Category Archives: Devotional

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

Read Matthew 1:18-23

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Then Isaiah said: ‘Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.’” (Isaiah 7:13-14)

O Come, O Come, EmmanuelIt is hard to put into words the fear, anxiety, sadness, depression and confusion that ran through most people’s minds at the close of this past Friday, December 14. By the end of the day we had learned, following spending the day watching the drama unfold on live TV, that 28 people had been shot and killed at an elementary school in Connecticut. Out of the 28, twenty of them were children between the ages of six and seven years old.

Often times, in tragedies such as this, people ask the question, “Where is God in all of this?”  After all, what kind of God would allow children to be born and grow up in a world that is seemingly as evil as this one is?  What kind of God would create “monsters” who go out and destroy those who are innocent?  What kind of God would be so cold as to not intervene when the lives of the innocent are at stake?

These are all valid and good questions to ask ourselves.  It is also safe to say that there really aren’t any answers that fully satisfy our need to understand how evil and God co-exist? I could offer a ton of Christianese clichés that sound good off the cuff, but that would only be to simplify something that is very complex; so, rather than offering easy answers to really tough questions, I will provide one of many possible ways in which we can reflect on what happened and what our response will be.

It is very easy for us to look at where we don’t see God only to miss out on where we are seeing God.  For instance, we look at Adam Lanza and see his actions as a prime example of God failing to be with us. Yet, we also fail to see that God was with the principal who lunged at Adam and was the first to be shot and killed. God was with the teachers as they did everything they could, including cover children with their own bodies, to save their students.  God was with the first responders.  God is also with those who are looking at ways to address the societal issues that end up allowing people like Adam to fall through the cracks unnoticed until it is too late. When Jesus called his disciples to care for “the least of these”, that included those who suffer from mental illness. Yet, in our society, mental illness is stigmatized and our health care system often doesn’t provide affordable ways for people suffering from mental illness to get the kind of care (not just drugs and a locked asylum door) that they need.

The fact of the matter is that bad things do happen. People have free will and choose to do all sorts of things that God would not wish for anyone to choose. But aside from that fact, we still have a God who loves us, a God who is with us, a God who provides hope even in the darkest of circumstances.  The Nativity story is a reminder of the hope of Emmanuel, or rather, the hope of God being with us. This God came to earth and became one of us; this God put others first and sought to be present with all people, regardless of their status or condition. This God was crucified by God’s own creation and resurrected back to life despite being put to death.  This God is the same God who was present with the teachers, administrators and first responders who worked desperately hard to save as many as possible, risking their own lives in the process. This God is the same God who is turning the media’s attention from labeling Adam as “the face of evil”, to looking at how people like Adam haven’t received the care they need.

While we cannot definitively answer the question of why bad things like this happen, aside from the obvious answers, we certainly can still have the hope of Emmanuel. Let us not forget that God never leaves us, nor forsakes us.  We can know that God is with us, and we can let God guide us to be instrumental in sparking the changes that are needed in the communities around us, the very changes that could protect other children and people from such acts of evil. Let us welcome Emmanuel in this world, by seeing God’s revelation in us.  We have been equipped to be the presence of God in the lives of those in need, whether they are children in distress or Adam Lanza’s slipping through the cracks. Let us be like the writer of Hebrews who with confidence proclaims, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid” (Hebrews 13:6).

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

We need not look any further than our own hearts, and the hearts of those around us, to find God.

PRAYER

Lord, I thank you for always being preset me, and thank you for revealing your presence in me. Let me witness to that Good News! Amen.

 

Living Like Joseph

Read Luke 2:1-5; Matthew 2:13-15

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk blamelessly, guarding the paths of justice and preserving the way of his faithful ones.” (Proverbs 2:6-8)

Living Like JosephA few years back a movie was released that got me thinking in a new direction regarding the birth of Jesus.  The movie is called “The Nativity Story” and it follows Mary from the point of accepting Gabriel’s message of divine conception to her giving birth to Jesus in Bethlehem. While this film certainly displays the faith of Mary, and shows just how brave she would have to have been in order to accept such a path as God had laid out for her; however, it did not only show the courage and faith of Mary. This story also showed the immense faith, and faithfulness, of her husband Joseph.

