All posts by Rev. Todd R. Lattig

All the Time in the World

Read Ephesians 5:15-20

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“The days of our life are seventy years, or perhaps eighty, if we are strong; even then their span is only toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.” (Psalms 90:10, NRSV)

All the Time in the WorldHave you ever watched the old TV show called the Twilight Zone? There was one episode starring Burgess Meredith about a man named Henry Bemis who loved nothing more than a good book, or a compelling news story, or a tabloid magazine. Henry loved to read and it didn’t matter if it was poetry, a classic novel, a newspaper article or even the button on someone’s shirt, Henry loved reading. The only problem was that he just didn’t have enough time in a day to do all the reading he wanted to do. He had to work and could only find a little time to read on his lunch break. When he was at home, his wife demanded that he spend time with her, which included going over her friends houses.  There just wasn’t enough time.

One day, while on lunch break, Henry went into the bank vault at work to read.  He closed the door behind him and sat down to read a book.  Somewhere during his time in that vault, an atom bomb was dropped and the world as Henry knew it was literally blasted away. When Henry emerged from the vault, there was nothing left but rubble. Everyone he knew, everyone in general, was dead.  It took him a while to come to terms with the fact that he was all alone, but when he stumbled upon a ruined library, and plethora of books, he realized he had all the time in the world to read. He was elated about this until he accidentally knocked his glasses off of his head and broke them. Staring through blurry eyes he cried out, “That’s not fair…that’s not fair at all. There was time now, there was all the time I needed. It’s not fair…It’s not fair.”

Many people, myself included, go about their days and get lost in the business of their lives. In fact, is it not true that the very source of our income, the very source of our “end’s meat” is business (aka BUSY-NESS)? And then, when we are home, we busy ourselves with other things as well.  Whether it is driving our kids around from place to place, fixing stuff up around the house, scheduling ourselves around our favorite reality shows, or whatever else it is that we do, it is no wonder that at the end of the day we simply say that there is not enough time!

But is that true? Do we truly not have enough time? Has God truly dealt us an existence that lacks in time? Or is it that we find ourselves wasting the time that we have? Are we good stewards of the time that we have been given?  While there is not doubt that it is important to spend time with family, and it is important to work, and it is important to have some leisure time as well, it is also important to manage the time we have and to make the most of it. We are called to be good stewards of our time as much as we are called to be good stewards of anything else.

What God is calling us to do is to live out our time here on earth with purpose.  To waste time is to waste the purpose God is calling us to live out. The fact is, as Henry Bemis discovered, there is a difference between all the time we want versus all the time that we need.  God has given us all the time we need and is asking us to use it wisely.  We never know when our time is up and there isn’t a moment to lose in seeking and living out the purpose God has given us.  We don’t want to end up like Henry Bemis staring down at a broken clock and lamenting over the time we could’ve had, even as he was facing all the time in the world he could ever want. The time to live with purpose is now.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“You will never find time for anything. If you want time you must make it.” – Charles Buxton

PRAYER

Lord, help me to become a better steward of my time by guiding me toward the purpose with which you would like me to spend it. Amen.

 

It’s Good to Be Rich, Isn’t It?

Read Mark 10:17-27

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:8)

It's Good to Be Rich, Isn't It?What does it mean to be rich? Does it mean having all of the possessions in the world? Does it mean having all of the success in the world? Is being rich in conflict with being a Christian? Did Jesus have something against the wealthy? There are people who interpret the words of Jesus as being an indictment of the rich. But is that truly the case, or is that missing the point as much as the rich man in the story missed the point? I believe the latter to be true.

The problem with the rich man in the reading for today was not that he was rich. The problem was that he was solely dependant on himself for everything. After all, HE was the one who had followed the Torah since he was a boy. HE was the one who earned his way to his wealth. HE was the one who followed Jesus to this point, and HE was the one who was going to find the SECRET to eternal life. It wasn’t enough that he was rich; rather, he knew there was more to life than money. Otherwise, he would not have sought Jesus out in the first place. With that said, he, was certainly missing the point on what eternal life really is and that, unlike his wealth, it is not attainable by “earning” it.

Jesus tells the man that in order for him to inherit eternal life, he must sell everything he has, give the money to the poor and follow him.  The man, unfortunately, turns away thinking that he can never inherit the kingdom of God (to be understood as synonymous with eternal life). Selling everything is too great a cost for him to pay, even for eternal life.

