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 Psalm 119
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“The end of all things is near; therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers.” (1 Peter 4:7)
For anyone who doesn’t already know this, I am a huge movie fan. What’s more, I am an avid collector of Biblically inspired films. The most recent film added to my collection, The Bible miniseries, is perhaps the most epic Biblical film to-date. The series in its whole, runs ten hours long. Unfortunately, while ten hours seems like it would make a long film, it is not enough to accurately represent the entirety of the Holy Bible.
With that said, the series was a huge commercial success. In fact, it seems that anytime something related to the Bible is produced, people by the millions stop what they are doing to watch it. The first installment of the series drew in 13.1 million viewers, beating out American Idol and other shows. Those are ratings that nobody can scoff at. Yet, when looking at how many people read the Bible on a weekly basis, polls have shown that only about 37-40% of Americans read the Bible at least once a week (and I think that poll is probably more than generous). If we move beyond that to attending worship, or other spiritual disciplines, we will see even lower numbers.
John Wesley, in the third component of his General Rules, stated that it is vital for Christians to attend “upon all the ordinances of God.” An ordinance is a requirement set forth by an authority; therefore, an ordinance of God would be a requirement set forth by God. Wesley believed that regular prayer, regularly studying scripture, partaking in the Lord’s Supper, fasting, and being a part of a Christian community in fellowship with other Christians, all helped to not only bolster the Christian’s faith, but helped them to grow in it as well.
In fact, without those things, we often find ourselves dry, empty and lost. The fact is that, just like any other relationship we have, our relationship with God takes effort and discipline. We cannot grow in our relationships with people if we never see, spend time with, or talk with them. How can we, as Christians, expect to grow in our relationship with God if we don’t attend to all the ordinances of God.
Here is a challenge for us all: attend to all the ordinances of God. Search the scriptures regularly, pray regularly, partake in communion regularly, regularly fast (this doesn’t have to mean abstaining from food) and be a part of the Christian community…not for the sake of “going to church,” but for the sake of growing in your relationship with God. Find a community that is actively seeking to live its faith out in the community and join in the work of bringing hope, healing and wholeness to those around you. It may seem like work at first, as any discipline does (e.g., exercise, education, etc.), but I promise that through it your eyes will open wide to the grace of God that surrounds you.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
How can we expect to grow as Christians, how can we expect to grow closer to God, if we spend our days avoiding the spiritual discipline it takes to experience such growth?
Lord, give me the motivation to spiritually discipline myself to attend to your Holy Ordinances! Amen.
Read 1 Corinthians 9:22-27
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” (Proverbs 1:7, NLT)
One of the things that profoundly attracts me to Wesleyan Christian theology is the focus on spiritual discipline interwoven into it. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, strongly believed in the importance of maintaining a life of spiritual discipline. It was not just enough, for Wesley, to pray the “sinners prayer”, ask Jesus in your heart, and be done with it.
While Wesley did believe that we are saved by faith, and faith ALONE, he believed that such faith would manifest itself in good works. In other words, good works are the fruit that grow on the tree of faith. And the way to grow as a tree of faith is to practice spiritual disciplines such as observing a sacred time of rest (aka Sabbath), daily reading of the Scriptures, attending regular worship service and/or being active in the life of the Church, living out one’s faith through acts of compassion and mercy, studying, and other such things.
Today, in our fast paced world, it seems that we barely have time to brush our teeth and tie our shoes. Just this past week, I took my daughters to a couple softball games, softball practices, and a school Spring concert. And that stuff was just for my children. How can I or anyone find time to incorporate spiritual discipline? Yet, in reality, we do have time. We have all the time in the world for the things we prioritize.
The truth is that, if we are to be honest, most of us don’t prioritize practicing spiritual discipline in our lives. It’s not that we don’t have time to read the Bible, to pray, to observe a time of sacred rest, to be an active part of a community of worship, or to be a presence of love, mercy and compassion to those around us who need it; rather, it’s that we have not prioritized doing those things. Sure, we may do them here or there, but if the truth be told, we don’t find them to be THAT important in our lives.
Neglecting to nourish our soul, it’s no wonder many of us find ourselves so burned out and depressed. It’s not wonder some of us feel so overwhelmed by the challenges that seem to burden us day in and day out. If we are to maintain a healthy balance in our lives, if we are going to be whole and well beings, then we must maintain our spiritual health as much as we do our physical, emotional, and psychological health. Just like it does your body good to consume fresh vegetable and fruit produce and to feed your body whole and wholesome foods, it does your soul good for you to feed it the “food” it needs. Remember, you are not just a body or a mind, you are also a soul and if you are going to truly care for yourself—the way God wants you to—then you will make sure to prioritize spiritual discipline in your life.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Catch on fire with enthusiasm and people will come for miles to watch you burn.” – John Wesley
Lord, help me to prioritize spiritual discipline in my life, that I may draw ever closer in my relationship with you. Amen.