Of course, initially Joseph did not know what to make of Mary’s claim that God’s Holy Spirit had impregnated her.  Can you seriously imagine what such a claim would sound like if you were on the receiving end of it? Who can blame Joseph for having his doubts. Yet, following a dream Joseph wakes up and decides that he is going to believe Mary.  Now, he could have woken up and said, “Man if only that wasn’t a dream!” He could of woke up and carried on in his disbelief. But he believes the voice in his dream telling him to fear not.

Yet, the story does not end there. There is a census that the Romans have ordered and Joseph must travel with his pregnant wife to the city of Bethlehem. From Nazareth, that is 80 miles that he had to travel on foot.  Mary rode on a donkey while Joseph traversed on foot the dry, dangerous wilderness that lay between Nazareth and his final destination.

In the movie, there is a scene where Joseph and Mary are resting on the side of the road and Joseph is sound asleep. Mary begins to take off Joseph’s sandals, and upon seeing his broken, cracked and bloodied feet, she begins to wash them.  As she does she speaks softly to the child in her womb, “My Child, you will have a good and decent man to raise you, a man who gives of himself before anyone else.”

Those words have stuck with me ever since. It is true that Jesus is the Son of God; however, it was Mary and Joseph who had raised him.  It is true that God guided them, as God guides us all; however, it was through Mary and Joseph that Jesus learns who he is, whose he is, and what it means to be truly faithful.  What a blessing Mary and Joseph must have been to Jesus, a blessing that God knew would multiply ten-fold in the boy that they were raising.

The beauty of this revelation is that it doesn’t end with Jesus.  God has called each of us to the kind of faithfulness that Mary and Joseph were called to.  Each of us are called to be blessings in the lives of others, whether it be in the lives of our own children or in the lives of someone else’s child.  In fact, regardless of age, we are all God’s children. God is calling us to “be a good and decent people, people who give of themselves before anyone else.”

The Word did not become flesh so that we sit back and admire it. Rather Jesus came to show us the way, the truth and the life; Jesus came to show us that we can be faithful and positively impact the lives of those around us. We can be like Joseph: though he wasn’t perfect and though he made his mistakes, he never gave up on his faithfulness to God, to his family and to those around him. Let us not just remember Joseph, but let us live like him.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Success certainly isn’t achievement of popularity. Success in God’s kingdom is loving God, loving one another, and being faithful to what [God’s] called us to do.” – Gabriel Wilson

PRAYER

Lord, you are my guide.  Lead me down the path of faithfulness just as you did with Mary and Joseph. Amen.

Woken Up in a Dream

Read Matthew 1:18-25

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)

Woken Up in a DreamI would like to tell you as story of a teenage girl who lived in a very tight-knit community.  She was, like the rest of her peers, expected to attend to the daily chores that were given to her each day. She was expected to carry herself in a way that brought dignity and honor to her family.  Like all families, her family expected that she was always on her best behavior and that she didn’t do anything to hurt her family’s name or image.

Her father was blue-collar, working class man. The girl’s family was pretty impoverished and what little they had came at the cost of much blood, sweat and tears.  The family never knew what tomorrow might bring and they could not afford to take anything for granted.  In fact, an offer had come to the teenage girl’s parents, one that her family could not afford to pass up.  A man had asked the girl’s father for her hand in marriage and, with such an offer, a dowry was sure to follow.  The girl was expected to comply with her parents and to marry the man they had arranged for her to marry.

But then one day, in the midst of their engagement, the girl is seen to be with child.  The groom-to-be is astonished. He swears to the parents that he has never known her the way a husband knows his wife; he swears that the child growing in her belly cannot be his. The parents, horrified, could not believe what their daughter had done; the community she lived in shunned her as a sinner, everyone looked down at her with contempt.

This is the story of Mary, a young teenager from Nazareth, who was suddenly found to be with child even though she had not yet been married.  Can you imagine the panic and terror that must have filled her when she first realized she was pregnant. Though, the author of Matthew tells us that Mary was with child “by the Holy Spirit,” one has to wonder whether she knew it or not. The author of Matthew doesn’t exactly say.  What he does point out is Joseph’s initial reaction to the situation.  He could not believe she was pregnant and he knew the child was not his; one thing was for sure, he was not going to marry her.

When we read this story, we often pass Joseph’s reaction off because we know how the story ends. We know that Jesus is the Son of God and, therefore, Joseph just seems like a guy who has little faith, until God wakes him up in a dream.  Yet, in reality, we all need to be woken up in such a dream.  After all, how many times have we passed judgment on the actions of others without truly seeing what God has in store for them? How many times have we seen a pregnant teen, an unruly child, or some other person who doesn’t fit our understanding of pure and wholesome? How many times have we passed judgment on those people?

