Tag Archives: Christianity

The Plan 2.0

Read John 9:1-17

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith.” (1 John 5:4 NRSV)

VME-The-PlanWe, as human beings, have a very difficult time dealing with the unknown. We absolutely desire to be in control and nothing seems more “out of control”, then uncertainty and the great unknown. Right now, our world is going through traumatic and fatal pandemic that is leaving everyone in the dark, confused, isolated, in shock, and wondering why any of this is “allowed” to happen. It is in such moments, especially when we are caught off guard, that we begin to ask the question, “Why?”

This makes me think of the film, “Miracles From Heaven,” which tells the true story of a young girl who has a rare, serious, and terminal illness that causes her to not be able to digest food. This, of course, leaves her in considerable amounts of pain most of the time. Her life, at the age of 9 (or so), was relegated to bed rest in hospital rooms. In the midst of it, her family was seeking answers as to what they could do in order to cure their daughter of this illness. Yet, doctor after doctor could not even come up with what the illness was, let alone why it was or how they could cure it. One doctor, who was a renowned specialist at the renowned Children’s Hospital in Boston, was able to put his finger on what the disease was; however, with that said, he was also certain there really was no cure for it. All they could do was try to give the little girl pain medicine to keep her comfortable and wait for illness to take it’s inevitable course.

In the midst of their struggle to help their daughter, they turned to their church for spiritual and emotional support. While all certainly intended to provide that, what the family really got was a bucket load of terrible theology. Some congregation members were asking the mother if there was anything she or her husband did, or if there was anything the little girl did, to bring this terrible illness down on them. The pastor, thankfully, was not a part of this…and did try to support the family, however, the response of some of the congregation members was enough to drive the mother further and further away from her faith. What kind of God would punish an innocent little 9 year old because of the sins of her parents? What kind of God would punish a 9 year old girl, whose not even old enough to be held accountable according to Biblical standards, for her own sins?

While, I will not spoil the rest of the film (and I highly recommend that you watch it if you are able), I will say that THEOLOGY MATTERS. We often think that our suffering and struggles are a part of GOD’s PLAN. We will try to comfort people who are struggling by telling them that “they’ll be okay,” that “things will work out in the end,” and that “this is all a part of God’s plan” in order to “test them” and “help them grow.” Or, more judgmental people will try and speculate on what sorts of wrong people did to “deserve” the things that have befallen them. Both lines of theology are appalling, egregious, and dangerous. What kind of God causes people to suffer in order to help them grow? What kind of God blinds people, cripples them, puts them into gas chambers, or kills their family members as a part of “the plan?” What kind of God gives us “what we deserve?” Certainly the not Grace-filled God of Christianity.

Just as Jesus Christ did with his disciples, he is calling us to rethink our theology and to be careful in it. God’s plan is not to hurt, punish, or kill people as some sort of twisted means to an end. That never was God’s plan, nor will it ever be God’s plan. People have articulated it that way, even in the Bible, but only out of ignorance. Overall, the Scripture is consistent in what God’s plan is: to LOVE creation and to be present in relationship with it. That is God’s plan. Things happen, circumstances take us by storm, and life hits us in various ways, but GOD’s LOVE for us and GOD’s PRESENCE with us NEVER changes. God’s plan is to be with us and to be with others through us. That is the plan…and it certainly is a MIRACLE when we acknowledge the plan and LIVE INTO IT.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“You know what I noticed? Nobody panics when things go according to plan, even if the plan is horrifying.” – The Joker
PRAYER
Lord, even when things do not go according to plan, you are present with me. Help me to acknowledge that and be a witness to your presence in my life and the lives of others. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: Don’t Feed the Trolls!

Read Matthew 16:1-4

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.” (Matthew 7:6)

troll1Have you ever encountered a troll? You may be scratching your head at such a question. You might be wondering, “Why in the world would he ever ask me if I’ve encountered a troll?” After all, surely such a fantastical creature doesn’t exist, outside of fantasy novels and fairy tales such as “Three Billy Goats Gruff.” What an odd, and seemingly trivial question for someone to ask, right?

Yet, I ask it. Have you ever encountered a troll? My guess is you probably have even if you’ve never referred to it that way. So, what exactly is a troll? Anyone who has ever spent any amount of time reading blogs, chatting in chat rooms, or participating in discussions on social media such as Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube knows what a troll is. It is very easy to find these trolls online. Indeed, one does not have to look far at all, and if one is not careful, he or she might end up a victim of trolling.

