will free you'?”

Jesus said, “I tell you most solemnly that anyone who chooses a life of sin is trapped in a dead-end life and is, in fact, a slave. A slave is a transient, who can't come and go at will. The Son, though, has an established position, the run of the house. So if the Son sets you free, you are free through and through.

John 18:33-38
Pilate went back into the palace and called for Jesus. He said, “Are you the ‘King of the Jews'?”

Jesus answered, “Are you saying this on your own, or did others tell you this about me?”

Pilate said, “Do I look like a Jew? Your people and your high priests turned you over to me. What did you do?”

“My kingdom,” said Jesus, “doesn't consist of what you see around you. If it did, my followers would fight so that I wouldn't be handed over to the Jews. But I'm not that kind of king, not the world's kind of king.”

Then Pilate said, “So, are you a king or not?”

Jesus answered, “You tell me. Because I am King, I was born and entered the world so that I could witness to the truth. Everyone who cares for truth, who has any feeling for the truth, recognizes my voice.”

Pilate said, “What is truth?”

Then he went back out to the Jews and told them, “I find nothing wrong in this man.”

The Message

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Love, Redefined

I spent all night working on it.

Actually, I spent several days working on it; I just had to burn some midnight oil in order to finish it in time for my freshman year art class at Florida International University.

It was an “art book”. A 3D rendition of something that was important to me. I had decided to put together an illustrated manuscript of sorts of the thirteenth chapter of Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth. I was going to truly make it 3D by incorporating various “pop-up” features surrounding the text that I painstakingly copied in calligraphy.

As usual, I had bitten off more than I could chew (if you’ve ever seen me eat, you’d understand this in a literal sense as Kathy often has to remind me to “BREATHE!” between bites).

It was very late, but I was thoroughly enjoying myself in my quiet dorm room that for the moment I had all to myself.

The theme was “Love”.

Love serves up such a contrast in our world. We live in a world that often seems devoid of it. Love breathes life into our lives because it is a brilliantly colored flower in a grey sea of melancholy.

You see, the opposite of love is not hate.

The opposite of love is indifference.

Indifference refuses to acknowledge anyone outside the scope of our narrow and selfish world-view.

In shame, I look back at this week (just this week!) and think of all the times that I was indifferent to people or their needs.

This is not the way that we were created to live. To love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

What would we love for someone to do for us?

Who can we love in exactly that manner this week?


Vision Part 2 - Love Redefined
Love is the melody and chorus of this song. Taking the example set by Jesus, we focus on loving and serving people as they are and where they are; no strings attached. Our motivation is to love people simply because they are loved by God. Instead of trying to get people to come to church, we bring the church to the people. When we tell the good news by BEING the good news, we offer Jesus in person to a world that is weary of being tied to religion. Living our faith in this manner results in light invading darkness. We believe that the love of God is realized with every kind act, every addiction broken, every injustice made right and every truth proclaimed.

Related Verses
John 1:1-5

In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.

John 15:9-17
“I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me. You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name. This is my command: Love each other.

1 Corinthians 13
If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! But when full understanding comes, these partial things will become useless.

When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly as in a cloudy mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.

Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.


Friday, May 6, 2011

A Mustard Seed

In our Miami backyard growing up, we had a Melicoccus bijugatus. Yes, a mamoncillo tree. For those unfamiliar with this tropical delight, it bears clusters of fruit which look like a cross between a lime and a grape. You crack open the pod with your teeth and then enjoy the sweet creamy pulp surrounding the large seed. I spent many a summer afternoon harvesting and consuming scores of these delectables.

However, it wasn’t always this way. The tree stood ignored (by me at least) for several years after it first got planted. It took almost a decade of growth before it began to produce ANY fruit. Then one year, a few clusters appeared. As it produced larger and larger bunches of fruit with each summer, I was forced to take it upon myself to make sure as little went to waste as possible. Truly, I did my best.

Sometimes good things start in little packages and we don’t see the sweet potential until it has fully taken root and developed. However, this isn’t about size or numbers. This is about living the Good News as followers of Jesus and changing the world around us for the better as He changes us with His indescribably deep love.

