Tag Archives: Holy Spirit

WORKS OF THE FLESH: Other Sins Like These

Read Galatians 5:13-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“He has enabled us to be ministers of His new covenant. This is a covenant not of written laws, but of the Spirit. The old written covenant ends in death; but under the new covenant, the Spirit gives life.” (2 Corinthians 3:6 NLT)

In his letter to the church in Galatia, the Apostle Paul is writing to a community that is divided over the issue of male circumcision: should new Gentile followers of Jesus be counted as a part of the Jewish covenant without being circumcised, or should they have to be circumcised just as all of the Jews are circumcised. Being that Christianity at the time wasn’t a religion, but a sect of Judaism, this was a VITALLY IMPORTANT question. While Paul is opposed to making Gentiles be circumcised, he also is against divisive behavior regardless of which side it is coming from. In response to this division, Paul describes to the Galatian church what he calls, “the works of the flesh.”

FieryOWORKS OF THE FLESH: Other Sins Like These. One of the things that I think plagues the church is this notion that the Bible, the Church, and religion in general are nothing more than a set of dos and don’ts in order to strip fun away from people, as well as to hold them in subjugation to those who claim to have the authority to teach and enforce such rules and regulations. There can be no doubt that there is some truth to Karl Marx’s words, “Religion is the opiate of the masses.” The Church, and the leaders within the church have, in some cases, abused their authority and, as a result, have done a disservice to Christ, to the Christian community, and to the world. With that said, the same is true with any ideology, religious or not. Take a long hard look at Communism. Any ideology can be used as an opiate to the masses.

So, while there is some truth to Marx’s comment, it is far from THE TRUTH as a whole. Christianity is not merely a list of dos and dont’s. When we come to those places in the Bible that list what should be done and what shouldn’t be done, it would benefit us to at least research the historical context behind those dos and dont’s. What’s more, when have done that kind of deep probe of the Scriptures, we begin to see that those dos and don’ts are, more often than not, a social contract between God and the world, between God and God’s people, and between God’s people and their fellow human beings. We all live in a social contract today whether we practice religion or not. We have all agreed to live and abide by the rules of our local governments for the benefit of the whole community.

At the heart of the Bible is LOVE. It is our guide to learning how to LOVING God by loving others as God loves us. God wants nothing more than that. It isn’t about an egotistical God who, like a big bully in the sky, demands we follow arbitrary laws…just because. The Bible is our guidance to what a right relationship with our neighbors and, by virtue of that, what a right relationship with God looks like. Some of those laws in the Bible make sense for us today, some of them no longer make sense because we have come to understand otherwise, but the heart of the BIBLE…THE HEART OF THE LAW…remains the same: LOVE! That is a constant that will never change.

To conclude on the “Works of the Flesh”, it is important to realize that Paul is not trying to give us an exhaustive list but, rather, he is listing specific sins that are going on within his church. We can see this in his summing the list up with “other sins like these” (Galatians 5:21). It is also important that we do not view Paul’s words as a list of dos and don’t. Instead, it is better to view them as a moral compass to help guide us all into a better relationship with God, into a better relationship with our neighbors, and into a better relationship with ourselves. That is the ultimate goal, it is what God wishes for all of us. Now, let’s go onto Paul’s “Fruit of the Spirit.”

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“A flower cannot blossom without sunshine, and man cannot live without love.” – Max Müller

PRAYER
Lord, fill me with your love so that I may live freely into the spirit of the law. Amen.

WORKS OF THE FLESH: Drunkenness

Read Galatians 5:13-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires.” (Romans 6:12 NLT)

In his letter to the church in Galatia, the Apostle Paul is writing to a community that is divided over the issue of male circumcision: should new Gentile followers of Jesus be counted as a part of the Jewish covenant without being circumcised, or should they have to be circumcised just as all of the Jews are circumcised. Being that Christianity at the time wasn’t a religion, but a sect of Judaism, this was a VITALLY IMPORTANT question. While Paul is opposed to making Gentiles be circumcised, he also is against divisive behavior regardless of which side it is coming from. In response to this division, Paul describes to the Galatian church what he calls, “the works of the flesh.”