Read Psalm 22
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for You are close beside me. Your rod and Your staff protect and comfort me.” (Psalms 23:4, NLT)
While riding down to the Farm Market to get myself some fresh produce, I was listening to the album, “Fallen”, but Evanescence. For those who don’t know, Evanesence is a hard rock band that was formed in 1995 but had their big break in 2003, when “Fallen” was released. The band is headed up by the hauntingly beautiful and beautifully talented Amy Lee. She is not just beautiful in terms of her physical appearance, but her voice is amazing and there is a depth to it that allows one to peer into her soul.
One of my favorite songs on the album, which also happens to be a cover of song written by a Christian band, is the song Tourniquet. In it, Amy Lee agonizingly sings the following lyrics: “I tried to kill my pain but only brought more so much more. I lay dying and I’m pouring crimson regret and betrayal. I’m dying, praying, bleeding and screaming am I too lost to be saved? Am I too lost? My God my tourniquet return to me salvation! My God my tourniquet return to me salvation!”
The lyrics are dark and the music is haunting and driven with urgency. When one listens to this song, they cannot help but feel the despair of the person who wrote them. can you imagine what it must be like to be at the end of your rope, trying to hold on to life and yet feeling like your about to lose everything? Can you imagine the pain of lingering on depressed and desperate with nothing but the agonizing feeling of being all alone? Perhaps you can.
I have often said that the one fear that ties us altogether is the fear of being alone. Human beings are social creatures who are designed to be in relationship with other humans. We need relationships to survive and this is a need that we have from the moment we are born. A baby born into a world that fails to provide it with human interaction cannot survive. It will die. And so it makes sense, and the Bible certainly picks up on it, that we humans desire to be in the presence of others and will do anything to keep from being truly alone.
With all of that said, there is also profound hope in the song. “My God, my tourniquet, return to me salvation!” This simple and yet profoundly deep sentence almost sounds like it comes straight out of the Psalms. This sentence reminds us that, no matter how lost we feel, no how matter how dark it gets, no matter how desperate we become, we are NEVER ALONE. God is always with us and we are always in God’s presence. Just like the Psalmist who goes from “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me” (Psalm 22:1, NLT) to “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me” (Psalm 23:4, NLT), so to the writer of this song goes from the agonizing over being alone to crying out to a God who is very much with him/her.
And so it is true in our lives as well. When you think you are alone, when you think that God has abandoned you, when you think there is nowhere left for you to turn, when you think that life is not worth living, and/ or your think that there is no hope left for you, remember this song, remember the worlds, “My God, my tourniquet, return to me salvation.” Remember the God who is with you, who HAS saved you from trials and tribulations in the past, and WILL pull you out of the midst of your despair when ever you call out for help! YOU ARE NOT ALONE!
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Security is not the absence of danger, but the presence of God, no matter what the danger.” – Anonymous
Lord, I acknowledge your presence with me and hand all that is burdening me over to you. I trust that you will take care of me. Amen.
Read Psalm 23
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“David said further to his son Solomon, “Be strong and of good courage, and act. Do not be afraid or dismayed; for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you, until all the work for the service of the house of the Lord is finished.” (1 Chronicles 28:20)
When you stop and think about it, life can be an extremely crazy ride. Which one of us can look back on our lives and say that we lived everyday perfectly? Which one of us can claim to have nothing but mountaintop experiences all the way through life? My guess, is that there isn’t a single person alive who could claim such things.
Today I was reading the 23rd Psalm, which is traditionally held to be written by King David. Upon reading the Psalm, I began to reflect on the life story of David. He started off as a “ruddy-faced”, handsome shepherd boy (1 Samuel 17:42). Small and insignificant, his ruddiness was all he had going for him. But that ruddy-faced boy is the same boy that Samuel anointed to be King of Israel, the same boy who knew how to defend his sheep against wolves and bear, the same boy who slew the Philistine giant, Goliath with a single stone launched from his sling.
This ruddy-faced boy grew into a great warrior and, no matter which way you paint David’s story, that means he killed lots and lots of people. David did not live a perfect life. He was known for being ruthless and he sought battle against the Philistines in which he circumcised their dead corpses after the battle. He was known for being a politically savvy manipulator…one who would have no qualms about silencing his opponents. He was a womanizer and an adulterer, who scandalously had an affair with Bathsheba and made their love-child, Solomon, the heir of his throne. He even had her husband murdered in order to keep him from finding out about the affair.