But to Jesus, the Kingdom of God was not something that was to be attained later, nor was it something that was “pie in the sky” and/or out there for one to “earn”. Rather, Jesus always spoke of the Kingdom of God as being near and, in fact, at hand. The trick was to realize that in order to “inherit” the Kingdom of God, you only had to be willing to let God usher it in through you. But you cannot do that so long as you love anything more than you love God. If you put God first, and deem everything else as rubbish in comparison (to quote Paul), then God will usher it in through you, and you WILL inherit the Kingdom of God.

What is this Kingdom of God that Jesus is referring to? It is the willingness to give all of yourself for the sake of others. It is the act of loving your neighbors (including your enemies) as yourself. It is becoming the servant of all and caring for the “least of these”.  And by doing all of those things, one is loving God with all of one’s soul, heart and strength. But if this is true, who in the world can be saved? Jesus gave his disciples this answer, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But not with God. Everything is possible with God,” (Mark 10:27, NLT).

So, there it is. If we are to “inherit” the Kingdom of God, then we are to open ourselves to the change that God brings in us, through us and, certainly, in spite of us. That change will lead us to live out the two greatest commandments (AKA the Kingdom of God) in our lives, meaning that we will be living out the Kingdom of God in the lives of others!  It is then that you will be truly rich!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Make all you can, save all you can, give all you can” – John Wesley

PRAYER

Lord, help me to realize that the Kingdom of God is near and that, in fact, it is already at hand. Guide me to give all of myself for the sake of the Kingdom! Amen.

By the Grace of God

Read Ephesians 1

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.” (Galatians 2:21, NRSV)

By the Grace of GodIt is hard to keep up with who’s who when it comes to Christianity. There are so many denominations, each one claiming that their understanding of Scripture is the correct understanding. There are fundamentalist Christians who believe in a literal seven-day Creation, who argue against evolution, who believe women should have their heads covered and remain silent in church, who believe that women shouldn’t be allowed to be ordained, who look at tattoos and piercings as sinful, who believe that anything that isn’t Christian (or their understanding of Christian) is Satanic, and so on and so forth.

Then on the flip side, there are super liberal Christians who believe that all roads lead to God, that all speech should be inclusive (unless it goes against what they consider to be “inclusive”…which means that they don’t really believe in inclusive speech), who believe that Paul was a misogynist, who believe that the word Christian means social activist, and who believe that we are a world defined by its “isms” (i.e. racism, classism, abelism, sexism, heterosexism, misogynism, etc.).

And of course, most Christians fall somewhere between the two extremes. Most people attempt to understand, respect and follow the traditions of their faith, but recognize that we’ve come far, by the grace of God, in our understanding of how the world works, in scientific discovery, in social justice, in regard to inclusiveness and other such things. Most people would not find themselves in either extreme, but somewhere in the middle agreeing with some stuff on the one side, and agreeing with some stuff on the other side.

But what do we make of all of this? Is one side more right than the other? Are some groups more Christian than the other? Do some groups have a better understanding of Christ than the others do? The answer to these questions is no. Both sides share in the fate of humanity, which is the inability to have the full picture. I believe that both sides of the extreme would both claim to KNOW that Grace plays a central part in Christianity; however, both sides would also fall under the category of HUMAN when it comes to their understanding and application of that Grace.

But the truth be told that both sides cherry pick their way through the Bible to come to the “truths” that match up to what they believe. And the truth also be told that it is nearly impossible not to. The Bible is a complex, living tradition, that was written over a thousand years ago or more. It encompasses tons of generations, tons of different understandings of God, and tons of understandings of the human-divine relationship. The beauty of the Hebrew Bible is that those who compiled it chose NOT to cherry pick what to put in and what to leave out. Rather they included everything into it, leaving its reader with a rich and diverse and, perhaps, a fuller understanding of who God is.

In the Bible we see a God who is angry and a God who is peaceful. In the Bible we see a God who is chaotic and a God who brings out order and assurance in the midst of chaos. We see a God who is holier than thou and a God who is not afraid to get down and dirty with his Creation. We see all of these conflicting images of God harmonized together in the compilation we call the Bible. We even find, in what we call the New Testament, early Christian commentary on the Hebrew Scriptures and how they divinely relate to the one we know as the Son of God, the Messiah, the Word made flesh.