FieryDWORKS OF THE FLESH: Drunkenness. Oh come on Paul! Didn’t you go to college and let loose?!?! Okay, all jokes aside, there is plenty that could be said about drunkenness. There is, of course, the traditional understanding of drunkenness that plagues our country and our world. An entire book, and then some, could be written about Alcohol and Substance abuse in the United States alone. In 2013, 86.8% of people ages 18 or older said they drank alcohol at some point in their life, 70.7% drank within that year, and 56.4% drank within the month the study was being conducted, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. The same study found that 24.6% of people the same age range said that they engaged in binge drinking within the past month, and 6.8% admitted to heavy drinking within the past month. What’s more, nearly 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes annually, making it the third leading preventable cause of death in the U.S.

I could go on about alcohol and substance abuse, and it would be a worthy endeavor. Many of us, myself included, have been drunk at some point in our lives and, no doubt, have stories to tell (thankfully we lived to tell them). With that said, there is another kind of drunkenness that affects many people that often get overlooked when reading about the dangers of drunkenness in the Bible or elsewhere. This kind of drunkenness stems from the selfish desire to have more and more of something to the point where the person is literally intoxicated by the mere thought, let alone the actual acquiring of what that person desires. Some are intoxicated with success, others with money, others still with status. The list is endless; we can virtually become addicted to, and “get drunk” on, anything.

Like an alcoholic for whom one drink is not enough, yet one is too many, we can easily get caught up in the things this world tells us to crave. We in the church can become intoxicated on success, on attendance, on position, on status, and a whole host of other things. I think power is at the root of most of the things we can “get drunk” on. For if we are successful, or if we are that big congregation other churches look to, or if we hold a high position, or if we have a good standing in the church and the community, we then have power over people who ARE NOT as high up as we see ourselves as being. Yes, power is the true intoxicant behind the drunkenness we find plaguing our church and our souls.

Paul’s warning is clear, those lost in drunkenness will not find themselves a part of the Kingdom of God. This is not because God has shut them out but because their own drunkenness has shut them out. Christ calls us away from the narcissistic need to have power. Remember, it was Christ who gave up his power. It was Christ who, on the cross, gave up his power and succumbed to his vulnerability; however, it was also Christ who, three days later, resurrected to life and to true power, that is the power of God. You, too, can resurrect. Give up your false power and be free to live!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Power is always dangerous. Power attracts the worst and corrupts the best.” – Edward Abbey

PRAYER
Lord, steer me clear from the drunkenness that comes from seeking power. I trust in your power, which is enough for me. Amen.

WORKS OF THE FLESH: Quarrels

Read Galatians 5:13-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“A hot-tempered person starts fights; a cool-tempered person stops them.” (Proverbs 15:18 NLT)

In his letter to the church in Galatia, the Apostle Paul is writing to a community that is divided over the issue of male circumcision: should new Gentile followers of Jesus be counted as a part of the Jewish covenant without being circumcised, or should they have to be circumcised just as all of the Jews are circumcised. Being that Christianity at the time wasn’t a religion, but a sect of Judaism, this was a VITALLY IMPORTANT question. While Paul is opposed to making Gentiles be circumcised, he also is against divisive behavior regardless of which side it is coming from. In response to this division, Paul describes to the Galatian church what he calls, “the works of the flesh.”

FieryQWORKS OF THE FLESH: Quarrels. I remember when growing up as a boy who had a younger sister. My sister and I were only two years apart and, for the most part, we were really close in our relationship. We did a ton of things together. We would play in the yard, we would ride our bikes, and when push came to shove we defended one another. With that said, like most siblings, when we got into a quarrel with one another, we really got into it! We knew each other so well, that we knew how to push each other’s buttons. Our love, in those moments, grew into bitter animosity. You know the old adage, “the best of friends make the worst of enemies.”