In David, we see a person who lived life imperfectly. He had his good moments and his not-so-good moments; and that is what makes him such a powerful character for us when we read about him in the Bible. One gets the sense that David is for real…and we can relate to him on so many different levels. While many of us will never be a King, or have someone murdered, we can certainly relate to David’s propensity toward imperfection. Each of us, like David, have our good moments and our not-so-good moments. We have all shared in mountaintop experiences where nothing seems to be able to bring us down. But we have also shared in the long, lonely and desperate walk through the valley of the shadow of death, where the weight of the world seems to be crushing the very breath of life out of us.
While scholars may argue back and forth as to whether or not David actually wrote the 23rd Psalm, it certainly speaks to the kind of faith that he had in God. It speaks of a life that was not perfect, a life that was filled with twists and turns, pastures and barren wilderness, mountaintops and valleys. It speaks of the constant danger of enemies, and yet the eternal, calming, loving, reassuring presence of God. The 23rd Psalm was a poem, as song, from the depths of the soul of a person who knew that no matter what happened, no matter things were right or wrong, God was always there to be a guiding, loving, caring presence. Let the 23rd Psalm remind us of the the same thing: that God is with us always. God will never leave us nor forsake us nor fail us. God will be with us always, even to the very end of the age.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
It’s as if God is singing to us, “There ain’t no mountain high enough, ain’t no valley low enough, ain’t no river wide enough to keep me from getting to you.”
Lord, help me to recognize your presence no matter where I am. You are my shepherd, I shall not want. Amen.
Read John 20
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)
Over the course of the month of March, my family and I sat down to watch the Bible series, which aired for five consecutive Sundays on the History Channel. The last two and a half episodes were centered around the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. It is during those episodes that we become acquainted with Thomas, one of the twelve disciples.
In the series, the shaved headed Thomas always looks dour and disgruntled. He always seems to be warring with his being a disciple and the things Jesus is teaching. He is never fully convinced of who Jesus is, or so he appears, and the miracles just don’t seem to be convincing him.
Even when Jesus appears to him in the upper room, following the resurrection, Thomas still refuses to believe. “No, I can’t believe it,” Thomas exclaims, “It can’t be real.” Even as Jesus is standing right before Thomas, he is shown to be doubting the reality of what he is witnessing. In fact, in the TV series, it seems that Thomas isn’t doubting at all…he just simply doesn’t want to believe.
While the series wasn’t entirely true to the character of Thomas, as Thomas never refuses to believe the reality of the resurrection when Jesus is standing before him in the room, it is a fact that Thomas has become known to us as the doubter. And in his doubt, it seems that often times the Bible, and we people of “faith”, seem to look down upon him for having his doubts.
What’s more, often times we, as Christians, look down at people who struggle with doubt. We act as if we are so sure about everything. We say amongst ourselves, “Oh come on! How could you not believe?” Perhaps we feel good about ourselves in doing so. Perhaps it gives us a sense of comfort to know that we are standing on a faith of solid rock; yet, even if that is the case, we are only left with a false sense of security.
Even the most solid rock in the world can be utterly cracked and disheveled by a major earthquake. There is nothing on this earth that stands the test of time without experiencing uncertainty and doubt. I can be said that the life that denies the existence of doubt denies the very nature of what it means to be alive. After all, what do we know? Honestly, what are we so sure of that there is no room for doubt?
The truth of the matter is that there is no life lived that has not experienced doubt. Thomas is not the weakest link in Jesus chain of disciples, he is one of the strongest links. He refused to believe something just because someone else told him it was true. He had to experience it for himself; it had to become real for him in order for him to accept it.
When we stop to think about it, one would have to say that, in fact, one cannot truly believe something unless they have experienced the truth of it. Mary had the privilege of witnessing Jesus outside the tomb, why then would we deny Thomas the experience of witnessing Jesus? Why would we want to deny anyone, including ourselves, the opportunity to personally witnessing the presence of God in our lives?
The next time you have doubts, be honest with yourself. Embrace those doubts and ask the necessary questions you need to ask. Recognize that doubt is not your enemy, doubt is not the opposite of faith. Come to the understanding that doubt is the bedrock from which faith springs! Know that you are not alone in your doubts and that from your doubts your faith shall rise.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Doubt is the bedrock from which faith springs.
Lord, I believe. Help me with my unbelief. Amen.
