Tag Archives: Holy Spirit

Defined By Faith

Read Esther 2:1-20

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build My church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.” (Matthew 16:18)

EstherA few weeks ago I wrote about how much we invest in our names. I spoke of my reflecting on my own name, and what made me a “Todd” as opposed to any other name. From the time we’re born to the time we die, we learn, define ourselves by, and completely invest in our names. Some of us, certainly exceptions to the rule, bemoan the names we have been given and even change them. Whether we accept our given names, or we rename ourselves, we certainly settle on a name and invest all of ourselves into that name.

This must have been the case for Hadassah, a young Jewish woman who lived in exile in Babylon with her uncle Mordecai. The root word of her name means Myrtle tree, which had a pleasant fragrance. The righteous were often referred to as hadas (or Myrtle) becuase they were likened to good trees with a pleasant smell. What a name that she was given, a name that surely reminded her that she was called to be righteous, to be pure, to be faithful to her God. In that day and age, a righteous woman was one who married, was faithful to her husband, and was one who gave birth to and raised her children. All of these definitions, and I am sure more, were embedded in Hadassah from the time she was born.

Yet, as is often the case, circumstances ended up changing everything for this young Jewish woman. The King of Persia, who happened to be Xerxes who also fought against the 300 Spartans (for those of you who are history buffs), had banished his queen for disobeying him and commanded all of the beautiful, young, virgin women in the Persian empire to come to his harem in Susa, which was where the King ruled his empire from. Unfortunately for Hadassah, she was one of the many women who were brought to this harem, which the part of a palace where the king keeps all of the virgins that he exclusively claimed conjugal rights on.

This means that Hadassah went from being a righteous and pure girl (according to Jewish law) to the sex slave of the King. He would sleep with those women in his Harem. If he was pleased with one he could pick her as his next queen; however, if he wasn’t he could put her in the second harem as a concubine and move on to the next woman. Before being sent to be at the King’s disposal, Mordecai renamed Hadassah with a Persian name, Esther. He told her to use that name so she could hide the fact that she was Jewish. The rest goes down as legend. Esther does win the heart of the King and, eventually, saves her people from genocide. But let’s not cheapen Hadassah had to do. She had to abandon who she felt she was called to be, she had to abandon her own name and identity, in order to become a “disgrace” to the very law that she tried so desperately to fulfill and uphold.

Yet, as we see in the story, God does not define us by the names or definitions we give to ourselves. My mom always told me that God knows our heart and measures us on where our heart is. Clearly, this is the case for Hadassah. Initially her name, her family, her religion, her dreams and aspirations all defined who she was; however, God saw who she truly was. She may not have felt righteous in the harem at the fortress in Susa; however, she was righteous in her heart and, as a result, God brought her honor and the adoration of both a King and an entire people. She went from a girl exiled, to the queen of the very kingdom she was exiled to. In the end, her FAITH and her FAITHFULNESS defined who she was!

We can learn from Hadassah. We cannot change the way our lives often play out and we cannot always control the circumstances that affect our lives; however, we can trust in God and look to God to define who we are. Our FAITH and our FAITHFULNESS defines who we are. Place your faith in God, and trust in God to lead you through the curve balls that life throws at you. Be a person of FAITH and watch the wonders that God will work in and through you!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“God doesn’t judge us on what’s outside; rather, it is what is inside that counts.” – Katherine A. Lattig

PRAYER
Lord, you know my heart, even when my actions don’t line up with it. Please, allow me to be who you have called me to be as that is my heart’s true desire. Amen.

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John

Read Luke 1:1-4

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“This is the Good News about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.” (Mark 1:1)

TheFourGospels“Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, bless the bed that I lie on. Four corners to my bed, four angels round my head; one to watch and one to pray, and two to bear my soul away.” There is nothing quite like children’s nursery rhymes, is there? Especially religious ones that point to a God that all little children had better fear. I grew up reciting this rhyme as young boy, subconsciously digesting it’s grim and rather creepy message. This rhyme basically says that you had better be in line with the four Gospels if you would like God’s protection when you sleep, and it doesn’t hesitate to remind you that you could die in your sleep. So if you would like angels to guard you and/or carry your soul to heaven, you had better be blessed by the Gospels. That’s rather funny being that the word gospel literally means “good news” and is the “good news” of Jesus Christ, not Matthew, Mark, Luke or John.

