Seeing Beyond the Big Wig

Read John 13:34-35; Colossians 3:12-15; 1 John 4:7-12

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” (Colossians 3:14)

The Big WigAh, it is a Presidential election year and all one has to do is to turn on the TV to see both sides of the aisle jabbing at each other in hopes to secure the White House for their candidate. Often politicians (regardless of their political persuasion), will maneuver themselves in a way that appeals to Christians who are like-minded with them. This has been effective in past elections (for Republicans and Democrats alike) because Christians often define themselves, and their faith, by the very hot topic “moral” issues of their day.

While this is certainly not a new thing in America, as it has gone on since the very outset of our country, it seems that we Christians, regardless of our political bent, miss the boat when it comes to really understanding what our identity as Christians is, and how that identity plays out in our lives. The following is a parable by Søren Kierkegaard who was a Danish philosopher and theologian:

“It is said to have chanced in England that a man was attacked on the highway by a robber who had made himself unrecognizable by wearing a big wig.  He falls upon the traveler, seizes him by the throat and shouts, ‘Your purse!’  He gets the purse and keeps it, but the wig he throws away. A poor man comes along the same road, puts it on and arrives at the next town where the traveler had already denounced the crime, he is arrested, is recognized by the traveler, who takes his oath that he is the man. By chance, the robber is present in the court-room, sees the misunderstanding, turns to the judge and says, “It seems to me that the traveler has regard rather to the wig than to the man,’ and he asks permission to make a trial. He puts on the wig, seizes the traveler by the throat, crying, ‘Your purse!’—and the traveler recognizes the robber and offers to swear it—the only trouble is that already he has taken an oath. So it is, in one way or another, with every man who has a ‘what’ and is not attentive to the ‘how’: he swears, he takes his oath, he runs errands, he ventures life and blood, he is executed—all on account of the wig” (Kierkegaard, Søren. A Kierkegaard Anthology. Edited by Robert Bretall. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1946.).

Just as the victim of the robbery mistakenly swore that the poor person was the one who robbed him because he saw the wig, it is true that we mistakenly believe that we are Christian because of where we find ourselves in sociopolitical, “moral”, and other issues. If we are truly Christian, our identity does not rest on what side of the divide we find ourselves on; rather, our identity is found in Christ our Savior.

Rather than judging other Christians who disagree with us, rather than judging others as “unsaved” for not sharing our opinion, let us love one another as Christ first loved us (John 13:34). We need not ignore our differences to be united in our true identity: CHRIST.  We just need to be humble enough to see Christ in others, even when they disagree with us. Let us not be like the foolish victim in the parable above by mistaking the wig as the man. Let us not mistake Christ for sociopolitical and economic issues. Let us not mistake Christ for modern-day Christianity or for any other institution.

Also, let us not get stuck on the “what” without ever evaluating the “how”. If we are to truly bear witness to Christ in us, then we will judge not and reflect the love, compassion and understanding that Christ had for all of his disciples, from Matthew the tax collector to Simon the zealot who hated tax collectors.  Even though not one of the disciples was fully in line with Jesus’ mission and message, Jesus still took the time to include them in what he was doing. He still took the time to love them unconditionally. Let us hear each other out; let us love each other even when we don’t see eye to eye. Christ demanded no less of us!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

We do not belong to Christianity, we belong to Christ.

PRAYER

Lord, help us to see others through your eyes. Though we will not always agree, help us to stand up for what we believe in without compromising the love we are called to reflect. Amen.

Where’s God?

 

Read Exodus 3:1-16; Esther 4:1-17

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (Matthew 18:20, NRSV)

Where's God?Let’s start with a story. There once was a man, let’s call him Joe, who seemed to have an unwavering faith in God and the power of miracles.  One day, a major storm hit that dumped a ton of rain onto the region that Joe lived in.  The rain just kept pouring down and pouring down, but Joe knew he would be alright. “God will deliver me from this storm,” he thought to himself.

Across the TV splashed all sorts of warnings about the severity of the storm and that the residents should evacuate and get to higher ground.  Joe wasn’t going anywhere because he knew, “God will deliver me from this storm.”  The power went out, the rain kept pouring and the water levels kept rising. Joe walked out on his porch and saw an emergency truck heading his way. It was large enough to make it through the rapidly rising water.  They stopped and told Joe, “Get in, your life is in danger!” Joe refused and said, “God will deliver me from this storm.”

