Tag Archives: Christianity

The Devil Is In the Details

Read Matthew 18:21-35

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15)

DevilI just recently saw the movie “Devil”, which was a film that was produced by and based off of a story written by M. Night Shyamalan. For those of you unfamiliar with his name, he is the one who wrote, directed and produced the widely successful supernatural thriller, “The Sixth Sense.” While many of his other films have not garnered the success that his first film did, I have always been prone to watching them and have found them meaningful and thought provoking. “Devil” certainly is both meaningful and thought provoking.

In this film, five people get on an elevator together. None of them know each other, yet when the elevator breaks down and they are stuck in it for hours, each of them gets to know one another perhaps a little more than they’d like to. Each character has a flaw, which I will not reveal here; however, one of the five characters has a little more than just a flaw as that character (again I will not reveal who) is the incarnation of Satan. Sounds like a real wholesome family film, right? Well, to use a perfectly good pun, the devil is in the details here.

Every so often, while on this elevator, the lights flicker and then go out, leaving the victims and the viewers in the dark. When the lights come on, one of the characters is dead in a weird and gruesome way. This continues to happen through out the film. Meanwhile, a detective, the police and firemen are all trying to get these people safely out of the elevator. They, too, watch in horror as the lights flicker, go out, come back on and they see yet another dead person.

While I will not spoil the whole of the movie, I will spoil it’s message a little as I believe it is so very relevant to us as people of faith. Each person in the movie is being killed by the devil, their souls taken, as a result of their unwillingness to see that they have sinned and are flawed individuals. The result of that is that these individuals never, ever seek forgiveness for what they’ve done, because they continually justify their own actions and, therefore, are blinded to their own sins and sinful nature.

Again, I will not even hint at how the film ends (you really do need to see it), but it is powerful in its message. We often talk of God as being merciful and loving, kind and compassionate, just and filled with unending grace. We often talk about God’s willingness to forgive us all, and we see Jesus Christ as the divine expression of that forgiveness; however, how can we be forgiven if we don’t see our need for forgiveness? How can we be forgiven if we are so blind to our own faults that we we fail to seek or accept forgiveness? What’s more, how can we receive forgiveness if we are unwilling to be forgiven and/or unwilling to give forgiveness to ourselves and to others?

Christ calls us to a life of forgiveness. We are called to a life of being forgiven and to a life of forgiving others. If we are unwilling to see our need for forgiveness and, therefore, are unwilling to be forgiven, then we cannot, and will not, experience the healing power of forgiveness; however, if we are open and transparent to God about our shortcomings, and we seek forgiveness, we will have it in abundance. With that said, we too have to be willing to forgive. For how can we seek forgiveness but not give it in return? How can we experience mercy and not be transformed by it? How can we receive grace but refuse to give it to others? Remember, the devil is in the details. Be transformed by God’s grace and be transformational by extending that grace to others.

THOUGHTS OF THE DAY
“Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them.” – Bruce Lee
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

PRAYER
Lord, soften my heart so that I may admit my faults and seek forgiveness. Also, soften my heart so that I may extend forgiveness to others. Amen.

Jesus Is For Real

Read Matthew 13:23-58

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
But [Jesus] said to them, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.” (Luke 4:43)

heaven-is-for-realThis past Thursday, my wife, children and I went to the theater to see yet another faith-based film. It seems that 2014 is the year of faith-based films and, so long as they keep making them, my family and I will keep supporting them. The one we just saw was a film entitled, “Heaven Is For Real”, which is based on the bestselling book of the same name. The film chronicles a Wesleyan pastor, Rev. Todd Burpo, and his family through a tumultuous time.

According to the story, Todd’s son Colton ended up getting sick on a family trip to Denver. After bringing him home, his condition did not improve but got worse. It turned out that his appendix had ruptured and, close to death, Colton needed emergency surgery. During that surgery, he left his body and was able to see both his parents who were in separate places: his mom on the phone with family and his dad, who was in the chapel angrily praying and yelling at God.

