Tag Archives: Gospel

Don’t Feed the Trolls, Part Deux

Read John 1:1-5; 3:16-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

Jesus said to [Thomas], “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

wbjyqd3k-1393300595Last week I wrote a devotion about trolls and trolling. If you recall, or perhaps you haven’t read that one yet (if not you should read it now), trolls are not just some fanciful creature found in fairy tales, but are human “creatures” we find lurking in the shadows of the Internet. They can usually be found on social media web sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other such sites. They are found in the comment sections of blogs, news sites, and other places that are open to people’s comments and opinions.

These trolls are, by definition, people who “deliberately post provocative messages with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument.” They are the kind of people who are just looking to get under someone else’s skin, putting out bait (such as a provocative message) for people to snap at. When someone does take the bait, they are in for a world of hurt. Trolls can be ruthless and when they get going, there is little one can do to stop them…short of leaving the conversation of course.

Of course, when you think about it, trolling isn’t just unique to the Internet. Trolls can be found throughout life in general. There are just some people out there who love to get an edge on someone else, who love to rile people up, to see people get flustered. There are also the trolls who aren’t purposefully trolling, but are just miserable people who are are angry at the world, who always have a negative spin on everything and are the types of people who tend to bring others down with them.

This latter type of troll is more of an accidental troll. Most people don’t start off life looking to be miserable or down all the time. Most people WANT to be happy and to make others happy. Call me an optimist, though if I am I find myself to be a rather realistic optimist, but I believe that the majority of people are good people. Yet, good and “perfect” are not the same thing. Good people can fall into the trap of seeing life through dark and dreary lenses, especially if they have been hurt or burned one too many times.

What’s more, anyone of us can become this kind of troll. If I am to be completely honest, I have been this kind of troll before. Perhaps you have too. Perhaps, in honesty, you can admit that you have been an accidental troll and have allowed anger, bitterness, negativity, sadness, and other things to bring yourself and others down. If this is the case, I am not writing this to shame you or to make you feel guilty, but I do believe it is important for us to recognize those tendencies and to address them before they completely take us over.

We don’t have to be trolls, we don’t have to be constantly down about everything, we don’t have to bring others down with us. There is a way out of the negativity; there is a light shining in the darkness for all to see. Christ is that light and Christ points us away from feeding the inner troll. Jesus said to Thomas, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to God but through me.”

Christ is calling us to stop focusing on ourselves. Christ is calling us to stop feeding our inner trolls. If we focus on Christ and on living as he did, then we will find that Christ’s WAY leads to the truth that life is full of HOPE and can be beautiful for everyone if we only work toward that. If we seek Christ’s way we will discover the truth that GOD is planning HOPE, HEALING and WHOLENESS for the entire world. And if join God in that quest, we will certainly experience what it means to truly live.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Quit thinking that you must halt before the barrier of inner negativity. You need not. You can crash through… whatever we see a negative state, that is where we can destroy it.” – Vernon Howard

PRAYER

Lord, shine your light in me so that I may see who I am and whose I am. Call me to your purpose and keep me from feeding into negativity. Amen.

Don’t Feed the Trolls!

Read Matthew 16:1-4

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

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

PRAYER

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

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.

The Book of Books

Read Psalm 119:1-16

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
But [Jesus] answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” (Matthew 4:4)

BiblesI am a firm believer in the importance of reading Scripture and in studying scripture; however, I also recognize that without some sort of guidance, that can be easier said than done. After all, where does one being when it comes to reading the Bible? Does one start at Genesis and read all the way through Revelation? Which translation is the best translation to get? How should one approach reading the Bible? Should one approach it as a sort of oracle that is there to answer all of one’s questions? Should one approach the Bible as the literal word of God? Is reading the Bible such a black and white experience, or is it something one should approach with broader lenses?

In terms of reading the Bible, one should pick the translation that they connect with the most. One can go to a website such as BibleGateway.com to peruse different translations to see which one is best suited to them. Having the right translation can be vital to building a relationship with one’s Bible. Yes, you heard me right. When we begin to be disciplined in reading the Bible, we truly do begin to build a relationship with it’s authors, with the characters, with the people it was originally written for and, of course, with God.

