Well, it’s summertime again and my family and I are on vacation. While we are away, I will not be writing any new devotionals; however, this is a great opportunity to look back at a couple of devotions that were written over the course of the past year. Today’s devotion was written on Friday, August 24, 2012. I hope that, though this was written last year, in it you may find a relevant message that God is speaking to you. So without further adieu, click below to read:
Well, it’s summertime again and my family and I are on vacation. While we are away, I will not be writing any new devotionals; however, this is a great opportunity to look back at a couple of devotions that were written over the course of the past year. Today’s devotion was written on Wednesday, August 15, 2012. I hope that though this was written last year, that in it you may find a relevant message that God is speaking to you. So without further adieu, click below to read:
Well, it’s summertime again and my family and I are on vacation. While we are away, I will not be writing any new devotionals; however, this is a great opportunity to look back at a couple of devotions that were written over the course of the past year. Today’s devotion was written on Wednesday, August 29, 2012. I hope that though this was written last year, that in it you may find a relevant message that God is speaking to you. So without further adieu, click below to read:
Read Matthew 6:7-13
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.” (Romans 8:26)
While I am not too much of a country music listener, I have always had a liking for Garth Brooks. His flashy, rock-like performances, his charismatic charm and his wild and crazy persona have always captivated me and millions of others. But beyond all of that, he also happens to be an incredible song writer and has, as a result, befriended and worked with many other worthy songwriters such as Billy Joel.
One of my favorite songs of Garth’s comes from his album, No Fences. On that album is a song called, “Unanswered Prayers.” The song tells the story of a man who goes to his old high school to watch a football game. While at the game he runs into a woman whom he had a fling with back when he was a teenager, which triggers a flood of emotions and memories. I am sure he remembered the good times he had with her, all of the things they used to do together, how she smelled after putting on her perfume, or how she looked on their first date. I am sure he was flooded those memories and more.
He also recollects how he used to pray to God, begging him to keep them together. Perhaps he prayed for the relationship to go further than it had. We can certainly use our imagination for the things he was praying for; yet, there he was, years later at a football game with a different woman…his wife. In looking at his old fling, and looking back at his wife, he realized that the woman he had prayed for all of those years ago, didn’t turn out to be who he had thought she was; whereas, his wife was everything he ever needed and/or wanted in a loving partner.
Brooks sings, “Sometimes I thank God, for unanswered prayers. Remember when your talking to the man upstairs, that just because he may not answer doesn’t mean he don’t care. Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.” I can relate with these words. There are many times I prayed for things to happen one way or the other; however, looking back on those things that I wanted, I am glad that they never happened. People pray to win the lottery, yet when they do their lives are often ruined by the sudden rush of wealth. People often pray to be come famous only to find themselves more empty than they were before the world knew them. We often strive and pray for what we want; yet, what we want is seldom what we truly need.
And there is one more point to make regarding “unanswered prayers.” God is not some magic genie in the sky that appears to bestow three wishes to us every time we rub the lamp. God is not some catchall spiritual inbox for every request YOU need to make. God is the source of all of our lives. God is the very breath we breath and the very life we feel coursing through our veins. God is both in us and transcends us and it is this God who calls us to live in LOVE…to live in the very essence of GOD. Thus, if our prayers are self-centered and all about US, then chances are those prayers will remain unanswered.
Rather than pretending that we know what we need and what is best for us, rather than seeking our way, our truth and our life, let us turn to our Creator, our Redeemer and our Sustainer and remember that God will provide exactly what we need. Knowing this we will not need to ramble on and on only to find our prayers go unanswered; rather, our prayer will simply be: “Lord, let your will be done in me and on earth as it is in heaven. Use me in the way that you will.” If that is your prayer, I guarantee you it will NOT go unanswered!
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays.” – Søren Kierkegaard
Lord, let your will be done in me and on earth as it is in heaven. Use me in the way that you will. Amen.
