Tag Archives: Christianity

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

The Easy Button

Read Matthew 7:13-14

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

IMG_4773“That was easy!” I cringe every time I hear those words coming through the television set. At first the advertisements were somewhat amusing. Someone presses a big red button, some task gets miraculously done and out come the words, “That was easy!” Of course, the advertisements were for Staples who were claiming how their services make one’s life so much easier.

Then, following the advertisements came the actual buttons that came out in the store. The second my children saw the buttons displayed with the words ” TRY ME!!!” splashed across the box, my hope for a nice, peaceful home were ruined. Before I knew it, the easy button had complicated my world with the incessant noise pollution being emitted from it. “That was easy! That was easy! That was easy! That was easy! Hahaha daddy, this is funny…That was easy!”

It’s rather ironic, as I sit and think about it, how difficult that blasted “easy button” made my life, especially as a full time seminary student trying to study. It is also ironic that through the difficulty of studying produced by the “Easy Button” I grew into a student who could study despite distractions. As a result of the “easy button”, and other noise makers, I learned to tune out noise and get my work done. Regardless, suffice it to say that the “easy button” did not make my life easy as it had been advertised.

Often times we, as human beings, look for the miraculous, red, and shiny easy button to solve our problems. If only life were easy, if only there weren’t challenges, if only we didn’t have to work so darn hard for everything! We imagine a world in which there are no challenges, no sweat, no blood spilled, and no turmoil. We imagine a paradise without pain, without bumps in the road, without disagreements and without fighting. We imagine a world where everyone got along, a world in which everyone held hands and skipped merrily down the yellow brick road together.

Yet, would that kind of reality really make life easy? Would a world without challenges, would a world without trials and tribulations, would a world without setbacks and pitfalls really be an “easier” world? Would such a world lead us to be better human beings? Would such a world lead us to an appreciation for what it means to work hard for something? Would there be any kind of growth in a world where everything was easy? What reward would there be in such a world?

The fact of the matter is that without the difficulties and challenges, I would not be who I am today. I would not know what it means to lose a hundred pounds, to go through college while working and raising two children. I would not know what it means to have a meaningful relationship with my daughters, with my wife, with my friends, with my family, or with God. Rather than getting caught up in the flashy world of instant gratification, let us take the time to pause and thank God for the blessing our challenges have been to us. While God does not wish, nor cause, bad things to happen to us, God has certainly worked good in, through and in spite of those things in order to shape us into who we are today. Take a deep breath and thank God that it wasn’t THAT easy!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Welcome to wherever you are, this is your life, you’ve made it this far!” – Bon Jovi

PRAYER

Lord, help me to see that all things are possible in you. Remind me that it only takes faith the size of a mustard seed to move mountains. Amen.

 

Extreme Makeover

Read Matthew 7:1-6

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.” (Psalm 139:14).

dreamstime_l_20636837Have you ever seen the show Extreme Makeover? It was a show on TV that centered around taking people who were considered to be in need of a “new look”, bringing them to Hollywood, and giving them a makeover.  These makeovers weren’t just a day out to posh clothing stores and applying top of the line makeup; rather, these makeovers included plastic surgery such as face-lifts, breast augmentation, liposuction, and other appearance-altering surgeries.

In the American culture, more focus is given to how we look than to any other thing. Everywhere we go we are inundated with images that tell us we are not as perfect as someone else thinks we should be.  I hear my own daughters saying, “I wish I looked like that,” every time they stare at these unrealistic images of women who, outside of Photoshop, don’t really exist. 

We are all in a race to look the best that we possibly can so that people don’t judge us. God forbid if we look unkempt or frumpy when we go out to the supermarket. God forbid if someone sees us in our PJs or if we aren’t wearing enough make up to mask our “imperfections.” The fact is, many of us spend a great deal of time trying focusing on how we look and for good reason. We all have learned that we get judged by our appearance. I am sure that you are nodding your head in agreement as I write this. Our culture focuses too much on appearance.

What is sadder than what I have already written about above, is the fact that the church is no different than the rest of the world and, in some cases, it can be far worse in its judgment. If people don’t look the right way, if they don’t smell the right way, if they don’t say the right things, if they don’t believe things the way we do, and if they don’t fit in with our way of doing things then they are clearly NOT ONE OF US!

That is the mentality that fills the hearts and minds of many people in the church and it is a sad one considering that Jesus, himself, wouldn’t have fell in line with any of our categories. We are so busy judging others that we often forget the true reason we are the church to begin with: namely, that we were loved by God and given undeserved grace despite our not doing things the “right” way. Who has more of a right to build up walls of distinction more than God? Can anyone of us claim that right?

The question for us is this, if God chose not to judge us, what makes us think we have the right to judge others? If God chose to accept us how we are, what gives us the right to demand that others undergo an extreme makeover? If God is cool with difference and diversity, why are we so fearful of it?  The challenge for us is to embrace the uniqueness of others and celebrate them for being who GOD MADE THEM TO BE. Remember that God made you who you are. Just the same, God made others who they are and we are called to celebrate in that fact. Let us makeover our hearts and warmly welcome people, as they are, in God’s love and God’s grace.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“When you judge another, you do not define them, you define yourself.” – Wayne Dyer

PRAYER

Lord, makeover my heart and help me to be an extension of your love and grace so that others may know, through me, that you love them. Amen!