It is also important to remember that “inspired by God”, does not mean “written by God.” The Bible is the authoritative book of the Christian faith, no doubt. That is because it does point us, overall, to a deeper and more profoundly rich relationship with God and with our neighbor. The heart of who God is can be found within it’s pages. Yet, it is also important to note that it was written by people, and that is not a bad thing. After all, the Bible is as relatable of a text as it is for that very reason. With that said, it is okay to question things that don’t make sense to us. After all, it is an ancient text written by people with different cultural, historical, socio-economic and even religious experiences than our own.

Just because you pause, reflect, question, or even challenge certain aspects of the Bible, does not mean you do not take it seriously. It is far different to question than to singly dismiss something. Questioning is a part of the human experience and God gave us the ability to ask questions and to seek answers. God gave us the ability to read, to search and to discern. In fact, it is the act of questioning and discerning that led to different books of the Bible being written. For instance, Leviticus says altars to God could be erected anywhere, whereas, in Deuteronomy, the only temple that should be erected and worshiped in was the one in Jerusalem. Two different authors and communities equaled two different opinions about the appropriate places of worshiping God

Regardless of what Bible you choose, or how you choose to read the Bible, and how you go about spiritually discerning the message of the Bible for your life, what is important is that you read the Bible. You do not have to read it front to back as it was not written that way. Just pick a book and read it. Then move on to another book. Read the Bible one book at a time as that is the way it was written. The Bible is not one book, but 66. Also, study the historical context of the books you are written.

No matter how you choose to go about it, today’s challenge is for you to begin to make the Bible a part of your daily walk with God. If your faith is important to you then reading your Bible should be important to you, for that is foundational to our Christian faith. Make reading the scripture a part of WHO YOU ARE and watch your faith grow from a mustard seed to a giant, LIVING tree!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Unless we form the habit of going to the Bible in bright moments as well as in trouble, we cannot fully respond to its consolations because we lack equilibrium between light and darkness.” – Helen Keller

PRAYER
Lord, guide me in the reading of the Bible. Open my eyes to what I do not see and vivify the things I think I see, so that I might live them. Amen.

Ash Wednesday

Read Matthew 4:1-11

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

And [Jesus] said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” (Matthew 4:19)

ash_wednesdayToday is Ash Wednesday. It is the beginning of the Lenten journey, a journey that starts today and ends at the foot of the cross. It is a journey that begs of us to reflect, to meditate on who we are and who God is calling us to be. It is a forty day period out in the wilderness. Just as Jesus spent forty days and forty nights in preparation of his ministry in and around Galilee, so too we are called into such a time of reflection and preparation.

What does Ash Wednesday mean to you? Is is a religious obligation? Is it something that you have always done and continue to do for tradition’s sake? Is it a ritual observance and nothing more? Is it something that makes little to no sense to you? Is it something that you don’t observe at all? How do you spend your time on Ash Wednesday or do you focus on it at all?

Throughout this past year, I have written a number of devotions on the importance of having Spiritual Discipline. The observance of a day such as Ash Wednesday is certainly an important part of the Christian’s life and is certainly a discipline we should all be practicing. But it is also important for us to understand the meaning of Ash Wednesday before we set off to observe it.

Many people observe Ash Wednesday and the forty day period of Lent that follows by “giving up” something for the entire forty days. Some Christians give up meat on Fridays, others give up chocolate. Some give television and others give up their favorite pastimes. Regardless of what your practice is, if you have one, why is it that you are doing it? Is it because you have always done it and you don’t give it much more thought than that? Is there some other reason that you have understood your fasting to mean?

One of the things that is vital in our growth as a people of faith is that we really evaluate the reasons why we do things. Doing something just for the sake of it doesn’t necessarily cause us to grow from who we are to God wants us to be. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that your spiritual practice is wrong or mistaken, nor am I saying that you should give that discipline up. Rather, whatever your Lenten discipline is, KNOW WHY you are doing it.