Read Genesis 3
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:13-14)
When I was around seventeen or eighteen years old, all I could think of was moving out of the house and living on my own. I wasn’t too naive, and I did realize that to do so I would need to work and have a job; however, I didn’t recognize the full measure of what such freedom would cost me. After all, who really does at that age? Yet, when I moved out of the house, I began to realize that the little bit of independence I gained from my parents took away much of the freedom, especially of personal time, that I previously enjoyed.
When one thinks about it, we often confuse the ideas of independence and freedom as if they are one and the same thing. But are they truly the same thing? Does in independence mean freedom? Does dependence automatically mean a lack thereof? It seems, at least from my experience, that one is not necessarily free just because she or he is independent.
Often times, just like when I was a teenager, we push ourselves from the ones who love and protect us in order to experience independence. During that push we also equally expect to gain more freedom, which we assume will make our lives better. Yet, the truth is that freedom never comes without a cost and independence is sometimes highly overrated.
The people in the Garden of Eden sought their independence from God. When the man and the woman heard that they could attain the knowledge of good and evil, when they learned that they could make decisions for themselves, when they learned that they could claim their own destiny and gain independence, they seized the fruit and the day. Perhaps such seizure can be considered the first sin, or perhaps it was the final, completing act of creation.
Either way one looks at it, people chose to be free to choose right from wrong, good from evil; people chose to be independent from their creator and took the step that each of us takes toward growing up and being responsible for ourselves. Of course, no human being, from the first people to us, seems to have fully mastered this free will; however, our desire to be independent still goes on.
Yet, I believe that the desire of independence can also lead us down a dark and dangerous road. Many people choose to resist being dependent on others (including God) for help and, as a result, find themselves dependent in otherways to compensate for their pride. Many addictions, drug and otherwise, are rooted in the desire to be independent; yet, how independent is an addict, how independent is a person who strokes out because they refused to call 911? No matter how hard we try, we cannot avoid the fact that we are quite dependent.
God wants us to come to the realization that we are still dependent. God wants us to return to a right relationship with each other…one that recognizes our interdependence on those who are our neighbors. God wants us to love and care for our neighbor, just as much as God wants us to recognize our need to be cared for as well. And it is such a recognition, such a right relationship with God’s creation, that causes us to be in right relationship with God. Rather than fighting for complete and utter independence, let us utilize the freedom that God has given each of us, by God’s grace, to find peace in our dependence of each other and of God. Be dependent in those God has placed in your life, be dependent in God’s grace, and be sustained by the freedom that such dependence brings!
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“From my own being, and from the dependency I find in myself and my ideas, I do, by an act of reason, necessarily infer the existence of a God, and of all created things in the mind of God.” – George Berkeley
Lord, while I enjoy the amount of independence that is healthy for me, help me to also accept that I am very much dependent on you and on those whom you have placed around me. None of us are alone and, for that graceful gift, I thank you. Amen.
Read Mark 8:31-38
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple. But don’t begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it?” (Luke 14:27-28)
As a plant-strong person who has consciously made the choice to abstain from eating any and all animal-derived foods, I must say that my health has swung back in full force. My type-2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and depression have all gone away. With that said, there are a few consequences to being a vegan.
For one, the food I buy is more expensive, especially since I try to buy local and organic. But that doesn’t bother me too much because the cost is offset by my not buying expensive meats and not having to visit my doctor nearly as much as I used to. The truth be told, most of the “consequences” aren’t really consequences in the end because who can put a “price” on our health? But one issue that has certainly been the most challenging has been the issue of eating out.
My family and I have always enjoyed going out as a family and eating; however, as a vegan in NJ, there are very few places that I can go to eat and have options to choose from. Sure, almost everywhere has a salad that I can have tweaked into a vegan salad (most salads around here seem to have meat, dairy and egg thrown on it); yet, to find a place that has an actual menu with vegan options on it near impossible.
While I have learned to accept that and have adjusted to eating out less and/or being okay with having the same basic garden salad everywhere I go, many people would see this hurdle as being to large to surmount. Add that on top of the fact that every meal I eat requires me to cook things from scratch to make sure I know what is going in my food and you have a real stumbling block to selling the vegan lifestyle to most people.