Well, my sister and I were never enemies…thanks be to God. With that said, there were moments where we really quarreled with each other. We would go back and forth, delivering insult for insult, and we would drive our parents crazy with it. All my parents wanted was for us to get along and to be peacemakers…and by that I don’t mean becoming a Colt .45. Yet our words would go back and forth and the bullets shot from our mouths would often cause more hurt than either of us realized. What’s more, often these quarrels would be over the most trivial and mundane things (e.g., whose turn it was to watch TV or what music we would listen to on the radio).

What’s sad is that, while it is natural for children to quarrel with one another, the quarreling doesn’t end when children grow into adults. Many families are split down the middle over quarreling, and that holds true for church families. In the church, more time is spent on quarreling than on worship and mission combined. We find ourselves so ready to quarrel with the people “we’ve always disagreed with” that we’ll disagree on just about anything in order to keep that quarrel going. We may not think of ourselves as being that way, and we may not consciously realize we are behaving that way, but in all honesty that is the reality of it.

Like an exasperated parent, God is wanting us to stop quarreling, but we are often too busy quarreling to stop and listen to God, let alone to stop and listen to one another. Pride is at the root of quarreling, for neither side wants to give in or give up for fear of showing weakness in such humility. Often we are too blinded by our own opinions on things that we cannot even entertain anyone else’s opinion; thus, we shut the other out and quarrel with them. Again, God is calling us to stop quarreling. God is calling us to be peacemakers. It is certainly okay to put forward our opinion on things; however, it is not okay to do so at the expense of everyone else. It is okay to have a voice, but it is not okay to shut the voices of others out. Often times, our quarrelsome tendency will intimidate people to the point that they remain silent to avoid conflict. Let us stop with the quarreling and join Paul in his quest to serve God by being peacemakers and seeking harmony.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“If we open a quarrel between past and present, we shall find that we have lost the future.” – Winston Churchill

PRAYER
Lord, quell the pride within us and transform us into your peacemakers. Amen.

WORKS OF THE FLESH: Anger

Read Galatians 5:13-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32 NLT)

FieryA-1In his letter to the church in Galatia, the Apostle Paul is writing to a community that is divided over the issue of male circumcision: should new Gentile followers of Jesus be counted as a part of the Jewish covenant without being circumcised, or should they have to be circumcised just as all of the Jews are circumcised. Being that Christianity at the time wasn’t a religion, but a sect of Judaism, this was a VITALLY IMPORTANT question. While Paul is opposed to making Gentiles be circumcised, he also is against divisive behavior regardless of which side it is coming from. In response to this division, Paul describes to the Galatian church what he calls, “the works of the flesh.”

WORKS OF THE FLESH: Anger. There is a misconception among many Christians, and certainly the world, that Christians are supposed to be happy 100% of the time. Christians are supposed to smile, to laugh, to be filled with joy, to never be depressed, and to float around from place to place with their feet barely touching the ground. We are supposed to be reverent, saintly, quiet, and we (so far as I can tell from all of the paintings) evidently all wear golden rings around our heads that reflect sun-like rays outward for all to see.

The one thing that is for sure, so the myth goes, is that a Christian is NEVER, EVER angry. Christians who show any sort of emotion outside of that the beaming joy that is supposed to emanate from our faces, are evidently not good Christians. After all who has ever heard of an angry Christian? What kind of witness would an angry Christian be to the world? Isn’t it true that Christians aren’t supposed to display any sort of anger? The answer is, of course, no. Of course Christians can, do, and sometimes should get angry! When a Christian witnesses or experiences injustice, for instance, is a time when that Christian is and/or should be filled with righteous anger.

What Paul is talking about here is not righteous anger. Paul is not talking about seeing someone abused, or hurt, or disenfranchised, or rejected, or alone, or starving, or being killed in gang violence or in war, and being filled with anger at a world that continually oppresses and hurts people; rather, Paul is talking about anger that rises up out of selfishness, jealousy, bitterness, dissention, division, and hatred. When a Christian is angry at another person, another one of God’s Creation, because he or she did not get what they wanted, or they don’t like the way the other person carries themselves, or because the other person has something that they wish they had, or for any other frivolous and selfish reason, that sort of anger is not a fruit of the Spirit, but is most definitely a work of the flesh.