The water kept rising and then Joe ended up having to get up to the upper level of his house.  He opened his bedroom window and he saw a boat coming his way. The people in the boat said, “Give us a second and we’ll row over there and rescue you.” But Joe refused, saying, “God will deliver me from this storm.”  The rain kept pouring and Joe ended up out on his roof.  A helicopter was hovering above and one of the people in the chopper was going to lower a ladder down to Joe; however, Joe refused the ladder saying, “God will deliver me from this storm.”

To make a long story short, Joe drowned and went to heaven. Upon seeing God, Joe asked, “Lord, why did you allow me to drown. I had such an unwaivering faith that you would deliver me; yet, you failed to come and deliver me from the storm.” God looked at Joe and said to him, “Son, I sent you TV warnings, an emergency truck, a boat and a helicopter! What more did you want me to do?”

This is not a new story and it is quite possible you have heard it before.  What is awesome about it is that it points us to really question what we consider to be miracles, and what we consider to be the presence of God. We are often too busy looking for people walking on water, changing the water into wine, and raising the dead to notice the truly miraculous things in our lives. Using the story above, which would be the greater miracle: God snapping his fingers and Joe teleporting to dry land, or the fact that 3 different people saw his need and attempted to help him?

And that brings up another point: what are we looking for when we ask to be in God’s presence? What are we expecting? When we look in the Bible, when we look past the grandiose stories of burning bushes, and earthquakes and water walking, we will actually see God’s presence in other people. In the story of Exodus, God did not rescue the Israelites by showing up as a fierce warrior floating in the sky with fiery eyes and a bolt of lightning in his hands.  Rather, God showed up in a stuttering shepherd named Moses who, after much reluctance, found the courage enough to demand of Pharoah that he let God’s people go. God did not rescue his people from the Persians by hurling fire and brimstone down, but through an insecure harem slave-girl named Esther who dared to enter the court of the Persian King, uninvited, and demand that justice be done.

The presence of God is in each of us and it is up to us to be the presence of God in the lives of others.  And no doubt, God has been present in our lives through others as well.  Rather than looking for grandiose “miracles” that may or may not come, let us recognize the miracles that have come, especially the miracle of presence. God was present to his people through other people. In fact, isn’t that what we celebrate in the birth of Christ: God’s presence among us…in another human being? And if the risen Christ lives in us, through us and in spite of us, then truly we are called to be the presence of God, through Jesus Christ, in the lives of others.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

Praise God for those who have been present in your life. Be present in the lives of others.

PRAYER

Lord, what is it you would like me to do today? Who is it that you would like me to be present with? Be present through me in the lives of others. Amen.

Nothing is Impossible

Read John 4:1-30; Acts 11:1-18

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:28-29).

Jarena LeeThere once was an African-American woman, named Jarena Lee (b. 1783), who felt the call by God to preach the Gospel. The only problem with that was the fact that women were not permitted to preach anything during that time period; only men were permitted to preach. What’s more, she was not just a woman, but an African-American woman.

“Go and preach the Gospel,” she heard God tell her. “But no one will believe me,” she replied. And one can understand why she was afraid to approach anyone about her call to preach. But God persisted in calling her through her dreams until she finally decided to approach the Rev. Richard Allen about it. Initially he put her off, telling her that there was no room in the Discipline for a woman preacher. At first, she was thankful, as she thought Allen’s answer would put the calling to rest. But it did not.

Eight years later, during a sermon in which a minister lost the spirit to preach in a sermon on Jonah, Jarena jumped up and began to preach in his place. She proclaimed that she was like Jonah, running away from the call that God placed on her, and preached on the importance of answering the call of God.

Following her exhortation, Rev. Richard Allen, who as the Bishop of the African Episcopal Church at this time, confirmed that she indeed did come to him eight years earlier and that he had put her off. He confessed that he was mistaken and that she was as called to preach as anyone he had ever ordained as a minister. Later writing of this event, Jarena Lee wrote: “For as unseemly as it may appear nowadays for a woman to preach, it should be remembered that nothing is impossible with God.” Indeed, God had done the impossible in the life of Jarena Lee!

Often times, we stand in the way of God with our rules and regulations and man-made doctrines and traditions. We determine who is worthy of being called by God, who is worthy of God’s presence, and who is worthy of God’s grace. On top of judging others, we often deem ourselves as unworthy too. Yet, who are we to decide such things? Jesus broke the man-made barriers and engaged in religious dialogue with a Samaritan woman at a well in Samaria in a day and age where women were property and Samaritans were considered less than worthy of God. And Peter saw the Holy Spirit filling Gentiles, breaking his prejudice against their worthiness.

