Tag Archives: Devotion

A LOOK BACK: Denial and the Cross

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. This is the month of retreats for me, so as I am busy leading them, 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.

The Sermon, part 20: Two Choices

Read Matthew 6:19-24

“Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that His kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?” (Romans 2:4 NLT)

twochoicesIn Rabbinic Judaism, which developed following the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple in 70 CE, three tenants or pillars developed in the Jewish faith. It’s not that these “pillars” didn’t inherently exist within Judaism; rather, it is that it wasn’t until post-70 CE that they were so coined. The pillars represented the way one was to remain true to Judaism without the existence of the Temple, which was the center of the Jewish faith. Thus, the pillars replaced the Temple as the center of the Jewish faith and provided a way for people to live up to the Jewish covenant with God in the absence of a Temple.

The three pillars are Torah (including the study of the Torah), avodah shebalev (worship of the heart, aka prayer), and gimilut chasidim (acts of loving kindness). In other words, in order to remain a faithful Jew following the destruction of the Temple, one had to study the Torah and live faithfully by it, one had to worship God in their heart through regular and persistent prayer, and one had to perform acts of loving kindness in the world around them. By doing this, one was living in a way that was a holy and living sacrifice to God. Since there was no Temple to sacrifice in, this was the way the Rabbis taught to express faithful devotion to God. In fact, one could argue that if people lived perfectly by the three pillars, there would be little need to offer sacrifices in atonement of sin. Clearly, the three pillars are a noble and holy way to aspire to.

Matthew 6:19-7:12 parallels the third pillar of Judaism: acts of loving kindness. Today’s passage, Matthew 6:19-24, kicks off the section with another antithetical form. In essence, Jesus states that people either store up treasure on earth, or they store up treasure in heaven. People either hold onto material goods that will eventually be lost, or they will attain everlasting goods. People will either have a clear eye and live life in the light, or they will have a bad eye and live an utterly hopeless and confused life in the darkness. People will either serve “things” or they will serve God.

These antitheses serve to remind us that we are always facing two choices: the choice to do what is right and the choice to do what is wrong, the choice to follow God, or the choice to follow ourselves. Our God is a God of action and, thus, it makes sense that Jesus would lay out these antitheses centered on what we do versus what we do not do. It is important that we not only “believe” in Christ, but that we FOLLOW Christ and that we live our “beliefs” out in tangible ways.

Jesus doesn’t take time to explain what “heavenly treasure” is, nor does he go into detail on how to attain it. That is beyond Jesus’ point and he leaves it open for his disciples to respond in creative ways unique to their own situations. In other words, Jesus leaves room for interpretation. Where the wiggle room stops here: one either is actively working for God, being set apart for God, or one is not. Christ makes that very, very clear.

In our world we often look at the eyes as the window that lets light into brain, which then interprets that light, and shadows, into the objects we see. The ancients, Jesus included, had a different understanding of the eye. For the ancient world, the eye was a lamp that shined light on what we were seeing, thus illuminating objects so that they can be seen. Despite the two different understandings of the mechanics of the human eye, Jesus’ point is made clear by the fact that he makes it in the context of money and material gain. If the eye is seeking material gain, the person it belongs to will be misled and lost in a state of confusion and darkness. Their entire way of seeing the world will be perverted by their “eye’s” focus, which is really the focus of their heart.

This of course, is followed up with Jesus famous “mammon” verse, where Jesus states that one cannot serve two masters, that one cannot serve God and “mammon” or money. The fact is this, Jesus is reminding all of us that we have to make a choice, do we follow God or do we follow ourselves? Do we recognize Christ as our Lord, or do are we lords over our own lives? The choice is simple. If we choose Christ, then the Gospels (and all of Scripture in the light of the Gospels) points us to what our lives ought to become. If our lives are not matching up with the Gospel, that means we are not fully committal in serving Christ alone. Each of us falls into this reality, but Christ has gracefully given us the measure, along with the Holy Spirit, to begin to change.

“There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.” (Edith Wharton)

Lord, you are the light. Open my eyes that I may see it, embrace it, and reflect it. Amen.

