Tag Archives: Christianity

What’s Religion Got to Do with It?

Read Micah 6:1-8

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Then [Jesus] turned to His critics and asked, “Does the law permit good deeds on the Sabbath, or is it a day for doing evil? Is this a day to save life or to destroy it?” But they wouldn’t answer Him.” (Mark 3:4, NLT)

I-praise-you-oh-God-christianity-30793563-1658-1387If I were to ask what Christianity is, I would no doubt get a variety of answers starting with, Christianity is a major world religion. That answer would be followed by a host of other answers such as Christianity is a religion that is based around Jesus the Christ. Some might respond that Christianity is a religion that teaches about God’s unconditional love, about God’s forgiveness and about Grace. One might say that Christianity is a religion centered around Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and a religion that celebrates a new life through Christ’s resurrection from the tomb.

Regardless of what answers one might come up with in order to address what Christianity is, they would all most certainly be centered around “religion.” Yet, did Jesus come to establish a new religion. There is no doubt that Jesus was a Jewish teacher who lived and breathed his Jewish faith; however, was it religion that Jesus was focused on?

Let us look at what Jesus did and taught. Jesus taught about loving God and loving our neighbors as ourselves. Jesus taught about recognizing and valuing the image of God in all humanity. Jesus not only taught those things, but lived them out and modeled them for the people he taught, often times at the expense of getting in trouble because he was going against what his “religion” told him he should do. In reality, Jesus was much less about religion and more about relationships.

For Jesus, it was important that people were living in right relationship with God and with each other. If religion helped guide people in that direction then it was doing its purpose; however, often times, religion gets caught up on the rules and regulations, on the structure and hierarchy. Often times, religion becomes more about pleasing the system than it does about pleasing God. What’s worse, pleasing the system is sold to people as being “pleasing to God.”

But Jesus, and the prophets who came before him, knew that what was pleasing to God had little to do with religion and EVERYTHING to do with relationships. So, why go to church then? Why should we be involved in a religious institution, one might ask? The reason is because God calls us to be in relationship with one another, to be in a Christian community that will encourage us…and to be in a Christian community that we can be an encouraging presence in. God wishes for us to build each other up, support each other, celebrate our triumphs together and support each other in our weaknesses.

It is in the Christian community where we find spiritual growth and nourishment. It is in the Christian community where we find opportunities to be a part of the work of Christ in the world. It is in the Christian community where we find accountability as well as the grace to learn from our mistakes and grow into the person God is calling us to be. It is within the Christian community, not within the Christian “religion”, that we find that the presence of God is truly with us…it is within that community where we find that we are NOT alone! Remember that while God does wish for us to get hung up on dogma and religious rules and regulations, God very much does want us to be present in a community working toward seeking justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with our God. The challenge today is to find your place in the Christian community. God is calling you!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Personal relationships are the fertile soil from which all advancement, all success, all achievement in real life grows.” – Ben Stein

PRAYER

Lord, work in me and through me to strengthen the relationships I do have as well as to begin to build new ones.  Place me in the midst of your community. Amen.

By Our Love

Read Jeremiah 2:12-13

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act–they will be blessed in their doing.” (James 1:23-25)

CrackedLandAs a child growing up in the Christian church, I was always taught that Christianity was about love.  One of the first hymns a child learns in the church is “Jesus Loves Me,” and there other hymns that children learn that promote that image of a loving God and a loving Church. Hymns like “Jesus Loves the Little Children” making lasting impressions on the young child about God’s character, as well as the character of the God-loving church.

And,honestly, that image doesn’t get lost among adult hymns either. One such hymn that comes to mind is the hymn, “They Will Know We Are Christian by Our Love.” In that hymn, Carol Arends writes, “We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord and we pray that all unity will one day be restored. And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love. They will know we are Christians by our love.”

The hymn goes on to speak about Christians working side-by-side and walking with each other hand-in-hand. These are the images of Christians that we put forward to our children, to each other, and to the world at large. Yet, is that how we, as Christians, truly live? Do we treat each other with dignity and lay down our pride? Do we see the value in each person we come across and hold them in the same regard as we hold ourselves? Do we accept each other with the love of God in our hearts, or do we judge others without giving God a chance to shine through?

Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there. If we are claiming to be followers of Jesus Christ and yet behave in a way that is contrary to the character of Christ, we do far more than just push people away from us; rather, we end up pushing people further away from Christ. People looking in at the church often find themselves saying, “I don’t want any part of that.” In the end, instead of being vessels for God’s hope, healing and wholeness, we end up being like cracked cisterns who have abandoned the fountain of Living Water.

Throughout Scripture, God has invited people into a deeper relationship with God through living in a right relationship with each other. The latter part is essential to the former. We cannot be in right relationship with God, we cannot be drinking from the fountain of Living Water, if we are not loving others as God has first loved us. That is why Jesus said that loving thy neighbor (including your enemies) as oneself is likened to loving God with all of our beings.

Today’s challenge is to look openly and honestly at yourself. Are you living in a way that is pleasing to God or in a way that pushes others further from God. Are you bearing the Christian spirit that you claim to possess? Of course, none of us are perfect and none of us will perfectly live into the image of Christ. We all, myself included, have room to grow; however, until we are honest with ourselves and open to the transformative work of the Holy Spirit, we will always stop short of growing. God wishes for you, for me and for all of humanity to continue to grow into reflectors of God’s love. No doubt, by the grace of God, we will be brought from where we are to where God wants us to be! Remember, they will know we are Christian by our love!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

Actions speak louder than words.

PRAYER

Lord, continue to work in me, continue to mold me, and continue to bring me from where I am to where you want me to be. Amen.

 

Rise and Shine

Read John 11:1-44

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:54-55)

rise-and-shine-wendy-keelyThere are times in our life when we all have to struggle through loss and grief. Just recently, my Great Uncle Bill passed away unexpectedly. I had visited with him a couple weeks before and knew he had some health struggles, but did not think that two weeks later he would no longer be alive. How quickly things can happen; in the blink of an eye, life can take sudden and drastic turns. So, this devotion is dedicated to the memory of my Great Uncle Bill.

Who was my Uncle Bill? First and foremost, he wasn’t perfect. After all, what human being really is? He certainly made his share of mistakes and, like the rest of us, had to find peace with himself and others in the midst of those mistakes. But his life was not an easy one. As a young boy, he was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and went paralyzed and completely blind. Over time, his M.S. went into remission and he regained his ability to walk and regained sight in one of his eyes.

Despite his disabilities, he was a person of faith. Though he was blind in one eye, he read the Bible from front to back several times and always displayed his love for God. Like most of us, he wrestled with his faith and with his God (Genesis 32:28), and like all of us he had his strengths and his weaknesses; however, his faith carried him throughout his life.

My great Uncle was a person who loved others…even if he wasn’t always able to express it. He loved his wife, he loved his sister, he loved his nieces and nephews and even extended his love to a dear friend of my family, considering her as family too. He always told me he was proud of me, and I know that he supported me with his prayers over the years. It is hard for me to think that he is gone now, and I am so thankful that I was able to see him a couple weeks ago. I know that my presence with him meant the world to him and I know he had the peace of God in him.

I would imagine that Jesus felt the same way about his dear friend Lazarus as I do about my great Uncle. I am sure that he felt the sting of loss as sharply as I am feeling it, as sharply as any of us feel it when we lose someone we’ve grown to love and respect. Experiencing loss is never easy and whether we lose someone due to them passing away, or to them moving on to a different chapter in their lives, the loss we feel can be overwhelming.

Yet the story did not end with Lazarus in the grave; rather, Jesus called him forth out of the grave and into a new life. That is the power that God has in all of our lives…the power to resurrect us out of the graves of grief and loss we find ourselves in. There is always the hope of new life and new beginnings, the hope that God is always with us and with the ones we love. That is the hope and faith that my Uncle Bill was filled with, and it is a reality he now experiencing in its fullest.

Like Jesus, and like my great Uncle Bill, we should never lose sight of the hope we have in God. Though we find ourselves locked away in the tombs of our circumstances and in the tombs of loss and grief, we should never forget the power of the resurrection that lies within us. Like Lazarus, Christ is calling us to rise out of our tombs and experience the new life that God has in store for us. Welcome to resurrection day! Morning has broken and the loving presence of God is upon you. Rise and shine and give God the glory by living into the legacy of hope and faith.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime.” – Martin Luther

PRAYER
Lord, Guide me by your grace to be a beacon of your hope, healing and wholeness. Amen.