Time and time again, Scripture shows us that nothing is impossible with God, and no one is unworthy enough to be called by God. Abraham was a polytheist and a fraud, Joseph was a prisoner and slave, Moses was a murderer and stutterer, Rahab was a prostitute, and David was an adulterer and a murderer. All of these people and many more were called to serve God in vital and important ways. Which one of us can be the judge against God working in another’s life? Which one of us can be the judge against God working in our own lives? Which one of us can be a judge against God?

Remember, God loves us all and calls us all to serve him. Each calling is unique; however, each calling is equally important and special. No rules or regulations can stop God from calling you or others. No rules or regulations should stop you or others from answering that call. Do not judge yourself or others; just answer God’s call and let God do the rest!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Oh how careful ought we to be, lest through our bylaws of church government and discipline, we bring into disrepute even the world of life.” — Jarena Lee

PRAYER

Lord God, help me discern your call and refrain from judging, whether I be judging myself or others. We are all worthy. Amen.

Filled for Eternity

Read Matthew 25:31-46; Mark 8:34

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).

BlueberriesViolet Beauregarde was the third out of five children to win a fabulous tour of a world-famous chocolate and candy factory and, just like the other children, she was there to get her fill. During the tour, the owner of the factory brought her and the other children into the invention wing of the factory, where all the new ideas for candy were being put to the test.

There, in that very room, was a chewing gum that would blow little Violet’s mind.  Not only was this a type of gum, but it also doubled as a filling three-course meal.  Wow, Violet was going to get her fill! After all, that is exactly what she had come there for! Of course, the gum was still in the testing phase of its development; yet, despite much protest from the owner, Violet stuffed her mouth with the gum and began to chew! She was going to have her fill and no one was going to stop her.

The gum started off tasting like a creamy tomato soup and then changed to the flavor of roast beef and a baked potato! Mmmm! That is so tasty! Finally, the gum changes flavor again. This time it’s dessert, and what’s on the menu? Blueberry Pie! Mmmm Mmmm Mmmm…how delicious! Well, it was the most awesome gum she had ever had, that is, until she started to feel sick and bloated. In fact, she was not only ballooning out, she was also turning blue! When all was said and done, she was a giant blueberry…just like the last flavor of the gum in her mouth. She had certainly had her fill.

Many will recognize the story above to be from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. While Violet may be an extreme case, her story is still a parallel for how many have come to view church, and Christianity, in today’s culture. Many people are looking for their fill. They want to show up on Sunday, “be filled”, and move on with the rest of their week.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with being filled. We all need to be filled to sustain ourselves for what lies ahead; however, when all we do is seek to be filled, we end up looking a lot like Violet Beauregarde.  We aren’t filled just so we can merely have our fill; rather, we are filled so that we may go and fill others.

Jesus addressed this in his teachings, never more clearly than in Matthew 25:31-46. The question is, are we the type of Christians to get our fill and keep it for ourselves? Are we the type of Christians who sit around comfortably, filled to the brim, while others are begging for hope, healing and wholeness? Or, are we the type of Christians who have been filled, and who seek to fill others by bringing hope, healing and wholeness into their lives?

There is plenty of work to be done for the Kingdom of God. We are called to be the presence of God in the world. We are called to be the hands and feet of Christ.  God doesn’t need us to be disciples, but God desires us to be a part of filling others with the same hope, healing and wholeness we’ve been filled with.  Once we answer that call, we will be filled in a way that will sustain us for eternity.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

To help is to be helped; to fill is to be filled; to love is to be loved. As you have received, so you should give.

PRAYER

Lord God, we thank you for being our bountiful provider. We accept our fill and we accept your call for us to be fillers in the lives of those who need hope, healing and wholeness. Use us as you will us to be used. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Truly Living

Read Matthew 16:24-27

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Therefore, brothers and sisters, be all the more eager to confirm your call and election, for if you do this, you will never stumble” (2 Peter 1:10).

A scene from the film, "Braveheart"One of my favorite films is the movie “Braveheart”, which tells the true story of the Scottish freedom fighter and revolutionary, William Wallace, who lived in the late 13th and early 14th centuries. Wallace was born and lived in a Scotland that was occupied and ruled by the English.  During this time, Wallace witnessed many oppressive things happen to his people.  The English were heavily taxing the Scots, banning them from observing their traditions, raping their women and killing people as they saw fit.