Often times, we are much more like Joseph, quick to let our thoughts and our judgments run wild before really pausing to listen to what God is saying to us.  We often need to be woken up in a dream that shows us that the very things we are laying judgment on are filled with God’s potential if we just show love, acceptance and support rather than scorn, contempt and judgment.

Thankfully, Joseph woke up from that dream with a changed heart and chose to embrace Mary and the Christ child she was bearing! Thankfully, Joseph laid his judgments down and, as a result, unto us a hope, healing and wholeness was born into the world. The question is, will we be woken up in a dream like Joseph? This Christmas, may the advent of that awakening be within you; indeed, may it be within us all!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” – Mother Teresa

PRAYER

Lord, help me to avoid falling into the trap of judgment. Instruct me in your ways of unconditional love, O Lord. Amen.

No Doze

Read Mark 13

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” (1 Timothy 6:12)

No DozeDo you remember the story of Rip Van Winkle? It’s the story of a man who is well loved by the people in his village.  He lived during the time prior to the Revolutionary War.  Van Winkle’s major character flaw was that he was lazy and that he loathed any kind of “profitable labor”.  His wife, Dame Van Winkle, is on his case about his laziness and he does anything to escape her nagging him.

One day, while escaping his exasperated wife, Rip goes hiking in the mountains.  While hiking he runs into a group of men who offer him some liquor to drink.  Taking the drink Rip gets very sleepy and falls asleep.  When he wakes up he notices that his gun is rotted and rusty, his beard is a foot long, and his dog is nowhere to be found.  Heading back to town Rip makes the mistake of saying that he is a loyal subject of King George III.  What Rip doesn’t realize is that he has been asleep for twenty year and that the American Revolution has taken place and the American colonies have won their independence from Great Britain.

In today’s reading, Jesus is talking about when he will return at the end times and he warns his disciples that they need to be ready and to be always watching. He uses the metaphor of a servant who is caught asleep on the job by the master of the house who has just returned home.  Not a good spot to be in if you are the servant.  Jesus is warning his disciples that there is much work to do and there isn’t any time to be wasting.

Many people spend their time, when reading verses like this, discussing and trying to predict the meaning in terms of Jesus’ second coming; however, I also see another profoundly powerful way of looking at what Jesus is teaching his disciples.  In every question Jesus is given regarding the end of the world, he always points his disciples back to his mission and the urgency to carry it out.

Another way to look at what Jesus was talking about is through the story of Mother Teresa.  There were many times she felt like giving up, many times when she was tired, worn out, doubtful and on the verge of giving up; however, she never ceased to serve the marginalized and outcast people of Calcutta, India.  She said that every time she looked into the eyes of the people she was serving, she saw Jesus.  It is this persistent vision of Jesus in the faces of those she served that helped her to endure in the mission of Christ.

This is what Jesus called his disciples toward.  Rather, than sitting around and waiting for the master to return, rather than sitting around and waiting for the advent of the messiah, Jesus wants his disciples to live as if he has already arrived.  Christ’s disciples are to see Jesus in everything they do, in everyone they meet and in every place they travel to.  Christ is to consume us at every moment and, when that happens, we can be assured that we will not be caught unaware at the presence of Christ.

Jesus doesn’t want a bunch of disciples falling asleep, like Rip Van Winkle, only to wake up and realize that Christ has come and gone.  He doesn’t want his disciples to sit idly by while the marginalized and the needy continue to linger on without hope, healing, and wholeness. Disciples of Christ need to be alert to the presence of Christ in the world, and they need to never quit doing the work of Christ in the world. In fact, it is by doing the work of Christ in the world that we, as disciples, will truly see the presence of Christ! Let us be like Mother Teresa who, no matter the circumstances, never fail to see Christ in the people all around us!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

When we put on this new mind, the mind of Jesus, then his kingdom is coming in our world. Then Jesus is King of our world. – Mother Teresa

PRAYER

Lord Jesus, help me to see you in everything I see. Help me to be your hands and feet for everyone I see. Amen.