This is summed up in the first part of our vision for The River.

Life Changing
Small groups of people are where it's at. When asked where our church meets, we laugh. "All over the place," is our response. The church is about people, not buildings. Our Small Groups ARE the church. They meet regularly to share life; both its joys and struggles. You'll find them meeting in bars, malls, coffee houses and diners. You'll see them serving others in our community and beyond. And you'll hear about them starting new groups. There are people all over the place who need to reconnect with God and with others; without new Groups we'd never get to share this journey with them. All kinds of friends are invited to walk along with us. They come because here they discover acceptance and love.


Related Verses
Matthew 18:20

For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

Luke 13:18-21
Then Jesus said, “What is the Kingdom of God like? How can I illustrate it? It is like a tiny mustard seed that a man planted in a garden; it grows and becomes a tree, and the birds make nests in its branches.”

He also asked, “What else is the Kingdom of God like? It is like the yeast a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough.”

Colossians 4:7-18
Tychicus will give you a full report about how I am getting along. He is a beloved brother and faithful helper who serves with me in the Lord’s work. I have sent him to you for this very purpose—to let you know how we are doing and to encourage you. I am also sending Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother, one of your own people. He and Tychicus will tell you everything that’s happening here.

Aristarchus, who is in prison with me, sends you his greetings, and so does Mark, Barnabas’s cousin. As you were instructed before, make Mark welcome if he comes your way. Jesus (the one we call Justus) also sends his greetings. These are the only Jewish believers among my co-workers; they are working with me here for the Kingdom of God. And what a comfort they have been!

Epaphras, a member of your own fellowship and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends you his greetings. He always prays earnestly for you, asking God to make you strong and perfect, fully confident that you are following the whole will of God. I can assure you that he prays hard for you and also for the believers in Laodicea and Hierapolis.

Luke, the beloved doctor, sends his greetings, and so does Demas. Please give my greetings to our brothers and sisters at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church that meets in her house.

After you have read this letter, pass it on to the church at Laodicea so they can read it, too. And you should read the letter I wrote to them.

And say to Archippus, “Be sure to carry out the ministry the Lord gave you.”


Remember my chains.

May God’s grace be with you.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Time Waits for No One

What do we do with the time we have been given? Everyone gets the same amount each day, so why does it seem that others can accomplish more?

I got into an “efficiency kick” a few days ago. That day was just humming along, filled to the brim with stuff to do, and yet I remained organized and efficient. I had just returned home from the gym and thought “First, I must have my protein shake.”

I stepped into the kitchen, and began to pull out the ingredients with GREAT efficiency. Milk? Check. Ice cream? Check. Protein Powder? Check. I was so pleased with myself that I was being so focused (remember, having ADD doesn’t help in the efficiency department). I dumped the ingredients into our blender and then noticed it wasn’t plugged in. Huh? I plugged it in.

In the following moment, I made two keen observations. (1) I didn’t have the blender’s cap on. And (2), I failed to notice that the blender was already switched on…

The blender EXPLODED into action.

I frantically (and quite inefficiently) yanked the cord out of the socket.

The damage, however, was done.

While I was cleaning up the spillage, I remembered the old axiom that “Haste makes waste”.

There HAS to be some happy medium, I thought, between living in the land of the doldrums (where nothing is ventured nor gained), versus living in a hyperactive and anxiety filled existence (where you get a lot done but burn yourself out).

When we look at the Author and Perfecter of our faith, we quickly notice that Jesus never seemed perplexed or harried. He simply went about His Father’s business.

He was disciplined.

Discipline is neither fun nor easy, but it is essential if we are to grow in our walk with the Lord.

In what ways have we disciplined ourselves to be better stewards of the limited time and resources that God has given us?

In what ways must we improve?


1 Corinthians 9:24-27
You've all been to the stadium and seen the athletes race. Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win. All good athletes train hard. They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades. You're after one that's gold eternally.

I don't know about you, but I'm running hard for the finish line. I'm giving it everything I've got. No sloppy living for me! I'm staying alert and in top condition. I'm not going to get caught napping, telling everyone else all about it and then missing out myself.