Let all of this be a challenge to you that wherever you find yourself as a Christian, to be open to the fact that there are others who do not find themselves where you are in your faith but are equally committed to God and Christ in theirs. There is room for all under the cross. God’s grace, if it is to be anything worthwhile and salvific, must be more encompassing than our own understanding of it. If God’s grace is sufficient, then it must be bigger than our limited minds allow for it to be. While we may not be able to help cherry picking around laws that don’t make sense to us, let us not cherry pick who we extend the Grace of God to. Surely, God would wish us to extend God’s grace to all, not just some. Let us be agents of Grace and let God take care of the rest.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

When we stand before God will we be calling for justice or for correct application of the law, or will we be clinging to Grace?

PRAYER

Lord, I recognize that no one is perfect and that none of us can perfectly hold righteousness in our hands, but by the Grace you have given us through Christ our savior. Please guide me to extend to others the grace that you have given to me. Amen.

The Maestro’s Masterpiece

Read Romans 12

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” (1 Corinthians 12:21, NRSV)

The Maestro's MasterpieceOne of the most rewarding things I have ever done has been to work on digitally recording some of Beethoven’s works, including Piano Trio’s Number 5 and 6. In order to do this, I had to learn how to read and interpret really complex sheet music. It was a daunting task at first, but the more and more I worked at it and researched it, the more and more I began to have an understanding of not just the sheet music but of music theory itself.

One of the most amazing things to me was recording the movements of the trios, part by part. First I would record the piano parts. Then I would record the violin followed by the cello parts. During the recording of each part I could hear the beauty, the heart and soul, that was poured into it during its composition. Each part is uniquely beautiful and breathtaking; each part could be a song unto itself.

Then there came the point in the recording where it was time to piece the parts together, followed by the first time listening to all the parts play together. What can be said about it? There are no words in the English language, or any other language for that matter, that would adequately describe the feeling of hearing the harmony of three unique parts blending together to make the full measure of a movement of music! What more, there came the time where I completed all of the movements in the piano Trio, followed by my listening for the first time to all of the movements in the trio! WOW! My goodness, what genius does it take to compose such divinely beautiful music?

It is natural for us, as Christians, to get caught up in what we are doing. And often what we are doing coincides with what our local church communities are doing; therefore, it is often that we as Christians find ourselves working together in the larger context of our local churches and our local communities. But it is also safe to say that by getting caught up in what we are doing we often miss the beauty of the whole movement that God is composing and orchestrating.

We tend to lose sight that God’s scope is much larger and broader than ours. We lose sight of the fact that God has many parts playing, each of them unique, beautiful and equally valuable; however, we also lose fact that no individual part, no matter how great or small, ever exceeds the beauty of the whole movement that God is composing and conducting. What’s more, there is no “whole movement” without all of the individual parts! A trio is not a trio as a duo or a solo. It takes all of the parts to make the whole.

God is not only calling us, on an individual basis, to serve Christ by serving others in the unique and important ways that we do; rather, God is also calling us to accept that others are playing their parts in ways that are just as important as the ways we are serving. God is calling us to recognize that though some of those ways look foreign, perhaps threatening to our ways of thinking, and even seem to contradict our understandings of things, it is God who has the full picture…not us. It is God who is composing and conducting the movement, not us. The challenge for us is to not see ourselves as the best part of God’s movement, or the part that leads God’s movement in the right direction. The challenge for us is to trust that God is in control of the orchestra, that God is the conductor and that God is at work in, through and in spite of all of the parts, composing the greatest masterpiece of all time!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

Take note that Paul began and ended his letters recognizing and affirming the ministries of others. We should bear the same spirit.

PRAYER

Lord, I thank you for calling me to do my part in your movement and I thank you for all of the others you have called to do theirs. You are ever amazing! You are the master working out the masterpiece and I am thankful to be a part of it. Amen.

From Lofty Words to Faithful Action

Read John 14; Colossians 2:6-10

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:1-2, see also vs. 3-5 NRSV)

From Lofty Words to Faithful ActionWho is God? What relationship is Jesus to God? Is Jesus of the same essence as God? In other words, has Jesus and God been one for all eternity, or was God alone in the beginning before God made the Word who was to become flesh in the world?  Is Jesus God eternal or begotten of God before Creation? These questions and more have been asked throughout the centuries and, depending on which group of Christians one asks one might receive a different set of answers.