The Sermon, part 13: Be Perfect

Read Matthew 5:48

“You must remain completely loyal to the LORD your God.” (Deuteronomy 18:13 NRSV)

John Wesley preaching to the masses.

“But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48 NLT). Wait, what did Jesus just say? Did Jesus just tell his disciples, us included, that we are to be PERFECT? How can that be? Didn’t he, as the Son of God, know what Apostle Paul was going to write in Romans 3:23, “Everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard” (NLT)? Okay, I am being facetious here but, honestly, if all have sinned and no one is righteous, then how can anyone of us “be perfect”. It seems like either Jesus is out of touch or he’s a spiritual tyrant, demanding his “subjects” do the impossible.

In order to understand what is meant by this problematic command, “Be perfect”, we need to unpack our own understanding of the word “perfect” and the Western concept of “perfection” and juxtapose it with the Jewish understanding, which will give us a clew what Jesus was intending by this command. What makes interpreting Scripture difficult is that words often don’t translate perfectly from one language to the other, and this is a classic case of that.

Matthew, in writing Jesus’ words, is doing so in Greek. The Greek word for “perfect” is τελειος (pronounced tel’-i-os), meaning complete. This can be complete in terms of the completion of one’s tasks, it can refer to growth, as well as one’s moral character, among other meanings. The way this traditionally gets interpreted when the common person reads it in English, is that Jesus is calling for people to be morally perfect just as Gods is perfect. This misunderstanding causes frustration and/or it causes the reader to dilute the meaning to something less that what Jesus actually says.

Yet, it is important to note that, while Matthew is writing in Greek, he is pulling this word perfect from the LXX (the Greek compilation of the Hebrew Scriptures). The word “perfect” that Matthew is using can be found in passages such as Deuteronomy 18:13, which comes from the Hebrew word תָּמִים (pronounced taw-meem’). This word can mean “entire” (literally, figuratively, or morally). It can refer to integrity, being without blemish, being full, perfect, sincere, sound (as in sound judgment), undefiled, upright, and/or whole. One can see that, while the word “perfect” and “complete” do factor into both the Greek and the Hebrew words, there is a subtle, but important, difference between the two of them in terms of how to interpret them.

When looking at the context of Deuteronomy 18:13, one can see that being “blameless before lord” means to be “undefiled” in terms of following the Lord. Again, in context, the Israelites were being warned against only half-heartedly serving God and falling into the idolatrous practices of Gentiles, among whom they were living. So, in this context, the word is less speaking of moral perfection (in that one is morally “sinless” and, thefore, totally perfect in the sight of God), and is more or less calling God’s people into serving God wholeheartedly. In other words, don’t be tainted by the way the world does things; rather, be untainted and serve God wholeheartedly. Be wholly devoted to God, just as God is wholly devoted to you.

“You are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” This command, as you can see, is not demanding the impossible; rather, it is demanding what is due God: your whole heart! None of us are perfect, none of us are without sin, and Jesus is not demanding we try to attain perfection in that sense. Our Lord, is demanding that we devote ourselves wholly to God and be the antithesis to the WAY OF THE WORLD. With God’s help, we CAN and WILL attain such devotion.

“Christian perfection, therefore, does not imply (as [some] seem to have imagined) an exemption either from ignorance or mistake, or infirmities or temptations. Indeed, it is only another term for holiness. They are two names for the same thing. Thus every one that is perfect is holy, and every one that is holy is, in the Scripture sense, perfect.” – John Wesley, Christian Perfection (Sermon 40.9)

Lord, set me apart and make me holy. Perfect me so that, in you, I am perfect. I want to serve you wholeheartedly and devote my life in your service, not the worlds. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: Monster Squad

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. While I know we are in the midst of an on going series, “The Sermon”, I am in the midst of important paperwork this week, which is keeping me from writing my devotions. I thank you for your prayers. Please know that I will be diving back into that series next week. In the meantime, 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.

A LOOK BACK: Be Still, My Soul

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.