Christ is calling us to lay our unfettered, selfish anger aside. What good can anger do for you or for the church? How can your being angry with someone, to the point where you cannot even forgive them, ever bring glory to God? How can you be a whole person if your anger is constantly driving a wedge between your neighbor and you. When that happens, what is really happening is that your anger is driving a wedge between you and God. Remember that the commandment that fulfills  all the law, according to Jesus and to Paul, is that you shall love your neighbor as yourself. If you are too angry to LOVE, how can you ever accept the LOVE God has for you? If you are too angry to LOVE, how can you ever find room LIVE into the fullness of life that God has to offer you? Be rid yourself of such unnecessary, unjustifiable anger. Let it go and let God begin to transform you from someone consumed by anger to someone who knows what it means to LOVE and BE LOVED.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“You will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished by your anger.” – the Buddha

PRAYER
Lord, quell the anger within me and allow me to be filled with your eternal love and joy. Amen.

WORKS OF THE FLESH: Enmity

Read Galatians 5:13-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will.” (Romans 8:7 NLT)

In his letter to the church in Galatia, the Apostle Paul is writing to a community that is divided over the issue of male circumcision: should new Gentile followers of Jesus be counted as a part of the Jewish covenant without being circumcised, or should they have to be circumcised just as all of the Jews are circumcised. Being that Christianity at the time wasn’t a religion, but a sect of Judaism, this was a VITALLY IMPORTANT question. While Paul is opposed to making Gentiles be circumcised, he also is against divisive behavior regardless of which side it is coming from. In response to this division, Paul describes to the Galatian church what he calls, “the works of the flesh.”

fieryEWORKS OF THE FLESH: Enmity. I just got done watching the film, “Selma”, which was about Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Selma to Montgomery Marches in 1965. The film starts off with the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing, where four innocent Christian girls were literally blown to bits by a bomb planted by four Ku Klux Klansmen. This evil, tragic, and horrific event caused an outrage in the public that aided the cause of Dr. King and those seeking equal voting rights for the black community. Segregation laws and and other local laws often prevented those who were black from being able to vote, though they technically had the right.

When looking back on the civil rights movement, and even looking at the racial divide in the country today, I can’t help but think of the word enmity. Enmity is a state of being actively hostile and/or opposed to someone or some group. Looking at our government, some politicians, its laws, and a system that favors some over others, it is easy to see that in many cases our system has embodied enmity. Sure, it has improved over the years and a lot of change to it has occurred rather quickly. With that said, many of the changes have been peripheral and not systemic. We have changed it so that all people of all colors can vote; however, in order to be a candidate one must have a ton of money and financial backing in order to have even a remote chance of winning. As a result, such candidates are often far removed from the poor and disenfranchised and are more representative of the privileged (even if they, themselves, don’t intend to be).

The church is notorious for being filled with enmity. While one can see how enmity could creep up into any government, where the rich rule and the poor are ruled, it is hard to imagine how enmity could possibly show its ugly head; however, enmity has unfortunately found a breeding ground in  the body of Christ. Like a cancer it has spread from person to person, from group to group, from congregation to congregation, and from denomination to denomination. The enmity found in Christians have led them to love some and hate others within the church. White Christians have hated and lynched black Christians. Straight Christians have hated and degraded LGTBQ Christians. One committee within a church has found itself opposed to and at odds with another committee. And so it goes on and on like a cancer, spreading and killing the souls of many.

Christ calls us to be rid of enmity. We may not always agree with people, we may not understand them or even want to understand others who are different than us; however, that does not give us an excuse to be hostile and actively opposed to our brothers and sisters in Christ. Remember, Christ is our Lord, and we cannot serve two masters. We will either love the one and hate the other or vice versa. We cannot love Christ and enmity. To bear enmity against anyone is to also bear enmity against God, their creator. So be rid of enmity. Drop your hatred. Let go of your bitterness and let God fill you with eternal, unconditional love.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Enmity means ‘hatred toward, hostility to, or a state of opposition.’ It is the power by which Satan wishes to reign over us.” – Ezra Taft Benson

PRAYER
Lord remove from me any enmity that I may possess within me. Fill me with your eternal, unconditional love. Amen.

