Tag Archives: Presence

God’s People, part 119: The Silent Years

Read 1 Maccabees

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“When Mattathias saw it, he burned with zeal and his heart was stirred. He gave vent to righteous anger; he ran and killed him on the altar.”  (1 Maccabees 2:24 NRSV)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Supermassive_black_holePart 119: The Silent Years. And like that we have reached the end of the Old Testament. Having journeyed from Creation in Genesis to the final prophet Malachi, we have gotten to see the people God claimed as his own and how they did, and often times did not, live up to God’s call to faithfulness. The reality is that each of the people we have learned about were just that people. They were mortal, fallible, sinful, and sometimes they did downright evil things.

What’s more, they were no greater than you or I. They were not the ones who did great things, any more than you or I could do the great things that they are seen in Scripture as having done. Rather, it was the power of the Holy Spirit within them that did great things in, through, and often times in spite of those people. The truth be told, the Holy Spirit can do those great things, and even greater things, through us if we open our hearts to God.

In between the books of Malachi (in the Old Testament) and Matthew (in the New Testament) is a time period known as “the Silent Years” because the Bible is silent on what happened in those periods. Well, the Bible was not really silent at all, rather it was silenced. Many books were written during this time period and those have become known as the “apocrypha”. These are the books that Rev. Martin Luther mistakenly believed the Roman Catholic Church was responsible for placing them in the Bible to begin with.

While there is a whole history behind the compiling of the Bible, and I do not have time to go into it here, the books of the Apocrypha (a word that originally referred to esoteric writings meant to be kept a secret but has since come to mean writings that are questionable) were books were originally among the scrolls considered to be Scripture. They were included in the first Hebrew Bible compilation known as the Septuagint; however, because that first compilation was in Greek and there were some translation disputes between the Greek translation and the original Hebrew, the apocryphal texts ended up getting removed by Jewish scribes looking to compile a Bible in Hebrew.

Regardless, much happened between Malachi and Matthew. The Greeks ended up defeating the Persians and, with Alexander the Great leading them, conquered the known world. Those Greek rulers, over time, ended up becoming tyrannical and defiled the Second Temple. This led to a revolt by Judah Maccabee and his brothers. The Maccabees, upon kicking out the Greeks, established the Hasmonean Dynasty, which lasted only a short while before the Romans came in, conquered them, and put in place a puppet king known as Herod the Great.

There’s more, where that came from too. The point is that though there is nothing between the books of Malachi and Matthew, there were people who lived, who suffered under the oppressive reigns of multiple tyrannical empires and/or dynasties, and who were hoping that the LORD would once and for all deliver them from outside rulers.

We, of course, never truly have silent years either. Even when we appear to be silent, we are often struggling in the silence. We are being oppressed by our fears, our failures, other people, our governments, our hatred, our bitterness, and plenty of other things. We, too, are longing for the day when the LORD will send the Messiah to us, to liberate us from the chains of bondage. The challenge for us, as it was for the people in those not-so-silent years, is to be willing to embrace the truth of the One who comes to deliver us and to follow him, forsaking all other things but Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”  – St. Paul (Philippians 2:9-11)

PRAYER
Lord, draw me close to you so that I may never wander and always praise you with both my lips and my heart. Amen.

Psalms

Read Psalm 137

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“My God, my God, why have You abandoned me? Why are You so far away when I groan for help?” (Psalms 22:1 NLT)

psalmsOne of the most profoundly beautiful, haunting, and human books in all the Bible is the book of Psalms. It is literally a collection of poems and/or songs that were written by people who were going through a widely varying range of emotions. Some are extremely happy and ecstatic. Some are extremely melancholy with a sense of foreboding loss. Some are filled with hopes, others are filled with fears. Some are an emotional mulatto rollercoaster ride that truly leave the reader hanging on every word for the duration of the ride.

Some of the Psalms are filled with love, and some are filled with bitter anger and hatred. One such Psalm, number 137, is written by a person who is grieving the loss of his or her homeland in the midst of exile. The smoke could still be seen arising on the horizon from Jerusalem. The former jewel city of Judah, was lying in ruins. Bodies of the dead men, women and children still lying up and down the streets, which were running with the blood of the innocent. The author of Psalm 137 is bitter, angry and wants justice. Correction: This psalmist wants vengeance!

I can relate with the psalmists because I, too, write poetry and I have written my own psalms in the past. Here is one such Psalm that I wrote during a time where I was going through a pretty rough situation:

My God! O, my God!
Help me to escape
This darkened, shadowy
Valley of peril and death.
I am not far away from
The edge of the cliff.
Destruction awaits me
And despair consumes me.

O, the melancholy kills me!
Sadness enslaves me!
Should I be angered by
This senseless betrayal?
Or should I embrace my fate
Like an outcast child
Who is abused and abandoned
By those closest him?

My Lord, You are also outcast.
My God, you have been rejected!
I should rejoice, and praise my God
As Jesus first instructed.
It is hard to endure the pain.
Help me, O LORD,
To remain humble and to be
Made righteous in your sight.

Help me, my God,
to go your way.
As long as I dwell South of Heaven,
I shall be your disciple.
You will never leave me,
Nor will you forsake me,
For you are always faithful!
You never abandon your children.

You never discourage
Nor do you tear down your beloved.
Your love is encompassing
And your forgiveness is endless!
You are always present
And you are full of compassion!
Give me strength,
And grant me wisdom.

Bless the fruits that I produce
For your Kingdom.
I only serve you, my God,
Only you, do I worship!
Your name is EL Shaddai;
You are everything I need.
Your name is EL-Roi;
You know my heart!

Your name is EL Haggadol;
Great is your glory!
Your name is EL Chayim;
I am your child!
Your name is Immanuel;
I know you are with me.
God knows my brokenness
And continues carrying me.

