Tag Archives: Christian

WORKS OF THE FLESH: Factions

Read Galatians 5:13-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“When one of you says, “I am a follower of Paul,” and another says, “I follow Apollos,” aren’t you acting just like people of the world? After all, who is Apollos? Who is Paul? We are only God’s servants through whom you believed the Good News. Each of us did the work the Lord gave us. I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow.” (1 Corinthians 3:4-6 NLT)

In his letter to the church in Galatia, the Apostle Paul is writing to a community that is divided over the issue of male circumcision: should new Gentile followers of Jesus be counted as a part of the Jewish covenant without being circumcised, or should they have to be circumcised just as all of the Jews are circumcised. Being that Christianity at the time wasn’t a religion, but a sect of Judaism, this was a VITALLY IMPORTANT question. While Paul is opposed to making Gentiles be circumcised, he also is against divisive behavior regardless of which side it is coming from. In response to this division, Paul describes to the Galatian church what he calls, “the works of the flesh.”

FieryFWORKS OF THE FLESH: Factions. In the last devotion, I wrote about dissension in the church. Also, I have in the past written about cliques as well. So, why write about factions? Doesn’t cliques cover it? The answer is no, not quite. While cliques are certainly not healthy within the church, and they can end up growing to be a faction if push came to shove, but on their own cliques are no more than pockets of people who gravitate together, often times gossiping about others and putting others down. A faction, on the other hand is a much more organized and intentional group of people who are gravitating together in order to achieve a common goal. Factions are often the result of subversive dissensions.

Think back to Julius Caesar. It was a subversive dissension that ended up causing factions to rise up and splinter the Roman Republic. The end result of that was that whatever freedoms were under the Republic, and I am sure the dissenters had good reasons to question Caesar, were completely obliterated by the rising up of an empire under the absolute power of a tyrannical emperor. And that tyranny eventually led to even more tyrannical emperors who caused more subversion, which led to more factions seeking to stab the life and the power out of the emperors.

Clearly, factions are detrimental to any government or organization; however, factions are even more detrimental to the life of the Church and they go against Christ who is the very head of the Church. Paul is clear that factions should be a “no go”. For Paul, the Church was an ORGANISM not an organization. It is the resurrected and living BODY OF CHRIST, not a religious institution. In terms of your body, what good would it be if the heart took sides with the lungs and brain and stood in opposition to the lower extremities? All of the blood would go to the top half of the body and the lower half of the body would become necrotic and die. That may not sound like a big deal to the heart, lungs and brain; however, necrosis slowly spreads and eventually even the heart, lungs and head would die.

This may seem like a silly illustration, but only because IT IS A SILLY ILLUSTRATION. Body parts DON’T form factions against other body parts because it is not good for the whole of the body. A body is designed for self-preservation, growth and life. If the Church is the BODY of CHRIST, and if we are the individual parts that make up that body, then we are not designed to form factions against other parts; rather, we are to find harmony and work in cooperation with other parts for the good of the whole. Factions are like cancer and are not good for the body. Don’t take me wrong, I am not saying that healthy, constructive dissent is a cancer…it is not, and it does not lead to factions; however, subversive, undermining dissension does lead to factions and will destroy the body. The Good News is that the Holy Spirit is our immune system and if we choose to live by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we will not take part in factions even if we are being led to be an honest voice of dissent.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.” – Jesus of Nazareth (Mark 3:24-25 NRSV)
PRAYER
Lord, steer me in the opposite direction of factions. Help me to be a healthy and vibrant part of the body of Christ. Amen.

WORKS OF THE FLESH: Strife

Read Galatians 5:13-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“But when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him to his face, for what he did was very wrong.” (Galatians 2:11 NLT)

In his letter to the church in Galatia, the Apostle Paul is writing to a community that is divided over the issue of male circumcision: should new Gentile followers of Jesus be counted as a part of the Jewish covenant without being circumcised, or should they have to be circumcised just as all of the Jews are circumcised. Being that Christianity at the time wasn’t a religion, but a sect of Judaism, this was a VITALLY IMPORTANT question. While Paul is opposed to making Gentiles be circumcised, he also is against divisive behavior regardless of which side it is coming from. In response to this division, Paul describes to the Galatian church what he calls, “the works of the flesh.”