 

Washed by the Water

Read Mark 1:1-12; Mark 3

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” (Romans 8:14)

Washed by the WaterWhat I love about the Gospels is that each one of them has a unique understanding of who Jesus is.  Each Gospel uses the same key phrases to identify Jesus; however, each Gospel author has a subtly different understanding of what those key phrases mean. What is awesome about this is that by the time we are done reading the four Gospels we have a rich and diverse understanding of what it meant for Jesus to be the Christ, to be the Son of God, to be Son of Man and to be in the line of David.

For this devotional, let us look at the Gospel of Mark.  Jesus shows up at the Jordan river looking to be baptized. Mark doesn’t bother telling us a birth story or anything prior to Jesus’ baptism; rather, he points to Jesus’ baptism as being the ADVENT of the Christ.  Prior to that experience in the Jordan, Jesus was just a peasant Jew from Nazareth. He was the son of Joseph and Mary, he was a laborer by trade and he had certainly known what it meant to work with his hands.

But when Jesus comes out of the water, upon being baptized, he sees a vision of the sky opening up and light descending upon him like a dove.  If we read Mark carefully, we will notice that Jesus is the one seeing this.  In Matthew, everyone sees and witnesses this, but in Mark (if we are not reading anything in between the lines) it is only Jesus who sees this happen.  And then Jesus hear’s the voice of God telling him, “You are my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”  It is at that moment that Jesus’ former identity that he had been born and raised to believe about himself falls away. It is at that moment that Jesus understands his TRUE identity, and it is at that moment that the Holy Spirit drives him into the wilderness to be prepared for the work God is calling him to do.

For me, this is significant! We can relate with this Jesus because we too grow up not really knowing who we are. At first we identify ourselves by who are parents are. Then we grow up believing that we are what our society tells us we are.  But at some point, if we open our hearts and allow the Holy Spirit of God to speak to us, we begin to understand that our identity does not rest on what the world thinks we are and it does not rest on who our parents are; rather, our identity rests on who God says we are!

And when we find our identity in God, there is nothing that is going to stop the transformation that will occur.  Some will not like that change. Some will fear that we’ve lost our marbles. In Mark, Jesus’ own family (including Mary) think Jesus has gone completely insane and they try to take him back home.  They don’t like this NEW identity that Jesus has taken on! Yet Jesus persists in his ministry and in serving God and identifies those who do the same as being a part of his TRUE family.

What is encouraging about Mark’s take Jesus is that it mirrors our very own experience as human beings (after all Jesus was not only truly divine, but also truly human). We often find ourselves soul-searching; we often find ourselves seeking our identity and looking for a deeper meaning and purpose in our lives. If we would only wash our self-identification away and emerge from the waters with an open heart, we too would hear God calling out to us, “You are my child, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” This is the identity Jesus called people toward, this is the Good News that Jesus preached throughout Galilee and Jerusalem. This is the Good News that Jesus calls us to bring to those who need to hear it, not only in our words, but by our actions.  Let us bear that Good News in all that we do!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Who are we?  We are children of God. Our potential is unlimited.  Our inheritance is sacred.” – Russell M. Nelson

PRAYER

Lord, thank you for reminding me that I, too, am your child. Let me, in my actions, be a reminder to all with whom I cross paths. Amen.

It’s the End of the World As We Know It

Read Mark 13; Revelation 22

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ (Matthew 10:7, NRSV)

It's the End of the World As We Know ItHave you ever heard the song by R.E.M., “The End of the World As We Know It”? I was just listening to that song today and reflecting on the message of it. In the song, Michael Stipe goes through a complete list of cliché things that people say are going to happen when the world comes to an end. Intermingled with that list is also some social commentary of how the world, typically thinks of itself. Stipe sings, “Save yourself, serve yourself. World serves its own needs, listen to your heart bleed.”

Then when the list has been had, Stipe sings that “It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.” Come again? You feel fine that the world is coming to an end? Some Christians make it their living to “warn” people of the impending doom that will befall the earth in the last days. Many people spend their lives speculating what the end will be like, when it will happen and the devastation that will be wrought. And now that we are in the year 2012, many people are worried that the Mayans might well have predicted the end.

Yet, Michael Stipe is singing that he feels fine about this? Now, I am not going to put words into Michael’s mouth; however, I was reflecting on the lyrics of this song and what they mean to me. When we watch television, or read the news online, we often see apocalyptic images spreading around the world like wild fire. Tensions are high, people are afraid, and soothsayers are ever active in predicting the end. Yet, as Christians, we ought to know that God does not wish destruction upon the earth.