Use your discipline as a way to reflect on where you are at this given point in your life and faith journey. What ever your discipline is, use it as a vehicle to draw you closer to God. If you are abstaining from something during Lent, let that be an reminder of the excess that we have and also let it be a reminder of the fact that GOD is truly all we need.  Whatever your spiritual discipline is for observing Lent, allow GOD to transform you through it. Open yourself up to the transformative power of GOD!

Today is Ash Wednesday! Make today the day you truly begin reflect on your spiritual health and on your well being in general. Take an assessment of yourself. Understand why it is you do what you do. Seek the deeper meaning behind your rituals. Open yourself up to the transformation that God brings to each of us as we need it. Allow your spiritual disciplines, whatever they are, to shape you and guide you throughout the next forty days and forty nights. My prayer for you is that God shows you your true purpose and that you embrace that purpose with your whole being.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Lent is a time to renew wherever we are in that process that I call the divine therapy. It’s a time to look what our instinctual needs are, look at what the dynamics of our unconscious are.” – Thomas Keating

PRAYER

Lord, guide me during Lent so that I may better understand who I am as well as who’s I am! Amen.

THE WAY

Read Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Leviticus 19:11-18

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

Abstract Circular Maze whit Glowing Solution PathThis past Sunday, I just celebrated the two-year anniversary of my starting a 60 day juice fast that would, ultimately, change my life.  Sixty days and sixty-six pounds later, I was on the road to a new me…a healthy me…and I wasn’t about to start looking back. From that point on, I stayed vegan. For most people, the word “Vegan” sounds like something from Mr. Spock would say in an old Star Trek episode. All it means is that I abstain from eating meat, dairy, eggs and anything that comes from an animal.

Many people don’t understand why anyone in the world would want to abstain from meats, butter, cheese, milk, ice cream, eggs and all of the things that come from those products. I often get many questions and, to be honest, some people balk at me as if I am a lunatic. While it is true that I may be a little nutty, as it turns out my being vegan has absolutely nothing to do with it! Just ask anyone of my friends and family members.

Of course, I can certainly understand why people are put off by the notion of being vegan. In our culture, it goes against everything we were taught about a well-rounded diet. We’ve been told that we need animal protein, that we need milk to make our bones strong, and who can ever imagine baking without butter and eggs? Seriously! The truth is that I, too, balked at vegans before becoming one. I swore that I was a carnivorous meat-eater through and through. I could eat a block of cheese in a single sitting! I loved cheese! And baked goods, cookies in particular, forget about it! I couldn’t get enough of them.

But in my quest to lose weight and regain my health, I discovered what life without them would be like. I discovered that I would have tons of energy, that I would get rid of all of the diseases plaguing me, and that I would actually LOVE food just as much…if not more so…than I did before! Anyone who knows me knows that I NEVER stop talking about food and I certainly never stop trying new recipes! Yet, the foods I eat are definitely different than the ones I used to consume, and as a result, I am a new and transformed person.

While I have been talking about my personal dietary lifestyle, I can truly tell you that the same principles apply to our spiritual lives. In our culture, we are told to seek fame, fortune, and bliss. We are taught to expect things automatically. We are told what is beautiful and what is ugly. We are told what is healthy and unhealthy; however, a majority of people in our world are plagued with spiritual dis-ease. Many are seeking answers in all of the wrong places and balk at people when they are told that there is a better way.

Yet, there IS a better way! There is a way that is healthy and wholesome! There is a way that leads to abundant life! There is a way that will transform you completely from the inside out! There is a way that will lift you out of dis-ease and into HOPE, HEALING and WHOLENESS. That way was embodied by Jesus the Christ. That way leads us into service of others. That way leads us to love our neighbors as ourselves. It leads us to seek justice and love mercy. It leads us to forsake everything, but the Gospel of UNCONDITIONAL LOVE, as rubbish and worthless. Jesus embodied THE WAY and is calling you to join him in doing the same.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Transformation in the world happens when people are healed and start investing in other people.” – Michael W. Smith

PRAYER

Lord, transform me. Lead me on the way toward hope, healing and wholeness so that I may bear witness to it for the transformation of the world. Amen.