FierySWORKS OF THE FLESH: Strife. If there was anybody who knew what strife was out of the authors who wrote the Bible, Paul was certainly on the top of the list. We love to look back at early Christianity, as if it was a singular, cohesive, monolithic religion gelled together by peace, single-mindedness, harmony and accord. We sing songs like “Give me that old-time religion” as if the discord and strife we have today never used to exist, but that could not be further from the truth. All one has to do is read Galatians, the very letter that this devotion series is pulling from, to see that Paul certainly was well acquainted with strife in the church.

Paul believed that the risen Christ had been revealed to him by God and that in that revelation he found his true calling: to be an apostle to the Gentiles. Following a few years in training in Saudi Arabia, and following a meeting with Peter and James, the brother of Jesus, Paul set out to preach the Good News to the Gentiles. What was that Good News, you ask? It was that salvation had come to the rest of the world through Jesus the Christ and, through faith in Jesus as their Lord and Savior, they were now included in the covenant made by God to Abraham.

This is truly good news, right? Wrong! Or so thought James and the Jewish church in Jerusalem. For them, only Jews were saved by virtue of the covenant that God made with the Israelites at Mount Sinai. Yes, following Jesus was the ultimate expression of their Judaism; however, faith in Jesus was not enough. One still had to obey the laws, including restricting his or her diet to kosher foods and through circumcision (for males). Those things set one apart from the Gentile world and marked the Jews as God’s people. James and the Jerusalem Church were very much opposed to Paul’s version of the Gospel; even Peter had his reservations because of James’ position, leading Paul to publicly call Peter a hypocrite.

Yes Paul knew much about strife. Paul also did everything he could to eliminate it. Though he disagreed with James and the Jerusalem church, he still tried to partner with them and find common ground. He still called his Gentile churches to support the Church in Jerusalem, which had taken a vow of poverty. Our challenge is, even in the midst of controversial and heated debates, to work harder to maintain a sense of harmony with other Christians who see things differently than us. The church today is divided on a host of different issues. Human sexuality, marriage equality, abortion, social justice, church and state, as well as theology and other things have all been issues that have proven to bring much strife in Christianity. While these are important issues, and Christians need to take a stand for what they believe in, God is calling us to do so in a way that does not demonize Christians who disagree with us. Remember, there are Christians on either side of any given debate. Let us, while holding fast to what we believe, approach each other with that kind humble understanding. Let us join Paul in his quest to eliminate strife.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“When you are full of pride on the inside, it makes you stiff, stubborn, and creates strife with others.” – John C. Maxwell

PRAYER
Lord, inspire me to be a person who balances the need to fight for what is right and the call to see you in my Christian brothers and sisters who are opposed to the dictates of where, in my heart and conscience, I believe the Holy Spirit is leading the Church. Amen.

WORKS OF THE FLESH: Enmity

Read Galatians 5:13-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will.” (Romans 8:7 NLT)

In his letter to the church in Galatia, the Apostle Paul is writing to a community that is divided over the issue of male circumcision: should new Gentile followers of Jesus be counted as a part of the Jewish covenant without being circumcised, or should they have to be circumcised just as all of the Jews are circumcised. Being that Christianity at the time wasn’t a religion, but a sect of Judaism, this was a VITALLY IMPORTANT question. While Paul is opposed to making Gentiles be circumcised, he also is against divisive behavior regardless of which side it is coming from. In response to this division, Paul describes to the Galatian church what he calls, “the works of the flesh.”

fieryEWORKS OF THE FLESH: Enmity. I just got done watching the film, “Selma”, which was about Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Selma to Montgomery Marches in 1965. The film starts off with the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing, where four innocent Christian girls were literally blown to bits by a bomb planted by four Ku Klux Klansmen. This evil, tragic, and horrific event caused an outrage in the public that aided the cause of Dr. King and those seeking equal voting rights for the black community. Segregation laws and and other local laws often prevented those who were black from being able to vote, though they technically had the right.