A troll, in this sense of the word, is a person who goes on to blogs, into chatrooms, into conversations on social media and seeks to cause trouble. They will go online and, as the Urban Dictionary defines it, “deliberately post provocative messages with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument.” Such a person, in the online community, is referred to as a troll…for obvious reasons.

While Jesus didn’t have the Internet in his day, he certainly had his share of trolls. People were purposely setting out traps for him to fall into, with the intention of discrediting him, causing disruption and division among the people following him. These people were out to get Jesus, and they made trolling him their mission in life every chance they got.  Yet, they could never seem to get an edge on Jesus, and he taught his disciples to turn the other cheek all the while moving on from people who clearly had no intention of engaging in serious and sincere dialog with them.

Often times, we want to please others to the point that we will endure all sorts of abuse. We want people to like us and we want people to accept us. We want them to see worth in us and to at least see our worldview as being valid; however, some people are simply not interested in seeing that no matter what you do to show it to them. Some people are simply out to trap, humiliate and discourage you.

While Jesus did call us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us, he did not call us to suffer abuse needlessly. There are times when we suffer abuse unexpectedly and that is bad enough. We certainly do not need to be persistently putting ourselves in situations that set us up for abuse. In fact, loving our enemies sometimes means recognizing that there can be no mutual relationship with them and, therefore, recognizing the need to let such a relationship go.

That may be a hard thing to do, but sometimes it is the loving thing to do. Jesus did it with those who only intended to troll him and his followers, with those who refused to seriously engage in a meaningful and constructive way. It follows, then, that Jesus frees you to do the same. Don’t feed the trolls! Don’t play into their game of division and derision. It’s simply not worth it as there is nothing you can do to change them. As Jesus rightfully said, “Don’t give what is holy to dogs, and don’t throw your pearls before swine, or they trample them under their foot and turn to maul you.” But do not hold grudges either. Rather, lovingly and respectfully let such people go and continue building meaningful relationships of hope, healing and wholeness with those who truly seek it.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.” – Jesus of Nazareth in Matthew 7:16-17.

PRAYER

Lord, teach me to profoundly and unconditionally love everyone, and to learn to let go out of that love. Amen.

The Christian Way

Read Acts 4:32-37

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” (John 13:35, NLT)

BodyOfChrist-TheChristianWayI decided to take a short break from the ongoing “God’s People” series this week in order to write what I hope you will find to be a hopeful, encouraging, comforting and inspiring devotion in a time that has been super stressful, panic-laden, and uncertain. The COVID-19 virus has taken the world by storm and caused everyone’s lives to come to a standstill, with no foreseeable end in sight. Reporters and others keep saying we’ll get past this, that we’ll “win the war”, as it were, against the virus; however, those reports are followed by exponentially increased amount of cases each day, and an exponentially increased number of deaths.

Then there are the stores, with all of their empty shelves. People hoarding toilet paper, paper towels, water, chicken, hand sanitizer and other things. I have to say that, as a fan of the TV show The Walking Dead, I really think the author’s have it right when the show how such crises can transform people into monsters. People go into “me, myself, and my own” mode and don’t stop to think how their actions might be harming others.

Now, don’t misunderstand what I am saying. I am not calling the person with 450,000 rolls of toilet paper stored in their finished basement a “monster”, but the result of their decision to hoard can be monstrous for those who must suffer without the basic necessities. All jokes about TP aside, it doesn’t take much to get people to fall into their base, primal, survival of the fittest state.

What’s more, look at the hospitals and medical workers who have a shortage of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) and have to put on used masks and gloves because there is a shortage. Why is there a shortage? Because the same people who pillaged the supermarkets aslo bought out the entire nation’s supply of PPE. This is what I mean by the word “monster”. When our egos take control and we only look out for numero uno, the result can be deadly.

The Christian way of living is much different from that. Of course, I am sure at least some of the hoarders identify as Christian; however, the behavior of hoarding is NOT Christian. The Christian way of living is the complete opposite of that. I am not saying that those Christians who panicked and ravaged the stores are not Christian, but that their behavior is NOT Christian. Christians, after all, are human beings and prone to sin like everyone else.

