Episode 94 | Abundance, part 1: Take it to the Bank

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-ibjuu-c3be6a

In this episode, Rev. Todd begins a new three-part series entitled, Abundance. This message, specifically entitled, “Take it to the Bank”, discusses the need to shift from a perception of scarcity to the reality of God’s abundance. This message is based on Deuteronomy 28:1-14.

EPISODE NOTES:

God’s People, part 212: Eager Follower

Read Luke 9:57-58

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“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 14:28, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Creation_Candle_LightPart 212: Eager Follower. It is so easy to get enraptured by something, to get caught up in the moment, and to respond emotionally to the stimuli around us. I can remember going to Creation Festival Northeast in Pennsylvania years ago. For those of you who have never heard of that festival, it is like Woodstock for Christians. They have multiple stages, tons of bands, breakout sessions, etc., and the festival lasts a good four days. What that means is you have people camping out all over the place. It is huge. The average attendance is anywhere between 50,000 to 100,000 people annually if you can picture it.

At that festival, I remember on the closing night, they held a communion candlelight service. If you can picture 50,000 to 100,000 flames flickering in the darkness and the same number of people taking communion and singing hymns together, then you are probably getting goosebumps right now. It was breathtakingly powerful and, I left that service feeling high on the Holy Spirit. People had been invited to accept Jesus into their hearts, and now new and veteran Christians alike, we were sharing in the most sacred and mysterious meal of all-time. How could I not be enraptured.

But then reality hit. The festival ended, we all took the three or so hour trip home, and life continued to revolve. Eventually that spiritual high left, and the lows of life (stress, anxiety, fatigue, etc.) took over. I co-lead a spiritual retreat for youth and young adult every year and those kids get enraptured in a similar way. By the end of the retreat they have had a very personal encounter with Jesus and they leave with a spiritual high. However, after they return to their lives in the world, they soon find themselves with all of the same challenges that they had before coming on the retreat. Hopefully, they then lean on Christ as their Lord and Savior during their trials, but that does not keep the trials and struggles from happening.

In today’s Scripture, we see a man who is caught up in such an emotional moment. He’s someone who has had a personal encounter with Jesus and is on a spiritual high. In that moment, he is eager to become a follower of Jesus. “I will follow you wherever you go,” the man exclaims. What becomes puzzling is Jesus’ response to him. “Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head” (Luke 9:58, NLT). It’s not that Jesus said no to this man, but he didn’t exactly say yes to him either. What could he possibly have meant.

I think what Jesus was doing was letting this man know what following him wherever he goes actually meant. It meant a life of wandering around from place to place. It meant sacrificing time with family, time with friends, work time, and leisure time. It meant stepping out of one’s comfort zone and making oneself vulnerable in a cruel, hostile and evil world. It is one thing to say that you will follow Jesus wherever he goes, it is a completely different thing to ACTUALLY do that.

Friends, the grace of God in redemptive work of Jesus Christ is a free gift for all, but that does not mean it is without cost. In answering the call of Christ, I have endured insults, mean comments, loss of friendships, long hours of service, and many other things. Paul put the life of discipleship best when he wrote,

“I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm.”  (2 Corinthians 11:26-27, NLT)

The challenge for us is understanding that the Christian life is about accepting Christ’s reign over our lives and following him wherever he leads us. That means prioritizing Christ and his mission above everything else. This life is the true life because it is the way of Christ which leads to eternal life. It is an infectious life that spreads to and transforms others. It isn’t easy, but it is eternally rewarding. Are you ready for such a life? I certainly pray you are.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“You always have two choices: your commitment versus your fear.” – Sammy Davis, Jr.

PRAYER
Lord, I commit my life to you. Continue to strengthen me to grow in that commitment. Amen.

God’s People, part 211: Jerusalem

Read Matthew 23:37-39

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth, before Abraham was even born, I AM!’”  (John 8:58, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Jerusalem-2013-Aerial-Temple_Mount-(south_exposure)Part 211: Jerusalem. When I look at the United States of America, the country from which I am from, I find myself in lament nowadays. Don’t get me wrong, I take great pride in being an American and I love my country dearly. I really, really do. My father served this country in the Army over in Vietnam and is paying the price for his service. Yet, he would never take back his service. While, I did not serve in the military, I come from a family where mostly everyone did.

So, I come from a family that is deeply rooted in this country and I grew up being proud of it. I have a deep respect for America and for those who have sacrifice so much to serve it and to make it a place of freedom and opportunity. In fact, it is out of this love for my country that my lament comes. When I look around today and see the deep, ever intensifying division, my heart sinks. There is social discord on just about every level imaginable.

Looking at all of this, I have thought to myself that this is not the America I grew up in. Yet, the more I reflect on that statement, I am beginning to realize that it is untrue. This is the America I grew up in, we just did a better job at hiding it. These divisions we see now are not divisions that sprouted up over night; rather, they are divisions that have been brewing behind the scenes and now, following a few significant triggers, they are now exploding all over the place. So, I find myself in lament.