WORKS OF THE FLESH: Idalotry

Read Galatians 5:13-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:2-3 NRSV)

In his letter to the church in Galatia, the Apostle Paul is writing to a community that is divided over the issue of male circumcision: should new Gentile followers of Jesus be counted as a part of the Jewish covenant without being circumcised, or should they have to be circumcised just as all of the Jews are circumcised. Being that Christianity at the time wasn’t a religion, but a sect of Judaism, this was a VITALLY IMPORTANT question. While Paul is opposed to making Gentiles be circumcised, he also is against divisive behavior regardless of which side it is coming from. In response to this division, Paul describes to the Galatian church what he calls, “the works of the flesh.”

fieryIWORKS OF THE FLESH: Idolatry. When Christians hear the word idolatry, they seldom think that Paul is really speaking to them. Why would the apostle be warning followers of the “the way, the truth and the life” of idolatry? Christians today know better than to make idols and worship them, right? If Paul is warning Christians, he must be warning “those” Christians over there. Perhaps he was warning “those” Gentile Christians he was teaching. Perhaps Paul was warning “those” Christians who are in other denominations? But Paul would never be talking to us Christians, would he?

It is true that in Paul’s time, there were more and more Gentiles starting to believe in Christ and Paul played an instrumental part in that reality. It is also true that Paul’s Gentile converts were non-Jewish, many of whom were Greek and Roman. They were raised to believe in many gods, to worship in temples filled with many idols, and to even worship living people such as the Roman emperors; however, in context, Paul is not addressing “those” Gentile Christians, though his message would certainly apply to them as well; however, Paul’s message was addressed to the Jewish Christian community that was trying to force “those” Gentile Christians to be circumcised. It is to his fellow Jewish followers of Christ that Paul is speaking.

For Paul, the Jewish Christians weren’t literally worshiping idols; rather, they were were placing their traditions and their understanding of the law before what Paul believed God was doing in the world. What was God doing? God was radically opening up the covenant from being a Jewish-specific covenant to being a global covenant. All the Gentiles had to do was believe in Jesus Christ, to confess him as their Lord and Savior, and to dedicate their life to Christian service and they were brough into this covenant. No circumcision and no dietary restrictions were needed. To stand in the way of that, to put any agenda over and above God’s plan, was to participate in idolatry.

The question for us then is this, do we worship God above any other? Or do we put other things before God and God’s will for us? Do we worship the true God, or do we make gods of ourselves, our ideas, our agendas and our regulations? Do we put God first in our lives, or do we put money, success, doctrine, dogma, polity, sports, and other things before God? If we do the latter, then we have become idolators. If we have become a people who worship other gods, if we are a people who make gods out of the stuff WE DEEM to be important, then we are producing works of the flesh; rather than the fruit of the spirit. Let us put down our gods and pick up the Spirit and the love of Christ, for God is calling us to be open and LOVING and ACCEPTING of “those” people just as God has been open and LOVING and ACCEPTING of us.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“To get overprotective about particular readings of the Bible is always in danger of idolatry.” – N. T. Wright

PRAYER
Lord, guard my heart away from false idols that lead me away from your Spirit of openness, love, and acceptance. Amen.

WORKS OF THE FLESH: Licentiousness

Read Galatians 5:13-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, He will show you a way out so that you can endure.” (1 Corinthians 10:13 NLT)

In his letter to the church in Galatia, the Apostle Paul is writing to a community that is divided over the issue of male circumcision: should new Gentile followers of Jesus be counted as a part of the Jewish covenant without being circumcised, or should they have to be circumcised just as all of the Jews are circumcised. Being that Christianity at the time wasn’t a religion, but a sect of Judaism, this was a VITALLY IMPORTANT question. While Paul is opposed to making Gentiles be circumcised, he also is against divisive behavior regardless of which side it is coming from. In response to this division, Paul describes to the Galatian church what he calls, “the works of the flesh.”