 

Let Harmony Ring

Read Psalm 133

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another.” (Galatians 5:13-15)

elements_of_harmony_circle__vector__by_akili_amethyst-d5fxotcEvery person who has ever walked the earth has run into somebody at some point that they just don’t like. Perhaps the person seems snooty, or they just rub you the wrong way; we have all had the experience of being around people who seem to clash with our personalities and sensibilities. It is an unavoidable consequence to living in a community.

I have often heard some even state that they “hate” people out of frustration because of the way someone else treated them. To be completely honest, I have found myself uttering those words…especially when I used to commute long distances in heavy traffic. I have no doubt that I am not alone when I say that there are times I wish I were alone with no one else around to cut me off, give me attitude, or say something hurtful to me.

Yet, when we stop to think about it, the alternative is far, far worse. Just take a moment and try and imagine a world in which you truly were alone. Try and imagine a world where there was, literally, no one around to “bother” you. What kind of world would that be? How would you truly manage without the presence of others? How would you survive even a day without others to socially interact with?

There are many movies that try and picture what such an apocalyptic world would look like, where a person wakes up to find him or herself isolated in a world where no other human life exists. These films usually throw in zombies or other human survivors and never really explore what life alone would truly be like. Perhaps that is because life alone is something we really cannot fathom…it’s something that goes against our very nature and experience as human beings.

As children of God, we were designed to be in relationship with one another. We were called to live in harmony with other people. Some people get the idea that harmony means that we all hold hands and agree to skip down the yellow brick road together; however, that is not true harmony at all. Harmony is not someone always agreeing with me and what I believe to be correct; rather, harmony happens when people simultaneously put aside their differences to find common ground to stand on.

Harmony takes work. It does not come easy; however, we were created to live harmoniously with each other. God does not wish for us to gossip, slander, hold grudges, or be hateful toward others; rather, God wants us to be loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good and faithful toward one another. We should be striving to bring harmony into our communities, not discord.

Today’s challenge for us is to be agents of harmony. There are plenty of people who will rub us the wrong way, there are plenty of people who we will not particularly like, and there are certainly plenty of people who are different than us. Today we are being challenged to look past that and to see the commonality that we all share together…the commonality of being children of God, made in God’s image. Look past the differences, allow for people to be who they are, and love them as God loves them. Let the harmonizing begin!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!” – The Apostle Paul in Romans 12:16

PRAYER

Lord, I pray that I may become an agent of harmony within the communities I am a part of. Amen.

 

Mountain Mover

Read Matthew 1:1-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)

MountainMoverBoth of my children have always been smart and studious, always striving to do well in their studies at school. They have each done very well in their grades and my oldest has even won the Presidential Award for Academic Achievement.  At the end of this last school year, my oldest daughter was told that her teachers were recommending her for honors classes for the next school year.

 One of the honors classes she is going to be taking this year is Literature. She has always been an avid reader, and reads countless books. One of the requirements for eighth grade honors Literature is for them to read three books during the summer, two of which are classics: “Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens and “Call of the Wild” by Jack London. For those who have read those books, they know that is a pretty high bar for an eighth grader.

 Just the other night, my daughter was stressing out. She had read up through chapter 20 in the book, and she felt that she just wasn’t understanding this book.  “I am not sure it is really making sense Dad,” she confided in me. “I have to read this book and be able to answer questions about it, and I just don’t think I am going to be able to.” Clearly, she was distressed about the work that lay before her.

 We’ve all been there, we’ve all had moments that we felt we just weren’t up to the challenge. We’ve all been overwhelmed by the circumstances and challenges that faced us and have felt at a loss for just how we were going to survive. Perhaps even some of us have had negative attitudes toward those challenges. Perhaps we have told ourselves that we couldn’t possibly rise up to them, let alone above them; of course, such an attitude almost always becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

 All we need to do is recognize and embrace our faith. Jesus taught his disciples that if we had faith the size of the tiniest of seeds we could move mountains. There is nothing that God cannot get us through. There isn’t any fear, doubt, obstacle, or task that is too large for God to handle. All we need to is to have faith that God would not allow us to be crushed by this world or it’s circumstances. All we need is a little faith in God’s ability to work through our circumstances.

