Jesus said, “Leave her alone”

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In sixth grade, a new girl moved to town. She was a freckled-faced, redhead and she sat next to me on the first day. There are not too many of us freckled-faced, redheads around. And we tend to stick together. You have to, ya know. That red hair stands out in a crowd and it becomes a beacon for bullies.

She was there not even a week and a few boys in the class started in on her. Finally, I had enough and I told them to leave her alone. They didn’t like that so they started in on me. But I had been there. I had accumulated some status in the class. And I had already established a reputation for not tolerating bullies. So the boys backed off.

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In John’s Gospel (chapter 12), Jesus is hanging out with Lazarus and his sisters. Mary breaks open a jar of pure Nard and pours it all over Jesus as an act of adoration. But Judas jumps in. Judas, who seems to be a bully as well as a traitor, gives Mary grief. he harasses her in front of friends, family, and Jesus. And Jesus speaks up for her.

Jesus said, “Leave her alone”!

There have been many times in my life when I have been subject to bullying; as a child, a teen, and an adult. Bullies are not limited to the playground.

Sometimes we confuse bullies with people who disagree with us. Conflict is a normal part of life. We will disagree to varying degrees throughout life. It doesn’t make them our enemy or a bully.

But bullies do exist.

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Bullies use power, status, authority, or physical strength to control and manipulate others for personal pleasure, ego, or gain. Judas was a bully. He attempted to berate and intimidate Mary for his own personal financial gain. But Jesus called him out.

I wish more Christians would do this. I wish we would recognize when others are being bullied and we would step up with the words of Jesus. Instead, some Christians use the words of Jesus to control, manipulate, and bully others.

Any time we use the power and authority of Jesus to control and manipulate others, we are at risk of that power turning on us. Judas found out the hard way when the Sanhedrin turned on him.

Today, we might ask ourselves if there’s someone who needs us to say, “leave them alone”. And, perhaps, you’re the one being bullied. Then take heart! Jesus overcame the bullies of the world when we stepped out of the tomb!

Wake up, sleepyhead! We have work to do. Be a voice for others today.

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When the Universe conspires against you

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There are people who are born and it seems the Universe has conspired against them from day one. Maybe they were born addicted to drugs or in poverty or into a broken home. Maybe they had health problems or parents who didn’t know how to love. These are the ones who need the love of God the most. And they are the ones who seem most afraid of Him.

There’s a story in one of the Gospels where Jesus heals a person like this…one whom the Universe seems to have conspired against. We don’t know his name, only his ailment.

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The Gospel writer says he is possessed by a multitude of demons, so they called him “Legion”. In other words, he had so many problems that his problems became his identity. And he was lost inside himself. Today, we would simply say he was mentally ill.

Legion saw Jesus and asked for help. Jesus had compassion on him. Jesus loved him so much that he drove those demons out of the man and into a herd of pigs nearby. The pigs went wild and ran over a cliff into the sea. But the man was free; calm; peaceful…probably for the first time in his life.

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The townspeople, however, went crazy! Love is powerful. It’s the most powerful force on earth. King Solomon said that “love is stronger than death”!

We know this. Our love even transcends the deaths of our loved ones. It’s why it hurts when they are gone. So love is powerful and, for some people, the power of love is frightening. The townspeople were so afraid of the power of love that they asked…begged Jesus to leave.

This is so true in life. Some people encounter the power of love and they are changed. Others encounter the power of love and they are afraid.

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Celine Dion, in her song, says “sometimes I am frightened but I’m ready to learn about the power of love”.

It’s alright to be afraid. The man named Legion? He was afraid too. But he was ready.

Iknow what it is to be afraid. But, as someone who has encountered the power of love, I have discovered that God’s perfect love will drive away fear. And you will be like Legion…at peace and in your right mind.

It’s interesting when we talk about being in our right minds. We imply logic and reason have come to the situation. It’s our left brain hemisphere, though, that controls logic and reason. It’s our right hemisphere that gives us the sense of oneness with God and others. And what most of us need more than anything is oneness with God and others. Without it, we feel like things are out of control.

I leave you with the words of the angel, Gabriel, “Do not fear! You have found favor with God”!

