Episode 102 | Songs of the Season, part 4: Rejoice, Rejoice

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-ffe7m-cc33a8

In this episode, Rev. Todd continues on in the new Advent Series, Songs of the Season. In this episode, he discusses moving from lamenting to REJOICING in LOVE. This message is based on Isaiah 35.

EPISODE NOTES:

  • Note: Rev. Todd misstated that his next message would be released at 5 a.m. on Christmas Eve. It will actually be released at 8 p.m. on that same day. Stay tuned for that message.
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A LOOK BACK: 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 have 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.  Continue to lead me down the path of faithfulness just as you did with Mary and Joseph. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: 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 God. Amen.

Episode 101 | Songs of the Season, part 3: Lift Up Your Heads

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-kuhwn-cb5b9d

In this episode, Rev. Todd continues on in the new Advent Series, Songs of the Season. In this episode, he discusses the importance of living our Peace in a world of chaos. This message is based on Psalm 24.

EPISODE NOTES:

A LOOK BACK: A Carpenter’s Christmas

Read Romans 12:12-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us, even as we hope in you.” (Psalms 33:22)

Karen-Carpenter-Feet-830773One of my favorite bands to listen to during the Christmas season is The Carpenters. There is something to be said about Karen’s warm and inviting voice reminding us that “There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays” or her wishing everyone have themselves “a Merry Little Christmas”. To me, it just isn’t Christmas without the Carpenters Christmas collection.

Part of my love for the Carpenters comes from my mom, who was a huge fan. I can remember back when 8-tracks and records were still the major mediums for listening to music.  My mom had several Carpenter’s albums on both record and on 8-track cassette. I grew up listening to them all and, when it was Christmastime, out came The Carpenter’s Christmas Collection.

Of course, the Karen Carpenter story is not as warm and inviting as her voice. As many people know, Karen Carpenter suffered from a serious and devastating illness called Anorexia Nervosa. This illness is both a psychological and a physical illness in which the sufferer avoids eating and uses other means to lose weight. Though she was a thin person, Karen did not see herself that way and she starved herself with crash diets, and also took laxatives in order to keep her “weight” down.

Unfortunately, the anorexia took a devastatingly damaging toll on her body. The crash dieting had put a huge strain on her heart and, overtime, she started to suffer from irregular heartbeats. On February 4, 1983, only nine days before my 5th birthday (yes…I know I am “young” or “old” depending on who’s reading this), Karen Carpenter passed away from heart failure, which was the result of her years of struggling with anorexia.

Though nothing can ever take away from the tragedy of her untimely death, it was her death that sparked a nationwide movement to educate young people, women in particular, about anorexia. Karen, through her shocking death, inspired people to not only learn about anorexia, but to also work toward helping diagnose the disease in others as well as developing ways to help people overcome it.

The fact of the matter is that through Karen (despite her death), others found hope, healing and wholeness. It is sad that she died and did not find that for herself; however, her death was not in vain as it brought that terrible disease to light in a country that had otherwise paid it no mind. And in that, I see the hope of Christmas. It is Christmastime that reminds us that hope exists even in the worst of circumstances. It is Christmastime that reminds us that, even though our bodies die, HOPE never dies.

No matter who you are, no matter what you’ve been through, no matter what circumstances currently surround you, know that you always have HOPE. Our Hope is Emmanuel…Our Hope is “God with us” in our lives. Through thick and thin, through ups and downs, through the good times and the bad times, HOPE is with you because GOD is with you. Today’s challenge is to recognize the HOPE in your life and cling to it. If there is one thing the Karen Carpenter story teaches us, it is that HOPE never dies. Be a person of HOPE, a person who is hopeful, and a person who gives hope to others.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Everything that is done in the world is done by hope.” – Martin Luther

PRAYER
Lord, help me to see the hope in all things so that I may bear witness to the hope in all things. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: Keep Christ in Christmas

Read Matthew 10:37-40

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

Keep_Christ_in_ChristmasHere we are mid-Advent, fast approaching Christmas. Can you believe how quick Christmas has come this year? It feels like just yesterday I was sitting down at Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort enjoying a nice summer vacation (and what summer vacation beats a Disney Vacation?). Yet, here we are nearing mid-December with the countdown to Christmas fast underway.

Speaking of Christmas, have you ever seen the bumper sticker or the little magnet that reads, “Keep CHRIST in Christmas.” That is a phrase that gets passed around quite a bit during this season. But what does keeping CHRIST in Christmas mean? Does it mean keeping the not-so-Christian tradition of Christmas trees and yule logs? Does it mean keeping the tradition of Santa Claus, Elves and his nine (counting Rudolph) reindeer? Does it mean, racing out to the store to funnel our money into big business in order to acquire an excess amount of gifts and Christmas-time deals? Most Christians would probably say no to all of these things.

So let me narrow the question even more. Does keeping CHRIST in Christmas mean watching movies about the Nativity story? Does it mean going to church once out of the year on Christmas Eve? Does it mean singing carols about the Jesus’ birth? Does it mean Christmas pageants and concerts? Does keeping CHRIST in Christmas mean spending time with family and giving gifts to our already abundantly blessed children?

The truth is that I do AGREE that we should be keeping CHRIST in Christmas; however, to do that we have to be open to the change that God wants to spark in us. If we are to truly anticipate the coming of Christ, and if we are to truly welcome Christ into our lives, we must first realize that ADVENT and CHRISTMAS are not a once-a-year type event; rather, every day we live is an opportunity to experience ADVENT.