As was written about in the God’s People devotion series, the earliest Jesus followers lived a much different lifestyle than that which is bred in our Capitalist society. Conversely, their way of living was also different from that of Communist and/or Socialist societies as well. The way of life for the early Christian was one that came from no government or political philosophy; rather, it came out of a profoundly deep relationship with the risen Lord Jesus Christ.

You see, the earliest Christians recognized Jesus’ identity as God, and that God had chosen them to have an intimate and transformative relationship with. Not only that, but God had infused Godself within them and began a regeneration within them. They were new creations, no longer living for themselves but living for God. Everything they had was God’s gift to them and, therefore, they shared everything with each other. Everything belonged to everyone, equally.

Can you imagine how different this world would be if Christians today actually lived in a generous, giving and radically hospitable way? Friends, the world’s way is to eat or be eaten, to take or have nothing, to be the fittest or die. Christ’s way, in contrast, is the way of self-sacrifice, of extravagant generosity, of empathy, compassion and radical hospitality.

Let us be challenged to repent of the ways in which we have followed the world instead of Christ; however, more importantly, let us remember that Christ died for us and that our sins ARE forgiven. Let us embrace that reality and rise up to be the body of Christ together. Let us, through our Lord Jesus Christ, be the hope, the healing, and the wholeness this broken and shattered world so desperately needs.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Christ is with you, within you, and transcends you.

PRAYER
Lord, help me to draw closer to you and grow to be more like you in all that I do. Amen.

Coronavirus Update…

IMG_6127To all of my readers,

I pray that the grace of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, be upon you all! As you know, the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic has spread virulently throughout the world and that there is no place that really has avoided the spread. I live and serve in New Jersey, USA, and we are in an area that the virus is spreading exponentially. Our state as shut down bars, restaurants, movie theaters, and there is an 8 p.m. curfew here that will continue throughout the foreseeable future. What’s more, our president and federal government has asked that groups of no more than 10 people gather at any given time. Thus, as a pastor, I have had to make the hard decision of closing our place of worship and moving to an online format. I have also been placed on a Coronavirus Response Team for our Skylands District of the United Methodist Church of Greater NJ. All of this has taken tremendous amount of time and energy and, as a result, I have not had the chance to write this week’s devotions. I am fully planning on getting back into the swing of things next week, the Lord willing. I thank you all for your readership, understanding, your patience, and your prayers.

In the mean time, check out this message of encouragement I gave to my church on our Facebook Page:

With Love in Christ,

Rev. Todd Lattig

God’s People, part 239: Stephen

Read Acts 7

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“None of them could stand against the wisdom and the Spirit with which Stephen spoke.”  (Acts 6:10, NLT)

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

Craughwell-STEPHENPart 239: Stephen. When it comes to Stephen, not a lot is known about him prior to becoming a Christian. One can assume he was Jewish because, unlike “Nicholas of Antioch”, a foreign location was not added to his name. Aside from that, all we have to go on is what is found in Acts 6-7.

We first learn of Stephen in Acts 6, where he was described by Luke as “a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit” (v. 5) and “a man full of God’s grace and power.” He was one of the seven deacons that the Apostles appointed to judiciously take care of the distribution of food to the church. Thus, Stephen was one of the seven people ensuring that everyone would get food and not be discriminated against.

At some point a group of Diaspora Jewish freedmen, or freed slaves, got into a debate with Stephen. It is not certain where this happened; however, the result of the debate did not end well for Stephen. According to Luke, he evidently won the debate, which further enraged these Hellenistic Jews. Luke says that they persuaded some men to lie about overhearing Stephen blaspheme against Moses and God. To “blaspheme against Moses”, more than likely, meant to blaspheme against God’s Law or Torah, which was given from God to the Israelites through Moses.

Thus, as a result of that charge, Stephen was arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin to be tried for blasphemy. Of course, the punishment for blasphemy was death by stoning. Thus, Stephen’s life was very much in jeopardy. These were serious charges, as was the fact that Stephen was following Jesus, whose death the Sanhedrin was partially responsible for.

Before we go further, I want to clear something up. I have seen Stephen’s words used by ultra-conservative Christians as a way of perpetrating anti-semitism. I have also seen ultra-progressive Christians call Stephen’s speech as the most antisemitic speech in the Bible. Both sides are wrong. Stephen was not an antisemite, as he was Jewish. He also was not speaking out against ALL JEWS, but rather against the Jewish Religious Leadership…aka the Sanhedrin! That context matters and needs to be acknowledged.