 This is not to say that God CAUSES our circumstances. Life happens as it does, and we are constantly being affected by our own choices as well as the choices of others around us.  That’s the reality of living in a community, of living in a world with other people. Yet, God never ceases to be with us, regardless of the challenges before us. God is constantly working for the good of those who love God and are called according to God’s purpose (Romans 8:28).

 So, have a little faith! Pick your chin up and know that you are not alone in your circumstances. Know that you are God’s and that God would never forsake you or fail you. Have faith in God, but also have faith in the abilities God has given you. God is constantly preparing us and equipping us with the abilities and tools to handle the challenges before us.  Have a little faith and be a mountain mover! Know that you are empowered by God’s Holy Spirit to rise up to any challenge that comes your way, no matter how great or small. Remember, all things are possible through Christ who gives us strength!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Faith is the strength by which a shattered world shall emerge into the light.” – Helen Keller

PRAYER

Lord, open the eyes of my heart so that I may see that through me, you can move the mountains. Amen.

Why Not Me?

Read Matthew 20

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“The greatest among you must be a servant. But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:11-12)

trafficEvery year around Spring and Fall, as the pollen starts to float ad nauseum in the air, I have been known to come down with killer sinus infections.  These infections come on like the Flu, literally, and I am rendered useless until I go to the doctor and get it treated. Every time, I get hit with such a sinus infection, I begin to look up at the heavens and question, “Why me? I mean, why do I always end up with these blasted infections! It’s just not fair!”

There are definitely other scenarios that cause me to ask the same question, “Why me?” When I get stopped at the traffic light…”Why me?” When I get behind a slow car…”why me?” When I get served the wrong food or the service is too slow…”why me?!?!?” The truth is that I am certainly not alone in asking that question! I can’t tell you how many times I have heard that question asked and, of course, there are host of different reasons for people asking it.

If we are going to be honest, though, any “reason” we come up with for asking that question is superficial; rather, to be completely honest would be to recognize that such a question stems from a sense of entitlement, which stems from our own self-centeredness.  It is because I am concerned with “me” and the way “I” feel that causes me to ask the question “Why me?” I guess, the real question we should be asking ourselves is, “why not me?”

Why shouldn’t I get sick? Why shouldn’t I get stuck at a traffic light or behind a slow car? Why should I get served by only the most perfect people and only the most timely of manners? What makes me so special that I should feel entitled to stuff that no one else in the entire world is entitled to? Do I live up to the perfection I expect out of others?

When I went to the Bay of Bengal in India, I walked among the fisher people who lived in houses that were smaller than my office; they were sharing that tiny space with their extended family. There are children who have to walk miles one way to get to a clean source of water. No matter what country you are from, there are people within your very communities that suffer from poverty, malnutrition, abuse, addiction, cancers,illnesses and any variety of things. Is it okay that they have to go through such things? Are we thinking of them when we begrudgingly cry out, “Why me?”

Entitlement didn’t sit right with Jesus, who taught us to look beyond ourselves and to put ourselves in the shoes of others. Jesus stood up in opposition of people who felt entitled, who felt that they were in a better place than others. Jesus stood in opposition to self-centeredness; rather, he called for people to deny themselves, to pick up their crosses, and to follow him (Matthew 16:24).

The truth is that we should all be asking ourselves, “why not me?” Why shouldn’t I be challenged by life in the same ways that others are challenged? Why shouldn’t I be in a position to learn more patience? Why I shouldn’t I be in a position to acquire more humility? Why shouldn’t I be in a position to compassionately put myself in someone else’s shoes before judging them? Why not me? If we pause for even a moment to ask ourselves that, perhaps we will not only recognize the real hurt others are in, but we will also step up to do something about it. Today’s challenge for us is to set aside any sense of entitlement and to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“When we feel impatient, we are agitated & unhappy in the moment. When this happens, ‘name’ it, breathe & release your sense of entitlement.” – Unknown

PRAYER

Lord, guide me to a place of contentment and use me in a way that brings blessings to those who are in need of them. Amen.