To lament is to passionately express grief or sorrow. In our Scripture reading for today, we see Jesus lamenting over Jerusalem. Like how I feel about my country, Jesus had a love for Jerusalem, like any good Jew would have. This was the city of his ancestor David and was the center of Jewish worship. This was a city with much history and glory, a city to which people from all around the world came to visit.

Yet, the leadership in Jerusalem were corrupt and their hearts were hardened. They didn’t care about those suffering underneath them. They didn’t care about those affected by their rigid laws and their calloused attitudes to those in a much weaker and vulnerable state than they were in. All that they really cared about was maintaining the status quo so that they could keep ahold of the power they had acquired.

Even if that mean consorting with the Romans, they were willing to do what it took to keep themselves at the top. Of course, they claimed that they were looking out for the safety of their people, and they no doubt fooled themselves into believing that; however, Jesus saw their hearts and the hearts of those who came before them. This was the same city that through Jeremiah into a cistern, the same city from with the wicked kings of Judah’s past had allowed idolatrous temples to be built for the worship of foreign gods, and the same city that had put countless prophets and people of God to death. What’s more, they were about to do it again in putting Jesus, the Son of God, to death.

Friends, it is out of a love of one’s country that one laments the evil found within it. We often think that patriotic loyalty means a blind acceptance of one’s nation without any questioning of the powers that be. This, however, is not patriotic loyalty, it is merely a toxic form of nationalism that put one’s nation over and above God and all that is good and right.

Let us be challenged by Jesus lament over Jerusalem and let us look with Christ’s eyes at our own countries. No matter where you are from, you live in a country that sometimes gets it right, and other times gets it wrong? In what ways, and over what things, should you be lamenting. More importantly, what are you willing to do about it? Jesus’ marched into Jerusalem and offered himself up as a sacrifice for the world’s sins. While we can never do what Christ did, we can offer ourselves up for Christ and for the Christian witness in our world. I pray we all have the strength and courage to do so.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not whether they be clergymen or laymen, they alone will shake the gates of Hell and set up the kingdom of Heaven upon Earth.” – John Wesley

PRAYER
Lord, help me to see things clear enough to lament the wrong I see, and give me the courage to stand against such things in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Episode 93 | JOYRide, part 5: Who Says You Can’t Go Home?

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-kveei-c2ea73

 

In this episode, Rev. Todd concludes the five-part series entitled, JOYride. This message, specifically entitled, “Who Says You Can’t Go Home?”, focuses on the prodigal son parable and the value in turning back toward home when we feel lost. This message is based on Luke 15:11-32.

EPISODE NOTES:

A LOOK BACK: Meet Antichrist

bflw-devotional-800x490Writing the Life-Giving Water devotionals is not only an important ministry, but is a deeply rewarding spiritual discipline for me as well. With that said, observing Sabbath (aka rest) is an important spiritual discipline as well. So here is a LOOK BACK to a devotion I wrote in the past. Read it, reflect on it, be challenged by it. Who knows how God will speak to you through it and how it will bear relevance in your life today? May the Holy Spirit guide you as you read the suggested Scripture and subsequent devotion.

Episode 92 | Road Less Traveled

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-m44uj-c20b84

In this episode, Rev. Todd continues the five-part series entitled, JOYride. This message, specifically entitled, “Road Less Traveled”, is about the need to the need to travel down the less traveled road of compassionate care for others. This message is based on Luke 10:25-37.

EPISODE NOTES:

God’s People, part 210: Unrepentant

Read Matthew 11:20-24

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
If any household or town refuses to welcome you or listen to your message, shake its dust from your feet as you leave. I tell you the truth, the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah will be better off than such a town on the judgment day.” (Matthew 10:14-15, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

hardened-heart2Part 210: Unrepentant. Today’s passage deals with people in the collective. In other words, we’re not dealing with individual people, but entire cities (more likely villages) of people. To be specific, Jesus is calling out the cities of Korazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. Before going further, let’s investigate those particular cities. Korazin was one the Eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee on the Plain of Korazin. According to the Babylonian Talmud it was known for its grain and may have been a region around Cana of Galilee and not just a single village.

Bethsaida was a city east of the Jordan River, where it emptied into the Sea of Galilee, located in an uncultivated area used for grazing. It believed that it might be the sight from which Jesus fed the 5,000 men (15,000 if you count the women and children present) with five loaves and two fish. Bethsaida was actually the hometown of Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John.

Capernaum was a fishing village on the Sea of Galilee and was the hometown of Matthew the Tax Collector. This was also the place from which Jesus operated his Galilean ministry out of. In fact, Mark 2:1 implies that Jesus called Capernaum his home during his active years in ministry. So, Jesus spent a lot of time in Capernaum and performed many miracles there, as he did in the previous two cities/villages mentioned.

Yet the villages themselves did not largely accept Jesus. In fact, he met quite a bit f of resistance from the religious leaders and from the people. That is not to say that everyone in those villages rejected Jesus. Clearly, there were people who supported him; however, most of the people were moved to repentance by Jesus, his ministry, and his miracles.