Read Matthew 2:13-23; John 21:1-19
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)
A father, a mother and their young three-year old boy are making a long and dangerous trip home. They had spent the past few years in hiding and decided that it was finally safe to return home. There wasn’t much certainty of what would be awaiting them upon their return home; however, they knew that they could not stay away forever.
As they finally reach their homeland, they are entering a hell that they cannot even begin to anticipate. Their young son looks up, wide-eyed and frightened, left speechless by what his innocent eyes were witnessing. The mother looks up and gasps, calling her husband to look up. Above them is a forest of crosses, erect and grotesque. To each of the crosses are lifeless corpses, blackened with the decay of death. The bodies are rotting and are torn open from the pecking beaks of birds and the gnashing teeth of jackals and other scavengers that have made a feast of the flesh.
I am guessing that many of you are probably pretty disturbed by the image that has just been painted in two short paragraphs. If so, just imagine what the how scarred the little boy must’ve been to look up and see the sight of those bodies nailed to a forest of crosses. Hundreds of them set in their places to send a message of fear to anyone who dare resist the law of the land. This little boy, whose name is Yeshua in his native language of Aramaic and whose known by the Greek translation of that name (Jesus), would never forget the images of the crosses that foreshadow the way he is ultimately going to die.
This is the scene of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus returning home from Egypt in the History Channel miniseries, “The Bible.” And there can be no doubt that Jesus’ life in ancient, 1st Century, Palestine, would have been riddled with such horrific images. Jesus grew up in a world where the word “peace” equated to a cruel, merciless, and torturous death. In Jesus’ world, there were was no democracy, there were no civil “rights”, and there was no middle class. There were only the haves and the have-nots.
When we hear Jesus telling his disciples that if they wish to be his disciples they need to deny themselves and pick up their crosses, let us not forget the image above of the forest of crosses filled with the rotting, decaying stench of corpses. Jesus wasn’t talking about putting on a silver or gold necklace when he said “pick up your cross”; rather, he was talking about the Roman means of capital punishment.
As we move closer to Holy Week, and ultimately to Good Friday (the darkest day in the Christian calendar) let us reflect, not only on the sacrifice that Jesus made, but on the sacrifice Christ is calling us to make. If we are going to be Christ’s followers, if we really believe in Jesus’ message, then we will be willing to lose it all…no matter how bad it hurts…for the sake of Christ and his Good News.
While, I cannot tell you what your cross is, or how you are to bear it, remember that the only way to get to Good Friday is to pick up your cross and follow Jesus. The only way to get to Easter, to get to your own resurrection, is to die to all that you believe you are and to embrace who God proclaims you are. The only way to truly live, is to die to whatever is holding you back from giving your all to God. For most of us, this “dying is metaphorical”, but that doesn’t make it any less real. We are called to die to ourselves, and be resurrected in Christ Jesus so that we may bring God’s hope, healing and wholeness to those who are in desperate need of the life that God has to offer.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
To deny yourself does not equal self-neglect; rather, it equals the recognition that you are not “YOUR” own.
Lord, I surrender myself to your will. Use me in a way that will bring about your Kingdom here on earth. Amen.
Read Jeremiah 31:31-34
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)
Every once and a while I will pass a billboard sign or see a bumper sticker that will just irk me a little bit. It is usually a pretentious saying word, “Co-Exist”, that is made up of all different religous symbols. I mean, on the one hand, I get that the bumper sticker is telling people to get along, hold hands, and skip along the yellow brick road with one another while practicing different religions. In essence, it is calling for acceptance of religious pluralism, the notion that all paths lead to God (a problematic notion to say the least). On the other hand, the problem in the world is that we ARE CO-EXISTING!!! We often don’t co-exist peacefully, but we are definitely co-existing. Co-existence does not equal peace.
With that said, the other day I was driving down the road and I happened to see a billboard sign that read, “When all else fails, read the instructions.” Underneath those words was a large picture of the the Holy Bible. On the surface, those words seem to make sense. I am a Christian who actively reads the Bible and try to live by what I believe to be the core teachings within it. But the words on that billboard are overly simplistic, they imply that the Bible is a last resort, and they do not accurately depict what the Bible actually is.
If the Bible is a divine manual given to us so that we can follow its “instructions”, which instructions should we follow first? Perhaps, we should stone our children when they’ve dishonored us (Deuteronomy 21:18-21). Perhaps we men should remain unmarried and make ourselves eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom (Matthew 19:12). If we are going to follow the “instructions” then shouldn’t we get rid of our personal property and share it in common with the church (Acts 4:32-35) and shouldn’t women cover their heads (1 Corinthians 11:6) and remain submissively silent (1 Timothy 2:11-12)?