This is, in part, because most people (and I certainly am one of them) are seeking convenience. We want to lose weight, look great and feel healthy so long as it doesn’t inconvenience us or come a too high a cost. This culture is not just bred in the world of dining; rather, the culture of convenience has crept into every aspect of our lives, especially in our spirituality. We want God to love us, forgive us, and bless us so long as it doesn’t cost us too much and so long as our lives and lifestyles aren’t inconvenienced and/or changed.
Therein lies the problem. Jesus did not come to nurture a culture of convenience. Every ounce of his message was one that people would find terribly inconvenient. It is not convenient for us to devote ourselves to God. It is not convenient to love unconditionally, forgive incessantly, and serve others limitlessly. It is not convenient for us to love our enemies and to honor those who disagree with us.
But Christ never promised us convenience. In reality, the things that are convenient for us are often not healthy. Rather than convenience, we should be seeking out what is right. If we are to follow Christ, if we are to live into the image of God, the very image we were all created in, then we are to forsake the culture of convenience do what we know we ought to do, regardless of the cost. Let us drop convenience and pick up the spirit of Christ…the spirit of God’s hope, healing and wholeness. Then we will not only be blessed, but we will also be a blessing.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
There is no profit in selling out to convenience.
Lord, teach me to value the narrow path over the wide and easy one, for it is on the narrow path that I come face to face with you. Amen.
Read Matthew 7:13-14
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)
“That was easy!” I cringe every time I hear those words coming through the television set. At first the advertisements were somewhat amusing. Someone presses a big red button, some task gets miraculously done and out come the words, “That was easy!” Of course, the advertisements were for Staples who were claiming how their services make one’s life so much easier.
Then, following the advertisements came the actual buttons that came out in the store. The second my children saw the buttons displayed with the words ” TRY ME!!!” splashed across the box, my hope for a nice, peaceful home were ruined. Before I knew it, the easy button had complicated my world with the incessant noise pollution being emitted from it. “That was easy! That was easy! That was easy! That was easy! Hahaha daddy, this is funny…That was easy!”
It’s rather ironic, as I sit and think about it, how difficult that blasted “easy button” made my life, especially as a full time seminary student trying to study. It is also ironic that through the difficulty of studying produced by the “Easy Button” I grew into a student who could study despite distractions. As a result of the “easy button”, and other noise makers, I learned to tune out noise and get my work done. Regardless, suffice it to say that the “easy button” did not make my life easy as it had been advertised.
Often times we, as human beings, look for the miraculous, red, and shiny easy button to solve our problems. If only life were easy, if only there weren’t challenges, if only we didn’t have to work so darn hard for everything! We imagine a world in which there are no challenges, no sweat, no blood spilled, and no turmoil. We imagine a paradise without pain, without bumps in the road, without disagreements and without fighting. We imagine a world where everyone got along, a world in which everyone held hands and skipped merrily down the yellow brick road together.
Yet, would that kind of reality really make life easy? Would a world without challenges, would a world without trials and tribulations, would a world without setbacks and pitfalls really be an “easier” world? Would such a world lead us to be better human beings? Would such a world lead us to an appreciation for what it means to work hard for something? Would there be any kind of growth in a world where everything was easy? What reward would there be in such a world?
The fact of the matter is that without the difficulties and challenges, I would not be who I am today. I would not know what it means to lose a hundred pounds, to go through college while working and raising two children. I would not know what it means to have a meaningful relationship with my daughters, with my wife, with my friends, with my family, or with God. Rather than getting caught up in the flashy world of instant gratification, let us take the time to pause and thank God for the blessing our challenges have been to us. While God does not wish, nor cause, bad things to happen to us, God has certainly worked good in, through and in spite of those things in order to shape us into who we are today. Take a deep breath and thank God that it wasn’t THAT easy!
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Welcome to wherever you are, this is your life, you’ve made it this far!” – Bon Jovi
Lord, help me to see that all things are possible in you. Remind me that it only takes faith the size of a mustard seed to move mountains. Amen.