Beyond that experience, Colton also experienced going to heaven where he met angels who sang to him and Jesus who came to him on a horse of many colors. Everyone in heaven, according to Colton, were young. While there he met his great-grandfather who he had never met in life, and he also met his unborn, older sister. At four years old, his son had never known his mom had a miscarriage and, to his mother’s surprise, he was suddenly aware that he had another “sister” who lived in heaven.

While the story is very moving, it is easy for us to get skeptical of such books and such accounts. Theologically speaking, when Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of Heaven was he really referring to another place where he would be riding a rainbow colored horse? Was he referring to a place where we all look like we did when we were in our early twenties? Some have criticized the book for presenting an “extra-Biblical” picture of what heaven is. From a scientific perspective, how do we know that Colton wasn’t just imagining Jesus out of things he had seen and/or heard at home or at church. His father, after all, is the pastor of a Wesleyan Church. Secular critics have criticized the book for it’s lack of “reason.”

I must confess that I have never read the book, but when watching the film the details of the boy’s personal experiences of heaven became secondary to the overall point of the film. Pastor Burpo, in one scene, stands before his congregation asks, “If we truly believed that heaven is for real, how differently would be be living our lives?” That is a profoundly good and important question to ask. If we truly believe in heaven, if we truly see that heaven is FOR REAL, if we truly understood that heaven can be brought here on earth and that we are called to be a part of ushering it in, we will be living our lives differently.

I believe that the personal and, by nature, subjective experiences of a four year old boy cannot be proven or disproven. To be skeptical and critical of the fine details of his experience is to miss the bigger point that not only is heaven for real, but THE RISEN JESUS IS FOR REAL and he is calling to us in different ways. For some it is in a near death experience, for others it is in a Scripture verse we accidentally stumble upon. Still others witness the risen Christ in a person they are helping or in someone who is helping them. There are some who have visions and dreams that lead them to the RISEN CHRIST who is calling them into a deeper commitment. No matter how Christ is experienced…the fact remains that HE IS EXPERIENCED and he is calling us to be agents of his kingdom…the very real Kingdom of Heaven…so that the world may come to be as God first intended it to be: A WORLD OF TRUE LIFE AND LASTING PEACE. Experience that Jesus is for real, that heaven is for real, and that your call, no matter what it is or where it leads you, is for real.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” – Jesus of Nazareth (Matthew 18:3, NRSV).

PRAYER
Lord, open my eyes that I may see and experience you. Change my heart that I may eagerly follow you. Amen.

Doubting Thomas

Read John 20:24-29

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the LORD. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find Me.’” (Jeremiah 29:11-13, NLT)

The Tomb of St. Thomas. Mylapore, India.Do you remember learning about the twelve disciples in Sunday school? To be honest, I don’t remember learning about the twelve disciples. I remember learning about the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Only two of them were were named after one of Jesus’ disciples. I remember learning about Peter and Andrew as well as John and James. They were the two pairs of fisherman in the group. There was Matthew (formerly known as Levi the tax collector) and Phillip (though I am not sure what he did prior to joining Jesus). And, of course, there was Judas Iscariot. Everyone knows Judas as he is the disciple who infamously betrayed Jesus with a Kiss.

The other disciples are largely skipped over and not taught about, in my experience, with the exception of one: Doubting Thomas. He was the guy who is infamously known for his doubt. Ironically, Thomas is only shown in one Gospel to portray that “doubt”, and only in one place. What’s more, that Gospel, John, was the last of the Gospel’s to be written and does not follow the same format or chronological timetable that the other three (Synoptic) Gospels follow. Thomas is seen in John 20:24-29 as not believing the other disciples when they tell him that Jesus had risen from the dead. Thomas says, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in His hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in His side.”

As a result, Thomas has forever gone down in history as the guy who DOUBTED the resurrection. Jesus chastises him following his sudden change of heart upon seeing the risen Christ: “You believe because you have seen Me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing Me” (John 20:29). Poor Thomas, upon seeing Christ, had let go of his doubt and chose to believe, only to receive a cold shoulder from “[his] Lord and [his] God” (John 20:28). It’s as if Christ is saying, to all believers everywhere, “Do NOT doubt. For if you doubt your faith, in the end, is worth less than those who believe in me without doubting.”