This debate came to a head in the early fourth century C.E. between Alexander of Alexandria in Egypt and Arius, who was a presbyter in Alexandria.  Arius believed that people were putting too much emphasis on the Jesus’ divinity that they were forgetting his humanity. After all, does it not say in John 3:16 that Jesus was God’s only begotten son, explicitly stating that Jesus was brought into existence by the Father?  Yet, Alexander felt that to emphasize Christ’s humanity was to strip Christ of his divinity and to make him less than fully divine.  After all, didn’t that same Gospel of John quote Jesus as saying, “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works” (John 14:10, NRSV). Doesn’t Jesus imply here that him and the Father are of the same essence, making Jesus GOD ETERNAL?

So, as can be found so often throughout Christian history, two parties disagree on each other’s theology so much that they feel they have to battle it out.  The matter was debated back and forth at the first Council of Nicaea.  In the end, the emperor Constantine, who was presiding over the council, pushed for a happy medium that would hopefully tie the two sides together, with the larger hope of establishing a Christian religion that would tie his empire together.  Thus the Nicene Creed was established and the compromise reached, “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father [the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God], Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father” (Nicene Creed, 325 C.E.).

Alexander’s side was appeased and Arius’ concern seemingly addressed, Jesus was both God and the only-begotten son of God. The two were of the same essence. In reality, nothing was solved and the debate carried on throughout the years. As for Arius, he was exiled following the council’s decision, where he remained for many years; however, Constantine finally allowed him and his followers to return to their homes once Arius muted the points found most objectionable by his critics.

While the debate between Arius and Alexander is long over and the vast majority of Christians accept the Nicene Creed as being the creed all Christians have believed from the beginning, there is an important lesson to be learned from this.  Many Christians get caught up in theological debates over this or that.  This stuff is deeply personal to people and anything that goes against what one believes is often taken as a “personal attack” against “their faith.”  Yet, the question is does God care as much as we do? Are we, who are human and fallible, ever going to get our theologies 100% right on the money? Are we ever going to KNOW God perfectly? Is that what God is calling us to do?

Jesus answers this question in, yet again, the Gospel of John: “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves” (John 14:11, NRSV).  For Jesus, it was less about the intellect and much more about the heart. If we believe in Jesus, regardless of what we believe or how we believe it, we will follow him. If we truly believe in the works that Christ did, we will find ourselves doing those works! Faith leads us to action. Theology IS important as it helps us to grasp at the mystery of the relationship between God and humanity; however, faith in Christ and/or Christ’s works (regardless of how that plays out) is what will lead us to where Christ wants us to be.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“If we are to err, and err we shall, let us err on the side of Grace.” — Rev. Alec Park

PRAYER

Lord, lead me to where you want me to be and extend your grace through me to others. Amen.

In Spirit and In Truth

Read John 4:1-42

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“I want you to show love, not offer sacrifices. I want you to know Me more than I want burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6, NLT)

In Spirit and In TruthIn January of 2010 I had the awesome privilege of making a cross-cultural trip to India, which was required for seminary.  Shortly after arriving we went to the Sri Radha Krishna temple in Bangalore to take a tour of it and begin our immersion into the culture of India. As we were walking in, I noticed a group of pilgrims who were on their way out. These pilgrims were dressed in nothing but a dhoti (a traditional skirt worn by men). They were bare-chested, barefoot, and unshaven. Not wanting to have any part in playing the stereotypical “tourist” who stared and took pictures of people as they walked by, I decided to keep my focus on the stairs before me and act as if I didn’t even notice them walking down.

As I was passing them, however, I could not help but notice the hand extending toward me. “Brother,” I heard a voice say. I looked up and at the man whose arm was extended in my direction. Not wanting to be rude I clasped his extended hand and, after doing so, he put his other hand over mine and said, “Brothers—We are brothers—brothers.” As he was saying this he was looking me straight in the eyes, as if he was communicating with my very soul.  Then, as quickly as he had come, he let go of my hand and went on his way.

I too went on my way; however, there is no doubt that I was forever changed by that experience.  I could no longer focus on the “strange” things around me.  It no longer occurred to me that I was in a Krishna Temple, or that I was thousands of miles away from home.  I felt completely encompassed by the presence of God.  That is the closest I have ever felt to TRUE worship.  In part, I felt ashamed that I had not initially reached out (in Christian LOVE) to the pilgrim the way he did to me; yet, at the same I felt the urge to forget all that and to just simply worship God.