The Message

John 4:34-38
Then Jesus explained: “My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work. You know the saying, ‘Four months between planting and harvest.’ But I say, wake up and look around. The fields are already ripe for harvest. The harvesters are paid good wages, and the fruit they harvest is people brought to eternal life. What joy awaits both the planter and the harvester alike! You know the saying, ‘One plants and another harvests.’ And it’s true. I sent you to harvest where you didn’t plant; others had already done the work, and now you will get to gather the harvest.”

Psalm 39:4-7
“LORD, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered— how fleeting my life is. You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand. My entire lifetime is just a moment to you; at best, each of us is but a breath.”

We are merely moving shadows, and all our busy rushing ends in nothing. We heap up wealth, not knowing who will spend it. And so, Lord, where do I put my hope? My only hope is in you.

1 Peter 4:1-11
So then, since Christ suffered physical pain, you must arm yourselves with the same attitude he had, and be ready to suffer, too. For if you have suffered physically for Christ, you have finished with sin. You won’t spend the rest of your lives chasing your own desires, but you will be anxious to do the will of God. You have had enough in the past of the evil things that godless people enjoy—their immorality and lust, their feasting and drunkenness and wild parties, and their terrible worship of idols.

Of course, your former friends are surprised when you no longer plunge into the flood of wild and destructive things they do. So they slander you. But remember that they will have to face God, who will judge everyone, both the living and the dead. That is why the Good News was preached to those who are now dead—so although they were destined to die like all people, they now live forever with God in the Spirit.

The end of the world is coming soon. Therefore, be earnest and disciplined in your prayers. Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins. Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay.

God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen.


Friday, April 22, 2011

An Easter Story

I just turned 36 years old. This birthday was different than most other years because Tax Day didn’t fall on it. Yes, I was born on the dreaded 15th of April, 1975 (I’m sure my mom was happy I didn’t file for an extension that year). Being born in the middle of April also meant that my birthday often fell during Holy Week which varies from year to year because it is based on the lunar calendar.

April the 15th, 1984, fell on the first day of Holy Week, Palm Sunday. It was on this day that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey (which was the traditional mode of transportation for Jewish royalty). The people were enthralled by His entrance and shouted praises as He made His way into the city. Oh, how soon those shouts of acclamation would change into chants for His death.

In 1976, my first birthday landed on Maundy Thursday. This day is recognized as the night Jesus celebrated the Passover with His disciples for last time. On that night, Jesus gave His disciples a new commandment; to love one another. Later that evening, He was betrayed and arrested and brought before the religious authorities. They sentenced Him to die.

My birthday has yet to land on Good Friday (the first time would be in 2022). It’s just as well, because there was nothing to celebrate on that day. Jesus was brought before the Roman Prefect (or administrator), Pontius Pilate, who eventually cowed to the desires of the religious authorities who were prepared to incite a riot. Jesus was beaten, whipped, forced to carry the instrument of His death and crucified. Among His last words were: “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.” He died and was buried in a tomb.

The following day is known as Holy Saturday (my birthday fell on this day in 1995 and 2006). Jesus was dead in the tomb. Some of the religious leaders, mindful of Jesus’ predictions that He would rise from the dead on the third day, asked permission from Pilate to seal the tomb and post guards. This day has often been spent in quiet contemplation. Jesus, the Son of God, the Prince of Peace and the Lord of Lords is dead. He’s dead because of my rebellion. He’s dead because of all the times I’ve wandered off the path (past, present and future).

As I would often recite in Spanish Catholic mass; “Por mi culpa. Por mi culpa. Por mi gran culpa.” (For my failure. For my failure. For my great failure.)

It was a very dark day indeed.

Easter morning dawns however. Three times I’ve been blessed to wake up on my birthday AND Easter Sunday (1979, 1990 and 2001). What makes Easter special is not bunnies, pastel colored eggs and/or chocolate. This day is celebrated because on this day life conquered death once and for all.

The resurrection is proof that there IS life on the other side. That we are not destined to shuffle around for a few years before dropping into oblivion. That TRUE life, life as it was meant to be, will find complete fulfillment.