It is amazing to me that so many people claim to be Christian in this country and, yet, few people are literate to what the Gospels actually say. We recite quaint little rhymes, we remember the Sunday School stories taught to us at young ages, and we even watch movies that are, when you think of it, only loosely based on the Gospels; however, most people do not pick up the Gospels and read them for themselves. And, when people do pick up the Gospels and read it, they read it as if they are a cohesive, singular story that were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John who were sitting side by side and consulting with each other on what they remember the Lord saying and doing. Here’s an example. Tell yourself what you know about Jesus’ birth. You will probably think of Mary and Joseph journeying to Bethlehem, being forced to sleep in a manger because there was no room at the inn, and being visited by 3 wise men who brought gifts, as well as by shepherds who got a full choral performance by the Vienna Boys’ Choir of angels.

Yet, I bet you didn’t realize that Mary and Joseph only get put in a manger in Luke, not Matthew. And the Wise Men are only mentioned in Matthew and not in Luke, not to mention the author of Matthew (we don’t actually know his real name, as he never actually gave it) never numbered the wise men to three. What’s more the shepherds only show up in Luke and not in Matthew. Let me also point this out, the birth narrative is ONLY found in Matthew and Luke. It is absent in Mark and John. Is your head spinning yet? What do we make of this? Should we question the accuracy of the Gospels?

The answer, in short, is absolutely not! If the authors were looking to write a 21st century, scientific, history textbook, then we should definitely question their accuracy; however, that is not what they were writing. They were writing a Gospel which combines loosely recorded historical figures and events that are combined with narratives woven around what were the known sayings, teachings and deeds of Jesus of Nazareth, who they witnessed and experienced as the Christ. To simplify this a bit, what the authors were writing was a THEOLOGY on WHO JESUS IS and WHY THAT IS GOOD NEWS. That is what these authors were concerned with, reporting the GOOD NEWS of JESUS CHRIST to their communities.

My challenge to you is for you to read the Gospels. Read them in the order they were written Mark (ca. 68-70 CE), Matthew (ca. 80-90 CE), Luke (ca. 80-90 CE), and John (ca. 90-100 CE). Read them separately, taking each one on its own terms. Get a feel for what truths each author would like to convey to you about Jesus, the Christ, the son of God. Let them inform you, rather than you trying to inform them, and be amazed at the dynamic, living, and powerful Christ that will meet you in the process. There are no books in the world more influential that the Gospels and there is a reason for that. Read them as they are and be transformed by the good news of Jesus Christ.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“While facts are beholden to truth, truth is not beholden to fact.” – Rev. Todd R. Lattig

PRAYER
Lord, speak the truth of your good news to my heart so that I may see you as you wish to be revealed to me, through the faithful witness of others as well as through my own experience. Amen.

It’s Story Time

Read Genesis 1

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Many people have set out to write accounts about the events that have been fulfilled among us.” (Luke 1:1 NLT)

storytellerWe are a people who thrive on stories. Whether they be stories told around a campfire, stories bound in a book, stories acted out on as stage or before a film camera, we are a people who tell and love to be told stories. It is no wonder then, that we are people who lend serious weight to stories when they are told to us. In stories we come across characters we can relate to, as well as characters that we feel the need to distance ourselves from…just like in life. In stories, we discover truths as well as uncover and expose lies. Stories are, and have been, ways in which we pass down our history and our heritage from one generation to the next and, without a shadow of a doubt, stories are also how, in part, we have passed our religions and morals down from generation to generation.

The Bible is full of such stories. Please keep in mind that my use of the word “story” here is not to claim, one way or the other, on their historical veracity. In fact, even history is a “story”, is it not? And history is often one side’s version of that story. But back to the Bible. It is filled with stories of creation and origin, stories of heritage and lineage, stories of kingdoms and conquest, stories of faith, historical stories and even prose and poetry that recount stories of love, life, happiness, sadness, tragedy, despair and every other category in between.

What’s more important, and not always recognized by people, is the realization that the Bible is a collection of many different stories, some that don’t even agree with each other. For instance, some stories talk about King David as a king who had very few flaws (1 Chronicles). Other stories show him to be a flawed and proud character who eventually had to be humbled by God through the prophet Nathan (1 and 2 Samuel). Different stories also reveal different aspects of God, which is why the ancient Jews decided to include them all in the same book. They didn’t look at them as contradicting stories, as much as they saw them as stories of opportunity to grow in depth of our understanding of God. So, in one book and/or passage, we might discover that “God is slow to get angry, is full of compassion, forgiveness and mercy, and doesn’t harbor judgment forever (Exodus 34:6; Numbers 14:18); however, somewhere else we read that God put Onan to death for NOT getting his sister-in-law pregnant (yes, you read that right, see Genesis 38)! When we read these stories, some of them resonate with us…other stories we read disagree with us…and still, they all challenge us to wrestle with OUR OWN STORY of who God is, and how God relates with us.

In today’s time, some people have become snobbish toward stories of faith; they look at the stories of faith as being ways that “more ignorant” people explained things, while seemingly being completely ignorant to the fact that they are carrying on that same tradition of story telling…even if their versions of the stories have somewhat, or even drastically, changed. Take the big bang theory, for instance. Is that no more a story than the story of Creation? Is one story right and the other wrong? Or do both point to different angles of the same truth…namely, the truth that WE EXIST AGAINST ALL ODDS.

Today’s challenge is to NOT be snobbish to the stories of the past, but to learn from them. Recognize that these stories do inform us of where we came from, who we are, and who God is calling us to be. These stories are the foundations of our very lives, and not one person is devoid of those stories. Thank God for the blessing of those stories, and be willing to wrestle with them. In doing so, you GROW and see a fuller picture of who God is and who YOU ARE! In doing so, you will become a LIVING PART of the story, as well as a partner in passing them down!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“I love to tell the story, ‘twill be my them in glory, to tell the old, old story of Jesus and his love.” – Katherine Hankey

PRAYER
Lord, thank you for all of the blessing of stories and for my being taught of you through the stories that have been passed down to me. Use me as a faithful storyteller, sharing your good news in all the ways that I can. Amen.

What’s in a Name?

Read John 10:14-18, 25-30

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“But now, O Jacob, listen to the LORD who created you. O Israel, the One who formed you says, “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are Mine.” (Isaiah 43:1 NLT)

Whats-in-a-NameHave you ever given much thought to your name? Just the other day I was in a conversation with someone who was talking about how her granddaughter just started to write her own name. Instantly, I was transferred back to when my daughters were first able to write their own names. I remember what a milestone it was to see them do that. What’s more, this conversation also caused me to reflect on my own name, and the moment I was first able to write it. Indeed, I am not sure I remember when I first was able to write my own name. I definitely remember learning to write, and then learning to write in cursive, but I am not sure I remember when I first wrote my own name: Todd.

Then I began thinking, “What is Todd? Who is Todd? What is it that a Todd is supposed to do? How is a Todd supposed to look? How is a Todd supposed to act? What makes a Todd a Todd? What makes me more a Todd than I am a Howie or a Jonathon or a Leonard?” Now this may sound silly to you and, indeed, it feels a little silly writing those questions down; however, have you ever stopped to think about how you got your name and what makes you fit that name, or what makes that name fit you?

The truth is, I am not sure I can fully answer that question. My name is Todd because my parents chose to name that. The name Todd actually comes from my dad’s side of the family. I was named after my grandma’s maiden name. Her name was Jeanette Elizabeth Todd before marrying my grandfather and becoming Jeanette Elizabeth Lattig. For the first few months, I had no self-awareness of any  name. Over time, I learned that those people who are always holding me and feeding me call me “Todd”. Eventually, at some point, I started answering to that name and claiming it to be my own. No doubt, if someone asked me when I was a Toddler (ironic…I know) what my name was, I would say, “My name is Todd.” And eventually, I began to write my name as a way of marking whatever I was writing it on as being “mine.”

So, here it is that I am, indeed, a Todd. But what does that say about me beyond what name I go by? In reality, we are so much more than our names; yet, truth be told, we invest all that we believe we know about ourselves into those names. And others do the same. If you were to ask one of my family members or friends who Todd is, they would no doubt shower you with all they thought that I am. But that would be who they believe this Todd to be…that would say nothing about every other Todd out there.

While we may identify ourselves by our name, and while we may associate our characteristics, strenghts, flaws, personalities and other things with that name, the truth is that our names do not really define us or who we are. Rather, God does define who we are and calls us according to that definition. So whoever you, the reader, are, you are so much more than the name and all the things that you attribute to that name. You are more than you could ever imagine. No matter how well you think you know yourself, and no matter how much others think they might know about you, God is the only one who knows EXACTLY who you are and all that you are capable of. God knows your possibilities and your full potential…and God is calling you, not only by NAME but according to WHO YOU ARE, to reach your full potential. All you need to do is TRUST IN GOD, and take the step forward to answer that call…knowing that God will guide you each step of the way.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.” – Jesus of Nazareth, John 14:1

PRAYER

Lord, reveal to me who I really am and guide me to what it is I am really called to do. Amen.

The Garden

Read Genesis 2:4b-9, 15-25

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11:6-9 NRSV)

lion_wolf_lamb3We all dream about what living in a utopia would be like do we not. We’ve all tried to imagine what it must have been like to be the first people living in the paradise called the Garden of Eden. We often wonder how different the world would be if the garden were a reality for us today as opposed to being an origin narrative bound in a book.

Can you imagine the first people living in paradise, living in a garden that sustains eternal life? Can you imagine having all of the delicious plants and fruits that you could ever eat? Could you imagine living in a world where people didn’t kill people for greed, jealously, revenge and/or power? Could you imagine a world where animals (including humans) didn’t kill other animals for food, a world where pain, suffering, famine, disease and loss were never, ever experienced?

That is the kind of world that Genesis says that God intended for us, but even in the paradisiacal Garden of Eden tragedy, pain, suffering and separation lurked around the corner. It seems as if even the earliest humans couldn’t attain true peace and/or true happiness. If that is the case, why do we continue to long for it and what makes us think we can ever attain it?

The truth of the matter is that we can attain true peace and true wholeness. We can once again enter the garden if we are willing to do what it takes to live in harmony with with ourselves, with other humans, with all of creation and, ultimately with God. But, as you can plainly see, paradise isn’t free. Everything comes at a cost.

The question is are you willing to do what it takes to work your way back to the garden? Are you willing to turn your body back into the sanctuary God built it to be? Are you willing to take proper care of yourself (i.e., through a healthy diet, exercise, self-forgiveness, humility, spiritual discipline, etc.)? Are you willing to start living in harmony with your neighbors (friends and enemies alike)? Are you willing to live in a harmonious relationship with all of God’s creation? If so, the your answer is yes to the question of whether you want to live in a harmonious relationship with God.

God is calling you to begin your journey back to the Garden…back to the perfect paradise. The truth is we have kicked ourselves out of it and we are the ones holding ourselves from returning to it! God is wanting us to be reunited the divine image we were created to reflect and God wants us to return home. The truth is that you have been equipped by God to stop dreaming and start journeying back to paradise. The path is set before you and the choice is yours. I hope to see you in paradise!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“God comes first. Paradise is not cheap.” – Hakeem Olajuwon

PRAYER

Lord, place the desire for paradise in my heart and guide me toward discovering it. Lead me back to your garden. Amen.

The Virtuous Life

Read Galatians 5:19-25

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“People with integrity walk safely, but those who follow crooked paths will slip and fall.” (Proverbs 10:9 NLT)

The Walking Dead (Season 2)One of my favorite shows on television, as I have mentioned in the past, is the show “The Walking Dead”. Recently, I have been rewatching the series with my wife, as she has never seen it before. This is actually a great way to get more of “The Walking Dead” as I eagerly find myself in the advent of Season 5, which premiers on TMC in October. For those of you who have not watched the show, but might consider watching it, no worries…I will not put any SPOILERS in this, or at least not any that truly matter.

I have found that, on my second time through the series, I am beginning to pick up on things that I totally missed in my first time through. There’s all of the same elements such as zombies (obviously), character development, drama, suspense, humor (though depending on the season, it can be sparing), and action. But, I have noticed more within those elements that didn’t necessarily dawn on me originally. That is the beauty of a well-thought out, well-written script…there is lots of depth.

One of the things I have noticed is how the characters react to circumstances off of their core values. For Rick Grimes, who’s the lead character, his core values follow a more moral and ethical code. In his career, he  was a deputy sheriff who took his job seriously and was a typically honest guy. He’s a guy who values human life, who believes in risking all to help others and believes in honesty.

As Rick and his group go through the trials and tribulations that come with living during the zombie apocalypse, his core values get put to the test. We often like to go through life thinking that there is a right and a wrong, a black and a white, an up and a down; however, in reality, there is often times much more gray and abstract areas, where the discernment process is muddled by the circumstances surrounding us. As Rick’s character develop, we see him go through periods where he is almost at war with himself because the circumstances seem to be calling him to do one thing, but his values are screaming at him to do something completely opposite to that.

In the end, because he is a values driven person, he ends up making decisions that are in line with his core values…even if his first instincts and decisions were against those values. There is a whole host of truths and parallels between this and our lives as Christians. If we are Christian our core values, by necessity, have to be in line with Christ’s virtues of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Let’s also not forget the virtues of forgiveness, mercy, and compassion. And if our core values are in line with the fruit of the Spirit, we will live our lives accordingly.

So often we allow the world to define what our core values are and that is when we find ourselves compromising on things that go against what we claim to believe. Our challenge, as the church today, is to develop the spiritual discipline to mold our values around the virtues of Christ, around the fruit of the Spirit. If we do that, we will find that those core values will, more often than not, guide us in all that we do. What are your core values and do they line up with the virtues of Christ? These are questions we, as Christians, should be measuring ourselves on a daily basis. I pray that you make this a part of your spiritual journey.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“I hope I shall possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an honest man.” – George Washington

PRAYER

Lord, teach me your ways so that I may build the things you count as virtue into my core values. Let me ever walk in the footsteps of Christ. Amen.

Born to Follow Revisited

Read Galatians 3:23-29

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.” (John 13:34)

Bon_Jovi_TheCircleAlong with being a pastor and a chaplain, I am also the co-coordinator of the district youth team in the district that I am serving. As the District Youth Co-coordinator, I am act as a bridge between the youth in each of the local congregations within the district. This past weekend I co-led a district wide Open-Mic Night which turned out to be a wonderful evening of listening to all of the many talents that came out and shared their gifts. I also performed and, being that I just recently wrote about it, I chose to perform Bon Jovi’s “We Weren’t Born to Follow”, among others.  It really is an awesome song and it is a lot of fun to sing to. So, I gave that song my all and enjoyed rocking out to it.

Prior to singing the song, I explained to the people present that I had just written a devotion about the song, and how we ARE actually BORN TO FOLLOW. We are born to follow the ONE who created us. We are born to follow LOVE and to be LOVE wherever we may go. I basically succinctly summed up what I had written in that devotion, because I feel that it is important to take the stigma off of following. There is NOTHING wrong with being a follower…depending on who or what it is that one is following.

But I didn’t end it there, as I had in the last devotion. It is absolutely true that WE ARE BORN TO FOLLOW, that we were made in our Creator’s image, and were born to follow the example and the path that our Creator laid before us. That being said, Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora weren’t talking about that when they both wrote the song; rather, they were talking about following what others tell us about ourselves…about following in line with who and what world tells us we are. I am not sure where Jon and Richie stand spiritually, especially regarding this song; however, there is definitely some wisdom to be found in their words.

This world often tells us that we ought define ourselves based off of what we do for a living, based off of our status in life, based off of what community we live in, based off of our income, and based off of other such things. The world tells us how thin to be, how pretty to be, what clothes to wear, what foods to eat, and how to continue to hollow ourselves out into shallow, empty shells with no purpose or meaning to fill our lives. If we turn to the world we learn about might makes right, strength (aka force/violence) equals peace, and that there is a pecking order that we need to submit ourselves to.

But WE ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY WERE NOT BORN TO FOLLOW THE WORLD!!!! We were born to follow God, in whom there is no longer Jew or Greek or French or Iraqi or Russian or American. We were born to to follow God, in whom there is no longer slave or free, male or female or transgendered or whatever other label the world wants to impose on each of us. That is not to say that we should ignore the unique value of each individual, or that we should pretend we don’t have differences, but that we should stop limiting our sights to the “labels” that we use to define each individual!

In the end, we are all CHILDREN OF GOD! That’s what matters! Each one of us was born a child of God, which makes each one of us related to each other in and by the Spirit of God. We weren’t born to follow the World’s labels or definitions. We weren’t born to follow the things of this world but, rather, were were born and are called to follow our Creator who had deemed us to be one, to be united as kin! Let us stop getting hung up on what the world tells us to think and/or to do, and let us preoccupy ourselves with following the ONE who created us with a purpose and a plan in mind: TO LOVE ONE ANOTHER AS GOD HAS LOVED US!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Keep love in your heart. A life without it is like a sunless garden when the flowers are dead.” – Oscar Wilde

PRAYER

Lord, help me to tear down the walls of division in my heart. Heal me and teach me to love others as you love me. Amen.