Tag Archives: healing

15 Ailments of the Church #9: The Terrorism of Gossip

Read Romans 1:28-32

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Do not spread slanderous gossip among your people. ‘Do not stand idly by when your neighbor’s life is threatened. I am the LORD.’” (Leviticus 19:16 NLT)

evildead_620_101512I can clearly remember my time in Elementary School. I remember that I was not quite in the “popular” group, in fact, I wasn’t “popular” at all…whatever that actually means. I remember what it was like being someone who was being talked about, I remember what it was like having rumors spread about me. By the time I was a junior in high school, I had given up trying to be liked by people. In fact, I used to spread rumors around about myself to see how fast they traveled back to me. Have you ever played that game?

The truth is, I wasn’t guilt-free in the department of participating in gossip, either. None of us are. Each of us have, no doubt had rumors spread about us and we all have, no doubt, participated in the spreading of rumors. What’s worse than that being done in high school or in the world, where it is common place and expected, such gossip is just as prevalent in the church and in the lives of Christians as well. This leads us to Pope Francis I’s 9th Ailment of the Church.

Ailment of the Church #9: Committing the Terrorism of Gossip. According to Paul, we who follow Christ are all a part of Christ’s resurrected body. What does this mean? This means that we are supposed to have died to our old ways, we are supposed to have died to our sinful nature, and we are supposed to have resurrected from that death into a new life. “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NLT)! If we have died to our corruption and resurrected back to life, then we shouldn’t be living corruptible lives. Gossip is, perhaps, one of the greater corruptions within the church and it is a blasphemy against the Spirit of the living, resurrected Christ.

In fact, Pope Francis I calls Gossip a form of terrorism and, honestly, it truly is. Anyone who has been gossiped about knows that terror and damage that it causes. It damages one’s psyche, it damages one’s self-image, it damages one’s soul. Conversely, those who engage in gossip are in great peril themselves because they are hardening their own hearts, growing calloused, and the gossip is consuming their own souls. Like the demons in the movie the Evil Dead, gossip enters in and it consumes who ever participates in it. It destroys them and it seeks to destroy the people being gossiped about as well. How can gossip ever have a place in the body of Christ? It can’t, and the truth is that those who continually engage in it separate themselves from that body.

Christ is calling us to stop the terrorism of gossip. We were not meant to participate in such a pernicious sin, one that so closely walks the line between sin and evil. If you are one who is engaging in gossip, if you are one who engages in cutting people down behind their backs, if you are one who slanders people and murders them with your words, then Christ is calling you to die to that part of your life. Let that be nailed to the cross so that you may join Christ in the resurrected life. We, as Christians, are filled with the Holy Spirit and are new creatures in Christ. We are the ones who have been called to bring the hope, healing and wholeness of Christ as opposed to the despair, decay and death that comes from the terrorism of gossip. I pray that you are freed from those bonds that you may live into the resurrected Christ.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Be Impeccable With Your Word. Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.” – Miguel Angel Ruiz

PRAYER
Lord, forgive me, I pray. Kill any traces of gossip within me and heal me from the times that I have been gossiped about. Resurrect me into a new life, free from gossip and any other kind of slander. Amen.

15 Ailments of the Church #7: Being Rivals or Boastful

Read Matthew 20:20-29

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-5 NLT)

1304abandonedThe discples had been traveling for days in order to get to their destination. When they arrived at the upper room, they sat down at the table and Jesus began to speak. “Blessed are you, my disciples, for you know just how powerful I am. You love me and recognize that I am the most AMAZING person to have ever walked on earth, let alone water, and so I leave you with these rules. Only you twelve are ordained to do ministry, to lead the flock, and to carry on the life of the church. When you unanimously decide who will succeed you, only my power will transfer onto them, and from them onto their successors. Everone else is to listen mindlessly to you and have blind faith in what you say. If anyone disagrees with you, crush their opposition as harsly as you can.”

Ailment #7: Being Rivals or Boastful. I bet you are puzzled right now! You are probably thinking, “There is no way on God’s green earth that Jesus said the things that he’s written above!” If so, you are right. The above words are NOT Jesus’ words; however, they are the words that the institution of the Church convey to people, both the faithful and the unfaithful alike! Again, the Pope was addressing this to his Curia; however, this is not exclusive to the Roman Catholic Church. This is a church-wide reality. Every denomination is rife with rules, regulations, and stipulations on what is reserved solely for the upper eschalon of the church, for the clergy, and for the lay people. And within the laity, certain people have more “rights and privileges” than others.