Two Probing Questions

Read Mark 8:27-30; Matthew 16:13-20; Luke 9:18-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6)

who_am_iAnyone who has ever had me as their teacher in confirmation class can attest to the fact that I take confirmation very seriously. I have developed a curriculum that goes beyond teaching the meaning of membership to a curriculum that instructs the students to engage in Christian History from Jesus to our current day and age. The curriculum has the students actively engage theology and doctrine (and the history behind the formation of the doctrines) as well as learn about the meaning of membership in the church.

One of the exercises I have the students do as a requirement for the class is to write a 3 page paper, or longer if they desire, answering two very simple, and very Biblical questions. In Mark 8:27-30, in Matthew 16:13-20, and in Luke 9:18-21, Jesus asks his disciples who people say that he is and, following their various answers, he asks them who they say that he is. So, likewise, I have the students answer those two questions.

It is amazing how challenging such an exercise is. Most of us can easily and quickly come up with a long list of the things that people say Jesus is; however, when it comes to who we say Jesus is, if we are going to take the exercise seriously, it becomes much more difficult to articulate. But each of my students have been through the exercise and each have come away saying that the experience of it was rewarding, leaving them with a richer sense of who Jesus is to them.

When God created humanity, God did not create robots. It was not God’s intention to have an android creation that just mindlessly, and robotically, did whatever God wanted them to do. Rather, God created a free-willed, free-spirited, and free-thinking people who had the ability to not only choose to be in a relationship with God and, in that relationship, seek to come to an understanding of God and of self in the context of that relationship. As human beings, we do not only define ourselves by our own thoughts of who we are, but rather we define ourselves by the relationships we have with ourselves and with others. Who am I without my mom, my sister, my friends, my wife, my children, and myself?

Thus, if we are Christians who claim to be in a relationship with God and with Jesus the Christ, then doesn’t it make sense that we would seek out who Jesus is? Doesn’t it make sense that we would not just settle for who people say Jesus is, but that we would find out who Christ is to us? Doesn’t it makes sense that we would want to get to “know” the person we claim to love and to follow?

Perhaps it wouldn’t hurt for you to write down Jesus’ two probing questions: “Who do people say that I am?” Who do you say that I am?” God is calling you to probe deep into your faith. It is never okay to just accept things at face value. God is calling you to move beyond what you’ve been taught into the realm of personal, experiential knowledge. Who is Christ for you? How have you experienced the power and the love of Christ in your life? How has Christ healed you, been present with you, changed you, and/or challenged you? Where does your story and the Gospel story intersect? God is calling you to truly discover who Jesus is and to deepen your faith in him. Such an invitation leads to transformation and conviction. Get to know your Lord and be convicted to bear his hope, healing and wholeness to world.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“The steady discipline of intimate friendship with Jesus results in [people] becoming like Him.” – Harry Emerson Fosdick

PRAYER

Lord, take me deeper in my faith that I may more intimately know you and grow more and more like you. Amen.

 

Hammer Time

Hammer Time

Read Psalm 98; Matthew 28:16-20

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile.” (Romans 1:16)

Hammer TimeDo you remember M.C. Hammer?  He was a rapper who came out in the early 1990s and hit the top of the charts with songs like “U Can’t Touch This”, “Pray”, “Have You Seen Her”, “2 Legit 2 Quit”, and “Do Not Pass Me By”. Donning his trademarked baggy pants, flashy dance moves and an over the top live show, it seemed like Hammer was a force to be reckoned with. Yet, almost as fast as he exploded onto the charts, he was gone.

Just the other day I was listening to a song on his second album entitled, “Do Not Pass Me By”. As I was listening to it I noticed how the song fit even more perfectly in the Gospel genre than it did in the rap and hip-hop genre.  So, I put the song on again, this time really listening to the words. It wasn’t just Gospel, it WAS THE GOSPEL!  There he was, M.C. Hammer, a huge mega-star who had all the money, girls, and fame in the world and he was totally “Shouting out” to God on one of his highest selling albums during the peak of his career.