What I realized from this experience is that acts of LOVE usher in acts of true worship. When Jesus was in Samaria, a place despised by Jews and occupied by those the Jews considered to be ungodly, he not only took note of the woman at the well, he also took the time to talk with her. It is as if he reached his hand across to her and said, “You are my sister, my sister.” He spoke with her as a teacher would a student in a time and place when it was forbidden for a man to be alone with and talking to another woman.

And then, just like the pilgrim who embraced me, Jesus went his own way. The woman was left there, in a state of true worship. And then she ran to tell others about her encounter. “He told me everything I have ever done,” she said to them. Of course he hadn’t done that, at least not in the conversation we are privy to in that account (he told her how many times she had been married). Yet, that is her reaction to the experience. She had an encounter with God and found herself worshipping.

We often spend much of our time fussing over church and rituals and liturgy; however, what Jesus teaches, and what my experience in India shows, is that TRUE worship is being connected to and being in awe of the grace and love of God.  What God is calling us to do is to be agents of God’s Love and Grace. God is calling us to be agents of hope, healing and wholeness in this world. If we allow God to be present through us in the lives of others, we will then understand what Jesus meant when he said, “Believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.” (John 4:21, 23)

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Worship changes the worshiper into the image of the One worshiped”  — Jack Hayford

PRAYER

Lord, be present through me in the lives of others. Use me as an agent of your love and grace in the lives of others. Amen.

Reflectors

Read Matthew 23

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” (James 1:27)

ReflectorsWhat is the aim of Christianity? A common answer for this question is that “the aim of Christianity is to bring people to Christ.” But what does that mean? When one digs deep enough, one usually finds that to “bring people to Christ” usually translates to “converting” them to Christianity. When John Wesley was sent to the colony of Georgia, he had the goal of converting the natives to Christianity. On his way over, his confidence was shaken by a series of storms that nearly costed him his life. During the storms he realized that he was still afraid to die, which made him question how much he truly believed in Christ.

Still, he moved forward and entered Georgia with a renewed confidence that he could “convert” the natives. But, as everyone knows, nothing works out as planned.  He was never able to convince the natives that Christianity was anything worth “converting” to. During his stay in Georgia, he managed to fall in love with a woman, who happened to be the chief magistrate’s daughter, only to fumble the relationship with her, angering her prominent family in the process. Eventually he ended up leaving Georgia and returned back to England with even more doubt clouding his mind.

On his way back, John had much to reflect on. He couldn’t help but see his entire venture in Georgia as a failure. His initial goal of converting the natives was a complete failure and, to top things off, he had botched his entire ministry over a love affair gone bad.  Wesley went on to write, “I went to America, to convert the Indians; but oh! who shall convert me? [Who] is he that will deliver me from this evil heart of mischief?”

Of course, John Wesley did go on to find faith, and the Holy Spirit, in his life. The rest is history. He went on to lead one of the most influential Christian movements of his day, a movement that sought to not only preach the Gospel, but to live it out.  For John Wesley, following Christ was no longer about “converting” people to Christianity, but about connecting people to the grace of God.

Jesus, himself, clearly had something against placing the focus on religion.  Everything Jesus did pointed to God, not to his “religion”. Jesus harshly criticized those who forgot their identity in God, all the while over-emphasizing their identity in their religion. For Jesus, the focus should be on God, and on the character of God.  Those who centered their faith on God would bear the fruit of such a faith. Those who did not would bear the fruit contrary to the character of God.

While Christianity has often claimed to know “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), it has often failed to bear the fruit of that.  Let us not cross land and sea to make converts to Christianity, only to turn the converts into children of hell; rather, let us be reminded of Jesus’ harsh words and strive toward something more. Let us, by the grace of God, strive to bring hope, healing and wholeness into the lives of those who need it. Rather than reflecting our religion, let us be reflectors of God’s unconditional grace, the very grace that has been given freely to us. That is what we are called to do.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.” – G K Chesterton

PRAYER

Lord, I desire to be a reflection of your grace and I strive to live out my faith. Use me in such ways as brings honor to you. Amen.