Wallace, who was a landowner and had much to lose, would have none of that. Instead, he rose up and rallied an army of Scots to fight for their freedom against the English. Though he had some decisive victories, including sacking and taking the city of York in Northern England, Wallace was eventually captured, hung, drawn and quartered as a traitor.

In the film, as he was awaiting his death, the princess comes to him and begs him to plead for mercy, to confess in order to be spared a painful death.  Wallace refused and the princess begged him again saying, “But they will kill you, it will be awful.”  It is here that William Wallace looks her in the eyes and says, “Every man dies, not every man truly lives.”

How true is that? Each and every one of us will die, yet many of us go through life without ever truly living. Jesus says similar words in the suggested reading above, but what does it mean to truly live, what does it mean to inherit true life? This is not a question that is easily answered and, for each person, the answer will most definitely be different.

For each of us, there is a divinely ordained purpose. God has a plan for each and every one of us and until we answer the call to pursue God’s will we will not be truly living. Just as both Jesus and William Wallace did, we too will have to make sacrifices to pursue the calling and/or purpose placed on our lives.  The question is, will you make the sacrifices to serve God’s purpose for your life, or will you try to hold on to the “life” you think you have already? What is God calling you to do? What is the purpose God has ordained for you?

I, the writer of this devotional, cannot answer these questions for you; however, God can and will. Remember what Jesus says in Matthew 7:7 “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you” (NRSV). Be present in the lives of others and seek God’s will in your life. In fact, seek God’s will for your life by being present in the lives of others. If you do so you will most definitely inherit true life.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

A life without purpose is as good as faith without action.

PRAYER

Gracious God, what is it that you would have me do today and beyond? What purpose are you calling me to? Guide me, O God, toward your will so that I may be a flavorful granule of salt and a light for the world to see.  Guide me toward the true life that you have in store for me. Amen.

Dare I Jump?

Read Matthew 6:25-34

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the LORD your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you” (Deuteronomy 31:6, NRSV).

“I can do all things through [Christ] who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13, NRSV).

I can remember back when I was a small boy and I was first learning to dive into water. The lifeguard would take us to the bridge at the small pond where I was learning how to swim and, one by one, we would each take a turn diving. There was just one problem…I was petrified. The water looked so far down that I could not fathom letting myself fall head first. It was a scary thought for me. What’s more, there was a roaring waterfall not even 10 feet beyond the bridge which we were diving off. The sound of the water crashing on the rocks below was a horrifying sound to an 8-year-old boy. What if water’s current sucked me toward and over the waterfall?

I remember standing at the edge, arms over my head and overlapping at the hands, my head tucked in and down. There I was staring down at the water, hearing the sound of what seemed like my demise gushing down and over the rocks below. I stood there paralyzed and could not move. And when the lifeguard finally convinced me to let go, to actually take the dive, I still wouldn’t let go, even as I was falling into the water. The result: SPLASH!!! I belly-flopped and then swam, in pain, for my life toward the beach! Reaching the shore, I realized that the current wasn’t as fearsome as it seemed on the bridge, and the only thing that hurt was the belly flop, which my fear was the cause of. Eventually, I learned to let go and found freedom in the free fall off of that bridge and, since then, I have never looked back!

While the story above describes my early fear of diving, it rings true for many of us in our lives. We let our fears get the better of us. Rather than taking the leap of faith off of the bridge we stand there paralyzed, staring down at the waters. Jesus taught that it was futile to live life in fear, even when it comes to worrying about essential things such as food or clothing. Rather, he called us to live a life of faith. If we seek out the Kingdom of God, which means that it can be found here and now, and if we seek God’s righteousness, then God will provide for us as we need. This does not mean God will provide us with everything we want, but we will never be found wanting of what we truly need!

Therefore, what do we have to fear? Let us seek out the Kingdom of God and God’s righteousness! Let us do what it is God has called each and every one of us to do and let us do it fearlessly!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” —Franklin Delano Roosevelt

PRAYER

Lord God, I open myself and hand my life over to you. Please liberate me from the oppressive force of fear and move me toward a life of faith. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.

Announcement

Hello all,

Thank you, once again, for signing up for this devotional.  I am excited to let you know that the first of many will be published and sent to your email on Wednesday!  God bless you and thanks again for signing up! Spread the word!

In Christ,

Pastor Todd

A biweekly devotional