Tag Archives: hope

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

Read Galatians 1:1-12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Nativity Stor(ies)

Read Luke 2:1-16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Advent?

Read Isaiah 11:1-9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A LOOK BACK: Woken Up in a Dream

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

Click here to view today’s devotion.

Many blessings,

Pastor Todd

What Have You Done?

Read Matthew 1:18-23

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Then Isaiah said: ‘Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.’” (Isaiah 7:13-14)

131212-immanuelEvery day over the last few weeks have been filled with reminders that this world is just not right, that things are just not as they should be. We have Christians, Jews and Muslims who are losing their homes and their lives as the result of religious extremism and intolerance. We see the tension and division over racial inequality in the United States growing ever more stark in the light of the tragic events of Ferguson, Missouri and now in Staten Island, NY. We see people going missing, active shooters in schools and public buildings, and other horrific events jumping out our TV sets and into our very own communities. All of this in time for Christmas.

In times like these, and perhaps in general, people enter into the Christmas season a bit on the cynical side. What’s this Christmas holiday? You see signs that read, “Keep Christ in Christmas”, but that just leaves most people with a BAD TASTE in their mouths. After all, where is God? Where is Christ? What good is a Christ or a Christmas that masks the pain of others and celebrates the advent of BIG BUSINESS and the pursuit of abject materialism of the haves over and above the abject poverty of the have-nots? What good is Christmas?

As I have written in the past, so I still maintain, there are really no answers that can adequately satisfy us when it comes to why God and evil coexist. Then again, the non-existence of God does not eliminate the reality of evil, so that really isn’t much of an adequate alternative either. What’s more, these questions also remind me of “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” by John Lennon. In it he starts the song off with these lyrics, “And so this is Christmas, and what have you done? Another year over and a new one just begun.” The fact of the matter is, we can ask what good is God, or what good is Christ, or what good is Christmas; however, the question we really should be asking is, what good are we?

That is not to say that we are bad and to interpret the question that way is to miss the point John Lennon is making. We can look to God or to Christ or to Christmas and wonder where the magic is, all the while continuing on living our lives separated from the hurt of the world. But what good is that? How does that disconnected, finger-pointing approach help make this world a better place? Not to mention, it also mischaracterizes Christ/mas and shows that we have a deficit in our own understanding in what it means for us to experience the nativity of Christ in our lives.

The Nativity story is not only a reminder of Immanuel, of “God with us,” but it is also a reminder of the fact that through Christ, “God is in us.” The nativity for us is not the birth of a baby 2,000 years ago; rather, it is the birth of Christ in our very own hearts. And that birth, that nativity, changes us to reflect the light, the love, and the goodwill of Christ in the world. To translate that to words that actually mean something, we are to be the Christ we wish to see in the world. That is what God is CALLING US TO DO.

And so this is Christmas, what will you do? Will you watch the year expire only to continue on disconnected all the way through? Or will you, to quote Gandhi, be the change you wish to see in the world? Will you stand up against inequality? Will you be the ushering in of Immanuel, of God with us, of Christ who is the lgiht of the world? Each and every day we are called to make a difference. We may not be able to change the entire world and we may not be able to eliminate evil, let alone explain why it exists; however, we can be living proof in the lives of others that God is real, that God is love, and that God is working through Christ in us to bring about hope, healing and wholeness in the world. Game on!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“We need not look any further than our own hearts, and the hearts of those around us, to find God.”

PRAYER
Lord, I thank you for always being preset me, and thank you for revealing your presence in me. Let me witness to that Good News and strengthen me to actively work for change in the world around me! Amen.

Where is the Justice?

Read Romans 12:15-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Indeed, the LORD will give justice to his people…” (Deuteronomy 32:36a, NLT)

ferguson-free-hugIn 1999, Mel Gibson starred in “Payback,” which was a 1950’s style crime-thriller directed by Brian Helgeland. I say “1950’s style” because it had Mel Gibson narrating his own story in the kind of way you’d expect to see on the classic police television show, “Dragnet”. The only twist is that Gibson’s character “Porter” is not a police officer, but a petty criminal who ends up being double crossed by his former partner-in-crime and his estranged wife. You see, Porter had cheated on his wife who later, to get back at her philandering husband, joined forces with his partner to plot against him. They shoot him (with the intent of killing him) and steal $70,000 from him…money that he, no doubt, stole from someone else.

To make a long story short, and to do so in a way that does not spoil the gritty fun (or perhaps experience is the better word) that the film is, Porter sets out to payback (hence the film’s name) those who did him wrong. He wages a bloody and intense war on his former partner, on his estranged wife and, eventually, on the crime syndicate that is protecting them. By the end of the film you can’t help but wonder what justice, if any, was done. With that said, it totally satisfies the inner need to see the “bad guy” get his in the end. Of course, porter is a “bad guy” who is getting even with other “bad guys.” This is played up in the film’s slogan, “Prepare to root for the bad guy.”

There are times in our life when we feel we have been wronged by our family, our friends, our neighbors, and other people. In those moments, we often cannot help but feel anger and the desire to get back at such people. Even when we are not seeking to get back at them ourselves, we wish that things would happen to them to “teach them a lesson.” We use terms like karma to express our wish for fate to slap them right where it counts and, if possible, allow us to be there to witness the moment it happens. I know that even while driving down the road, I have prayed that the person who cut me off would pass a police officer and get pulled over. I am sure I am not the only one who has prayed such a prayer.

We live in a world that sees REVENGE as justice. When things don’t go our way, when life seems to be unjust and no one seems to care that it is, we feel that we are then justified to take things into our own hands and exact our own brand of justice. In Ferguson, MO, for example, many protesters turned into rioters when they discovered that no charges were going to be brought against Officer Darren Wilson. As a result, a grieving family had to witness their son’s name being frivolously used to incite riots, store owners and community members alike stood helplessly as they watched their neighborhoods burn to the ground, innocent and peaceful protesters ended up having to endure tear gas and no doubt were fearing for their lives, and police officers had to put their lives on the line to try and keep the situation under control! Where’s the justice in all of that? The fact of the matter is that our own brand of “justice” is often not justice. Revenge is not JUSTICE, revenge is wrong and it solves nothing. All it does is create more victims.

If you want to see God’s justice, take a look at the picture for this devotion. It is of an officer who, in the midst of protests in Portland, Oregon over the Michael Brown case, hugged a twelve year-old boy who was crying because he saw the world around him falling a part. He was feeling the weight of the grand jury’s decision and was concerned about police brutality toward young black kids such as himself. In response to seeing the boy crying, the officer asked him what was wrong and, when the boy told him, he asked if he could have one of the “FREE HUGS” the boy’s protest sign was advertising.  JUSTICE is LOVE. JUSTICE is MERCY. Justice is KINDNESS. While the world around is often UNJUST, God is calling us to LIVE JUSTLY, to LOVE MERCY, and to WALK HUMBLY with God. That doesn’t mean that we sit back and let the innocent get trampled over; rather, that means that we peacefully and lovingly stand in solidarity with the oppressed without falling victim to the urge to GET BACK at the oppressor. LIVE JUSTLY and inspire others, through actions of peace and love, to join you in doing the same.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Social justice cannot be attained by violence. Violence kills what it intends to create.” – Pope John Paul II

PRAYER
Lord, help me to spread JUSTICE through peaceful actions of LOVE, MERCY, and COMPASSION. Amen.

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.