Tag Archives: Christ Jesus

The Key to a Peaceful New Year

Read Philippians 4:11-13

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“And my God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19)

diceWell, it is officially a New Year. The holidays are past, the festivities are over and the beginning of another twelve month period has officially began. This year it seems that we will be visited by a monster snow storm to kick us off for the new year. Uh oh! Is this an omen? Is this a sign of an ominous and troubled year?

Have you ever noticed that each New Year’s Eve and, subsequently, each New Year people celebrate the waning of the previous year and the dawning of the new year as if the last year was the absolute worst year ever? This year was certainly no different. “Good riddance 2013” I saw signs and people exclaiming on television during the new year celebrations going on. “Hello 2014! You’re going to rock!”

But did 2013 stink and will 2014 rock? Or will we, by this time next year, be exclaiming “Good riddance 2014!”, while completely forgetting how excited we were to usher it in. Are we ever satisfied with anything, or is every year absolutely the worst year EVER? Have you ever stopped to notice how negative we are of where we are, and absolutely how giddy we are at the prospect of getting what we want in the future.

But the reality is that, more than likely, we will not get everything we WANT. The reality is that there will be things that WILL go wrong and against what we planned. The reality is that life will continue to be challenging and that growth will continue to have its moments of pain. That is just life. If you’ve ever watched the first five minutes of up, then you’ve seen the summary of life in a nutshell. Things happen, time keeps moving, we age and then, no matter what year it is, at some point we will end up dying. That is the cycle of life and we all go through it.

The question is, just as it was in the movie UP, what are you going to while your time is still here on this earth. Are you going to lock yourself up in your house and sulk over time gone by. Are you going to relentlessly wish the coming of every new year only to hastily usher in that year’s end when things aren’t going your way? Are you you going to be childish in your approach to life, throwing temper tantrums and conniption fits when you don’t get your way? Or are you going to take a deep breath, realize that you DO NOT NEED all of the things you REALLY WANT and be content with what you have.

The apostle Paul knew what contentment was. He stated that whether he was sick or healthy, beaten or loved, imprisoned or free, hungry or full, he was content in all situations. Paul was a person who was filled with the PEACE that God has to offer us. I am sure he would have rather not been in prison, and starving, and poor, and beaten; however, many of those things were outside of his control and he trusted that, no matter what, God would provide for him what he NEEDED. And that trust…that faith…gave him PEACE.

The challenge for you today, and for every day, is to be content. If a bad situation occurs, certainly try to work your way out of it…even seeking help if need be…so that you can move forward and grow; however, don’t lament and sulk over your situation. That does absolutely no good. Don’t be selfish and shallow like the people on New Year’s Eve wishing for the new year to bring them THEIR WAY. Rather, EXPECT the new year to bring you GOD’s WAY and you will NEVER be disappointed; rather, you will be content and will have God’s PEACE.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“[People fall] from the pursuit of the ideal of plan living and high thinking the moment [they] want to multiply [their] daily wants. [People’s] happiness really lies in contentment.” – Mahatma Gandhi

PRAYER
Lord, help me to be content in all things, this year and all of the years to come. Amen.

 

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.

Doing Good

Read James 2

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” (Ephesians 2:10)

9090-42_AL_Elite_Red_lThere is this comedian by the name of Emo Phillips that a pastor I served under used to quote all the time.  Emo is a really tall, lanky, and odd looking guy who, at least on appearance, seems to be quite eccentric to say the least.  Just looking at him you get the immediate sense that this guy is going to be funny.

Emo bases his stand up routines on a lot of different subjects. From politics to history to religion, Emo touched on them all.  I always found his religious jokes to be quite funny, not just because they way in which he presents them, but also because there is a level of truth to what he is saying. Often he’ll start off with something commonly held by Christians, and then go somewhere in left field with it.

One of his stand up routines went something like this. “When I was a kid,” Emo would reminisce, “I used to pray every night for a new bicycle.” After making a praying gesture and looking up to the sky, Emo looks back at the audience and concludes, “Then I realised that the Lord doesn’t work that way so I stole one and asked Him to forgive me.”

While this is funny, it also points to a misconception about Christianity, one that was pointed out in the letter of James.  This very misconception was also something that John Wesley, in his day and age, had to deal with.  In the Protestant Church, most Christians, Wesley himself included, came to the conclusion that we were saved by our faith in Christ…and by that faith alone…that we could not work or earn our way into salvation; however, despite how liberating that revelation of Martin Luther’s is, it also led some to believe that there was no need for good works.