The Outsiders

Read Exodus 23:9; John 10:10-16; Hebrews 13:2

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

John answered, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.” But Jesus said to him, “Do not stop him; for whoever is not against you is for you.” (Luke 9:49-50)

The OutsidersThe man sluggishly walked into the room. It was as if he was moving in super slow motion, as if time was moving moment by deliberate moment.  Each step seemed an eternity as the man entered his way in and walked to the table across the room. He sat down, his tall, dark frame resigning itself to the cool, hard steel chair; his figure slumped forward as he put his head into his hands as if the weight of his head would come crashing down to the table without the support.

The tension in the room thickened the air like corn starch thickens juices of a cooked turkey into gravy. The man could feel the cold, glowering stares that were all pointed in his direction.  He could hear whispers of hushed voices from across the room, people speaking as if they were talking about the deceased at a funeral.

“Who is that man?” one person whispers.  “Dunno…never seen ‘im before” another voice responds. “But I don’t like the look of ‘im. He ain’t from around here, that’s for sure.”

“Son,” another man whispered, “he’s not one of us and that makes him dangerous, and in these times we can’t be too careful.”

The man sat there as the snickering judgments were passed from mouth to ear all around the room. But he paid no attention to them, he was just too exhausted; he had too much weighing down on him.  All he could do was sit there, head cupped in his hands, and pray to God. He had traveled all day and he knew the road ahead would be long and arduous. After all, he was heading cross-country to be among those first responders to arrive in NYC after the attacks on 9/11.

While the above story is fictitious, there is an inherent truth in it. People fear what is unknown to them and what is more unknown than an outsider? What is it that makes us so resistant to outsiders? Even Jesus’ disciples were wary of the man who was exorcising demons in Jesus’ name. It seems natural, even instinctual, for us to want to distance ourselves from people who are outside our group. Whether they are from another culture, another race, another religion or, even more subtly, from another denomination within the same religion, people tend to want to exclude the outsider.

Yet, we find Jesus doing the opposite.  In Luke 9:50,  Jesus tells his disciples not to stop the man from exorcising the demons.  He states that no one who is doing the work of God can be against him. In fact, the disciples should be rejoicing to see that this person is casting out demons. In John 10:16, Jesus also reminds his disciples that there are sheep who “are not of this fold.” In every aspect of Jesus ministry, Jesus surrounded himself with, and embraced, outsiders.

The Gospels are clear that God does not view anyone as being an outsider. Paul’s advocacy for the Gentiles to be included in the sacred Jewish covenant with God, points to the fact that God does not view anyone as being an outsider.  In John 3:16, it says that God “so loved the world”…not “God so loved our group.”  Thus, let us remember to resist the tendency to shun outsiders; by shunning outsiders we are, in actuality, shunning God.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

In the Kingdom of Heaven, the only “insiders” are the “outsiders”.

PRAYER

Lord, while I was an outsider, you still regarded me as your own. Open the eyes of my heart so that I may see your image in those around me, regardless of who they and whose group they do or do not belong to. Remind me that you are the one any of us truly belong to. Amen.

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

Read Matthew 6:25-34

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” (Mark 5:36, NRSV)

Don't Worry, Be HappyIf one were to sit back and describe what it was like to be alive during 2012, one would have to state that it was a tense, tense time.  Millions of people are without jobs, many of whom have simply given up looking for work and have dropped out of the work force. To make matters worse, this is not just an American problem, but a global problem. All one has to do is turn on any of the news channels to hear about the economic woes in America and beyond.

To add to that, the situation in the Middle East seems to be coming to a boiling point as we watch the chaos that ensues in the streets of cities from Cairo to Benghazi. All of the major news organizations are reporting day and night on the precarious situations that are stirring, speculating on what is to become of our American country and the world.

We so often find ourselves in a place of unnecessary worry and panic as a result of the things happening around us. Will I lose my job? Will my family be able to survive our financial problems? Will we make it through these times in one piece? Will there be World War 3?  Will the future be safe for my kids and their children? These and so many more questions are constantly flooding our heads.  The stress is enough to paralyze even the strongest of people.

It is in times such as these where Jesus words in Matthew 6:25-34 are both poignant and timely. After all, what will worrying about such things do for us in the end. Can worrying and stressing over financial situations help you to work through them and move beyond them? Can stressing over the chaos of the world help change the world we live in? In fact, wouldn’t it be safe to say that a majority of the world’s problems are a result of people stressing over stuff, from the small stuff to things of import.  Adding stress on top of stress is never going to solve any of the problems in our lives.