Before I go on, I must put this caveat out there. Not all rules, regulations or stipulations are bad. As clergy, I understand why it is important for the church to weed out those who don’t have the gifts and graces for pastoral ministry from those who do. It’s not so much to say that one is called and the other isn’t; however, it is the church’s way of both affirming that all are called and helping to discernt to what each person is called. Not everyone is called to be a bishop, or an elder, or a deacon, or a treasurer, or a committee chair person. Yet, all are called to be ministers in their own right and the church should helping all Christian to discern where their gifts and graces are.

Often times, though, the church gets in it’s own way when it comes to that discernment. Often times, it crushes the Spirit rather than giving it room to move. Often times the church gets caught up in power plays and power struggles and abandons the Spirit altogether. This happens at the denominational level, at the local church level, and at the individual Christian level as well. The only thing that this does is cause rivalry and division in a church that is supposed to be united in its mission to follow and serve Christ.

Today’s challenge for you, individually, is for you to reflect on the following questions. Have you been giving room for the Spirit to move, or have you been crushing the spirit under petty and oppressive rules, regulations and/or stipulations. Have you been claiming the power of God, or boasting in your own powers and abilities? Are you following Christ or are you following yourself? Are you helping to discern the Spiritual gifts and graces of others, or are you deceiving them to think that they NEED you in order to be followers of Christ? These may be tough and painful questions to ask yourself; however, they are questions each of us, as Christians, should be asking of ourselves. Like Jesus, we should be empowering people with the spirit, not hoarding what isn’t ours to hoard anyway. Remember you are empowered by the Spirit to empower others through the Spirit and that in this empowerment, not false power, lies the LIFE of the church!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“What it lies in our power to do, it lies in our power not to do.” – Aristotle

PRAYER
Lord, allow me to give up whatever power I think I may have, in order to be empowered by the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

15 Ailments of the Church #6: Spiritual Amnesia

Read 2 Peter 1:1-9

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“So remember this and keep it firmly in mind: The LORD is God both in heaven and on earth, and there is no other.” (Deuteronomy 4:39 NLT)

al0124c_1_bigHave you ever had amnesia? I can tell you, from personal experience, that it is most definitely a terrifying experience. It happened to me on a Summer afternoon, the summer going into my freshman year of high school. I was riding my bicycle with my sister down to the local gym to workout. I was looking to go to football camp and tryout for the football team. Just as I had done so many times before hand, I crossed the road to go down a side road that brought me to a “safer” spot to cross the highway. The only problem is that I did not look both ways as fully as I had thought and ended up getting hit by a pickup truck. From that point on, and even to this day there are spots of time that I cannot remember as a result of the accident. For instance, I can remember being surrounded on the side of the road by the first responders, but I cannot remember getting to the side of the road. Anyway, all of this talk about amnesia reminds me of Pope Francis I’s sixth ailment of the church.

6th Ailment of the Church: Spiritual Amnesia. The Pope actually called it Spiritual Alzheimer’s; however, I am not comfortable using that terminology because of the real pain term could unintentionally bring to people who are suffering from real Alzheimer’s disease, as well as their families. So, I have chosen to use the word amnesia because it functions the same way. Basically, the Pope’s point is that there are leaders and laity who have forgotten their own encounters with the Lord. Such people, though they claim to be believers and followers of Christ, rely on the here and now, on their impulses, and on their unchecked emotions. Such people build walls around themselves and become enslaved to human institutions, rules, regulations and other things that are built with their own hands. This, as the Pope rightly points out, is really a form of idolatry, for the worship their own ideas of God rather than actually worshiping the transcendent God, the One who transcends their ideas.

It starts off simple. People forget the Lord whom they have encountered. It’s not that they forget that they have encountered God per se; however, it is that the God they encountered ends up getting hidden behind all of the things they have put in place of God. Whether it be the religion, the church, the denomination, the traditions of a local congregation, a particular interpretation of the Bible, a specific image of God, or anything else that gets in the way of our truly worshiping God, those things repress and eventually choke out our memory of the Lord we have encountered in our lives.