Yes, an entire book of the Bible is devoted to talking about the end times and yes, Jesus talked about such times too; however the point was not to scare people as much as it was to give people hope. While the language is that of GOd reigning justice down, Revelation and other texts like it are more pointing to the destruction the earth has wrought on itself and the consequences of such destruction. Just look at the war riddled world and you can easily see images of Revelation.

So what is hopeful about this? The hope is that redemption is not only on its way; however, it is here. As we approach Advent, we often reenact the “coming” of Jesus and, in Revelation, we look forward to the “second coming” of Jesus. But, what we fail to realize, is that Jesus has already come again…in us! All four Gospels tell of Jesus talking about the gift of the Holy Spirit, given to those who believe. The Holy Spirit that dwells in us is ever working in changing the world around us. But, in case you didn’t get the memo directly, we are to be ACTIVE players in that.

Rather than pretending to be awaiting for the first coming and rather than anxiously awaiting the second coming, perhaps we Christians should be actively living the coming of Christ in us! If more Christians lived out their Christianity in ways that made a difference to those around them, and less worried about event that are completely out of our control, then perhaps we would usher in the end of the world as we know it. Perhaps, instead of a world of suffering, pain and chaos, we could usher in a world of hope, healing and wholeness. Perhaps instead of a broken world, we could help usher in a world of togetherness, of community, and of LOVE. And if that is what it means to usher in the end, how can we not feel fine about it? This is what it means to be Christian: to usher in the end of the world as we know it. It’s time to get to it!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

To be made in the image of God means that we are made in the image of love.

PRAYER

Lord, I am your servant. Help me to usher in the end of the world as we know it through your love. Amen.

Power-Up With Love <3

Read 1 Corinthians 13

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” (Matthew 19:30, NRSV).

Power-Up With Love <3Have you ever played the game Super Mario Brothers, or any of the subsequent Super Mario Brothers games?  I sat down with my daughters tonight for a little R&R, along with some Super Mario gaming.  We were playing New Super Mario Brothers on the Wii, and as soon as the game started any chance of “R&R” when right out of  the window.

If you have never played the game, let me explain what it is like playing it with three people.  If you remember the original Super Mario Brothers on the NES system, you could only play that with two people and only one player could play at a time.  My brother-in-law aptly said that Super Mario Brothers came from a time when people were accustomed to “taking turns”.

In the New Super Mario Brothers game, taking turns no longer exists!  Three people all fighting for the same prizes, trying to jump at the same time, and warring with each other to get to be the first to reach the flag adds a new stress-inducing dynamic to the already stressful game. As, we went further and further…rather, as we repeated the same round over and over again, the more the laughs turned to frustration. The girls started yelling at each other, I could feel my heart rate rising and, before I knew it, I was calling it quits for their benefit and for my sanity.

As I let the blood pressure drop and the heart rate slowed down, I began to think about how much stress we put ourselves through by trying to be the first, the best, the one who has the most stuff, and other types of things.  In a society that promotes “healthy competition”, we find ourselves more and more succumbing to the hazards that come along with such competition.  People are stressed out, burned out and on the verge of snapping all because they are seeking to be the best.

In a world that urges its inhabitants to fight for their “right” to be number one, in a world that teaches us that only the strong survive, in a world that teaches us to accept the “dog-eat-dog” mentality, Jesus calls us to see things in a whole new light.  Rather than the first being the winner, Jesus insists that the last are the ones who are truly first. Instead of survival of the fittest, Jesus insists that the fittest are the ones who realize how unfit they are.

Keeping this in mind, Paul also addressed the people within the church of Corinth.  To paraphrase, Paul told them that its not about how much you have, or how loud you talk or any other sort of thing. It comes down to if you have LOVE or not.  Without love, and the ability to love (which comes to us from God), we are only shadows of what we were meant to be.  We are noisy gongs and clanging cymbals without love, nothing more.

Instead of competing with each other over who is the best, the quickest, the cutest, or whatever other things we compete over, Christ is calling us to LOVE.  Rather than filling the void in our lives with the stress that this world offers us, Christ is calling us to have peace through LOVE.  You may be thinking that this sounds nice, but what does that mean? That means that if you live as Christ lived, and love as Christ loved, you are bound to be filled with the love and peace of God…you are bound to be filled with, and to fill others with God’s hope, healing and wholeness.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

What’s love got to do with it? EVERYTHING.