FieryLWORKS OF THE FLESH: Licentiousness. Paul now moves onto licentiousness. Now, this is not a word that gets tossed around too often now-a-days. If you are like me, you’re probably scratching your head asking, “Licentiousness? What on God’s green earth is licentiousness? What does it mean to be licentious?” If you are like me, you will probably end up Googling the word, and there you will find out that to be licentiousness means to know no bounds, to lack in moral restraints, especially sexual restraints. Human sexuality, when expressed in healthy ways, is one of the most beautiful thing shared between two people; however, when one abuses sexuality and uses it as a means for a selfish end (whether that end is power or pleasure), then human sexuality takes on an ugliness that God never intended for it.

As with fornication, however, the word licentiousness need not only apply to human sexuality. More generally, as mentioned above, licentiousness means to know no bounds, to lack moral restraints. To be licentious is to be a person who acts on impulse, to be a person who seeks to bring oneself pleasure without any regard of the other. To be licentious is to live in an unrestrained way to the detriment of friends, family and/or community. As such, licentiousness is the epitome of self-indulgence, of a life that thinks it has no limits, of a person who could careless about anything but what satisfies the boundless hunger for pleasure and power.

The truth is that we very much live in a licentious world, a world that tells us we can have anything we want, that we can be anything we dream of, and a world that tells us that there are no limits to what we can do or accomplish. What’s even more sad, is that many Christians and Christian leaders propagate such a message to their followers. The Gospel, for such people, gets relegated to obtaining prosperity and earthly success. When we buy into the message of this world, when we begin to believe that there are no limits for us, we begin to be filled with the spirit of licentiousness.

Rather than licentiousness, Christ is calling you to give up the hunger to be limitless. Ironically, that hunger to be limitless is deceptive, for the more one strives to be limitless the more limited in their sinful licentiousness they become. True limitlessness can only be found through the power of restraint. The licentious seek power; however, true power is restraint. The person who lives in God is the person who knows and embodies restraint. The person of restraint is not one who deprives his or her body of what it needs but, rather, the person of restraint avoids the temptation to be limitless in obtaining what he or she lusts after; in that avoidance, the person avoids being a slave to his or her lust. Christ is calling us all to drop the licentiousness of this world and to embody God’s divine power of restraint. The power to do so is God’s gift to you.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“It is his restraint that is honorable to a person, not their liberty.” – John Ruskin

PRAYER
Lord, show me the power of restraint that lies within me so that I may use it wisely and stand in firmly in that power. Amen.

WORKS OF THE FLESH: Fornication

Read Galatians 5:13-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry).” (Colossians 3:5 NRSV)

realistic-fiery-letters-and--numbers--fiery-font-letter-f--burning-aphabets--az--pictures-wallpapers-74110In his letter to the church in Galatia, the Apostle Paul is writing to a community that is divided over the issue of male circumcision: should new Gentile followers of Jesus be counted as a part of the Jewish covenant without being circumcised, or should they have to be circumcised just as all of the Jews are circumcised. Being that Christianity at the time wasn’t a religion, but a sect of Judaism, this was a VITALLY IMPORTANT question. While Paul is opposed to making Gentiles be circumcised, he also is against divisive behavior regardless of which side it is coming from. In response to this division, Paul describes to the Galatian church what he calls, “the works of the flesh.”

THE WORKS OF THE FLESH: Fornication. Oh boy, nothing like starting off the list of sinful works than with the biggie of fornication! Hey Paul, why don’t you just cut to the chase! We all know, or should know, what fornication is. It is the act of having a sexual relationship with someone outside of a marital covenant. Fornication is an umbrella word that houses more specific words underneath it; words such as adultery and promiscuity. For Paul, the idea of having sex in any context outside of the marital covenant was against his Jewish sensibilities; however, it was not necessarily outside the sensibilities of his Gentile audience. Paul was adamant that sex was meant to be shared between a LOVING and MARRIED couple.