When looking back on the civil rights movement, and even looking at the racial divide in the country today, I can’t help but think of the word enmity. Enmity is a state of being actively hostile and/or opposed to someone or some group. Looking at our government, some politicians, its laws, and a system that favors some over others, it is easy to see that in many cases our system has embodied enmity. Sure, it has improved over the years and a lot of change to it has occurred rather quickly. With that said, many of the changes have been peripheral and not systemic. We have changed it so that all people of all colors can vote; however, in order to be a candidate one must have a ton of money and financial backing in order to have even a remote chance of winning. As a result, such candidates are often far removed from the poor and disenfranchised and are more representative of the privileged (even if they, themselves, don’t intend to be).

The church is notorious for being filled with enmity. While one can see how enmity could creep up into any government, where the rich rule and the poor are ruled, it is hard to imagine how enmity could possibly show its ugly head; however, enmity has unfortunately found a breeding ground in  the body of Christ. Like a cancer it has spread from person to person, from group to group, from congregation to congregation, and from denomination to denomination. The enmity found in Christians have led them to love some and hate others within the church. White Christians have hated and lynched black Christians. Straight Christians have hated and degraded LGTBQ Christians. One committee within a church has found itself opposed to and at odds with another committee. And so it goes on and on like a cancer, spreading and killing the souls of many.

Christ calls us to be rid of enmity. We may not always agree with people, we may not understand them or even want to understand others who are different than us; however, that does not give us an excuse to be hostile and actively opposed to our brothers and sisters in Christ. Remember, Christ is our Lord, and we cannot serve two masters. We will either love the one and hate the other or vice versa. We cannot love Christ and enmity. To bear enmity against anyone is to also bear enmity against God, their creator. So be rid of enmity. Drop your hatred. Let go of your bitterness and let God fill you with eternal, unconditional love.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Enmity means ‘hatred toward, hostility to, or a state of opposition.’ It is the power by which Satan wishes to reign over us.” – Ezra Taft Benson

PRAYER
Lord remove from me any enmity that I may possess within me. Fill me with your eternal, unconditional love. Amen.

A Love That Lets Go

Read Mark 6:1-12

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me. And now, look, your house is abandoned and desolate.” (Matthew 23:37-38 NLT)

Letting GoHave you ever had to make decisions on behalf of someone you love that you really, really didn’t want to make? As a parent, there are times that I have had to make decisions that had eaten me alive in the process of making them. For anyone who has been a parent, or has been responsible for someone else, you probably know exactly what I am talking about. Ever parent wants their kids to love them, every parent longs for their children to look up to them, to respect them, but also be close to them. The problem is that, by virtue of having the responsibility of parenthood, there are times that parents have make decisions, and take certain courses of action, in order to do what is right for their children…BECAUSE THEY LOVE THEM. Those decisions often come with consequences, such as the children not “liking” their parents and/or feeling sorry for themselves, which can only go to make the parent feel even worse for having to make the dreaded decision. With that said, it was the RIGHT thing for the parent to do.

One of the hardest thing for parent to do, one of the things that goes against a parent’s very fiber, is the decision and the act of letting their child go. In fact, that is not just a hard thing for parents to do, is it? That seems to be a universally hard thing for many people to do. Whether they are parents, siblings, family, or friends, it is hard for people to let the ones they love go; however, there are times when LOVE demands that one do just that. This perhaps is the most painful, and yet the most radically profound, act of love.

Letting go is an act of love that God knows very well. After all, God created this world and all that is in it, and God did so out of love. In that love, God created human beings in order to have a relationship with them. God gave them everything and tried to guide them to a life that was good for them; however, out of love God also gave them the freedom to choose and boy did humanity choose…not God, but themselves. So God let them go; God let them make their choices, regardless of whether they were good or bad.

That’s not to say that God completely stepped away, because God did try and intervene in order to get people to remember their relationship with their Creator. God even sent God’s own son in order to show people how much God loved them, yet the people either didn’t understand it, or they chose to reject it. That was their choice and, in that choice, God let them go. Even when they chose to torture, whip, and crucify God’s Son, God chose to let them go. Why? Why would God do such a thing? Because God loved humanity that much that God was willing let them go.