Read Matthew 7:1-6
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.” (Psalm 139:14).
Have you ever seen the show Extreme Makeover? It was a show on TV that centered around taking people who were considered to be in need of a “new look”, bringing them to Hollywood, and giving them a makeover. These makeovers weren’t just a day out to posh clothing stores and applying top of the line makeup; rather, these makeovers included plastic surgery such as face-lifts, breast augmentation, liposuction, and other appearance-altering surgeries.
In the American culture, more focus is given to how we look than to any other thing. Everywhere we go we are inundated with images that tell us we are not as perfect as someone else thinks we should be. I hear my own daughters saying, “I wish I looked like that,” every time they stare at these unrealistic images of women who, outside of Photoshop, don’t really exist.
We are all in a race to look the best that we possibly can so that people don’t judge us. God forbid if we look unkempt or frumpy when we go out to the supermarket. God forbid if someone sees us in our PJs or if we aren’t wearing enough make up to mask our “imperfections.” The fact is, many of us spend a great deal of time trying focusing on how we look and for good reason. We all have learned that we get judged by our appearance. I am sure that you are nodding your head in agreement as I write this. Our culture focuses too much on appearance.
What is sadder than what I have already written about above, is the fact that the church is no different than the rest of the world and, in some cases, it can be far worse in its judgment. If people don’t look the right way, if they don’t smell the right way, if they don’t say the right things, if they don’t believe things the way we do, and if they don’t fit in with our way of doing things then they are clearly NOT ONE OF US!
That is the mentality that fills the hearts and minds of many people in the church and it is a sad one considering that Jesus, himself, wouldn’t have fell in line with any of our categories. We are so busy judging others that we often forget the true reason we are the church to begin with: namely, that we were loved by God and given undeserved grace despite our not doing things the “right” way. Who has more of a right to build up walls of distinction more than God? Can anyone of us claim that right?
The question for us is this, if God chose not to judge us, what makes us think we have the right to judge others? If God chose to accept us how we are, what gives us the right to demand that others undergo an extreme makeover? If God is cool with difference and diversity, why are we so fearful of it? The challenge for us is to embrace the uniqueness of others and celebrate them for being who GOD MADE THEM TO BE. Remember that God made you who you are. Just the same, God made others who they are and we are called to celebrate in that fact. Let us makeover our hearts and warmly welcome people, as they are, in God’s love and God’s grace.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“When you judge another, you do not define them, you define yourself.” – Wayne Dyer
Lord, makeover my heart and help me to be an extension of your love and grace so that others may know, through me, that you love them. Amen!
Read Matthew 23
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” (Romans 3:22-23, NLT)
Anyone who knows me knows that my favorite rock band is Bon Jovi. From a young boy through the present day, I always found Bon Jovi’s music to be relatable. Their songs are often about life for the average person. If you’ve ever had to work hard and struggle to make end’s meat then you can certainly relate to Bon Jovi’s music. If you’ve ever been jaded in love, or fallen head over heels for someone, then you will certainly find a home in Bon Jovi’s lyrics. Over the course of nearly thirty years, Bon Jovi has written and recorded an extensive musical catalog that speaks to almost every aspect of life.
One of my favorite songs off of their album, New Jersey, is a song called “Living In Sin.” The song actually tells the story of two lovers who are wanting to be with each other and are meeting resistance by the girl’s parents. In the song Jon sings: Is it right for both our parents Who fight it out most nights, then pray for God’s forgiveness when they both turn out the lights. Or wear that ring of diamonds when your heart is made of stone. You can talk but still say nothing…stay together but alone.”
Here, Jon is questioning the “moral” restrictions that people put on being in love. If you cross the boundaries without being married, then you are living in sin; yet, in our culture, the same people upholding those restrictions are also failing in their relationships. Jon, in the character of this girl’s boyfriend, points out the hypocrisy that is often found among people who claim the moral high ground all the while failing to reach the moral high ground themselves.