Christ is looking to jog your memory. Christ is calling you to place aside those things that keep you from remembering Christ and Christ’s call on your life. Don’t let your whims, your passions, your ideas, and/or your walls of separation keep you from remembering your experience with the one who called you into the life of the church to begin with. Take a whiff of the smelling salts, wake up, and remember your Lord and all that God has called you to be  and do. Remember that you are called to serve, not to be served. You are called to love just as you have been loved by God. You are called to care for the “least of these” and to do so as one of them, not as one above them. Guard yourself against the perils and disease of spiritual amnesia so that you can experience the true joy of the Spirit-filled life!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“We do not remember days, we remember moments” – Cesare Pavese

PRAYER

Lord, thank you for encountering me and revealing yourself to me. Help me to both remember those moments and to never forget them. Amen.

15 Ailments of the Church #5: Working Without Coordination

Read 1 Corinthians 12:20-30

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” (John 13:35 NLT)

cso_muti_aboutMusic is the thing that makes the world go ’round. It is the key to the universe, the universal language, something that affects all it comes in contact with. Right? There are studies that even state that music positively affects plant-life, so the next time you try to plant a garden make sure it is close to the bathroom window so the plants can hear you singing in the shower. All jokes aside, music has long been thought to be a driving force of the universe. Pythagoras discovered the mathematical basis of music and also noticed the same patterns of movements of the moon, the stars and the planets. Interesting, right? What’s more interesting is how this all connects to the Pope Francis I’s 5th ailment of the church.

5th Ailment of the Church: Working without coordination, like an orchestra that produces noise. A symphony works when instruments, each playing different parts at the same time, come together to produce a harmony of notes. We call that harmony a “chord”. Music is made up of these chords and what makes music different from “noise” is that the notes and chords coming from the instruments are all working together harmoniously. But what happens when the guitar decides to play a G major when it is supposed to be a flat, and when the Clarinet decides to play the fifth measure at the precise moment it is supposed to be playing the thirty-fifth, and the violin decides that it is going to play staccato when it should be playing legato, etc.? What happens when the pianist decides to play Liszt’s version of Danse Macabre while the choir is supposed to be singing the final movement of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony? The result would truly be NOISE! There would be no harmony and everything would be chaotic and discordant.

The truth of the matter is that Paul’s letter to the church of Corinth has become so cliché anymore that we completely overlook his call for the church to view itself organically as the body of Christ, made up of many parts. We use the phrase “body of Christ” so much that it has become meaningless for us. We all fight and bicker and politically maneuver around other brothers and sisters in Christ in order to get what we want. Christ stated that we would be known as his followers because of our love for one another and, yet, we seemingly don’t have a whole lot of love for one another, do we? When Paul said that we are “the body”, he didn’t mean that YOU are the body of Christ, just that you are a part of it. And by part, he didn’t mean that you were the best part, or the greatest part, or the most important part, but that you were a part being called to do your part.

But again, that has become very cliché; so, perhaps it is best to look at this in terms of an orchestra.This is not the Todd Lattig show, or the Pope Francis I show, or the United Methodist Show, or the Roman Catholic show, or the Baptist show, or the Evangelical, non-denominational show; rather, this is the Jesus Christ show and we have all been invited to participate in making music for Jesus Christ. NOTE: I am talking about making “Christian Music”, but about being a part of the symphony that God has been writing since the outset of the world. It’s a love song, a kind of transcendent number that moves within you and and changes you. It is the kind of number that has you both dancing and standing timelessly still in infinite space. The question is, can you lay down your ego to join this orchestra? Can you make music, or are just going to keep on making noise? The choice is yours. Continually pray that the church, yourself included, will give up its self-motivated pride in order to see that the true SELF is Christ and that we are all a part CHRIST’s SELF. Now that is a song that transcends NOISE and is worth listening to!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Harmony makes small things grow, lack of it makes great things decay.” – Gaius Sallustius Crispus

PRAYER
Lord, daily remind me that my life is yours and that I am a part of something far greater than myself. Amen.