In light of past history, as well as a more scientific understanding of human sexuality, fornication has become a loaded word for us in the twenty-first century. Since the time of Paul, we have 2,000 years of history that we need to be aware of. While we certainly want to honor and respect Paul’s warning against fornication, we also don’t want to fall into the trap of becoming like one of the Puritanical finger pointers of Hester Prynne in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter.” What’s more, while sexual immorality (aka promiscuity and adultery) is certainly what Paul is referring to, we all have participated in a fornication of a different kind at one point or another. And that is what I would like to focus on.

According to Christian theology, we Christians are in union (aka marriage) with Christ our Lord. What this means is that we are joined in a spiritually intimate relationship with Christ and, as it is within a marital covenant, we are called to remain faithful to Christ just as he is faithful to us. Faithfulness means that we will give of ourselves wholly to Christ just as spouses give of themselves to each other…meaning that we will live and breathe the risen Christ in all we do and/or say. We will feed the hungry, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned, take care of the “least of these,” avoid judgment, seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God. When we fail to do these things, and are pulled away by the attitudes and behaviors of this world, we are d in a spiritual sense.

Just as God has been faithful to us, so to we are being called to remain faithful to God. Straying from our purpose of serving others to self-centered living is but one of the ways we end up fornicating in a world set on fornication. The word fornicate, I am sure, makes most of us squirm around uncomfortably…and it should. Let us strive to remain faithful to God and what God is calling us to do. Let us strive to model our lives after that of Jesus’ life. Let us all model a life of bold compassion, love, peacemaking, service, respect, stewardship, radical hospitality, and self-sacrifice. Then we will be sure to steer clear of the pitfall of spiritual fornication.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The essence of immorality is the tendency to make an exception of myself.” – Jane Addams

PRAYER
Lord, purify and sanctify me. Keep me from straying from your all-encompassing love. Amen.

Just Imagine

Read Zechariah 7:9-14

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“No one can know a person’s thoughts except that person’s own spirit, and no one can know God’s thoughts except God’s own Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 2:11 NLT)

Different_Shoe_DayOne of the things that God has gifted me with is the ability to imagine myself in other people’s situations, to have empathy, to have compassion and, as a result, to have a broader understanding of a situation because I was able to see mutliple sides and/or angles. This is something that comes rather natural to me and, because of that, I can be a rather sensitive person. Through the years, I have learned to manage my sensitivity so that it works for me and not against me; however, more often than not, my being sensitive has been an asset and not a curse.

Growing up there were times, even for me, where it was hard to see outside of my own circumstances. For instance, when people would make fun of me or bully me, it was hard to see past being bullied and made fun of. In those times, my mom would impart a wisdom that sticks with me until this very day. She used to tell me, “Todd, you don’t truly know what someone is going through until you’ve walked a mile in there shoes. You don’t know what is going on to cause people to be the way they are. You don’t know what is going on in their home lives. You don’t know what kind of hurt is built up inside.” She would go on, “Not that what they’re doing is right. There are other ways to handle hurt and pain, but they are choosing to lash out at you and, no doubt others. So pray for them, Todd. Pray that they may be healed from whatever is hurting them.”

Those words still resonate in me to this very day. In fact, when I look around I see a world filled with people who are lost in their own situations and circumstances. Most people don’t know how to put themselves in another’s shoes, they don’t take the time to think about why someone is behaving the way they do or saying the things that they say. There is always more to a story than one side. We are very adept at knowing OUR SIDE of the story; however, we so often fail at seeing any other side but OUR SIDE.

I am not saying this to excuse or to take away accountability from those who are doing wrong. People need to be held accountable and action DOES need to be taken; however, I am saying this because people, far too often, react in negative ways based off of their internal emotions. We often fly off of the handle without giving even a moment’s pause to reflect upon what was done and what the appropriate response to it might be. We so often fail to ask the person why they are doing the things they’re doing and, even if we cannot ask them, we fail to pray to God for their well-being. What kind of world would this be if people started praying…seriously praying…before they acted? What kind of world would this be if people tried to put themselves in other people’s shoes?