Then it also occurred to me that each of his best selling albums had similar songs on them. In fact, each of his albums had at least one song dedicated to God on them. His first album had “Son of the King”. His second album, “Pray”. His third album, “Do not Pass Me By”, and His fourth album, “Help Lord (Won’t You Come)”.  It also turns out that M.C. Hammer, who’s real name is Stanley Burrell, became an ordained minister during the late 1990’s and has since devoted his life to prison and youth ministries.

Now, I have no clue what his theological approach to ministry is, nor is that ultimately important. What is important to note is that here is a guy who knows the heights of success, here’s a guy who knows what means to fall from that success, here’s a guy who knows what it’s like to be judged and ridiculed for going bankrupt, and yet this is the same guy who I hear praising God through the airwaves. There is something infectious about his faith. There is something uplifting about his willingness to let people know what he believes. There is something inspiring about his willingness to use his own resources to visit the “least of these” in the prisons and on the inner city streets. And if I am finding that to be infectious, imagine what others think of it.

It is impossible to guess how many millions, if not billions, of people have brought home his album “Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em” album and listened to the song pray. It’s hard to imagine what the words “You’ve got to pray, just to make it today” would mean to someone who is surrounded by gang violence, or to a kid who is about to commit suicide, or to a prisoner who just wishes he could be forgiven and move on with his life. Here was Hammer, amid all of the pop songs, pushing a message that spread the hope, healing and wholeness of Christ in the lives of so many different people

This is what we as Christians are called to do. We are called to spread the Gospel; we are called to spread the good news of God’s hope, healing and wholeness in the lives of those who need it. We aren’t called to be silent and quiet about our faith; rather, we are called to shout it, unashamed, from the mountaintops for the world to hear! After all, God’s unconditional love and everlasting presence is Good News worth shouting about, is it not? Then no matter who you are, or how you are are called to “shout”, get to it!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

To shout does not necessarily me to scream with your voice; rather, it means to beam with excitement through all of your being.

PRAYER

Lord, help me to use my gifts and talents for the spreading of your Good News, and allow me to beam, from head to toe, with excitement in the great things you are doing! Amen.

Washed by the Water

Read Mark 1:1-12; Mark 3

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” (Romans 8:14)

Washed by the WaterWhat I love about the Gospels is that each one of them has a unique understanding of who Jesus is.  Each Gospel uses the same key phrases to identify Jesus; however, each Gospel author has a subtly different understanding of what those key phrases mean. What is awesome about this is that by the time we are done reading the four Gospels we have a rich and diverse understanding of what it meant for Jesus to be the Christ, to be the Son of God, to be Son of Man and to be in the line of David.

For this devotional, let us look at the Gospel of Mark.  Jesus shows up at the Jordan river looking to be baptized. Mark doesn’t bother telling us a birth story or anything prior to Jesus’ baptism; rather, he points to Jesus’ baptism as being the ADVENT of the Christ.  Prior to that experience in the Jordan, Jesus was just a peasant Jew from Nazareth. He was the son of Joseph and Mary, he was a laborer by trade and he had certainly known what it meant to work with his hands.

But when Jesus comes out of the water, upon being baptized, he sees a vision of the sky opening up and light descending upon him like a dove.  If we read Mark carefully, we will notice that Jesus is the one seeing this.  In Matthew, everyone sees and witnesses this, but in Mark (if we are not reading anything in between the lines) it is only Jesus who sees this happen.  And then Jesus hear’s the voice of God telling him, “You are my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”  It is at that moment that Jesus’ former identity that he had been born and raised to believe about himself falls away. It is at that moment that Jesus understands his TRUE identity, and it is at that moment that the Holy Spirit drives him into the wilderness to be prepared for the work God is calling him to do.

For me, this is significant! We can relate with this Jesus because we too grow up not really knowing who we are. At first we identify ourselves by who are parents are. Then we grow up believing that we are what our society tells us we are.  But at some point, if we open our hearts and allow the Holy Spirit of God to speak to us, we begin to understand that our identity does not rest on what the world thinks we are and it does not rest on who our parents are; rather, our identity rests on who God says we are!