While John Wesley, and Wesleyan Christians since him, affirmed that we are saved by faith alone, it is also safe to say that such a faith would be bear the fruit of good works.  Wesley believed a Christian evidenced “their desire of salvation” by, “in part, doing good of every possible sort” (Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church 2012, 52). In other words, a person of faith will not sit by the wayside doing nothing to bring the hope, healing and wholeness of God into the world around them.  A faith that does not produce fruit is no faith at all. As James puts it, “a faith without works is dead” (James 4:??).

Have you experienced hope, healing and wholeness in God, through Jesus the Christ? Have you experienced the eternal, unconditional love of God? Have you come to faith in that love? Have you come to faith in Jesus Christ? If so, then you are a transformed person, one who lives by faith…one who serves because of your faith. You are called to life of service, you are called to be the hands and feet of Christ. I pray that, if you haven’t already, you answer that call.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.” – John Wesley

PRAYER

Lord, use me as your agent of hope, healing and wholeness and lead me, through my faith in you, to do all the good that I can. Amen.

 

A Forest of Crosses

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)

CrucifixionA 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.

PRAYER

Lord, I surrender myself to your will. Use me in a way that will bring about your Kingdom here on earth. Amen.

 

Billboards and Bumper Stickers

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)

Read-the-InstructionsEvery 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

PRAYER

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.

No More Mr. Mean Guy

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)

No More Mr. Mean GuyOn 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!

PRAYER

Lord, lead me to your eternal life and, through me, lead others. Amen.

More than Wind Chasers

Read Ecclesiastes 1-2; Matthew 6:19-34

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“And my God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19)

More than Wind ChasersThe past eight days have been some of the most awakening days of my life. Last Monday, October 29, Hurricane Sandy slammed into Southern New Jersey, and wreaked havoc for much of the Northeastern part of the United States. Since then, many have been without power. My church, parsonage and my entire town, for the most part, is still without power as we speak. In fact, I am sitting in a public library typing this devotional and trying to get at least some work done.

For those of my readers who do not live in the Northeastern region of the U.S., this time of year is typically not the warmest of times. Winter is fast approaching and, as of today, there is a possible nor’easter storm on the way. These storms can pack a wicked punch in terms of winds and precipitation (which usually is in the form of snow). Add that to no electricity and the people in my area, especially the ones who don’t have any generators and/or fireplaces, are facing a potentially dangerous situation. And my area of the state is mostly dealing with no electricity, unlike the Southern portion and the shoreline which has been utterly wiped out.

Over the past eight days, I have had quite a bit of time to reflect on how much we come to depend on technologies such as electricity, phones, cell phones, smart phones, electronic devices, computers, cars, and other such things that we normally take for granted. It is amazing to me how much stock I, and billions of other people, put into artificial and human-made technologies. When said technologies fail, we are left feeling completely alone, isolated, confused, lost, and utterly hopeless. Like the author of Ecclesiastes, we are left feeling like we have spent our time chasing after the wind. Indeed, we are left feeling like everything is meaningless.

Yet, thankfully,the story doesn’t end there. In this time of reflection, I have seen a power that far surpasses the artificial power provided by electricity. I have seen people reaching out to those in need. I have seen people invite neighbors, friends, family and even strangers into their homes in order to provide them with shelter. I have seen people from across the country and even from Canada, coming down to help with the relief efforts. I have seen people who have electricity sharing it with those who need to charge their phones. I have seen volunteer fire departments opening their buildings as places of shelter, providing food, entertainment, hot showers and places to sleep for people who are in need.

Thankfully, the story doesn’t end with the grim assessment of Ecclesiastes. We are more than wind chasers. What I see, instead, is a grander story of hope, healing and wholeness unfolding in the midst of what initially seemed as a hopeless and devastating situation. In this, I see what Jesus meant when he taught us to not sweat the small stuff, but to seek first the Kingdom of God and trust that God will provide the rest . The proof is in the pudding. The small stuff has been literally washed away, yet God is providing through the love, compassion and generosity of millions of people. This IS what the Kingdom of God looks like.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

The richest people in the world are those who have stock in relationships.

PRAYER

Lord, I thank you for being my provider. There is nothing I need that you haven’t supplied. Help me to fill the needs of others. Amen.