Rather, Jesus calls us to put God first.  We are called to let go of our lives, we are called to hand our lives over to God and to put our trust in God. We are called to stop paralyzing ourselves in stress-manufactured fear, and to start walking in the direction God is calling us in. We are to walk in faith, serving others as God is calling us to.  Everything else will follow.

If we do have faith in God, if we do believe God is almighty and is ever-present, if we do believe God will never leave us nor forsake us, then what do we have to worry about?  Rather than worrying, trust that God will get you through whatever situations you find yourself in and move forward in the direction God is calling you to move.  Free yourself from the bonds of fear inducing stress and place all of your hope and trust in the Lord.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.” Franklin D. Roosevelt

PRAYER

Lord, help me to let go of my fear and trust wholly in you. Amen.

The Power of Prayer

Daniel 3:16-18, Luke 18:1-8, Philippians 4:6-7, Hebrews 10:19-23

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart.” (Colossians 4:2)

The Power of PrayerThere once was this 3-year-old boy who was in the hospital with a viral infection in the blood stream. He was lying in his hospital bed with IV’s and other needles probing into him. The doctors were at a loss about what they could do to bring this little boy back from the brink of death. They had tried everything and the boy seemed to not be responding well to any of the treatments they were giving him. His parents were so distraught fearing the inevitable that their son would probably not make it through.

Being a people of faith, the boy’s parents, grandparents, and even great-grandparents had asked their churches to keep their son in their prayers. Prayer was all that they had left, it was the only thing they, or anyone else (including the doctors), could do at this point. Either the boy was going to pull out of this fine or he was going to die at the age of 3. What a horrible thing for any parent to have to go through.

Finally, on a Sunday morning, the church of the little boy (and no doubt the other churches as well) were gathering to meet for their Sunday morning worship. And during that worship service they stood, circled around the sanctuary, and gathered hands to pray that this boy be healed. Within the very hour that they met for worship and prayed, the little boy sat up in his hospital bed and said to his parents and to the other people in the room, “Jesus healed me. Jesus healed me.” Indeed, he had been healed and when the doctors came in upon hearing the news, they too said that they had witnessed a miracle.

The above story I know to be a true one, because the little boy in that story was me. I know the power of prayer, because I have witnessed it throughout my life. From the time I was afflicted with a viral infection in my bloodstream to the times as a teenager and young adult that I was lost in depression and anxiety, I have felt the presence and power of prayer in my life. I would not be where I am today, if I would be at all, if it were not for prayer. I am not just talking about other people praying for me, but my own personal prayer life as well.

Now, I am not one to say that prayer always “works” out in our favor, and that if you do not get what you want you must not be “praying right” or “praying hard enough.” The power of prayer is not that it is the greatest magic trick in the universe, calling into being whatever the prayerful person wishes. There are plenty of stories that counter my own, where people pray for someone to be healed and the healing never comes. Those people are no less faithful than my parents and family are and it would be theologically and morally irresponsible to say otherwise. Even Jesus prayed for the cup of his suffering to be taken from him, only to find out it had NOT been taken away. (Matthew 26:39; Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42)

Rather, the power of prayer lies within the core of our soul. It’s power lies in its ability to give us hope, even in the face of despair. Prayer helps us connect with the hope that lies with in us, namely the love and presence of God, even when we feel like we are alone in the valley of the shadow of death. Prayer anchors us in the rock of faith. It prepares us for the worst but never lets us lose hope for the best. It enables us to see the best out of the worst situations. Prayer pushes us to action rather than to the stagnation of complacency.

If there is one thing we should never cease doing as Christians, let it be that we never cease praying. Know that there is healing power in prayer regardless of the outcome. Even when people do not recover from illnesses, or wars do not cease to exist, or injustices do not go away, there is miraculous healing in the act of prayer. The miracle is not in the outcome, but in the act of prayer itself. Pray and experience its healing power.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Pray, pray, pray! We’ve got to pray just to make it today.” —M.C. Hammer

PRAYER

Lord, let the prayers of my heart reflect your will. Use me to bring hope, healing and wholeness, through prayer and action, in my life and in the lives of others. Amen.