This song, while it certainly does not excuse bad behavior and while it certainly does not eliminate the need to strive to live a moral life, causes the listener to ponder the nature of hypocrisy. How often have we, as an individual, failed to live up to the standards that we put forth for others to follow? How often have we preached one thing and failed to follow what we preach?
While the Bon Jovi song, “Living in Sin”, is about love and marriage, the song should cause us to reflect on the bigger picture. Are we so quick to judge another person’s behavior without carefully examining our own? Are we living examples of what it means to be holy or are we besmirching Christ with a holier-than-thou persona teeming with hypocrisy. Does our attitude represent Christ or repel people away from Christ?
When people see us preach one thing and do another, it causes them to look at the message itself as flawed, judgmental and hypocritical. Jesus warned against being the type of person that does not practice what he or she preaches. Jesus grew angry with people who taught one way and lived another. According to Jesus, if you are going to claim the moral high ground, you had better live up to that claim. The question is, which one of us can truly claim the moral high ground?
We are not called to be kings and queens of the moral mountain; rather, we are called to be ambassadors to the kingdom of compassionate mercy and unceasing grace. Rather than trying raise the bar up to a level we have yet to live up to, we should embrace humility and extend to others the grace and love that God has extended to us. Once we do that we will no longer be living in sin; rather, we will be living in the love that conquered all sin on the cross.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying, ‘Friend, let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.” – Jesus of Nazareth, Luke 6:41-42
Lord help me to live out your love so that I may adequately be a reflection of your hope, your healing and your wholeness. Amen.
Read Mark 3:20-35
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” (Matthew 6:24a).
On June 16, 1858, then Republican senatorial candidate Abraham Lincoln gave a speech that would shake the foundations of the Illinois statehouse and, eventually, would test the moral fiber and endurance of a nation. Lincoln was advised by his law partner, William H. Herndon, not to read it; however, Lincoln insisted on reading it stating that “the proposition is indisputably true … and I will deliver it as written. I want to use some universally known figure, expressed in simple language as universally known, that it may strike home to the minds of men in order to rouse them to the peril of the times.”
Following the speech, many people called it inappropriate. They felt that it was not politically correct and felt it to be too bold a speech for someone who’s looking to be elected. In the end, Lincoln ended up losing the election to his opponent, Democrat Stephen A. Douglas. Leonard Swett, another lawyer, believed that it was the speech that caused Lincoln to lose the race.
So, what did Lincoln say that was so controversial? He quoted Jesus’ words, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” While Jesus was responding to his opponents accusation that he was in league with Satan, Lincoln was referring to the damning effects of slavery. He was saying that this nation could not carry on being half-free and half-slave; it would either have to become all of one or all of the other. Lincoln knew which end he wanted to see…the end of slavery!
When we look at the modern church, we can see a slavery of a different kind. In the church we become a slave to our own ways of doing things. We see our own theology as being the right theology. We see our own ideas as being the right ideas. We see our own cliques as being the best people in the church. Often times we become slaves to our own egos, forgetting that it is God, not us, that we are called to be serving.
But, as Jesus proclaimed we cannot carry on serving God and serving ourselves. While Jesus was speaking of money, the truth carries over to anything we place before God. We cannot serve two gods, because one will always take precedence over the other. The church, the house and body of God, often stands divided against itself because of the lack of focus on Christ who is our center. And as Christ and Abraham Lincoln both said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
The truth of the matter is, we are either serving God or we are not serving God. There is no in-between when it comes to whom we serve. In order to serve God, we must be striving to live in the image of an imageless God. We must be living examples of God’s love and God’s light. We must be bearers of God’s grace and forgiveness. We must learn to love one another, for only then will we have any business loving the world. If we strive to live into the image of God, we will no longer be divided; rather, we will be united in the eternal love that saved us from ourselves.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Rather than standing divided amongst ourselves, let us stand united in Christ and his mission.
Lord, help me to see the bigger picture and to do my part in standing united in harmony with the rest of your body. Amen.