For many people, these words have been a stumbling block to faith. To be fair to the text, they were meant to encourage people who had not been eyewitnesses to the resurrection to continue believing even though they had not seen; however, since then, they have become words of admonishment for those who DARE question the veracity of the resurrection, let alone any other matter of faith. The clear message that is taught to children in Sunday school is, shut down your questions lest you be found to be like doubting Thomas. Unfortunately, that fearful message has hindered the growth of many people who have suppressed the urge to question.

Yet, people fail to realize where Thomas’ “doubt” led him. He may or may not have questioned the resurrection; however, he did, without question, find himself in India preaching the Good News of his resurrected Lord. It is there, thousands of miles away from home, that he was martyred for Jesus and it is there, in Mylapore India, that his body lays at rest. Thomas’ doubt led him to be grow into a great proclaimer of the hope, healing and wholeness of his risen Lord and Savior.

Don’t let fear stop you from questioning and, even, from doubting. Doubt is neither good nor bad. It exists whether we want it to or not. Even as a pastor, I doubt. It is not doubt that is bad, but what we do or don’t do with it. Embrace your doubt, ask the tough questions, and allow the risen Christ to appear to you. Then it will be come REAL for you and you will grow in leaps and bounds in your faith. Christ does not admonish you for your doubts; rather, he calls you to embrace them, rise above them, and grow beyond them!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Modest doubt is called the beacon of the wise.” – William Shakespeare

PRAYER

Lord, teach me to not deny my doubts, but to rise up and grow as a result of, and in spite of, them. Amen.

 

An Invite To Be Invitational

Read John 10:33-38

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Wherever they do not welcome you, as you are leaving that town shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” (Luke 9:5)

BWHave you ever noticed that we live in a world that sees black and white? Things are either right or wrong, they are either true or false, they are either good or bad. In this type of world view comes the unnecessary consequence of judgment. We cannot help but seeing things as we see them, and anything that comes against our way of seeing them is wrong. And of course, who ever views themselves on the wrong side? I’m always right and everyone else is always wrong. My ideas are the right ideas, and everyone else is deceived, ignorant, confused, and/or delusional.

Religions, and in particular Christianity, have often been huge proponents of the black and white mentality. If it says so in the Bible, it MUST be that way! If we were taught it at church, no other view can be true. If the Bible and Jesus are right, then no one else can be. If you don’t believe as I do, you can’t possibly be a true believer.  These and many more sentiments have led to much division and derision. It is this mentality that has led to egregious atrocities and wars…all in the name of one’s religion.

With that said, the black and white mentality is not just exclusive to Christianity or even to just religion.  It exists in just about every form of human community that exists in the world. As a person who has been both within religion and outside of it, I have seen it take many forms. I have seen atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens use it against people who believe in a divine higher power. I have seen scientists use it against each others in battling out their theories. God knows that politics is rank with this kind of mentality. And in the spirit of honesty, I can say that I have participated in it myself.

Overall, Jesus did not view things in such a black and white way. In fact, I believe his actions pointed us in a different direction. Jesus surrounded himself with all sorts of different people. He invited people who were extremely different than him to join him. His companions were tax collectors, prostitutes, religious leaders, zealots, and many others who all had different ideas of what God wanted for Israel. They all had different ideas for who they thought he was and and what his mission should be. One of them even ended up betraying him as a result.

I think we can learn from Jesus’ words in the Gospel of John. “If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works” (John 10:38). Rather than seeing in black and white, rather than placing ourselves on the throne of judgment, we should be inviting others to join us in what we are doing. It doesn’t matter if we see eye-to-eye on everything, it doesn’t matter if we can agree intellectually or not, what matters is what we are doing.