While it is not easy, God is calling us to do the same. As much as we want to control the relationships we are in, as much as we want everyone to love us and to understand how much we love them, as much as we want our relationships to remains strong and happy, the reality is that some will inevitably deteriorate and fall apart. We should try to mend those relationships if possible, we should try to reconcile ourselves with our family, friends and neighbors (if at all possible and regardless of whether we were in the right or wrong); however, if the door to reconciliation continually comes swinging shut, at some point we need to love the person and/or the people enough to let them go. Why? Because love demands that we do. Because in love for us, God has let us go. Letting someone go does not mean giving up on them, it simply means that you love them enough to let them choose to love, or not love you…no matter how painful that is. This Lent, I pray that, in those necessary moments, God gives you the grace and the strength to express your love for others through the act of letting them go.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Some of us think holding on makes us strong; but sometimes it is letting go.” – Hermann Hesse
PRAYER
Lord, help me to know when it is time to hold on and when it is time to let go of the ones I love. Give me the strength to do so. Amen.

I Will Fail You

Read Deuteronomy 32:1-4

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48 NRSV)

ryanClarkHave you ever been failed by anyone? Have you ever put your trust in someone, almost elevating them to the status of “perfect”, only to be let down by how not “perfect” they actually are? Perhaps you have done this with celebrities? Perhaps you have done this with public officials, perhaps you have done this with pastors, with friends, and/or with family members. You think that they are wonderful people, that they can do no wrong, that they have your best-interest in mind, only to find out that they were not able to live up to all you thought that they were.

Have you ever failed anyone, including yourself? Have you ever had people put their trust in you, have you had people look up to you like you could do no wrong, only to let them down for one reason or the other, revealing to them how much wrong you could actually do? Have you ever been relied on, looked up to, and placed in a position that you felt you had to live up to, only to find out that your attempt, in the end, was an epic fail? My guess is that, like me, everyone can pretty much answer “yes” to each one of the above questions.

I have been listening to my favorite Christian metal band, “Demon Hunter”, a lot lately. On their latest album, “Extremist”, there is a song called, “I Will Fail You.” In that song, Ryan Clark sings, “I will fail you, of that I’m sure. I will remind you of the pain forevermore. And when my sins are just a memory, faith restored, I will fail you to the core.” In the video for the song, Clark is seen driving a car at night…like for the WHOLE VIDEO. As the song progresses, Clark goes from just driving, to lighting up a cigarette and smoking. Finally, he opens up a bottle of  pills and takes several of them, which are presumably narcotics. In the end, Clark becomes dazed and incoherent as headlights shine through his window. The video then pans to the passenger side of the car where a man who is bound, whose mouth is shut with duct tape, tries screaming to wake the drugged driver up. The video cuts to black; the video, like the driver and passenger in the car, has come to an abrupt end.

Clark, who is the frontperson and chief song writer for the band, explained the song by saying that, especially as Christian artists, there is a lot of pressure for them to be perfect. Because they are Christian, people expect them to be the ultimate role models, to be the staunchest Christians (as defined by each individual looking to them that way), and to live perfect lives. The reality is, however, that at some point they will be let down. Imperfection and the tendency to fail are a part of the human condition. What’s more, if we try to be perfect or elevate someone up to the status of perfection, we are totally setting ourselves up for epic failure.

The only one we should look to for perfection is God. While Christ called us to “be perfect as God is perfect,” Christ was not calling us to raise up anyone, ourselves included, as idols of perfection. Rather, Christ was calling us to strive to live into the essence of God, which is to have compassion, to be a peacemaker, to forgive others, to be agents of hope, healing and wholeness, to seek justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God. If we do those things, if we seek after God’s righteousness rather than an unattainable human perfection, we will find that God’s righteousness will be flowing in and through us for the transformation of the world around us. I will fail you…but GOD WILL NOT!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Do not fear mistakes. You will know failure. Continue to reach out.” – Benjamin Franklin

PRAYER
Lord, help me to place my faith in you for you will never fail me. Help me to grow in my love and compassion to others who, like me, embody the human condition. Amen.

Jesus Christ Superstar

Read Philippians 2:1-11

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
Then Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, “Are you also going to leave?” Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of God. ” (John 6:67-69 NLT)

JCS-iconI have always been a fan of plays and movies about the life and teachings of Christ. One of favorites, which started as a play and has been made into a movie, is Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar. The story starts off toward the end of Jesus’ ministry, and it opens with Judas Iscariot questioning what the Jesus movement has become. They had followed him for three years, hoping that he would be their Messiah, and hoping that he would overthrow the Romans and establish his kingdom and reestablish Jewish sovereignty.