The Beatitudes, part 7: Pure in Heart

Read Matthew 5:8

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart to revere your name. (Psalms 86:11 NRSV)

pure-heart-5-1Jesus, before the entire multitude, continues on in his beatitudes, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” This beatitude would not have shocked the average Jewish person. After all, Jesus was referencing Psalm 24:3-4, “Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place? Those who have clean hands and pure hearts, who do not lift up their souls to what is false, and do not swear deceitfully.” (Psalms 24:3-4 NLT)

But before we get into who the “pure in heart” are, let us first discuss what Jesus IS NOT referring to. While on the beach at the ocean with my family yesterday, my daughter asked me a rather direct question, “Dad, what’s debauchery.” That may sound like a strange question coming from one’s daughter; however, in context, she was reading George Orwell’s “1984”, which she was assigned as summer reading for school. It is in that book that she came across the word, which isn’t exactly a word people regularly use anymore.

After I explained what debauchery was, we left the beach and went out to eat. We were seated by our hostess in the bar section of the restaurant that we were eating at on the boardwalk. We’ve eaten there plenty of times uneventfully and we always go during “family-friendly” times to avoid any sort of wild party scene. Well, that plan was foiled by a group of rather self-absorbed adults who were clearly getting a head start on their raucus drinking and were, ironically, giving my daughters an object lesson of what “debauchery” is all about. Now, my daughters are old enough to know what’s going on and to know it’s “NOT COOL”, but there were other infants, toddlers, and children there with their families, who were equally shocked by the behavior of these debaucherous “adults.”

I am sure I need not go into detail with you as to what they were doing, but they were anything but the “cool” they thought they were being…if they were thinking at all. Let me say this, REAL ADULTS are mindful of children and innocent ones around them; these people were clearly not acting like real adults. With all of this said, when Jesus referred to the “pure in heart” he was NOT referring to purity as in the opposite of “debauchery.” He was not referring to the those who avoid impure thoughts (aka sexual fantasies), the sexually chaste and/or those who abstain from indulging the pleasures of the senses.

No doubt, it is true, that such people WOULD NOT be considered to be pure in heart, but not necessarily for the reasons our puritanically informed minds might think. When Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure in heart,” he is thinking of it in terms of monotheistic Judiam. Like in Psalm 86 (see above), Jesus is saying, “Blessed are those who have an undivided heart and who devote themselves solely and entirely to God. Blessed are those who are devoted to God with all of their hearts, for they will see God.”

It is such single minded, pure-hearted, devotion that is required for the worship of the one, true God, and this is what Jesus had in mind. Conversely, those who do not devote themselves solely to God will not see God because they will be distracted by all of the things that pull them away. When one’s heart is divided between God and other things (whatever those things are), it is impossible for one to truly be devoted to God because those other things will continue to get in the way. Whether those things are our time, our possessions, our sensual desires, our greed, our hatred, our bitterness, our nationalism, our racism, our sexism, our heterosexism, our ageism, our ablism, or whatever “isms” we may harbor, those things will always take precedence over God and, as a result, we will be blinded to God.

Thus, Jesus is telling us all that the antithesis of being “pure in heart” is a divided heart. Christ is calling us to have a single-minded, whole-hearted, devotion to God. Let nothing, and Christ means nothing, stand in the way of your relationship with God. If you become “pure in heart”, you will be blessed with the sight and the knowledge of God. May your prayer, as well as mine, be that we draw ever closer to God and to Christ our redeemer.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (James 4:8 NRSV)

PRAYER Lord, draw me close to you and never let me go. Help me find the way and bring me back to you. Amen.