Christ spent his entire three year ministry feeding the hungry, giving hope to the poor, healing the sick, and bringing abundant life to all who sought it. No matter where we are on who Jesus is, no matter where we are on who each of us are, if we share a desire to help those who are in need we should be working together to bring that about. How much energy gets wasted in senseless and pointless debates when we could be inviting others to join us in the work of bringing hope, healing and wholeness to those who need it. And who doesn’t need it? Let us stop being confrontational and join Christ in being invitational. If people won’t join us, that’s okay. Just kick the dust off of your sandals and move on to where God is calling you.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Freedom would be not to choose between black and white but to abjure such prescribed choices.” – Theodore Adorno

PRAYER

Lord, help me to move beyond seeing in black and white and allow me to be invitational as opposed to confrontational. Amen.

Two Simple Questions

Read Matthew 16:13-20

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“[Jesus] asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah.’” (Mark 8:29)

4741068-3x2-700x467Over the years I have been in ministry, I have developed a curriculum for teaching youth who are looking to be confirmed into the Christian faith. I feel that Christianity, particularly Protestant Christianity, has become rather lax in its education of confirmands and people in general. So, I took on the task of developing a curriculum that would educate those seeking confirmation so that in the end they knew why they were being confirmed and that they, indeed, wished to be confirmed into the Christian faith.

The curriculum started off with the history of Christianity, starting with Jesus of Nazareth and ending at our present age. And I didn’t just present the sugar-coated, Sunday School “history”, but a ten week study of the real history behind Christianity. Then I taught them the doctrinal and theological positions of our particular denomination, as well as its polity (or structure).

At the very outset of the class I assigned a paper to be written. I actually assigned two papers, but for the sake of this devotion, I will cover one of them. The paper I assigned was one that I actually had to write in seminary and I found it to be such a rewarding exercise that I included it in my confirmation curriculum. The questions I asked each of the students to answer are the following: “Who do people say that Jesus is?” and “Who do you say that Jesus is?”

These are the very questions that Jesus asked his disciples. They are very pointed and very important questions for anyone who places their faith in Christ to answer. None of us have grown up in a bubble. We have all learned who Jesus is from various sources. From reading the Bible, to Sunday School, to Church, to what we’ve gathered about him from our family and friends. All of those sources have helped shape our understanding of who Jesus is. And so the first question should be a fairly easy one for us to answer.

The second question, however, is one that forces us to go beyond what we’ve heard and learned about Jesus. I forces us to search our soul and our own personal experiences. It forces us to reflect on how we’ve experienced Jesus in our lives. How has he been revealed to us personally? How has he influenced our lives? How has he communicated with us? The apostles didn’t just hear things and learn things about Jesus. They knew him personally. They walked with him, asked him questions, and followed him. They witnessed him after the resurrection.

If we claim Christianity as our faith, if we believe in Christ, there has to be a reason why. Is the reason merely based off of second or third or fourth hand information passed down to you? Is it because you feel you have to believe it? If that is the case, then perhaps it isn’t belief at all. Surely, somewhere along the line you have experienced the presence of Christ in your life. Somewhere along the line you have been transformed by the presence the love of Christ.

Today’s challenge is for you to seriously reflect on the above two questions. Who do people say Christ is and who do you say Christ is? Take the time to sit, meditate and seriously reflect on who Christ is to you and why you believe the way you do. It is not an easy process, but it is certainly a rewarding one. As you grow your beliefs will adapt and grow as well. So make this exercise a part of your faith journey this Lent and beyond. Every so often revisit these questions and really see how God is working in your life.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Being a Christian is more than just an instantaneous conversion – it is a daily process whereby you grow to be more and more like Christ.” – Billy Graham

PRAYER

Lord, as I continue to walk in your light, illumine me. As I continue to seek your way, strengthen me. As I continue to grow in my faith, reveal yourself to me. Amen.

The Happiest Place on Earth

Read Galatians 3:1-5

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)

Disney-World-in-Orlando-FloridaI just returned from my family vacation in Walt Disney World down in sunny Orlando, Florida. Let me tell you, there is nothing like a Florida vacation when you are in the middle of a record-cold and snowy winter. The skies were blue and clear, the humidity was non-existent, the temperature was 75-80 degrees, and the people were as friendly as can be. Quite frankly, with temperatures like that, it’s hard not to be friendly.