All Ears

Read Matthew 15:21-28

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“My child, listen and be wise: Keep your heart on the right course.“ (Proverbs 23:19)

earFamily time has always been important to me. As a child, I grew up in a home where both my parents valued and encouraged family time. One of the ways that we spent time together as a family was at the dinner table.  My mom and/or my dad would cook dinner and we would sit together and eat. Our dinner time was not just about eating; however, it was very much centered on good, ole’ fashioned conversation.

As an adult and a parent, I still hang on to that value. If you ask my wife or my children, they will tell you how important it is to me for us to be spending family time together, including but not limited to the dinner table. And at the dinner table, aside from my egging them all on about how unhealthy their food is (I mean I have to have some fun as a vegan), we spend a lot of time listening to each other. We listen to how each of our days were, we listen to all of the things that excited us, we listen to all of the things that upset us, we listen to each other express ourselves in a variety of ways.

Perhaps what I just wrote above strikes you funny, or perhaps you didn’t pick up on my wording at all, but the key action that ties our time together as a family is listening to each other.  One of the most important, yet most neglected, things in our culture is the art of listening.  In today’s world we are so inundated with our own personal soundtracks, our own agendas, our own judgments, biases and egos to silence ourselves. No one really seems to care to listen anymore. Rather than take the time it requires to listen to what others are saying, to what they are truly expressing, we head off into rash judgments and close the doors to any sort of beneficial dialog.

In Matthew 15, we see Jesus being urged by his disciples to not take the time to listen to the Gentile woman who was begging for Jesus to heal her daughter. They wanted him to send her away, after all, she was bothering them with all her begging. The disciples were not truly listening to her, they weren’t compassionately putting themselves in her shoes. In some ways, even Jesus didn’t truly listen to her at first, as evidenced when, in essence, he told her that it wouldn’t be right for him to heal her daughter since she was a Gentile. Yet, in the end, Jesus did listen and, in her expression, Jesus saw her heart and her faith. Rather than pushing her away, rather than silencing her plea for the healing of her daughter, rather than invalidating her need for his help, Jesus listened to her and, following that, a miracle happened.

The point of all of this is that God is calling each of us to speak less and listen more. Whether we need to take the time to listen to others or we need to pause and take the time to truly listen to ourselves, listening is an essential component to the human relationship. It is through the art of listening that relationships grow and prosper. It is through the art of listening that we gain understanding of others and of ourselves. It is through the art of listening that we find ourselves open to the miraculous things that God has in store for us. Be still and learn to listen.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.“ – Bryant H. McGill

PRAYER

Lord, teach me to be a better listener to other as well as to myself. Amen.

 

A LOOK BACK: Seeing Beyond the Big Wig

Well, it’s summertime again and my family and I are on vacation. While we are away, I will not be writing any new devotionals; however, this is a great opportunity to look back at a couple of devotions that were written over the course of the past year.  Today’s devotion was written on Friday, August 24, 2012. I hope that, though this was written last year, in it you may find a relevant message that God is speaking to you. So without further adieu, click below to read:

Seeing Beyond the Big Wig

The Big Wig

A LOOK BACK: Filled For Eternity

Well, it’s summertime again and my family and I are on vacation. While we are away, I will not be writing any new devotionals; however, this is a great opportunity to look back at a couple of devotions that were written over the course of the past year.  Today’s devotion was written on Wednesday, August 15, 2012. I hope that though this was written last year, that in it you may find a relevant message that God is speaking to you. So without further adieu, click below to read:

Filled for Eternity

Blueberries

 

A LOOK BACK: Proving God?

Well, it’s summertime again and my family and I are on vacation. While we are away, I will not be writing any new devotionals; however, this is a great opportunity to look back at a couple of devotions that were written over the course of the past year.  Today’s devotion was written on Wednesday, August 29, 2012. I hope that though this was written last year, that in it you may find a relevant message that God is speaking to you. So without further adieu, click below to read:

Proving God?

Michelangelo's "God Touching Adam" segment of the Sistine Chapel Ceiling