15 Ailments of the Church #3: Becoming Spiritually and Mentally Hardened

Read John 11:30-45

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.” (Matthew 14:14 NRSV)

compassionateHandsHappy New Year everyone! Today is New Year’s Eve and we are less than a day away (depending on where in the world you are) from the ball dropping and the partying stopping. Out with the old, in with the new. People will, no doubt, lament about how terrible this past year was and they will, no doubt, being cheering on the advent of 2015 with high hopes and expectations. Of course, they will do the same next year just like the did the same last year. Well, rather than raising a toast to triviality, I thought it would be good to look at Pope Francis’ third of fifteen ailments of his curio. As I have stated, I think it is a prudent exercise to expand the ailments to the universal church, which I have taken the liberty of doing.

Ailment # 3: Becoming Spiritually and Mentally Hardened. The church is called to be the body of Christ. It is called to be the representatives of Christ and Christ’s mission in the world. One of the key words that most, if not all, people would use to describe Jesus Christ, is compassion. In the Christian Scriptures, it refers to Jesus “having compassion” on people at least eight times depending on the translation (Matt. 9:36; 14:14; 15:32; 20:34; Mark 6:34; 8:2; Luke 7:13; 15:20 NRSV). With that said, there is evidence of Jesus’ compassion even beyond the use of the word compassion. Jesus wept for his beloved Jerusalem (Matthew 23:37; Luke 19:41) and he also wept at the loss of his friend Lazarus and had compassion on Lazarus’ sisters, friends and family (John 11:35). He had compassion on the sick, the dying, the demon possessed, the sinners, the differently abled, and even on those who opposed him. Yes, Jesus was compassionate.

With that said and out there, why does Christ’s church fail to live into the compassion of their Lord? If we are the body of Christ, why aren’t we filled with the compassion of Christ? Too many times I have witnessed, and sadly been a part of, an incompassionate church. The infighting, the politics, the gossip, the judgmentalism and the slander within churches bear witness to a corrupt and lost organization rather than a living and life-giving organism. Are we the body of Christ, or are we organized Christianity? Are we organic, able to adapt with change and circumstance. Able to feel emotion and be moved with compassion, or are we organizational and bound by unbending rules and regulations?

The church as a whole has become too much like the world. We have grown numb and have lost our ability to feel. We look at the poor with disdain. We look at “criminals” with eyes of judgment. We separate ourselves from “sinners” and treat them as unworthy of God’s grace. We look at each other with contempt as we compete to be the best and the biggest and the most loved and the most followed. We position ourselves in ways that falsely elevate us to the right and left hand side of God, all the while turning a cold shoulder and a blind eye to the “least of these” our brothers and sisters.

Today’s challenge is for us to regain our compassion. You are not great, you are not good, you are not more special than anyone else. In fact, apart from God, you are nothing. Each week, we Christians praise God for being our savior and for having compassion on us sinners. If we are to truly be grateful for God having compassion on us, should we not have compassion on others? Christ is calling us to warm up, to have heart, and to weep for those who are in need. In fact, don’t just weep…but turn your tears into positive and constructive action. Pray for the church, yourself included, that we may begin to heal from this aliment of being Spiritually and Mentally hardened.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Compassion is more than just an emotion; rather, it is an inner reaction to circumstance that results in an outward action for change.”

PRAYER
Lord, fill me with your love so that I may be moved to be a person of compassion. Amen.

15 Ailments of the Church #2: Working Too Hard

Read Exodus 20:8-11

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“So then, a sabbath rest still remains for the people of God; for those who enter God’s rest also cease from their labors as God did from his.” (Hebrews 4:9-10 NRSV)

Shabbat ShalomWell, Christmas has come and gone and now we are fastly approaching the New Year. A couple of days ago Pope Francis I gave his “Festive” Christmas speech to the cardinals that serve as the administrators of the Holy See. I put festive in quotes because that is typically what these speeches are during the Christmas season. They are reiterations of the meaning of Christmas, the coming of the Christ-child, as well as exhortations of how the Church is to continue to represent the Christ-child in the world. By that understanding of the word “festive”, the speech the Pope gave was anything but festive. It was a scathing assessment of his Cardinals who he said lusted after power, among fourteen other hard line critiques of the “ailments” plaguing the church. I think it to be an important exercise for the universal Church, and us as individuals, to follow suit and examine ourselves as we, no doubt, have fallen ill with some (if not all) of these ailments.