ANNOUNCEMENT: New Devo Series starting Wed., May 13, 2015

Good morning,

FleshVSpiritDuring the end of Advent, as we approached Christmas, I began a 7 and a half week devotional series on the 15 Ailments of the Church, based off of an address that Pope Francis I delivered to his Curia just in time for the holidays. Since then, I have entertained the idea of starting up a new devo series and have finally decided that the time is ripe for such a series to begin. With the fruitful season of Spring here, and Summer approaching, I thought it would be an appropriate time to start looking at the Apostle Paul’s writing on the Works of the Flesh and the Fruit of the Spirit. This devotional series will begin in just two days (5/13/15) and will last twelve weeks.  In this two part series, the devotion will start off discussing what Paul calls the “works of the flesh” (7 and 1/2 weeks), which will then lead into the second part…”the fruit of the Spirit.” (4 and 1/2 weeks). Even as I have begun writing these devotions, I am ever aware at how uncomfortable it can be talking about sin…and how challenging it can be talking about the kind of VIBRANT LIFE that God is calling us to live. I pray that you will open yourself up to the discussion, reflect on the Scriptures, and challenge yourself to be honest in your reflections and meditations. If you have questions or thoughts, as always, feel free to post them. Please keep them pertinent to the devo and appropriate for all ages. While I may or may not have answers to those questions, I certainly invite such engagement as that is what helps us all to grow together.  With all of that said, I pray that you find these next several weeks to be spiritually challenging, as well as spiritually nurturing.

Many Blessings,

Pastor Todd

To Wrestle and Prevail

Read Genesis 32:22-32

“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11 NRSV)

jacob13Questioning is a huge part of what it means to be human. We as human beings have been given the ability to think for ourselves, to know good from evil, to create, to name, and to care for other things. We have been given the vision of what paradise is, of what it means to live in harmony with all of creation, and we have also been forced to recognize that reality is often times much different than our vision of utopia. It is in those moments that we find ourselves questioning ourselves, questioning humanity, questioning the created order and, most importantly, questioning our Creator.

This is especially true when we are going through our own trials. When we find that we are losing control over different aspects of our lives, or when we come to the realization that we were never in control to begin with, we find that we start to question God. When we lose our wealth, when we our loved ones, when we lose our health, when we lose our independence, when we suffer loss in any sense, we can’t help but cry out to God and question why these things are happening. What’s more, we often get angry at God and, in the process, begin to feel guilt over our anger, over our doubt, over our questioning.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, we read of a man named Jacob who had stolen his brother’s birthright many years earlier and he was on his way back home to try and make amends with his brother who wanted to kill him…literally. One night, while on his way back to his homeland to meet his angry brother, a man suddenly wrestles with Jacob. We aren’t told who this man was and one can assume that Jacob had no clue who he was either. The two wrestle each other all night long and, in the end, Jacob wins the wrestling match. Realizing that Jacob had won the other man strikes him on his hip, which leaves Jacob permanently injured. Still, Jacob did not let go of the man and refused to do so until the man blessed him.

Perhaps Jacob thought the man was his brother Esau, after all, it was dark and the man happened upon him suddenly.  Regardless, the man ends up relenting and giving Jacob his blessing. After that, Jacob lets the man go and he names the place Peniel, which means, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” For whatever reason, Jacob came to the realization that the man was God, and that he had wrestled with God. Upon this revelation, God renames Jacob Israel because he had wrestled with God and prevailed.

I tell this story for all who feel guilty for wrestling with God. For all who have questioned and for all who have found themselves angry with God, take heart! You are not alone. God has big shoulders and can take our questions. God knows our hearts and understands our anger. God blesses us when we wrestle with God, because that means we are in relationship with God. We weren’t created to be mindless drones; rather, we were created to be a relationally engaged people. Who doesn’t struggle in relationships? That’s the very nature of them.

Take heart, be confident, and know that God does love you and that God does give you the space to wrestle! God has blessed you with the ability to question, to think freely, and to wrestle with God when we don’t understand why things are as they are. In fact, it is in that relational wrestling match that we will find that God has richly blessed us with a renewed assurance of our identity in our Creator, and of our Creator’s identity in us. For all who have indeed wrestled with God, stand up tall and thank God for such an awesome opportunity.

“The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing.” – Marcus Aurelius

Lord, you know my heart and you know that I have struggled and even wrestled with you. I thank you for having broad shoulders and for giving me the opportunity to wrestle and, more importantly, to be in relationship with you. Amen.