The fact of the matter is that what we have in the Bible is much more than a set of “instructions” for us to follow. While there are laws, rules and regulations, the Bible is also a collection of writings that reflect each author’s understanding of the human-divine relationship, as well as their commentary on the socio-economic and political situations of where they lived. The Bible is very much a living testament to the faith journeys of the ancient people who wrote and compiled it. The Bible is also a foundational text that we relate to and from which we spiritually grow.
While the Bible is certainly an important part of our Christian journey, and while I certainly encourage people to read and study it, I do believe that we Christians tend to get confused on what the Living Word of God really is. Is God’s Word a mere book, a mere set of rules and regulations on how to not upset the big daddy in the sky? Is the Word of God a book that has both a beginning and an end, a book that is finite and limited to words on a page? Is the Word of God bound in a book that can be used and misused?
If we are going to have a traditional Christian theological understanding of what the Living Word of God is, we might want to take a hint from the first chapter of the Gospel of John. The Living Word of God is not a bound collection of ancient books written by people who were inspired by God; rather, the Living WORD of God is the risen Jesus Christ. That WORD cannot be bound nor contained. It knows no limits and it reaches different people in different ways. The WORD of God is not stagnant and typeset on flimsy paper, it is living and breathing through Christ who not only lives in us, but also through us. When all else fails, know that the Word of God, which is living within you, does not!
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Every creature is a word of God” – Meister Eckhart
Lord, I thank you for the Bible and for the inspired words within it. But my greatest praise is for your WORD, Christ Jesus. Amen.
Read Micah 6:1-8; Matthew 21:33-43
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.” (Revelation 3:20)
On this past Sunday Night, my family and I watched the Nativity Story, which is a movie that details the story of Mary and Joseph and the birth of Jesus. There is one scene in the film that shows King Herod in the Temple in Jerusalem. He walks up to the the place where the sacrifices are being made and lays his hands on the horns of a bull, pressing his head up against the head of the bull. There a prayer is offered by the high priest, a prayer that supposedly transfers the guilt and sin of the King on to the bull. The bull has become the beast of burden. In other words, the bull takes on the burden of the Kings sins, which if you know anything about King Herod, those sins are many! The bull then faces certain death and has its throat slit, spilling its blood all over the place.
This act of sacrifice, of transferring sin from the sinner to an innocent subject in order to appease an angry, wrathful God seems to be far from us. Or is it? Why is it that we say Jesus HAD to die for our sins? Why is it that Jesus is called the LAMB of God? What is it that we say Jesus did for us…that he took our sins and paid the price we deserve to pay…doesn’t that sound an awful lot like the same thing the bull did, only this time Jesus is the bull?
Religions the millenia over have sought to find ways to appease God, or the gods (depending on the religion), hoping to repay God for the sins that they have committed. Does God really demand blood? Does God really demand our death for retribution? Or is this an image of ourselves that we project on God? Does God demand blood, or is it us who demand blood? And what does this have to do with Jesus birth? After all, we aren’t in the season of Lent yet, are we?
While there are different scriptures throughout the Bible that will certainly justify the idea that God demands sacrifice to appease God’s anger at our wickedness, there are also scriptures that point us to an entirely different image of God. Today’s reading is such a passage. Rather than appeasing God with blood, God is asking us to appease him with a change of hearts. Rather than seeking the easy way out of our sins only to commit them over and over again, God is asking us to change…to truly change…and to walk humbly with God in the process.
While we often see Jesus as the easy way out of our sins, as a way for us to transfer what we’ve done in order that we might be “saved”, Jesus seems to have had a different understanding of his purpose. According to his parable of the wicked tenants, Jesus came, with the authority of God, to show people what God truly wanted; however, rather than listen to what Jesus said, people rejected him and crucified him. It was sin that put Jesus on the cross indeed, yet the story does not end there. Jesus resurrects and gives us the opportunity to die to our sins and join him. How do we do that? But doing justice,loving mercy and walking humbly with our God.
The birth of the Christ-child, the birth of Immanuel, the revelation of God being with us shows us that God is not seeking retribution but rather union with us. God is not seeking to punish us, but to commend us to his love and mercy. All we need to do is to “fear not” and see that God has come to us. We don’t have to search any further for God than our own hearts. Listen to what the words of the spirit are telling you, “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me” (Revelation 3:20). Amen! Come Lord Jesus!
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Jesus died because of our sins, and yet Jesus lives despite our sins. In Christ Jesus, sin and death have been conquered. Welcome to life as God truly intended it, all you have to do is claim it, live it, and share it!
Lord, lead me to your eternal life and, through me, lead others. Amen.