We will see our loving Creator face to face and live with Him. Forever.

If Good Friday is the lowest valley of the Christian calendar, Easter then, is the mountaintop. As the old hymn goes, “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow. Because He lives, All fear is gone. Because I know He holds the future, And life is worth the living just because He lives.”

He is risen, He is risen indeed!


Luke 24:1-48
But very early on Sunday morning the women went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. They found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. So they went in, but they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus. As they stood there puzzled, two men suddenly appeared to them, clothed in dazzling robes.

The women were terrified and bowed with their faces to the ground. Then the men asked, “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Remember what he told you back in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and that he would rise again on the third day.”

Then they remembered that he had said this. So they rushed back from the tomb to tell his eleven disciples—and everyone else—what had happened. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and several other women who told the apostles what had happened. But the story sounded like nonsense to the men, so they didn’t believe it. However, Peter jumped up and ran to the tomb to look. Stooping, he peered in and saw the empty linen wrappings; then he went home again, wondering what had happened.

The Walk to Emmaus
That same day two of Jesus’ followers were walking to the village of Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem. As they walked along they were talking about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things, Jesus himself suddenly came and began walking with them. But God kept them from recognizing him.

He asked them, “What are you discussing so intently as you walk along?”

They stopped short, sadness written across their faces. Then one of them, Cleopas, replied, “You must be the only person in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard about all the things that have happened there the last few days.”

“What things?” Jesus asked.

“The things that happened to Jesus, the man from Nazareth,” they said. “He was a prophet who did powerful miracles, and he was a mighty teacher in the eyes of God and all the people. But our leading priests and other religious leaders handed him over to be condemned to death, and they crucified him. We had hoped he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel. This all happened three days ago.

“Then some women from our group of his followers were at his tomb early this morning, and they came back with an amazing report. They said his body was missing, and they had seen angels who told them Jesus is alive! Some of our men ran out to see, and sure enough, his body was gone, just as the women had said.”

Then Jesus said to them, “You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures. Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory?” Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

By this time they were nearing Emmaus and the end of their journey. Jesus acted as if he were going on, but they begged him, “Stay the night with us, since it is getting late.” So he went home with them. As they sat down to eat, he took the bread and blessed it. Then he broke it and gave it to them. Suddenly, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And at that moment he disappeared!

They said to each other, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?” And within the hour they were on their way back to Jerusalem. There they found the eleven disciples and the others who had gathered with them, who said, “The Lord has really risen! He appeared to Peter.”

Jesus Appears to the Disciples
Then the two from Emmaus told their story of how Jesus had appeared to them as they were walking along the road, and how they had recognized him as he was breaking the bread. And just as they were telling about it, Jesus himself was suddenly standing there among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. But the whole group was startled and frightened, thinking they were seeing a ghost!

“Why are you frightened?” he asked. “Why are your hearts filled with doubt? Look at my hands. Look at my feet. You can see that it’s really me. Touch me and make sure that I am not a ghost, because ghosts don’t have bodies, as you see that I do.” As he spoke, he showed them his hands and his feet.

Still they stood there in disbelief, filled with joy and wonder. Then he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he ate it as they watched.

Then he said, “When I was with you before, I told you that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and in the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. And he said, “Yes, it was written long ago that the Messiah would suffer and die and rise from the dead on the third day. It was also written that this message would be proclaimed in the authority of his name to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem: ‘There is forgiveness of sins for all who repent.’ You are witnesses of all these things.


Job 19:25-26
Still, I know that God lives—the One who gives me back my life— and eventually he'll take his stand on earth. And I'll see him—even though I get skinned alive!— see God myself, with my very own eyes. Oh, how I long for that day!

The Message

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Anode Rod

As with many household problems, this one snuck up on us. The water coming out of our faucets was not crystal clear anymore. “The town must be cleaning out the pipes,” I said (and hoped), but much to my chagrin, the problem not only continued, it got worse.

Over the next few days, the water developed a sour odor. This set Kathy (who has a much more refined sense of smell than I) off the edge. “You. Are calling. A plumber.”