Today, ask God to show you the power of His love. And you will experience a peace that surpasses your understanding. Take heart, my friend. Jesus has overcome the conspiracy of the Universe with the power of Love!

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I was a Wedding Photographer before I was a Minister

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I was a wedding photographer before I was a minister. And it was great training ground for the ministry.

Tuesday I met a young lady who was looking for a church where she could have her wedding ceremony. She was already married. Her [now] husband was preparing to deploy with his unit. So the couple went to the courthouse to get a quick marriage license. However, the couple sincerely wanted a Christian ceremony. They wanted to exchange vows and rings in a church before God and their family. So they started searching for someplace to accommodate their needs.

But finding a church to accommodate them was proving to be quite a task.  Some places were too expensive. Other churches had too many rules and regulations. Other places didn’t allow an outside minister.

I understand some of these situations. I’m a pastor now. We have to set boundaries so we can do what we do more effectively. Yet, it was reminiscent of some of my days as a wedding photographer.

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I was a wedding photographer for ten years before I became a minister. There were multiple challenges to my trade. The parents of the bride and groom didn’t always get along. The bridal party attendants were sometimes drunk and rowdy. And, occasionally, the couple argued about paying the bill…to me. But the greatest challenges usually came from the minister and the church staff.

There was one wedding where the minister gave me very clear and harsh instructions of where I could and could not go. He told me that if I crossed a certain [physical] line, then the earth would open up and swallow me whole dragging me into the depths of Hades. No. I’m not kidding.

Neither was he.

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At another wedding, I arrived and began setting up my equipment. Then I searched for the priest to confirm church guidelines and ceremony details. As I approached him in the sanctuary, he lit me up with a barrage of insults. I had walked through a restricted (although unmarked) area that was considered too holy for a lay person to tread upon.

But the one situation I remember so clearly is also the one which disturbed me the most.

I arrived at the church to find my bride in tears. The night before, at the rehearsal, the minister had questioned the groom about his faith. The minister decided the groom did not meet the minimum faith requirements. The groom, according to the minister, was not a Christian and he would not perform an unequally yoked marriage ceremony.

So I stood there with a weeping bride who was three months pregnant and unsure if she was getting married or not. Fortunately, another minister agreed to officiate on short notice.

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Wedding photography was my ministry even before God called me to be a pastor. I was a Christian and viewed it as a way to serve and minister to others. I prayed for my couples from the time they booked my services until the day I delivered their photos. It was a way I honored God and the sacrament of marriage.

But none of these ministers, priests, or pastors knew this about me. They saw a photographer who was in their way and taking up their time. I was disposable. Someone who would never sit in their pew on Sunday morning. They never asked. It probably never even crossed their mind.

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We all have bad days; even pastors and priests…and photographers. Today was a “bad day” for me. You know…one of those days when you have no patience and could use a little more sleep. We have days when we don’t have the energy to ask questions or take the time to listen. We all have those days when we are glad there is grace available…lots of it! I say this because I understand.

But I photographed weddings for TEN years! I spent 40+ weekends a year with brides, grooms, and wedding officiants. I was at Catholic weddings, Baptist weddings, Jewish weddings, and even Eastern Orthodox weddings. I saw Nazarene weddings, Methodist weddings, and non-denominational weddings. I did poor weddings, middle-class weddings, and a few wealthy weddings. I photographed white people, black people, Arabic people, and Asian people. I even photographed an atheist wedding with a purple cake.

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And every time I entered a Church…I held my breath.

Not because of the bride and groom. I held my breath because I didn’t know if the pastor would be a jerk or not.

I was a Christian. I was preparing to become a minister myself. And I was afraid of you, my pastor friends! How much more those who have no church background or affiliation? How much more?

Here is my lenten challenge:

Pastors, ask God to check your heart over the next 40 days. Ask Him to help you be like Christ. We don’t have to be perfect. For some of us, we just need a little softening.

Christians, ask God to check your heart over the next 40 days. Ask Him to help you be like Christ. We don’t have to be perfect. For some of us, we just need a little softening.

For myself, I am asking God to check my heart and make me a little softer, gentler, and more like Christ.

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