Stephen, knowing the jeopardy he was in, did indeed give an impassioned speech that brought his audience on a journey through Jewish history. He honored Moses and the prophets in his speech, but he also called out the pattern of resistance and persecution that were inflicted on the prophets by the religious establishment and Jewish leadership. In doing this, he severely angered the members of the Sanhedrin and, consequently, was stoned to death for blasphemy. His last words as he died were, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin.” In other words, his last words were a prayer for forgiveness for those who were killing him.

In the midst of adversity, Stephen’s love for Jesus Christ took over and he did not let fear or consequence stand in his way of preaching the Good News. It cost him his life; however, his witness (martyr is Greek for witness) has endured the last 2,000 years. As people of God, we are being called to have Stephen’s passion for Christ.  We are being called to stand up for the truth and to preach the Good News to all people everywhere, even if that means facing the consequences for doing so. There are different ways in which we are each called to be faithful witnesses. I hope you will reflect on how Christ is calling you to be his witness in your community.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The tyrant dies and his rule is over, the martyr dies and his rule begins.” – Søren Kierkegaard

PRAYER
Lord, help me be as faithful a witness as Stephen so that, through me, others may see the glory of your salvation offered freely to them. Amen.

God’s People, part 238: Discrimination

Read Acts 6:1-7

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“If you give special attention and a good seat to the rich person, but you say to the poor one, ‘You can stand over there, or else sit on the floor’—well, doesn’t this discrimination show that your judgments are guided by evil motives?”  (James 2:4-5, NLT)

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

discriminationPart 238: Discrimination. Discrimination has been around for as long as humans have been around. Often times it is done unintentionally out of subconscious preference and/or ignorance. Still, there are times when it is being done on purpose in order to keep people in their places.

In the Scripture reading above, we have a case of discrimination. As was discussed in an earlier devotion, the early Christians lived with sharing everything in common. What that meant was that nobody individually owned anything. Instead, everything they had was shared with the community as a whole. This put everyone on an equal level with each other. No one person was richer or better off than the next.

This form of communal sharing also included food. The Apostles were overseeing the daily distribution of food to all of the Christians in Jerusalem. In the early church in Jerusalem, there were two different types of believers, the Hebrew-speaking believers and the Greek-speaking believers. It is important for us to understand that all that distinguished these believers from each other was their language.

In other words, both of these groups were Jewish. The Hebrew-speaking believers grew up in Judaea and, therefore, spoke Hebrew. The Greek-speaking believers grew up in Diaspora (or displaced) Jewish communities around the Roman empire and spoke Greek, which was the common language throughout the ancient Roman world, as opposed to Latin which was mainly spoke in and around Rome itself.

The situation that Scripture mentions was this: the Greek-speaking believers felt that their widows were getting discriminated against by the Hebrew-speaking believers when it came to food distribution. It seems as if the Apostles, who were overseeing the daily distribution of food, tried to handle the situation themselves, but it got out of hand and so they had to call a meeting to figure out how to move forward.

What needs to be understood is that, though both groups are Jewish, Diaspora Jews were looked down upon by purist Hebrew-speaking Jews. Why? Because they believed that they ought to be separate from the rest of the world, including speaking Hebrew instead of Greek. It’s what kept the Jews distinct and separate from the Greco-Roman culture. Jews who lived outside of Judaea, in the views of the Hebrew-speaking Jews, had been compromised by the Greco-Roman culture and therefore, they were cause for suspicion.

Though the Bible doesn’t elaborate on the ways in which these Greek-speaking believers were being discriminated against or why it was happening, we can guess that the aforementioned purist Jewish mentality was at play. This controversy was, at best, was not getting properly addressed and it was pulling the Apostles away from spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ.

The solution they came up with was to appoint seven well-known and trusted people to oversee the daily distribution of food and to make sure it wass being done fairly to all people. The group of people they chose were diverse, including an earlier Syrian convert to the Jewish faith who later became a believer in Jesus Christ. This group’s diversity would ensure that the discrimination came to an end.

