Tag Archives: Gospel

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.

What Did Jesus Do?

What Did Jesus Do?

Read Matthew 5 (through chapter 7 if you have time); 25:31-46; Luke 4:16-21; 6:17-49

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“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, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” (John 10:37-38)

What Did Jesus Do?Who is Jesus Christ? Is he a prophet who lived in Palestine over 2,000 years ago? Is he the messiah as promised throughout the Torah and the prophets in the Hebrew scriptures?  Is he the true King of Israel, in the line of David? Is he the Son of God, born of a virgin? Is he the Word of God made flesh, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords? Is Jesus God?  These questions and more are answered in various ways by various different Christians, and depending on where you find yourself in your faith, you may or may not find yourself shouting “heresy” at the answers that different Christians might put forth.

What’s more, not only are there questions regarding Jesus’ divine identity; however, there are questions regarding Jesus’ personality and his mission as well. There are those who would claim Jesus to be a peace-loving guy, while others would claim that Jesus was a no-nonsense guy who flung tables around in order to “cleanse” the temple of corruption.  There are those who would show that Jesus was compassionate and all-accepting, and others who would show that Jesus had little to no tolerance for those who he saw as opposing God.  So, who is this Jesus Christ?

The fact of the matter is that Jesus cannot be easily pinned down. While doctrine states that Jesus was truly divine, it also says that he was truly human as well.  And the range of emotions and actions that come from Jesus in the four Gospels alone is enough to be a thorn in the side to anyone who wants Jesus to completely fit their mold.  We, as Christians, run into problems when we get caught up in debates about who Jesus is all the while ignoring the mission of Christ that was clearly outlined in the Gospels.

But, perhaps we are asking the wrong questions. Rather than trying to get the edge on who Jesus is, perhaps we should focus our search for answers around the question of what Jesus did. We should be asking ourselves, what did Jesus do?  Jesus did teach people, he did heal people, he did accept those who had been rejected. Jesus did stand against religious dogma, he did show compassion to those who were on the fringes of society, and he did preach the imminent arrival of God’s Kingdom, which he saw as being ushered in by God through himself and those who followed him. For Jesus, ushering in the Kingdom of God (through bringing hope, healing, and wholeness) was HIS mission. Nothing shows this more than Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, Luke’s Sermon on the Plain, Jesus’ mission statement in Luke, and Jesus’ stark illustration given to his disciples (in Matthew 25) of king who separates the sheep from the goats.

When we ask the question of what Jesus did, it gives us a clearer understanding of what we should be doing. If we are to be imitators of Christ, and/or allow Christ to live through us, then we should be engaging and investing in the same mission that Jesus is engaged and invested in. We should be working to usher in the Kingdom of God, bringing hope, healing and wholeness to those of whom God has put all around us. If we invest ourselves in Christ’s mission, then I believe we will find that the answers we have come to through our intellect will fade away and be transcended by the answers that will have risen up out of our faith.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“An ounce of love is worth a pound of knowledge.” – John Wesley

PRAYER

Lord, help me to keep my focus on your mission and use me to usher in your Kingdom to my community. Amen.