And when we find our identity in God, there is nothing that is going to stop the transformation that will occur.  Some will not like that change. Some will fear that we’ve lost our marbles. In Mark, Jesus’ own family (including Mary) think Jesus has gone completely insane and they try to take him back home.  They don’t like this NEW identity that Jesus has taken on! Yet Jesus persists in his ministry and in serving God and identifies those who do the same as being a part of his TRUE family.

What is encouraging about Mark’s take Jesus is that it mirrors our very own experience as human beings (after all Jesus was not only truly divine, but also truly human). We often find ourselves soul-searching; we often find ourselves seeking our identity and looking for a deeper meaning and purpose in our lives. If we would only wash our self-identification away and emerge from the waters with an open heart, we too would hear God calling out to us, “You are my child, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” This is the identity Jesus called people toward, this is the Good News that Jesus preached throughout Galilee and Jerusalem. This is the Good News that Jesus calls us to bring to those who need to hear it, not only in our words, but by our actions.  Let us bear that Good News in all that we do!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Who are we?  We are children of God. Our potential is unlimited.  Our inheritance is sacred.” – Russell M. Nelson

PRAYER

Lord, thank you for reminding me that I, too, am your child. Let me, in my actions, be a reminder to all with whom I cross paths. Amen.

Every Step of the Way

Read Ecclesiastes 4:1-6; Mark 14:26-42

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1, NRSV)

Every Step of the WayHave you watched the news lately? It seems like every time I watch the news I see politicians metaphorically throwing each other the bus, buildings around the world that are burning, families that are destroyed due to horrifying violence and other such atrocities. These stories are bombarding us every day, often bombarding us multiple times a day.

It’s to the point where I often find myself questioning what the meaning of all of this really is. Does God really exist out there and, if so, what does that say about God that the world is the way it is? Is life meaningless? Is there any point to all the chaos that people suffer day in and day out? These and so many more questions run through my head and I am sure that I am not alone in that?

As a pastor and a spiritual leader, some people might find it shocking to hear me confess moments of confusion, deep questioning and doubt. Some would say that it must mean that my faith isn’t strong, or that my doubts put into question my calling as a pastor. Many have this notion that in faith there can be no doubt; however, the Bible clearly shows that to be false.

For instance, have you read Ecclesiastes lately? If not, I must suggest that you do read it and that you read all of the twelve chapters that make up the book. It is a fascinating read. The author seriously questions the meaning of life, the point of existing in a world that is so needlessly cruel. What is the point in living out our seemingly trivial lives just to die in the end? To the author of Ecclesiastes, life seems utterly meaningless.

We can also turn to Jesus to find moments of doubt and intense spiritual questioning. The obvious place to look is in the garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus questions God’s will. He asks for God to remove his cup of suffering. While the Gospels make this account short and sweet, they do say he was in the garden for hours, praying to God…and the specific prayer that they point out is the one where he asks God to not have him go through with dying.

The fact of the matter is that it is perfectly human to have doubts, because as human beings we do not, in fact we cannot know everything. What is unknown to us gives us reason to doubt, but doubt is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it is false to assume that “in faith there can be no doubt.” Rather, it is quite the opposite. It is from the depths of doubt that arises faith. Faith is, in fact, made stronger as a result of, and certainly in spite of, our doubts.

The next time you have doubts, do not chase them away or harbor any kind of unnecessary guilt. Instead, embrace them and wrestle through them like the author of Ecclesiastes did and like Jesus in the garden did. Know that having doubts necessary to building faith and that many saints have had their share of doubts. From Paul to Thomas, from Joan of Arc to Mother Theresa, from Martin Luther to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., many Christians have faced their doubts only to find themselves riding the waves of faith that were produced by the surge of the storm of doubt. You are not alone in your doubts, and your faith will show you that you are not alone in surmounting them. God is with you every step of the way!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds.” – Alfred Lord Tennyson

PRAYER

Lord, I believe! Help me with my unbelief. Out of my doubt, build up a foundation of faith. Amen.