Yet things had seriously changed since that day that Judas first joined the band of disciples. Back then, everyone thought of Jesus as another human being, albeit a holy, prophetic, and kingly human being. Since those first days, weeks, months as Jesus’ disciples first joined him on his mission. He started performing miracles, he started developing a following and, according to Judas, he had started developing a God-complex. In the song, “Heaven on Their Minds”, Judas belts out in his high Tenor voice, “I remember when this whole thing began, no talk of God then, we called you a man. And believe me, my admiration for you hasn’t died. But every word you say today gets twisted ’round some other way, and they’ll hurt you if they think you’ve lied.”

While no one knows the real reason behind Judas’ decision to betray Jesus; however, it is clear that all of the disciples followed Jesus with their own hopes and expectation of who Jesus was and who he was going to be. They were hoping he would be a superstar, to use today’s terminology, and they wanted to ride that wave into the Jewish history books. Of course, Jesus certainly did become a superstar and he certainly etched his way into all of the world’s history books; however, Jesus was not the kind of superstar they were all hoping he would be.

He amassed tons of followers, tons of notoriety, and gained a ton of attention; however, Jesus’ message was not one of violent revolt against the Romans, but a peaceful revolution of his own people. While he was no “friend of Caesar”, he also became no “friend” of the political and religious leaders of his own people. He felt that, as the Messiah, his revolution was one of the heart. It was one that would reestablish the greatness of GOD through love, compassion, sacrifice, discipline, justice, mercy, and humility. This kind of revolution made enemies with the Romans and the elites among his own people. Consequently, this Jesus Christ Superstar made enemies among his own friends and followers. Jesus was a superstar for sure, but that superstardom would not result in people crowning him…but crucifying him.

As we are in Lent, let us challenge ourselves to reflect on who we see Jesus to be. What are your hopes and expectations of Jesus? Are they realistic? Are they self-serving? Are they based on what others have told you about him or are they Biblically based? Do you see Jesus as being in your image? Or are seeking the kind of transformation that will lead you to look more and more like Jesus? What’s more, will your hopes and expectations of Jesus lead you to continue growing in your love, admiration and service of him, or will it lead you to grow more and more frustrated and disconnected from him? Remember that Jesus is the King of kings because he cannot be corrupted, manipulated, or bent to our ways. Jesus is Lord because he is unrelenting in his mission of hope, healing and wholeness, and he is uncompromising in his revolution to transform the heart. I pray that, in your Lenten journey, you come to be transformed by this divinely radical revolution.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Neither you, Simon, nor the fifty thousand, nor the Romans, nor the Jews, nor Judas, nor the twelve, nor the priests, nor the scribes, nor doomed Jerusalem itself understand what power is, understand what glory is, understand at all.” – Jesus Christ in Jesus Christ Superstar

PRAYER
Lord, become a revolution in my heart and transform me with the power of your world rocking love. Amen.

15 Ailments of the Church #11: Being Indifferent to Others

Read Revelation 3:1-6, 14-22

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.” (James 2:17 NLT)

Wall-of-ApathyWe live a world of coup d’état. Every time we turn around people are being undercut, taken out of the way, disposed of and replaced by people who don’t seem to be any better than the ones they’ve replaced. All anyone has to do is to turn on the news to see plenty of examples of this happening, especially in American politics. People who would otherwise be political allies are throwing each other under the bus in order to win an election and/or make political gains. Of course, in world and/or national politics this sort of thing is expected. What’s sad is that it has become expected over the years in the Christian church as well. This leads us to Pope Francis I’s 11th Ailment of the church.

11th Ailment of the Church: Being indifferent to others. If one were to ask a Christian what the mission and purpose of the church is, my guess is that “being indifferent to others” wouldn’t even make the list! Jesus certainly wasn’t indifferent to others. He may not have liked everyone he came into contact with, he may not have agreed with everything everyone believed, and he definitely got angry with certain people and certain angers; however, Jesus was NEVER, EVER indifferent to them.

Many people think that hatred is the opposite of love. The truth is that hatred is NOT the opposite of love. In fact, sometimes there is an extremely fine line between love and hate. They are too close to each other, emotionally speaking, for them to be opposites. What is truly opposite of love is apathy. Apathy is literally a lack of care, enthusiasm, interest and/or concern. In other words, apathy is indifference and indifference is ultimately the opposite of empathy which is closely related to sympathy and includes the following attributes: compassion, care, solicitude, affinity, concern, etc. In reality, apathy is the opposite of love.