Thus, Jesus says that it will be better for Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom on the day of judgment than it will be for those villages. Harsh, right? Why would Jesus say that. Actually, Jesus answered that question for us: “For if the miracles I did in you had been done in wicked Tyre and Sidon, their people would have repented of their sins long ago, clothing themselves in burlap and throwing ashes on their heads to show their remorse…For if the miracles I did for you had been done in wicked Sodom, it would still be here today”  (Matthew 11:21, 23, NLT).

What Jesus was lamenting over was the fact that they were witnessing the very presence and power of God before them and still there hearts were hardened. Tyre, Sidon and Sodom were rough places with wicked people; however, they did not have the benefit of seeing God face-to-face. Had they, Jesus concluded, they would have gladly repented and turned back to God. The sin of Korazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum was their pride. They saw themselves as not needing a Savior, and they did not recognize God in Jesus because of their prideful, hardened hearts.

That should be a challenge to us. Where do we house the villages of Korazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum within us. What parts of us do we deem untouchable? What aspects of our lives are we NOT willing to repent and let go of? Do we bear a hardened heart toward God? Are we unrepentant? Let us be challenged to head toward the light so such parts of us might be exposed and eradicated for the Glory of God and the transformation of the world.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Sin leads to wickedness and to hearts that become hardened to things of the Spirit.” – Joseph B. Wirthlin

PRAYER
Lord, soften those parts of my heart that keep me from full repentance. Forgive me I pray. Amen.

God’s People, part 209: Messengers

Read Matthew 11:1-19

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’” (John 1:29, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Oberzell_Alte_Kirche_Decke_Johannes_im_KerkerPart 209: Messengers. Once again, we are talking about John the Baptists’ followers. While the Gospel of John has the Baptist completely recognizing who Jesus was, calling him the “Lamb of God” (John 1:26), and confessing that Christ “must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less” (John 3:30, NLT). While these words are poetic reflections of what did end up happening, it is not likely that John the Baptist necessarily understood that to be the truth.

The Synoptic Gospels indicate otherwise, actually. John must have held out hope that Jesus was the Messiah, there’s enough evidence for that; however, the passage in Matthew that you read for this devotion is evidence that John had doubts as to whether or not Jesus was the Messiah. Those doubts get clearly expressed through the Baptist’s messengers.

These messengers were disciples of John the Baptist and where caring for him while he was locked away in prison. They would bring messages to John and they would also deliver messages from him. In today’s passage, we see them doing just that; they’re delivering a message from their teacher to Jesus: “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?” (Matthew 11:3, NLT)

John the Baptist, the faithful prophet who preached the coming of the Messiah and repentance of sins in the Judaean wilderness, was doubting as to whether Jesus was the real deal. As a result, he sent messengers to carry those doubts to Jesus in order to see how he responded to them.

It is easy to read this negatively; however, I do not think that Matthew saw this as a negative thing. Doubt is a normal part of life and, if one considers John’s imprisonment, the Baptist was experiencing extreme persecution and hardship! He no doubt felt isolated, alone and confused. He sat in isolation in the depths of Herod’s dungeon, wondering if everything had been in vain.

So, how did Jesus respond? “Jesus told them, ‘Go back to John and tell him what you have heard and seen— the blind see, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor.’ And he added, ‘God blesses those who do not fall away because of me.’” (Matthew 11:4-6, NLT)

Jesus did not stop there, because his intent was not to scold John. Instead, he continued on by praising him. “I tell you the truth, of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John the Baptist. Yet even the least person in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he is” (Matthew 11:11, NLT)! The last sentence was not a slight toward John the Baptist, but a reminder of the economy of heaven. The least shall be greatest and the greatest shall be the least. In fact, in John’s current situation he was certainly the least of these and Jesus is reminding him and us that God prioritizes those who are “the least of these” and the distressed.

Friends, this is a message to us as well. It is easy for us to get caught up in our circumstances and to begin to question whether or not Jesus is who he says he is. It is natural, in such times, for us to begin to doubt God. The doubt, in and of itself, is not a bad thing, it’s how we respond to it that gives our doubt any value. The question for us is this, are we better off in our circumstances without Christ, or are we better in them with Christ.

Today, we are being challenged to place our faith back in Christ. There is no need to shame ourselves over our own doubt. If someone as strong in his faith as John the Baptist could find himself in doubt, then we will certainly have those moments too. The challenge is to recognize that and to remember that Jesus is who he says he is and he has the power to bring hope, healing and wholeness to us once more. In that hope, stand assured that you might grow in your faith and in your service of the One who has saved you!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“You know, my faith is one that admits some doubt.” – Barack Obama

PRAYER
Lord, I believe! Help me with my unbelief. Amen.

Episode 17 | Surprised By IT

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-y4bfv-c04c3f

In this episode, fellow POJCasters, Sal and Todd discuss their favorite music, very scary movies and horrifying theology.

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EPISODE NOTES:

He Brews Segment

Sal

Todd

Most Excellent Music Segment

Sal

Todd

Very Scary Movies

Sal

Todd

Surprised by IT

Episode 91 | U-Turn Revisited

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-wcdt9-c03444

In this episode, Rev. Todd took a pause in the JOYride series in order to revisit the U-Turn message from last week to add some extra insight into it. Next week, the 5 part series, JOYride will resume.

EPISODE NOTES:

A biweekly devotional