Ailment # 2: Working too hard. How many of us truly take the time to rest from our labors and obligations? We are living in a world that demands every last bit of time we have. There is just so many things going on and not enough time to do it all. There’s work, work and more work. There’s family obligations, societal obligations, church obligations, and many other things that we find ourselves caught up in. That the Pope is addressing this issue with other clergy is no big surprise. Clergy are notorious for spending every last minutes working at the neglect of family time, neglect and self-care. In seminary, one of the classes I was required to take was a class called “Pastoral Formation.” One of the central points of that course was to encourage the seminarian to begin to lay down the foundation for self-awareness and self-care. This is not SELFISH…but a part of well-being. If you can’t take care of yourself, how can you possibly take care of others.

The church talks the talk about observing the Sabbath and keeping it holy; however, when it comes to the walk, the church trips all over itself. In ancient Judaism, Sabbath was one of the key things that made the Jews different from outside cultures. Whereas the Gentile world did not reserve a day of rest and considered all days as fair game for work, Jews were extremely intentional about the importance of Sabbath. While Jesus resisted any sort of senseless rigidity to the law that prevented people from serving God and doing what’s right on the Sabbath, Jesus never, ever rejected the Sabbath but was a Sabbath observing Jew himself!

The challenge for the church is this, are encouraging people to rest, to take a break, to observe Sabbath? Or are we driving people to work, work, work and work until they burn out and are no longer capable of serving? Are we laying the burden on a few to do the work of the many, or are we raising up disciples to help spread the work out, make the load lighter and to give everyone an opportunity to rest? The challenge for individuals is this: Are you alotting for an appropriate amount of rest in your schedule? Or are you working tirelessly with little to no time to rest and celebrate life. Conversely, are you getting too much rest and allowing others to burn out as a result of your not being willing to help lighten the load?

Regardless of what side of this you come down on, regardless of how you answer, know that observing the Sabbath is crucial to your physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual well being. And know that just as it is a sin to not observe the Sabbath, it is also a sin to hoarde the Sabbath to yourself at the detriment of others. Working too hard is a sin, as is allowing others to work too hard. Pray for balance in your life, the lives of others and in the life of the church so that we may begin to heal from the ailment of working too hard.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“If you don’t take a Sabbath, something is wrong. You’re doing too much, you’re being too much in charge. You’ve got to quit, one day a week, and just watch what God is doing when you’re not doing anything.” – Eugene Peterson

PRAYER
Lord, continually remind me of the importance of Sabbath rest so that I may become more attentive to it. Amen.

15 Ailments of the Church #1: Immortal, Immune, and Indispensable

Read Galatians 1:1-12

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“You will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand only through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe.” (Romans 11:19-20 NRSV)

FaceOfGodWell, it is Christmas Eve. It is the day that Christ was born. It is the day that you are probably expecting to find a writing on the little baby Jesus, silently asleep on the hay; however, that baby is never quite as quiet as we would like him to be. We often wish we could keep Jesus in his infantile form, right where we would like him, so that we can continue on doing the things as we have been without any questions or cause for self-reflection. But to bring you that silenced baby would be to NOT bring you Jesus.

Just the other day Pope Francis I gave a speech addressing a list of what he called “ailments of the curia.” The bishops and cardinals were not all too pleased to hear that list as it was directed at them, but it is a list that needs to be brought forward. It is not just a valid list for the administrators of the Holy See, but is a list that the Church as a whole could benefit from examining. So over the next seven and a half weeks, I will be addressing those 15 Ailments of the Church.

Ailment # 1: Feeling immortal, immune, or indispensable. Over the last 1500 or so years, the Church has been the center of community. The church had a say in all of communal life, from politics to family life, the church was the driving force behind it all. In times of celebration, in times of need, in times of confusion, in times of war, and in times of peace, people relied on the Church for support. As a result, the Church grew to a place of prominence, a place of pomp, and a place of power. It grew to see itself as immortal, immune and indispensable. As such, it bred a culture in which its leaders and its laypeople began to believe that their faith worldview and their church institution and themselves were indispensable and immune from the need to self-examination.