Perhaps instead of being quick to judge communities for protesting police brutality, we might imagine ourselves as minorities and imagine what discrimination might be like. Perhaps instead of being quick to judge police for every shot fired, we might put ourselves in their shoes and imagine what being a police officer caught in a violent situation might be like. And those are just two examples pulled from current events. Just think of what this world would be like if people stopped judging, started praying, and allowed God to lead them in their against the circumstances that rise against them. Jesus of Nazareth did that. The Apostles did that. St. Francis did that. Dietrich Bonhoeffer did that. Mother Teresa did that. Mahatma Gandhi did that. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. did that. Those who have done such things have turned around, taken the appropriate course of action in their given situations, and have made a positive difference in our world. Just imagine what such a world would be like if we all started following their examples.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.” – Dalai Lama

PRAYER
Lord, fill me with your compassion and insight so that I am have understanding and act in accordance with justice and mercy. Amen.

Amazing Paradox

Read Romans 3:21-26

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.” (James 2:17 NLT)

AmazingParadoxI think if you were to ask people what their favorite Christian hymns are most people would have “Amazing Grace” some where on that list. I wonder how many people actually know the story behind that hymn. No doubt, some people will have seen the 2006 film that was named after the famous hymn. For those who have seen that film, which details William Wilberforce’s fight for the abolishment of slavery in Great Britain, this story is something they are already familiar with; however, even if you are familiar with the story, it is still good to hear it again.

The hymn was written by John Newton, who was a slave ship captain. He never had any religious upbringing while growing up and so, as you can imagine, he didn’t have any real religious sensibilities as a slave ship captain; however, that all changed in 1748 when is ship was nearly over come by a terrible storm off of the coast of County Donegal, Ireland. In the midst of the storm, for fear of his life, John Newton found himself doing something he had never really done before: he was praying to God for life. It was in that moment that Newton converted to being a Christian and he penned the first verse while waiting for his ship to be repaired. While Newton did not stop being a Slave Ship Captain right away, by 1754 or 1755 he had completely given up his career and began studying Christian theology.

From there, John Newton went on to be ordained in the Church of England and became curate of Olney, Buckinghamshire. The rest of Amazing Grace was completed in order to illustrate a sermon on New Year’s Day, 1773. While this hymn didn’t take off right away, the Second Great Awakening in the United States gave birth to it’s popularity. John Newton, a former slave captain, also became an influential proponent of the abolishment of slavery. After experiencing a conversion to Christian faith, William Wilberforce sought spiritual counsel to see if he should remain in politics. Newton encouraged him to stay in politics and became an ally of Wilberforece’s in his quest to abolish slavery from Great Britain. By 1807, both Newton and Wilberforce’s dream of the downfall of the slave trade came to pass.

What’s important to note about both Newton and Wilberforce is that in both of them we see the true nature of God’s Grace. In today’s Christianity, the focus on God’s grace is how FREE it is. While it is true that there is nothing we can do to earn God’s grace, and while it is true that Grace is a gift from God to us, to focus solely on Grace being FREE is to miss a profoundly powerful paradox. Here’s the deal, God’s grace maybe free for us to accept; however, it comes at the highest of costs. As John Newton and William Wilberforce both came to realize, accepting God’s amazing grace meant that they were selling their souls and their lives to God. Nothing…absolutely nothing…would remain the same again.

The same is true for us, if we want God’s free and amazing Grace, we have to be willing to pay the cost. It will change who we are from the inside out. It will push us to uncomfortable places we never imagined ourselves going. It will call us to forsake our own wills for the will of God. It will compel us to stand up against oppression, against injustice, in order to fight for the “least of these” and for the souls of those who are seeking release from captivity (physical and spiritual). While this change, as in the case of Newton, might not happen overnight…it will most certainly happen! Because those who are possessed by God’s Spirit, and filled with God’s amazing grace, cannot continue living lives that are antithetical to God’s love. So, sing it! Sing Amazing Grace at the top of your lungs and be transformed by God’s amazing paradox.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Cheap grace is the enemy of the church. We are fighting today for costly grace.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “The Cost of Discipleship”.

PRAYER
Lord, fill me with your costly grace and transform me in ways that produce transformative change in the world around me. Amen.