Speaking of friendly, have you ever been to Walt Disney World? The people working there are always the nicest, most friendly people you’ll ever meet. They all have big, bright smiles on their faces. They all look genuinely happy to be at work. They all treat the park goers (aka the customers) as if they can do no wrong. Walt Disney World is certainly the HAPPIEST place on earth. If any of the “cast” members are having a bad day at work, no one would ever be able to tell.

While reflecting theologically on Walt Disney World, one can’t help but notice that the place is almost too happy. It’s almost too clean. I mean, one never finds a shred of paper, bubble gum, straw or trace of any kind of litter around the park at all. That is because they employ a whole host of “happy” helpers to sweep it up. When one enters Walt Disney World, it is as if they are leaving the real world and entering the greatest utopia ever (that is unless you hate to wait on lines…then you might not find it a utopia at all).

I have heard people muse that it would be awesome if the church took a clue from Walt Disney World. In other words, some people think that the church would be a whole lot more successful in its outreach and its growth if it would just put a smile on its face and show the world that the church is a happy, happy place. If churches would just be happy and distance themselves from fighting, bickering, power playing, and judging then it would only make sense that more people would want to go to church, right?

Yet, is that the answer for the church? To put on an act of happiness? Should the church turn itself into a clean, wholesome, happy-go-lucky, unlittered, perfect-in-every-way stage. Should church members become cast members who only show their good sides and are given no place to show any other side but their good sides? Would this church even be called “real”, should such a church exist?

The fact of the matter is that Jesus never called for a clean church; rather, Jesus calls us, the church, to get our hands dirty. We are called to be present in the lives of others. We are called to express ourselves honestly, we are called to present others with the opportunity to express themselves honestly. We are not called to be perfect, but are being called toward perfection.

The truth is that it would not be healthy for the church to model itself after Walt Disney World, as that is not true to what the church really is. The church is a mess that God continues to work in and through. It is because we are a mess that we are kept humble and that we are continually reminded of our need for God to guide us through! While it certainly wouldn’t hurt for our church to be cheerful and joyful, and it certainly wouldn’t hurt for church members to be as hospitable as the Disney Cast Members are taught to be, we are not called to be an escape from the real world, but the hope of God brought into the midst of a real and messy world. It’s time to get our hands dirty!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“This is the very perfection of a man, to find out his own imperfections.” – St. Augustine of Hippo

PRAYER

Lord, rather than seeking to be perfect, I seek to be perfected by you. Show me where I err, and change me to what you will. Amen.

Daily Reminder of God’s Love for You

God__s_love_and_glory_by_imruiFor the next couple of weeks I will be away on a retreat, followed by a family vacation. While I will not be writing new devotions until I return, I wanted to leave you with daily reminders, for the next ten days, of God’s unconditional love for you. Read on per day and meditate on the scriptures (New Living Translation) throughout the day. Let them be a reminder to you that you are God’s special Creation, that you are loved unconditionally, and that God is calling you to do the same.

Friday, February 21, 2014

“Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8)

Daily Reminder of God’s Love for You

God__s_love_and_glory_by_imruiFor the next couple of weeks I will be away on a retreat, followed by a family vacation. While I will not be writing new devotions until I return, I wanted to leave you with daily reminders, for the next ten days, of God’s unconditional love for you. Read on per day and meditate on the scriptures (New Living Translation) throughout the day. Let them be a reminder to you that you are God’s special Creation, that you are loved unconditionally, and that God is calling you to do the same.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are My disciples.” (John 13:34-35)

Daily Reminder of God’s Love for You

God__s_love_and_glory_by_imruiFor the next couple of weeks I will be away on a retreat, followed by a family vacation. While I will not be writing new devotions until I return, I wanted to leave you with daily reminders, for the next ten days, of God’s unconditional love for you. Read on per day and meditate on the scriptures (New Living Translation) throughout the day. Let them be a reminder to you that you are God’s special Creation, that you are loved unconditionally, and that God is calling you to do the same.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

“My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)