PRAYER

Lord, teach me to lay down my desire to be first and to pick up the desire to be love in the lives of those who cross my path. Amen.

Black Friday

Read Luke 6

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow.” (Matthew 5:40-42)

Black FridayIt’s the day after Thanksgiving, and if you are reading this there are a few possibilities. 1) You are reading it in a long line waiting to check out at your local department store and have nothing better to do at the moment. 2) You just got home from an all-night shopping and were just checking your email before hitting the sack for an all day recovery nap. 3) You just woke up from a nice sleep after eating tons of Turkey and stuffing yesterday; you are not the type to rush to the store for anything and so you are reading this with fresh and rested eyes. 4) You are reading this from outside of the United States and, perhaps, none of the top 3 really applies.

Yes, today is the day Americans like to call “Black Friday,” meaning that it’s the days that sales go through the roof as people go shopping for Christmas toys and goodies for their families.  Traditionally, black Friday was the day that stores went from being “in the red” to being “in the black”, meaning that they were no longer negative in the bank account after “Black Friday,” hence its name.

Now, people head out on Black Friday with the best of intentions.  They want to buy as much for their kiddies and family members as possible, for the least amount of money.  After all, Christmas is about giving, isn’t it?  The problem is that, en masse, people tend to get out of control. What starts off as a nice idea to buy people things that we can give them, turns into a stampede as people literally push through and over people in order to be the first to get their pick!  People have literally died on “Black Friday” as a result of the herd, and I do mean herd, of people trampling over them.

On the flip side, there are billions of people around the world that are going without food, water, shelter, clothing, etc. There are community outreach organizations that will not be able to reach all of the people in need in their communities as a result of a lack of funding.  So many people in this world, and in our own communities, are deprived of the major necessities and yet where do we spend our money and resources?

In the end, we like to think that we are teaching our children and our families about giving; in reality, we are teaching our children and families about receiving.  Christmas is very much centered around our families and close friends, making sure that the wealth is shared our own.  Sure, we’ll drop a coin in a bucket on the way into Wal-mart, for good measure; however, what is important is that OUR kids get the presents they want, that OUR family gets the presents we feel they need or would like, and that OUR friends get gifts too.

Jesus had a much more radical view of what it meant to give. For Jesus giving was to be unconditional, which means that we shouldn’t give just based on relation or friendship or any other kind of condition. And, for Jesus, there was no limit as to how much one should give. Jesus gave his entire life, literally, so that others could have the life he gave up.  This devotional is written, not to discourage you from shopping for gifts for your little ones, family and friends but, rather, to encourage you to view the world as your children, family and friends. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful world indeed if the poor, the sick, the naked, the destitute, the blind, and all of those in need got to experience “Black Friday”? If you answered yes to that last question, the challenge for you is to do something about it. God bless you as you answer that challenge!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

It is true that to give is to truly receive; however,  you receive so that you may give even more.

PRAYER

Lord, let me be a blessing in the lives of those who need it. Thank you for those who have been a blessing in my life. Amen.

 

A Thanksgiving That Counts

Read Luke 12:1-48; James 2

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Those who bring thanksgiving as their sacrifice honor me; to those who go the right way I will show the salvation of God.”
(Psalms 50:23)

A Thanksgiving That CountsAs we approach Thanksgiving Day, it is easy for us to get warm and fuzzy about the festivities that are about to occur. The smell of turkey roasting in the oven, stuffed to its brim with stuffing. Mashed wax turnips, candied yams, and other sides being cooked on the stove.  All of these scents filling the air and blending with the wafting scent of warm apple and pumpkin pie sitting on the cooling racks.

Well, it is no secret to most people that I am vegan. This will be the first year I have not eaten turkey and stuffing and all of the stuff that I mentioned above; however, I am still getting excited about Thanksgiving as well. I just bought a vegan Thanksgiving feast that is complete with all sorts of goodies, plus I am getting excited to make Rosemary-Roasted Winter Vegetables as well.  While my diet has changed dramatically since last Thanksgiving, I am certainly still going to be having a feast to be reckoned with.

But as we sit down for dinner on Thanksgiving and prepare ourselves for the feast of all feasts, as we sit down and say our prayers of thanksgiving to God for the abundance we have, let us not forget that a good many people in this world do not have the abundance, or excess (depending on how you look at it), that we have.  A majority of people in the world are lacking the very necessities that they need to survive.