But that Church has since found itself wanting. A Church that once thought itself indispensable is finding less and less people seeking it out. In times of need, times of confusion, times of war, and times of peace, people are simply going elsewhere! Yet the attitude of indsipensiblitly is still prevelant in the church and still prevelant among its members. Within every church are the people that would see themselves as the “pillars” of the church. Such people see themselves as indispensable, as immune to accountability, and immortal. I wish I could get a dollar for everytime I heard the phrase, “this is my church.” What’s worse is that those who think themselves to be indispensable often view and treat others as though they are dispensable.

I tell you the truth, the Church is NOT yours! Nor is it mine! The church doesn’t belong to the United Methodists, the Presbyterians, the Evangelicals, the Baptists, the Roman Catholics, the Lutherans, the Episcopalians, or any other denominations! Behold, the Church is the body of Christ and, as such, belongs to Christ! We are not immune to accountability, nor are we immortal gods who can hold ourselves higher than anyone else, either within the church or outside of it. Remember that Christ is with those on the fringes and Christ is the voice of the silenced, the oppressed, the disenfranchised, the neglected. Christ lived the life of one who was viewed to be dispenisble, and he resurrected from dispensibility into immortality. Remember that God exalts the humble and  humbles the proud. Today’s challenge is for you to humble yourself and live your life as a part of Christ’s exalted body, equal with all of the other parts. Don’t forget that you, too, were grafted into this tree of faith and that a grafted branch can just as quickly be removed. Christ calls us to humility on this Christmas Eve.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:12 NRSV)

PRAYER
Lord, I humble myself before you. Gift me with the ability of self-reflection so that I may grow in your love and grace. Amen.

The Nativity Stor(ies)

Read Luke 2:1-16

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“[The Wise Men] entered the house and saw the child with His mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped Him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” (Matthew 2:11 NLT)

The-Nativity-StoryWe all know the Nativity Story, right? The angel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary and told her that she will be with child, who is to be named Jesus, and that her barren cousin is already 6 months pregnant. She humbly accepted it and went on a road trip to visit her cousin. When Mary arrived, the baby in Elizabeth’s baby jumped for joy at the sound of Mary’s voice. Mary praised God and texted a psalm to Elizabeth as a keepsake. okay, she didn’t do that, but she did sing a new psalm to God. Have you ever wondered how that got recorded if no one was there to witness it or write it down?

Anyway, Mary returned home and Joseph noticed that she was pregnant, which was obviously pretty big surprise to him. He thought about quietly dumping her, but an angel came to him in a dream to tell him that the Holy Spirit got Mary pregnant and that her child was actually the SON OF GOD. Joseph took Mary as his wife and then set off to Bethlehem to comply with a census that Caesar Augustus made the Jews participate in. There in Bethlehem, Mary’s water broke and the poor couple ended up searching house to house, inn to inn, in order to find a place for her to deliver baby Jesus. With there being no room for her at the inn, let alone anywhere else, Mary and Joseph found a stable and laid Jesus in a manger wrapped in strips of cloth. Following that, she was visited by Shepherds who were told by a choir of angels that the child was being born. She was also visited by three wise men who bore gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Herod, fearing that a new king was born, ordered that all male children 2 years old and younger be slaughtered, but the Holy Family escaped into Egypt. Following the death of Herod Mary, Jesus and Joseph returned to Israel and settled the Galilean town of Nazareth.

While this is the story we all know, the truth is that it IS NOT the nativity story that is found in the Bible. Don’t get me wrong, all of the elements listed above (minus Mary texting Elizabeth) are found in the Gospels…but not altogether. In Matthew, Joseph finds out Mary is pregnant and chooses to marry her after a dream. It is in this Gospel that we find Herod and the wise men visiting Jesus in a house, as well as the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt. In Luke, we find the story of Gabriel telling Mary she and Elizabeth are pregnant, of the angels singing to the shepherds who also visit the holy family, of the trip to Bethlehem, and of Jesus being born in stable, wrapped in strips of cloth and laid in a manger.

