Tag Archives: Jesus Christ

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

Read John 11:30-45

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

15 Ailments of the Church #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.

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

In Remembrance

Read Deuteronomy 24:10-22

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18 NRSV)

9-11-skyline-nightThirteen years ago from yesterday was a day that I will never forget. I was an iron worker at the time and was working on the roof of a building in Bridgewater, NJ. We were all well into our work, tying rebar down in order to create a mat that would become the reinforcement for the concrete floor of the roof. It was then that our supervisor came running up. He told us that a plane had hit one of the towers of the World Trade Center. We were shocked, perhaps a little confused, and we tried making light (if not sense) of it by joking that it must have been a Laguardia mess up. I mean, how else do you explain it?

So, we all went back to work, each of us silently processing it on our own. Each of us were trying to put those words together, “A plane has flown into one of the twin towers.” In ten minutes time, our supervisor came up again screaming, “It happened again, another plain crashed into the other tower!” We were being attacked. There was no doubt what was happening at that point. Accidents happen but not simultaneously in pairs. At that point our supervisor sent us home, not knowing what else to do. We were all in shock.

In fact, I am not sure how I made it home that day. I was in shock. I went to the daycare to pick up my daughter and she wasn’t there. I tried to call my wife but couldn’t make it through…the lines were tied up and service was down. It turned out that my daughter wasn’t in daycare that day as my wife wasn’t working. I was so beside myself as I listened to the devastating news reports that I became disoriented.

The news kept rolling in with reports of the Pentagon being hit and a plane crashing somewhere out in Pennsylvania! Once I got home, I turned on the news to see two smoking infernos that were the Twin Towers (which had been a part of the NY Skyline for my entire life and then some) and images of bodies falling out of the windows as they tried to escape being burned alive. There were images of people covered in ash, soot and God only knows what, walking around like zombies…in total shock…just aimlessly walking with blank faces. Other people were screaming, crying, running and it was clear that New York was not the same place it had been just two hours earlier. In fact, America and the Western world as a whole seemed to change on that day.

I will never forget where I was that day, and I am sure no one who was alive during that time will. What’s even more important for us to realize is that many people live in that kind of a horrific reality everyday. It is easy for us to distance ourselves from it because we live in a country that, barring a handful of horrific events, has generally been free from the war-wreaked devastation that a majority of the world is plagued by. But 9/11 is a reminder that even we are not immune to the jaws of hatred, violence and horrific destruction!

Let us not forget the victims of 9/11. Let us always remember that day and the terrible devastation it brought, not to be bitter or hold grudges or retaliate, but so that we remain prayerful for those who are suffering whether they be in this country or around the world. Let us honor those who died on 9/11 by reconciling with those we’ve wronged and by being peacemakers in our community and in this world. Doing such will serve to witness to the resolve of love, even against the forceful presence of hate. Like Peter, if we are founded on the rock (aka God’s love), even the gates of death shall not prevail against us!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
It is a full time job being honest one moment at a time, remembering to love, to honor, to respect. It is a practice, a discipline, worthy of every moment.

PRAYER
Lord, help me honor those who have been victims of hate, intolerance, war, famine, disease, poverty and all of the other things that people suffer, by being someone who stands up in opposition to such things. Found me in your love so that I may become a fortress of hope, healing and wholeness for those in my community who need it. 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.

Nothing to Prove

Read Luke 7:31-35

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:10a NRSV)

nothing-to-proveAs a person who has a sense of humor, there are certain comedies that I consider to be an important part of my life experience. One of those comedies is Mel Brooks’ History of the World, Part 1. A part of the joke, of course, is that there actually is no “Part 2”. But what I most love about this film, is that it covers some serious events in history with levity. It is a satire on human history as we know it.

At the very beginning of the film, we come across cavemen who have learned how to build fire, who have invented the wheel, and even learned how to sing and harmonize. At one point, the narrator says that humans learned the value of fine art. As the narrator is guiding us, we see one of the cavemen painting an animal on the way. “But with the birth of the artist,” the narrator continues, “comes the afterbirth of the critic.” The camera pans up to reveal a man urinating on the painting that the caveman just took the time to create. Too much information…I know.

One of the many things I have learned in my life is that that you just simply cannot please everyone and, truth be told, that there will always be naysayers. When I weighed 306 lbs, there is no doubt that people used to judge me based on my weight and appearance. People’s perception of me was that I ate too much, that I was lazy and inactive, and I am sure there were other perceptions as well. The truth be told, I have never been a lazy or inactive person, even when I weighed that much. But still people based their opinions of me off of their perception of me. I used to get told all the time to watch what I eat and to control the portions of that I consumed every day.

When I began juicing I am sure that there were many people betting on how long I would last. I am sure that many people did not think that I would last through the fast or, if I did, that I would not keep the weight off. Since I lost all that weight and now follow a vegan lifestyle, people question whether I am getting the proper vitamins and nutrients. They question where I get my protein from. People also now percieve me to be “iron-willed” and I always hear people say that they couldn’t be vegan like me because they “love food too much.” Of course, that implies that I don’t love food very much at all, which couldn’t be further from the truth.

The point of this really isn’t about me, but about the fact that there will ALWAYS be critics and naysayers. People will think what they will think no matter how hard you try to get them to see things differently. And to be honest, we’ve all played the part of the naysayer and critic ourselves. Each one of us have been critical as much as we have been criticized.

The truth is that you don’t have anything to prove but to God…and God already knows your abilities, your capabilities, and your heart. Don’t waste your time fretting about what others think of you. Take constructive critique, use it to your benefit, and ignore nonconstructive criticism. God knows who you are, and it is important for you not to forget whose you are. Also, be mindful of when you are playing the part of the critic. Be supportive of the people around you. Give prayerful and constructive critique, but don’t give nonconstructive criticism. Trust in God. Know that you have nothing to prove and that no one has to prove anything to you either. May you ever grow in that understanding.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“You don’t have to prove anything to anyone but to yourself and to God.” – Katherine Ann Lattig

PRAYER

Lord, help me to stop seeking human approval and to learn that your approval and your grace is sufficient for me. Also, help me to be less judgmental toward others so that I may be in line with your golden rule. Amen.