God gives each and every one of us what we need, but we often end up taking more than what we need in order to supply ourselves with what we want.  In the process, billions of other people are lacking what they need. Is this because God has failed to give them what they need? No. This is because what God has given to all people has been horded by some. The majority of the world suffers as a result of the excessive abundance of a minority.

This is not being brought up to guilt anyone over the disparities of others; rather, it is being brought up as a reminder that praying our prayers of thanksgiving is not enough. God is calling us to something more than empty prayers, God is calling us to act out of our thanksgiving for what God has given us.  Instead of praying and eating our fill, God wants us to take our fill and share it with those in need.

In James 2:16, the author is warning his readers of just that.  It is not enough to tell someone in need that you are “praying” for them without actively seeking to help fill their needs.  That is not to say that prayer is useless, but that empty prayer is no prayer at all…just like empty faith, without deeds, is dead.  We are not a people of a dead faith, nor should we be people who pray dead prayers.

So, with all of that said, enjoy your Thanksgiving festivities tomorrow!  Enjoy your time spent with family and all of the good food and fun that God has given you.  As you pray your prayers of thanksgiving, also pray for God to guide you to fill a need of someone who is in need, just as God has filled you.  If you do, God will surely not let you down!  Remember that to whom much as been given, much is required .  Go and bear the hope, healing and wholeness that God wants you to bring to those who need it! God bless and Happy Thanksgiving! May your Thanksgiving be a thanksgiving that counts!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

A truly thankful person gives out of what there is to be thankful for.

PRAYER

Lord, thank you for all you have given me. Guide me to fill the needs of those around me who are in need. Amen.

Every Step of the Way

Read Ecclesiastes 4:1-6; Mark 14:26-42

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1, NRSV)

Every Step of the WayHave you watched the news lately? It seems like every time I watch the news I see politicians metaphorically throwing each other the bus, buildings around the world that are burning, families that are destroyed due to horrifying violence and other such atrocities. These stories are bombarding us every day, often bombarding us multiple times a day.

It’s to the point where I often find myself questioning what the meaning of all of this really is. Does God really exist out there and, if so, what does that say about God that the world is the way it is? Is life meaningless? Is there any point to all the chaos that people suffer day in and day out? These and so many more questions run through my head and I am sure that I am not alone in that?

As a pastor and a spiritual leader, some people might find it shocking to hear me confess moments of confusion, deep questioning and doubt. Some would say that it must mean that my faith isn’t strong, or that my doubts put into question my calling as a pastor. Many have this notion that in faith there can be no doubt; however, the Bible clearly shows that to be false.

For instance, have you read Ecclesiastes lately? If not, I must suggest that you do read it and that you read all of the twelve chapters that make up the book. It is a fascinating read. The author seriously questions the meaning of life, the point of existing in a world that is so needlessly cruel. What is the point in living out our seemingly trivial lives just to die in the end? To the author of Ecclesiastes, life seems utterly meaningless.

We can also turn to Jesus to find moments of doubt and intense spiritual questioning. The obvious place to look is in the garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus questions God’s will. He asks for God to remove his cup of suffering. While the Gospels make this account short and sweet, they do say he was in the garden for hours, praying to God…and the specific prayer that they point out is the one where he asks God to not have him go through with dying.

The fact of the matter is that it is perfectly human to have doubts, because as human beings we do not, in fact we cannot know everything. What is unknown to us gives us reason to doubt, but doubt is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it is false to assume that “in faith there can be no doubt.” Rather, it is quite the opposite. It is from the depths of doubt that arises faith. Faith is, in fact, made stronger as a result of, and certainly in spite of, our doubts.

The next time you have doubts, do not chase them away or harbor any kind of unnecessary guilt. Instead, embrace them and wrestle through them like the author of Ecclesiastes did and like Jesus in the garden did. Know that having doubts necessary to building faith and that many saints have had their share of doubts. From Paul to Thomas, from Joan of Arc to Mother Theresa, from Martin Luther to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., many Christians have faced their doubts only to find themselves riding the waves of faith that were produced by the surge of the storm of doubt. You are not alone in your doubts, and your faith will show you that you are not alone in surmounting them. God is with you every step of the way!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds.” – Alfred Lord Tennyson

PRAYER

Lord, I believe! Help me with my unbelief. Out of my doubt, build up a foundation of faith. Amen.