Christ would much rather us keep him in our lives than in a holiday set aside for observance once a year! But in order to do that we must live into the life that Christ led. We must be willing to give everything up, to pick up our crosses and follow Jesus (Matthew 16:24; Luke 14:27-35). We must be willing to serve the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, the disabled, the outcasts, the marginalized and all of those who our society looks down upon (Matthew 25:31-46). In fact, we are to become, according to Jesus, the SERVANTS of ALL (Mark 9:35)!

So, according to the standards set by Jesus himself, how do we keep CHRIST in Christmas? Clearly, buying presents, singing carols, drinking wassail, roasting chestnuts, buying presents and erecting Christmas trees is not what Jesus had in mind. While those things are nice, the reality is they are not at the heart of who CHRIST is or what CHRIST has called us toward. According to the standards set by Jesus, we keep CHRIST in CHRISTMAS by following in his footsteps…not once a year…but every day of our lives for the rest of our lives, until we go on to glory in Christ Jesus our Lord! Amen!

So, starting this Christmas season, and everyday from this point forward, begin to work toward keeping CHRIST in Christmas. Don’t just say the words, as if they are just another meaningless cliché; rather, live into those words by being all that GOD is calling you to be. Love God, by loving your neighbors. Invest yourself in the lives of others. Be present for those in need. Bring God’s gift of hope, healing and wholeness to this broken world and desperate world. Then, and only then, will you be truly keeping CHRIST in Christmas!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” – Charles Dickens

Lord, guide me toward keeping YOU, not only in Christmas, but in my heart. Transform me into your vessel of hope, healing and wholeness. Amen.

Episode 100 | Songs of the Season, part 2: The Path to Peace

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-c3j8v-ca7ba8

In this episode, Rev. Todd continues on in the new Advent Series, Songs of the Season. In this episode, he discusses the importance of living our Peace in a world of chaos. This message is based on Isaiah 2:2-5.

EPISODE NOTES:

A LOOK BACK: Name It, Claim It, Live It

Read Matthew 2; Luke 2

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon.” (John 10:22-23)

MenorahIt’s no big secret to most people that I am not a huge fan of winter. I mean sure, I get the necessity of having the different seasons and I can certainly appreciate the symbolism the cycle of life, but I am not a fan of the bitter cold, the snow, the ice, the howling winds and commuting in those elements. The shortened days and distant sun can be make one feel hollow and depressed.

But with that said one of my favorite times of year happens to lead up to and directly follow the Winter Solstice. Of course I am referring to the season Advent and Christmas. Ironically, though this season commemorates the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, it is almost universally accepted that Jesus was not born during the cold winter month of December but at some other time during the year where the weather would be more conducive to shepherds tending their flocks in the field.

Regardless, I believe this time of year is the perfect time to celebrate the coming of the Christ-child. Theologically speaking, the coming of Christ represents the coming of HOPE into the world. What better time for hope than when we are in the midst of the death. Winter has always represented death and dormancy, where the green of life gives way to the cold, hollow grip of death. Yet, it is in winter where we see the hope of Spring and the return, or resurrection, of life.

Aside from the symbolic nature of the Season itself, it is also around this time that those who are Jewish celebrate Hanukkah. That holiday commemorates the Jews being liberated from Greek-Syrian oppression and the rededication of the Jewish Temple to God. This was a festival that Jesus, who was himself Jewish, participated in (John 10:22-23). Following a bloody war against their oppressors, the Jews took back Jerusalem and rededicated the Temple to God. Even though there was only enough oil to keep the candles burning for one day, those candles kept burning bright for all eight days of the festival. Thus, Hanukkah (also known as the festival of lights) is forever a celebration of the arrival of HOPE and the reminder that God is always present with God’s people.

‘Tis the season for HOPE. Whether we look to the natural cycle of the season, or to the celebration of Hanukkah or to the humble birth of a small, vulnerable baby in a cruel and murderous world, this time of year will forever point people to the fact that HOPE never dies! Like the menorah burning on the last drops of oil, HOPE can never be extinguished. Like the birth of Jesus reminds us, no matter how small and insignificant it may seem, HOPE does conquer all HOPELESSNESS!

The challenge today is for you to be a person of HOPE! Instead of getting caught up in the fears and the cynicism that the world produces, never give up HOPE. God is challenging us to place our faith in God, and to be filled with the HOPE that such a faith provides. There is HOPE for a brighter tomorrow, but more importantly, there is HOPE for a brighter NOW! Name it, claim it, and live it! Have the HOPE and allow that HOPE to transform you into an agent who bears HOPE for others!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“I find hope in the darkest of days, and focus in the brightest. I do not judge the universe.” – Dalai Lama

PRAYER

Lord, fill me and transform me with your hope so that I may be a beacon of that hope for others. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: 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 present with me, and thank you for revealing your presence in me. Let me witness to that Good News! Amen.

Originally written on December 19, 2012

Episode 19 | Tales From the Darkside

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-fjfp3-c7ad16

In this episode, fellow POJCasters, Sal and Todd, along with special guest, Rev. Amanda Rohrs-Dodge, discuss their fave brew, fave music, the importance of knowing and understanding the darker side of the Advent/Christmas Season.

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EPISODE NOTES:

He Brews Segement:

Amanda:

Sal

Todd

Most Excellent Music Segment

Sal

Amanda

Todd

The Rhors-Dodge Connection

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