Yet, the church often fails to have empathy and often falls into the category of apathy. People have too often been used as a means to an end rather than being the end unto themselves. People with in the church have cut other church members down in order to advance their agendas, their positions and/or their beliefs. The church has cut different groups of people down, apathetic to whether or not their actions are damning or damaging to the people who fall beneath their judgment. Individual Christians and churches alike will often justify not helping someone because of excuses they come up with that, consciously or unconsciously, are really nothing more than constructed walls to hide an underlying apathy for the people they are avoiding helping.

Jesus is calling the church back to empathy. That doesn’t mean that the church will agree with everything, or that it will affirm everything…but that in all things, in agreement or disagreement, the church will both care enough to RESPOND and to RESPOND LOVINGLY. A loving response is not necessarily a a response of love or affirmation…but one that seeks to build the other up, even when it requires a bit of tearing down. Christ wants a church that is engaged with and active among others, as opposed to just being a country club that is engaged and active with itself. That kind of activity serves no purpose, but the kind Christ seeks IS THE PURPOSE of the church. Don’t undercut, don’t view people as disposable, removable, and/or replaceable. Don’t seek to use people, indifferently, as a means to an end, but view people as the end unto themselves. Be engaged and be active in ways that show the empathy, love, compassion, care, concern, and solicitude of Christ our Lord.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn from your indifference.” – Jesus, the risen Christ (Revelation 3:19 NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, I never wish to be indifferent or apathetic. Spark in me a passion to act according to your will. Amen.

In Search for the Essentials

Read Matthew 22:34-40

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are My disciples.” (John 13:35)

DiscipleTattooWhen it comes to how Christians should treat each other regarding theological and doctrinal differences, there is a seventeenth century quote that says, “In the essentials unity, in the non-essentials liberty, in all things, charity (meaning love).” Yet, it seems as if that is much easier said than done in Christianity, or any religion for that matter. People tend to invest themselves in their religions, and they identify themselves by their beliefs, and so doctrines and theologies become awfully personal.

As such, attacks against one’s beliefs often ends up getting translated as an attack against oneself. I have, no doubt, been both on the receiving and the giving ends of those attacks. If we are honest, most of us have been. Sometimes when one questions someone’s beliefs, he or she is not meaning to “attack” at all; however, it gets interpreted that way because of the personal nature of faith. Yet, there are many times that one just vehemently disagrees with the beliefs of another, often feeling that their beliefs are threatened the opposing beliefs of another, and so they react in ways that are both spiritually damaging and ungodly.

Sometimes it isn’t even beliefs that called into question, but personal practices or forms of expression. For instance, I have been questioned before because I have eight tattoos. I have been asked, “What would Jesus think of you having those tattoos? Surely, you must know that Jesus was a good Jewish boy and he would not have condoned your marking your body up like that.” What does one say to such a comment? It is true that Jesus would not have been down at the tattoo parlor getting WWJD and fish symbols tattooed to his body; however, it is also true that Jesus wouldn’t have been eating shrimp. He wouldn’t have eaten pork. He wouldn’t be wearing clothing with mixed fibers (e.g. shirts made with cotton and polyester). Yet, the majority of Christians have no problem eating and wearing such things.

Of course, I could go on quoting Jesus on what defiles a person, or perhaps quoting Paul on how Christians are free to do all things in Christ, though not all things are beneficial. But that is beyond the point. How do we, as people of faith, live into the quote above? First off, what are the essentials? It seems that there are no groups of Christians that can agree on just what the essentials are. One group will hold the Apostles Creed as the essentials; however, other groups might dispute one or more of the Apostle’s Creed as essential. What’s more, even if they accept the Apostle’s Creed as essential, they might interpret its parts differently than others, leading to conflict. If people can’t agree on what is essential, then it is impossible to move beyond to what is non-essential.