This Scripture teaches us a couple of things. First, God’s people are NOT immune to the sin of discrimination. Even Christians can find themselves discriminating against others. Second, discrimination has NO PLACE among God’s people. Let us be challenged by the fact that the Apostles took the charge of discrimination seriously and found a way to counteract it. If they took it seriously, so should we. Let us, who are God’s People living today, do everything we can to put an end to discrimination.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“We’ve come a long way, but there is still a lot of discrimination.” – Aretha Franklin

PRAYER
Lord, make me aware of the ways in which I discriminate and help me to root out discrimination from my life. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: The Dark Woods

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

God’s People, part 237: Gamaliel

Read Acts 5:34-42

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Then Paul said, “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, and I was brought up and educated here in Jerusalem under Gamaliel. As his student, I was carefully trained in our Jewish laws and customs. I became very zealous to honor God in everything I did, just like all of you today.”  (Acts 22:3, NLT)

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

B5A3339D-AD12-4869-A636-08167F485670Part 237: Gamaliel. Gamaliel was a renowned Pharisee doctor of Jewish Law who was on the Sanhedrin in the first half of the first century C.E. In fact, he was not just “on” the Sanhedrin, but was a leading authority on it.  In fact, he may have even served as the president of the Sanhedrin, though that is up for dispute between scholars.

Regardless, Gamaliel was a well-known Jewish religious authority even without being mentioned in the New Testament by Luke; however, his being mentioned in the New Testament made him all the more well-known. In Acts, Luke records the fact that Gamaliel was a measured, thoughtful, and well-balanced man.

When the Sanhedrin was trying to find a solution in how to deal with the new sect of Jews following Jesus Christ, He suggested that they do nothing, but patiently wait on God’s will. He said, “If they are planning and doing these things merely on their own, it will soon be overthrown. But if it is from God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You may even find yourselves fighting against God” (Acts 5:38-39, NLT)!

What’s more, Luke also goes on to suggest that Gamaliel was actually Paul’s mentor in Acts 22:3. Scholars debate this because Saul of Tarsus’ crusade to violently root out the early Christian church seems to stand in stark contrast with Gamaliel’s much more measured approach. I, on the other hand, do not doubt Luke’s account at all. His account would have been disputed at the time had it not been true and, more importantly, their reason for disputing it is weak. It is not uncommon for students to stray from their mentor’s teachings. Saul was simply a different personality than Gamaliel, and he had a youthful zeal that had not been tempered by the years of experience and wisdom that Gamaliel had.

When we feel passionately about something, we often allow our zealous convictions carry the day. This is true of many people, especially younger people, who are idealistic and want to see action happen now. What is remarkable about Gamaliel, and it surely speaks toward why he’s so highly-regarded and spoken of to this day in both Judaism and Christianity, is that he did not allow his zeal to carry the day and advised that others did not as well. Saul may not have heeded his mentor’s advice at the time; however, one day Saul would become Paul the Apostle and would eventually come to be measured, thoughtful and well-balanced.

Gamaliel has something to teach us as well. Like Saul of Tarsus, we can certainly allow our zeal, our convictions, and our emotions carry the day. Sometimes it is good we do; however, on the flip side, we can find ourselves doing more damage than good. What’s more, we can find ourselves fighting against God because we feel we are so right that we cannot even see God telling us we’re wrong. Gamaliel, teaches us, as God’s people, that we need to trust that God will work in us, through us, but also in spite of us. Let us be a people who, like Gamaliel, grow to be measured, thoughtful, and well-balanced.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Being right is not our end goal. God call us to be just, to be love, and to be humble.

PRAYER
Lord, help us to learn from your servant Gamaliel, so that we too can grow in our patience, our self-control, and our wisdom. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: Rising From the Ash

lent-CrossesThis week kicks off the most important season in the Christian liturgical calendar. Lent, Holy Week, and Easter remind us of our sinful nature, the cost that our sin ultimately cost, and the hope of the Resurrection in Jesus Christ who conquered the grave. Ash Wednesday kicks off the season of Lent, a 40 day period that parallels Jesus temptation in the wilderness and the 40 years the Israelites spent wandering the wilderness in search of the Promised Land. Click here to kick off your Ash Wednesday on the right foot.

A LOOK BACK: Forgiven

lent-CrossesThis week kicks off the most important season in the Christian liturgical calendar. Lent, Holy Week, and Easter remind us of our sinful nature, the cost that our sin ultimately cost, and the hope of the Resurrection in Jesus Christ who conquered the grave. Ash Wednesday kicks off the season of Lent, a 40 day period that parallels Jesus temptation in the wilderness and the 40 years the Israelites spent wandering the wilderness in search of the Promised Land. Click here to kick off your Ash Wednesday on the right foot.