The two stories are actually remarkably different from one another. If this is a surprise to you, if you didn’t realize that Matthew and Luke both had different stories to tell when it came to Jesus’ birth, then it is time for you to read each of the Nativity stories for yourself. Many have looked at the differences and called them contradictions; however, they are not contradictions as if Luke and Matthew were written to be factual histories; rather, the two Gospels were written as theologies and both give a unique insight into the birth of Jesus and the significance that the advent of the Christ-Child has for the world. Neither story is definitive or complete, but are meant to be glimpses into the activity of a God who refuses to give up on humanity even when humanity has given up on God. Today’s challenge is for you to search the Gospels, read them closely and make note of their commonalities and differences. In doing so, you will have a much deeper and dynamic view of the Christ who came as a Savior for the world.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“How many observe Christ’s birthday! How few, His precepts!” – Benjamin Franklin

PRAYER
Lord, stir in me a desire to study Scripture; however, also spark in me the desire to go beyond just studying Scripture into the realm of living by it. Amen.

Why Advent?

Read Isaiah 11:1-9

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among His people! He will live with them, and they will be His people. God Himself will be with them.” (Revelation 21:3 NLT)

Advent2Advent is one of my favorite times of year. It is true that I am not a big fan of winter or its weather, I really love the season of Advent and of the great hope that it stands for. Throughout the majority of Christian history, the church has in one way or another celebrated the coming Christ. With that said, Christmas (aka the coming of the Christ-child) was not always celebrated by the church. In fact, it was quite a controversy early on and, in some Christian circles, it is still a controversy.

The  church didn’t officially recognize the “feast day” of Christ’s birth (what became known as Christ’s Mass or Christmas) until the fourth century, and when we look at the Gospels themselves, only two of the four canonical Gospels (Matthew and Luke) actually account for the birth of the Christ-child. The other two canonical Gospels (Mark and John) do not mention the birth of Christ at all. Mark starts off with Jesus’ baptism and John merely makes mention that the WORD of God manifested itself in the flesh as Jesus (John 1:14). They clearly did not feel that there was any significant reason to include the story of the Nativity in their Gospels.

So, then, why Advent? Regardless of the fact that only two of the four Gospels include the Nativity story, each of the four Gospels have the Advent story! In fact, the entire Bible is an Advent story. Advent, of course, means “the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event”. All of Scripture is pointing to Advent, when you really think about it. All of Scripture is pointing to the advent or arrival of Immanuel, of “God with us.” From the first humans through the Exodus, from the age of the kings through the prophets, from the exile through Roman occupation, from the birth of Jesus through his resurrection, from the apostles through our the age in which we find ourselves, this world is SCREAMING for the advent of God’s Kingdom, the advent of hope, healing, wholeness, justice, mercy, compassion and grace!

Why Advent? Because we live in a broken world filled with broken people such as ourselves. Why Advent? Because we live in a world filled with social injustice. Why Advent? Because we live in a world where people pour lighter fluid down the throats of teenagers and light them on fire. Why Advent? Because we live in a world where a few have everything, and a majority people have nothing. Why Advent? Because we all play our part in the reality of sin. Why Advent? Because we desire justice, we long for mercy, strive to live humbly.

Unfortunately, in the longing for Advent, we often miss a hugely important point. Immanuel has already come. GOD IS WITH US! GOD IS WITHIN US! While we certainly await the coming of God’s Kingdom in all of its fullness, and while the Bible is all about advent, it also points us to the reality of God’s presence with us, God’s love for us, and God’s holy spirit within us. The question really isn’t why Advent? Rather, the question should be why wait?

What are we waiting for? God desires that we see God’s presence with us now. We no longer have to lie in wait. We no longer have to sit and hope for some savior to come and rescue us. That savior has already come, that savior has never left, and that savior has no intention of leaving. So long as there are people who open themselves up to God, the Savior will always be present in the world. Jesus didn’t call us to wait, but to BE AWAKE. Jesus didn’t call us into waiting…but he sent his disciples and he sends us into action. Instead of waiting, actively take part in showing the world that GOD is already here…that GOD IS ALREADY WITH US…THAT LOVE WINS.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
How are you bringing the reality of Immanuel into the world around you?

PRAYER
Lord, I am your vessel of hope, healing and wholeness. Use me as a witness to your presence among all people. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: Woken Up in a Dream

181817372While it is important to keep moving forward, sometimes it is also important to pause and look back at what we’ve learned from the past. With that in mind, let’s take a look at this post from December 2012. It is just as relevant now as it was then.

Click here to view today’s devotion.

Many blessings,

Pastor Todd