Where is charity in all of this? Where is love? Thankfully for us Christians, Jesus answered what is MOST important for all people of faith, and I will extend this decree to all people of faith…and not just Christians. What is most important, what is essential, is this: that you LOVE God with all of your being, and that you LOVE your neighbor as yourself. For Jesus, those two commands summed up all of the laws of Judaism and were what was essential to that religion. As such, that is what is essential for Christians as well, and be hard pressed not to see that as essential for all people, regardless of faith. If we all were more unified in our LOVE of God, as opposed to our LOVE of OUR IDEA OF GOD, and if we were all unified in our LOVE OF NEIGHBOR, then we would find out that the non-essentials would fade away and that CHARITY would rule the day. This is what we, as beings created in the image of God, are called to do…to LOVE and to never cease in that LOVE.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“So don’t make judgments about anyone ahead of time—before the Lord returns. For He will bring our darkest secrets to light and will reveal our private motives. Then God will give to each one whatever praise is due.” Paul of Tarsus, (1 Corinthians 4:5)

PRAYER

Lord, give me the grace to be graceful and give me peace enough in my own beliefs so that I do not feel threatened by the beliefs of others.  In you, I am secure. Fill me with your love so that I may, in turn, love others. Amen.

Calling it a Spade

Read Matthew 7:21-29

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Let anyone with ears listen!” (Mathew 13:9)

SpadeExcuses, excuses, excuses. This world is filled with them, isn’t it? And we don’t have to look too far to find a boat-full of excuses do we? The truth is that excuses flow from our mouths as much as they fill our ears. As a person, I have certainly made my share of excuses in my life. When I didn’t like a subject in school, I would come up with excuses as to why I COULD NOT succeed at it. In the past, I have excused myself for bad eating habits. I have excused myself for being in a bad mood, for having a bad attitude, for bad behavior and for a host of other things. It’s not that I am confessing something that would be surprising to anyone, whether they know me or not. If we are all to be completely honest with ourselves, everyone of us has made excuses for a variety of different things.

We Christians, it seems, are just as good at making excuses for ourselves as everyone else is. As someone who has both been in the church and has served the church in a host of different ways, I know the kinds of excuses that get made. For instance, when people are challenged to read the Bible more they will often come up with excuses such as, “I just don’t understand it,” or “Gee, I just don’t have the extra time to read it.” I hear excuses for why people can’t be a part of the life of the church, why they can’t lead in this way or that, why they can’t give more in one way or the other, and a whole host of excuses for not doing a variety of different things.

One excuse that really gets me is the one that people often make when it comes to living out the Gospel in their lives. It is quite clear when we read the Bible that Jesus called his disciples, and through them he called us, to live as he did. He calls us to love God with our whole being and to love our neighbors, including our enemies, as ourselves. Any preacher worth their weight in salt will most certainly preach that as one of the key components of the Gospel message and will challenge his or her congregants to answer that call; yet, when pressed, people will say, “Of course Jesus lived that way, he’s the Son of God. He was perfect…I’m not.”

I have always been one to call a spade a spade, and so I will be no different here. Not only is that an excuse, it is an affront to the Gospel and it goes against everything that Jesus taught and did. Jesus did not come to “show off” like some entertaining illusionist (though walking on water would be a neat trick to pull off); rather, Jesus lived the life that he was calling us all to join with him in living. In other words, Jesus does not buy our excuses and nor should we. We aren’t fooling God, even if we are fooling ourselves. I believe that, if we search deep down, we’ll find that we are not really fooling ourselves either.

Today’s challenge is to stop making excuses. Call things as they are. If God’s message of unconditional love, acceptance, forgiveness and compassion really move and inspire you, then start living that kind of life. Don’t excuse yourself for not doing it; rather, really start trying to live that way. It’s not about being perfect, but about being sincere. If you don’t want to follow God and live as God created you to, then just be honest and say it. Don’t excuse yourself, for that doesn’t change the fact that you simply don’t want to. If, on the other hand, you love God and want to live as a child of God, then start doing it. Persevere in holy living, in living that is set apart for God, and you will see yourself opened to the transformative power of God and to the hidden possibilities that God has for you.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.” – Thomas Jefferson

PRAYER

Lord, you know all things including the things about me that no one else knows. You know the life I’ve led and the real reasons why I have led it in the manner I have. I am not perfect, but I trust that through you I am being perfected. Strengthen me to be honest with myself and spark the desire in me to live as you have called me to live. Amen.