After she left for work, however, I didn’t call a plumber. I called the town waterworks in the vain hope that they were indeed cleaning out the pipes.

They weren’t.

It was about this time that I noticed that the cold water came out clear. It was the HOT water that was dirty.

Uh-oh. Water heater = $$$$$$

I did a Google search and discovered the most likely culprit.

The anode rod.

The anode rod is a replaceable component of the water heater which protects the steel walls of the tank from rusting out and causing a flood. In layman’s terms, the anode rod is made out of a metal that is “tastier” to the water (which causes rust) than the steel tank. Instead of the tank rusting out, the rod literally gets eaten alive.

It’s kinda like a lightning rod for rust.

I looked up how to replace it and got to work.

The video shows the amount of leverage that’s needed to uncork one of these. They’re not kidding.

When I finally removed the rod, my diagnosis was confirmed. The rod was crumbling away and the resulting sediment was in our system. I replaced the rod with a new one and set out to clean up the tank. Flushing the tank with fresh water eventually cleaned it out, and Kathy and I once again had crystal clear hot water (without a plumber’s bill).

The anode rod is an elegant solution to a nasty problem. It sacrifices itself to protect the integrity of the tank.

As we approach the week leading up to Good Friday and Easter, we are reminded of Passover.

The Passover sacrifice protected the households marked with its blood.

Jesus, the ultimate Passover lamb, likewise sacrificed Himself so that the judgment for our sins would not fall on us, but stick to Him.


Exodus 12:1-13
While the Israelites were still in the land of Egypt, the LORD gave the following instructions to Moses and Aaron: “From now on, this month will be the first month of the year for you. Announce to the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each family must choose a lamb or a young goat for a sacrifice, one animal for each household. If a family is too small to eat a whole animal, let them share with another family in the neighborhood. Divide the animal according to the size of each family and how much they can eat. The animal you select must be a one-year-old male, either a sheep or a goat, with no defects.

“Take special care of this chosen animal until the evening of the fourteenth day of this first month. Then the whole assembly of the community of Israel must slaughter their lamb or young goat at twilight. They are to take some of the blood and smear it on the sides and top of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the animal. That same night they must roast the meat over a fire and eat it along with bitter salad greens and bread made without yeast. Do not eat any of the meat raw or boiled in water. The whole animal—including the head, legs, and internal organs—must be roasted over a fire. Do not leave any of it until the next morning. Burn whatever is not eaten before morning.

“These are your instructions for eating this meal: Be fully dressed, wear your sandals, and carry your walking stick in your hand. Eat the meal with urgency, for this is the LORD’s Passover. On that night I will pass through the land of Egypt and strike down every firstborn son and firstborn male animal in the land of Egypt. I will execute judgment against all the gods of Egypt, for I am the LORD! But the blood on your doorposts will serve as a sign, marking the houses where you are staying. When I see the blood, I will pass over you. This plague of death will not touch you when I strike the land of Egypt.

Isaiah 53:2-6
My servant grew up in the LORD’s presence like a tender green shoot, like a root in dry ground. There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him.

He was despised and rejected— a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care. Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins!

But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the LORD laid on him the sins of us all.

Matthew 26:1-16
When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, “As you know, Passover begins in two days, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.” At that same time the leading priests and elders were meeting at the residence of Caiaphas, the high priest, plotting how to capture Jesus secretly and kill him. “But not during the Passover celebration,” they agreed, “or the people may riot.”

Meanwhile, Jesus was in Bethany at the home of Simon, a man who had previously had leprosy. While he was eating, a woman came in with a beautiful alabaster jar of expensive perfume and poured it over his head. The disciples were indignant when they saw this. “What a waste of money,” they said. “It could have been sold for a high price and the money given to the poor.”

But Jesus, aware of this, replied, “Why criticize this woman for doing such a good thing to me? You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me. She has poured this perfume on me to prepare my body for burial. I tell you the truth, wherever the Good News is preached throughout the world, this woman’s deed will be remembered and discussed.”

Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve disciples, went to the leading priests and asked, “How much will you pay me to betray Jesus to you?” And they gave him thirty pieces of silver. From that time on, Judas began looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus.