Tag Archives: hope

What Really Matters

Read Amos 5:21-24

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied. God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” (Matthew 5:6-7, NLT)

Like a RiverToday is Black Friday, a day when much of America is seemingly out shopping in preparation for the largest gift-giving season in the world. The day became known as “Black Friday” because businesses were said to go from being in the “red”, meaning they owed more than they brought in, to being in the “black”, which means that their revenue exceeded what they owed. It is no wonder then that Black Friday has become Big Business’s happy holiday as billions of shoppers spend their money on Christmas gifts.

In the wake of the violent riots that broke out this week in Ferguson, Missouri, however, there is no doubt that this year black Friday may be seeming a little more trivial than it normally does. Of course, it really always seems trivial to many people, and rightfully so; however, as smoldering smoke rises from chain stores and “mom and pop” shops alike in Ferguson, it is perhaps time for us to pause and reflect on the things that actually matter. No matter where we fall in our understanding surrounding the death of Michael Brown this past summer, the fact remains that this country is still suffering under the injustices of the past that keep resurfacing to haunt us.

It’s unfortunate that it takes the death of an eighteen year old, the ruination of the lives of a police officer and his family, and the destruction of an entire community for people to see that we aren’t out of the water yet when it comes to the racial tensions that divide us as a nation. We so often try to bury the past and busy ourselves with trivialities in order to go about our lives “unaware” of the injustice that surrounds us. Again, I say that without making a judgment call about the particular case in Ferguson.

As I sit here and write this, I am shedding tears and praying prayers for Michael Brown’s family who are so torn with grief over the loss of a son, a brother, a nephew, a cousin, and a grandchild. I am also shedding tears and praying prayersfor Darren Wilson and his family as they, too, are caught in all of this. I am shedding tears for the black communities, and minority communities, who have endured a system that is skewed against them because of their race. I am shedding tears and praying prayers for police officers and first responders who go to work, and put their lives on the line everyday, only to be put in situations where they have their decisions scrutinized by people who are not in harm’s way or forced to make those decisions. There are a lot of tears to go around.

As we reflect on Ferguson and the larger issues that are facing our country, let us see where we all fit into the picture. Let us realize that we too have a part to play in all of this. Will we be a part of the effort to sweep our past under the carpet, or will we be a part of the long, and often painful, process to work toward HOPE, HEALING, and WHOLENESS. God has called us to be a people who seek to live justly, who love mercy, and who walk humbly with God. The question is, for each of us, are we willing to answer God’s call?

My ultimate prayer is that justice and mercy will simultaneously flow like a river. That people will take the hard steps to work together in order that we may truly, one day, call each other brothers and sisters. I pray that God will use each of us as vessels that not only bear witness to the presence of God in our communities, but also that bring God’s hope, healing, and wholeness to them as well! The time has come for us to drop the trivial pursuits and start working toward what really matters: justice and mercy!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

PRAYER

Lord, allow both justice and mercy to flow like a river through us and into our communities. Amen.

Thanksgiving Day

Read Psalm 100

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Let your roots grow down into Him, and let your lives be built on Him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.” (Colossians 2:7 NLT)

FirstThanksgivingBigWell, it is getting to be that time isn’t it. Tomorrow is the holiday that we in America call Turkey day…I mean Thanksgiving Day. After all, not all of us eat Turkey, and all of the turkeys that survive T-Day are ever thankful for that! All jokes aside, this is the holiday that begs Americans to remember the story of the Pilgrims. When the Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts in 1620, they were not prepared for life in the wilderness and they did not really know what to grow or when to grow it. Enter in the Native Americans, namely the Wampanoag tribe, who taught the settlers how to survive (including how to grow and harvest their food) in exchange for protection against tribal enemies.

By the time of the first Thanksgiving meal, there were only 50 out of 100 Pilgrims alive to share in the meal. Half of them had died during the first winter in the New World. Those remaining Pilgrims invited 90 Wompanoag to share with them in a feast, as a way of giving thanks to them and to God for their alliance and survival. Of course there is a ton more to the history than what I have recounted here; however, this is the gist of the story that the Thanksgiving Day observance in the U.S. is centered on.

Of course, it wasn’t long before more settlers showed up in Massachusetts and it is quite unfortunate that the original thankfulness that the Pilgrims had shown toward their Native American neighbors had all but been forgotten. The rest is sadly history. The European settlers flourished and grew in numbers, while the Wampanoag suffered major losses in their population. The European settlers, unbeknownst to them, brought bacteria and illnesses which killed many within the Wampanoag tribe. On top of that, with the European settlers came Western Civilization and it’s wars. One such war was King Phillip’s war, where the English colonists and their Native American allies fought against other Native American tribes. During that war, the Wampanog lost over 40 percent of its population and many of the surviving males in their tribe were sold into slavery in the West Indies. On top of that, many of the women and children were enslaved in New England. So much for the spirit of thankfulness, huh?

While this may seem like ancient history, the fact remains that the very feast we partake in year after year is rooted in that ancient history. What’s more, like the original Thanksgiving between the Settlers and Wampanoag tribe, our Thanksgiving is so short-lived that we often forget what we were even thankful for before the turkey, or Tofurky, coma settles in. In fact, it seems like our thankfulness is, by and large, nothing more than a trivial tradition that bears little resemblance to true thankfulness.

The challenge for us is become a truly thankful people who do not trivialize such an important part of what we were created to be. Let us begin to truly be thankful for everything we have been given. Too often we express our thankfulness through words, but words are so often very cheap! The first Pilgrims did not express their thankfulness merely with words, but through their actions in protecting their Native American allies and through inviting them to share in their harvest feast! Let us, too, be a people who show God that we are truly thankful by sharing what we have with others, no matter how unlikely it may seem for us to have a relationship with them. God has created us all and has provided all of us with all that we need. If we are truly thankful for those things, and if we truly recognize that everything we have are gifts from God, then we will not hesitate in being generous in our giving and THANKFUL in our living! This Thanksgiving, make thankfulness the meat that you feast on!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” – Melodie Beattie

PRAYER
Gracious God, I thank you for all that I have including my life. Give me the strength take what I have and share it with those in need, so that my thankfulness can move from words into action. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: The Christian Manifesto

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 November 2013. It is just as relevant now as it was then.

Click here to view today’s devotion.

Many blessings,

Pastor Todd

To Wrestle and Prevail

Read Genesis 32:22-32

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11 NRSV)

jacob13Questioning is a huge part of what it means to be human. We as human beings have been given the ability to think for ourselves, to know good from evil, to create, to name, and to care for other things. We have been given the vision of what paradise is, of what it means to live in harmony with all of creation, and we have also been forced to recognize that reality is often times much different than our vision of utopia. It is in those moments that we find ourselves questioning ourselves, questioning humanity, questioning the created order and, most importantly, questioning our Creator.

This is especially true when we are going through our own trials. When we find that we are losing control over different aspects of our lives, or when we come to the realization that we were never in control to begin with, we find that we start to question God. When we lose our wealth, when we our loved ones, when we lose our health, when we lose our independence, when we suffer loss in any sense, we can’t help but cry out to God and question why these things are happening. What’s more, we often get angry at God and, in the process, begin to feel guilt over our anger, over our doubt, over our questioning.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, we read of a man named Jacob who had stolen his brother’s birthright many years earlier and he was on his way back home to try and make amends with his brother who wanted to kill him…literally. One night, while on his way back to his homeland to meet his angry brother, a man suddenly wrestles with Jacob. We aren’t told who this man was and one can assume that Jacob had no clue who he was either. The two wrestle each other all night long and, in the end, Jacob wins the wrestling match. Realizing that Jacob had won the other man strikes him on his hip, which leaves Jacob permanently injured. Still, Jacob did not let go of the man and refused to do so until the man blessed him.

Perhaps Jacob thought the man was his brother Esau, after all, it was dark and the man happened upon him suddenly.  Regardless, the man ends up relenting and giving Jacob his blessing. After that, Jacob lets the man go and he names the place Peniel, which means, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” For whatever reason, Jacob came to the realization that the man was God, and that he had wrestled with God. Upon this revelation, God renames Jacob Israel because he had wrestled with God and prevailed.

I tell this story for all who feel guilty for wrestling with God. For all who have questioned and for all who have found themselves angry with God, take heart! You are not alone. God has big shoulders and can take our questions. God knows our hearts and understands our anger. God blesses us when we wrestle with God, because that means we are in relationship with God. We weren’t created to be mindless drones; rather, we were created to be a relationally engaged people. Who doesn’t struggle in relationships? That’s the very nature of them.

Take heart, be confident, and know that God does love you and that God does give you the space to wrestle! God has blessed you with the ability to question, to think freely, and to wrestle with God when we don’t understand why things are as they are. In fact, it is in that relational wrestling match that we will find that God has richly blessed us with a renewed assurance of our identity in our Creator, and of our Creator’s identity in us. For all who have indeed wrestled with God, stand up tall and thank God for such an awesome opportunity.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing.” – Marcus Aurelius

PRAYER
Lord, you know my heart and you know that I have struggled and even wrestled with you. I thank you for having broad shoulders and for giving me the opportunity to wrestle and, more importantly, to be in relationship with you. Amen.

Unfrozen

Read Matthew 18:1-5

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.” (Isaiah 11:6 NRSV)

FrozenCastleMy family and I just came back from what was a really enjoyable vacation at Walt Disney World. Anyone who knows us, knows that we LOVE Walt Disney World. Our family has made many memories there that we will no doubt cherish forever. We had decided to go around this time of year because Disney at Halloween time is simply a great place to be. With that said, we were also going to be there for the first week of November, where the parks switch over from the Halloween them to a Christmas theme. Knowing I would never get down during Christmas time, I always wanted to at least see Disney decked out for Christmas, an.d so we planned this vacation!

We weren’t let down. On our last night at The Magic Kingdom, we got to see this year’s lighting of Cinderella’s Castle. It is actually hard to put it into words how awesome. It was themed after Frozen, where Elsa (the Snow Queen) comes out and freezes over the entire castle with ice. To pull this off, they projected images of snow and ices swirling and crystallizing upon the castle, followed by sparkling lights, projected images of shattered snow while simultaneously lighting what seemed to be billions of white, icicle style Christmas lights all over the castle…giving it the appearance of being frozen. What’s more, actual snow was being blown quietly from somewhere thus adding to the magic!

Watching this, I felt like a little child. I was bright-eyed, filled with wonder and amazement, and captivated by the experience. Everyone there was! I captured it on video, and even on video it looked amazing. Being the reflective person I am, this also caused me to reflect on the story of Frozen, which is about two sisters who learn that their innocence isn’t completely lost, and that true love (not romantic love…but true, unconditional love) can rediscover that innocence. The story of Frozen was, as you may or may not know, loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen’s classic Fairy Tale, “The Snow Queen.” What is captivating is that Andersen ends his fairy tale with the following verse: “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 18:3).

In this context, converted does not mean from one religion to another; rather, it means being changed or transformed from one state of being to the other. As adults, we are so hardened by the world. We have become cynical, cautious, defensive, faithless and, consequently, often left feeling hopeless in a world that seems to be without hope. Like Elsa in Frozen, and like The Snow Queen in Andersen’s story, we have become frozen solid. We’re frozen by a frosty world and, in turn, we participate in spreading the snow like winds traveling over the Great Lakes.

The truth is, as Elsa found out, that we are not hopeless. Somewhere deep within us there is the child that God created us to be. Deep within us is an innocent child filled with wonder, faith and amazement. The truth is that innocence is not lost and Christ is calling us to be converted to the state of being child-like. The key is that we need to learn to live like Christ and to love like God. We need to open ourselves to the LOVE and WARMTH of the presence of God and allow our frozen exteriors to be melted away.

I truly believe that if we start attempting to shift ourselves in the direction of Christ’s footsteps, if we start living and loving like he did, if we start caring for others as much as we care for ourselves, if we start taking care of the least of these and begin living into Christ’s mission of bringing hope, healing and wholeness to those around us, then we will begin to “convert” to the child that God has created us to be. So, to quote a famous song from FROZEN, “let it go!” Let go of the frosty ice that is entombing the innocent child within you. Allow God to ignite the fire of LOVE within you so that you may emanate that warmth to the world around you.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.

PRAYER
Lord, warm me up with your love and spark a fire with in me so that I may bear the warm presence of your love within me and share that love with others. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: Breath of God

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 November 2013. It is just as relevant now as it was then.

Click here to view today’s devotion.

Many blessings,

Pastor Todd

Meet Antichrist

Read 1 John 2:18-24

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.” (Galatians 5:22-23 NRSV)

600px-LeftBehind92FS3The Western world is fixated with the apocalypse aren’t we? We are fascinated with the end of the world, with doom and gloom, with the destruction of all things and the idea of living in a dystopic world. From “The Walking Dead”, to “The Hunger Games,” to “Divergent”, there are tons of apocalyptic, dystopic films and books out on the market. Perhaps such a world is more than just a fixation, but an underlying fear.

There is a lot to be afraid of in today’s world, isn’t there. There are religious extremists, in all religions, who are wreaking havoc on people who don’t believe exactly as they do. There are Deadly viruses killing tens of thousands of people and taking the world by storm. There ar dysfunctional governments warring over power and ideologies. Every day there are reports of beheadings, kidnappings, grisly murders, riots, hatred, violent uprisings and much, much more.  It seems like at every turn, the world is falling a part at the seams. No wonder the fixation with the end of the world.

And often when we think of the end of the world within the Christianized Western world, we can’t help but imagine that dark forces are aligning against humankind and , often times, those dark forces are embodied by an all-evil entity, envisioned as the “son of Satan”, named the “antichrist.” Yet, the antichrist, as we have come to understand the word, is little more than great fiction based off of a misinterpretation of Scripture. Don’t misunderstand me, as I am NOT saying that the Bible makes no mention of the antichrist. What I AM saying is that the Bible does NOT say the antichrist will be a humanesque demon, named Nicolae Carpathia, who seeks to war with God following a mythical disappearance of millions of God’s neatly dressed holy-rollers.

What the Bible does say about antichrist is that it is a spirit. It is not a spirit of outside forces trying to penetrate the church; rather, it is a spirit that has already penetrated the church and is seeking to destroy the church from within. Whereas the Spirit of God seeks to bring about hope, healing and wholeness, the spirit of antichrist seeks to bring about hopelessness, dis-ease, and disunity. The Spirit of God seeks to love, to encourage, to seek justice, to love mercy, to walk humbly, to show compassion, to be gentle, to be kind, to be patient, and to be unified in love with God’s creation. The spirit of antichrist seeks to undercut, to undermine, to be proud, to live selfishly, to be wrathful, to seek vengeance, to show ruthlessness, to be divisive and to quell the Spirit and the presence of God.

Antichrist, in short, is exactly as it sounds. It is anything that stands opposed to Christ. Practically speaking, if the way we are acting and living is counter to the teachings and example of Christ, then we are living in the spirit of antichrist. I have seen the church adopt tons of models of how it approaches ministry in the world, everything from the business model, to a political model, to an entertainment model; however, the church is not a buisness, nor is it a political machine, nor is it merely an entertainment agency. The church is Christ’s body, broken and resurrected, filled with the power of God to bring about hope, healing and wholeness.

We all have the potential to get caught up and even derailed by the spirit of antichrist; however, this is a power within you that is greater than any other spirit surrounding you. That very power is from God and it is empowering you to live your life in the Spirit of Christ, in a way that heals others, that builds them up, that invites them to discover their purpose in life, that challenges them to grow, and that shares the unconditional love that God has shared with you. Seek first God’s Kingdom, be filled with God’s Spirit, and live accordingly.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.” – Paul of Tarsus in Galatians 5:25

PRAYER
Lord, I seek to live by your Spirit and your Spirit alone. Allow me to not only move beyond negative spirits and influences so that in you I may truly shine and be a blessing to others. Amen.

Anointed

Read Isaiah 45:1-8

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“No, O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what He requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8 NLT)

anointing_of_fresh_oilWhen you hear the word Messiah, who do you think of? When you hear the word Christ, what do you think of? Some of you may know that the words Christ and Messiah mean the same thing, that “messiah” is the English equivalent of a the Hebrew word “mâshı̂yach” (מָשִׁיחַ) and “christ” is the English equivalent of the Greek word “christos” (Χριστός). My guess is that when most people hear the phrase “messiah” or “christ”, whether they or Christian or not, they immediately think of the man who ended up becoming the figure head of the Christian religion, Jesus of Nazareth. Some may even mistakenly think that “Christ” is Jesus’ last name!

I am very certain that when most people hear the words “messiah” or “christ”, they do not think of Cyrus. In fact, if I were a betting person, I would bet that most people would not even know who Cyrus actually is. As it happens, Cyrus was the king of Persia. He ended up being the ruler who took over the kingdom of Babylon after it fell to the forces and the might of Persia. Within Babylon were the people of Judah who had been exiled there because of their trying to ally with Egypt against Babylon. When that happened, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon beseiged Jerusalem and, upon overtaking it, forced all of the leaders, the Temple priests, the scribes and people of import were exiled from Jerusalem and relocated in Babylon.

Once Babylon fell to Persia, King Cyrus (who was not a Jew and had no in depth knowledge of the Jewish religion) let the Jewish people return back to Jerusalem. What is even more striking than that, is that Cyrus seemingly had no agenda other than to just let them go home. He didn’t require them to send any money back to him, or pledge their loyalty to him in any way; rather, he simply let them go home to rebuild the city of Jerusalem and its Temple. In response to that, the Jewish priests and scribes wrote of Cyrus that he was the LORD GOD’s “anointed one”, or Messiah (which is “Christ” in Greek). Let me reiterate that. Cyrus, the non-Jewish, polytheistic, war mongering Persian King was the Messiah…the Christ…the LORD’s anointed one.

I bet you didn’t see that one coming. The Hebrew Scriptures are filled with such richness that really help point us to the nature of God. If we read Scripture carefully, there were many messiahs. Saul, David, Solomon, and every other King of Israel were all the LORD’s anointed ones. That’s different than being “the Messiah”, the one that some of the first century Jews were looking to come and rid them of their oppressors and reestablish the line of King David forever; however, there were many messiahs and each one of them were anointed by the LORD’s prophets. There really is nothing unusual about a king, or others, being called messiah. What is unusual is that this particular king does not even know, let alone worship, the God of Israel.

What does that say for us? It says that God constantly exceeds our expectations. It says that God will anoint anyone who is willing to have compassion, who seeks justice, who loves mercy, and who walks in the path of humility. Whether that person is a Jew or a Gentile, whether that person is a Christian or a Muslim, whether that person is a monotheist or a polytheist, whether that person is a male or a female, God will work in and through anyone who is willing to humble themselves and let LOVE rule the day. The fact is that God was calling Israel to live in that love, to be God’s chosen, and God worked through Cyrus to remind them of that. The fact is that God is calling us to live in that LOVE, to be God’s chosen, and once again is using Cyrus to remind us of that. Be reminded and live a life of LOVE that witnesses to the LOVE of God.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“This is not the time to shrink back in fear. This is the time to move forward in Faith. Get up every morning knowing you are anointed. You are equipped. You are empowered. You have everything you need to fulfill your destiny.” – Elton Sibiya

PRAYER
Lord, allow me to step out in faith, to see that you have anointed me to fulfill the work of love, compassionate justice, and mercy that you began at the outset of the world. Allow me to act upon that knowledge in service of others. Amen.