My God, my Lord,
My everlasting Father,
Do not pass me by
But give me sanctuary.
Hear my petition, my God!
I cry out to you.
Let not your disciple
Succumb to his enemies!

I don’t normally share my poetry; however, psalms are meant to be read or sung collectively by the people. They witness both to our brokenness as human beings and they also witness to the power of God in our lives. If God can walk the Psalmist of Psalm 137 through the horrific tragedy of the Babylonian Exile, then God can walk me through the situations I find myself in. If God walks me through my situations (and God does)…I who am an unworthy sinner…surely God walks you through yours too!

Not only do I challenge you to journey through the Psalms, I also challenge you to begin to share your psalms with others as well. You don’t have to be a talented poet or songwriter to share your psalms, and there is no rule that states psalms can only be written in words on paper. Your psalm is any expression that shows your faith journey and how God is working in your life. Show people that they are not alone. Show them that you, too, have periods of doubt, of despair, of hope, of happiness, of joy, of anger, and of every other human emotion. Take the mask off and show people that they are not alone and, then, be willing to walk with them as they share with you that you are not alone either. That is what the Psalms do for us, and that is what we are called to do for others as well! Make your life a living psalm.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble.” (Psalms 46:1 NLT)
PRAYER
Lord, I lift my psalms up to you. Make my life a living psalm, a witness to all. Amen.

The Plan

Read John 9:1-17

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith.” (1 John 5:4 NRSV)

VME-The-PlanWe, as human beings, have a very difficult time dealing with the unknown. We absolutely desire to be in control and nothing seems more “out of control”, then uncertainty and the great unknown. Recently, two different communities that I serve experienced unexpected and tragic events that left everyone in the dark, confused, in shock, and wondering why such an incident could ever happen. It is in such moments, especially when we are caught off guard, that we begin to ask the question, “Why?”

This makes me think of the film, “Miracles From Heaven,” which tell the true story of a young girl who has a rare, serious, and terminal illness that causes her to not be able to digest food. This, of course, leaves her in considerable amounts of pain most of the time. Her life, at the age of 9 (or so), was relegated to bed rest in hospital rooms. In the midst of it, her family was seeking answers as to what they could do in order to cure her daughter of this illness. Yet, doctor after docter could not even come up with what the illness was, let alone why it was or how they could cure it. One doctor, who was a renowned specialist at the renowned Children’s Hospital in Boston, was able to put his finger on what the disease was; however, with that said, he was also certain there really was no cure for it. All they could do was try to give the little girl pain medicine to keep her comfortable and wait for illness to take it’s inevitable course.

In the midst of their struggle to help their daughter, they turned to their church for spiritual and emotional support. While all certainly intended to provide that, what the family really got was a bucket load of terrible theology. Some congregation members were asking the mother if there was anything she or her husband did, or if there was anythign the little girl did, to bring this terrible illness down on them. The pastor, thankfully, was not a part of this…and did try to support the family, however, the response of some of the congregation memebers was enough to drive the mother further and further away from her faith. What kind of God would punish an innocent little 9 year old because of the sins of her parents? What kind of God would punish a 9 year old girl, whose not even old enough to be held accountable according to Biblical standards, for her own sins?

While, I will not spoil the rest of the film (and I highly recommend that you go and see it if you are able), I will say that THEOLOGY MATTERS. We often think that our suffering and struggles are a part of GOD’s PLAN. We will try to comfort people who are struggling by telling them that “they’ll be okay,” that “things will work out in the end,” and that “this is all a part of God’s plan” in order to “test them” and “help them grow.” Or, more judgmental people will try and speculate on what sorts of wrong people did to “deserve” the things that have befallen them. Both lines of theology are apalling, egregious, and dangerous. What kind of God causes people to suffer in order to help them grow? What kind of God blinds people, cripples them, puts them into gas chambers, or kills their family members as a part of “the plan?” What kind of God gives us “what we deserve?” Certainly not Grace filled God of Christianity.

Just as Jesus Christ did with his disciples, he is calling us to rethink our theology and to be careful in it. God’s plan is not to hurt, punish, or kill people as some sort of twisted means to an end. That never was God’s plan, nor will it ever be God’s plan. People have articulated it that way, even in the Bible, but only out of ignorance. But overall, the Scripture is consistent in what God’s plan is: to LOVE creation and to be present in relationship with it. That is God’s plan. Things happen, circumstances take us by storm, and life hits us in various ways, but GOD’s LOVE for us and GOD’s PRESENCE with us NEVER changes. God’s plan is to be with us and to be with others through us. That is the plan…and it certainly is a MIRACLE when we acknowledge the plan and LIVE INTO IT.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“You know what I noticed? Nobody panics when things go according to plan, even if the plan is horrifying.” – The Joker

PRAYER
Lord, even when things do not go according to plan, you are present with me. Help me to acknowledge that and be a witness to your presence in my life and the lives of others. 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

Guilt-Free Zone

Read Psalm 22:1-11

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

griefAs a pastor and a spiritual counselor, I often deal with people who are going through rough times in their lives. Perhaps they have just lost a loved one and are beginning to go through the grieving process. Perhaps they are struggling in their relationships with others or with God. Perhaps they have been separated (for whatever reason) from their loved one(s). Perhaps they are struggling with alcoholism and/or addiction, or perhaps they know and love someone who is. Perhaps they are going through rough times financially or physically and they do not know how to begin to cope with the problems that are piling on top of them.

Whatever the case may be, each of us struggles in life one way or another. There is not a single person in this world who breezes through life without a host of “somethings” weighing them down. Each of us have our own set of struggles that we go through. I personally have suffered from teenage depression, the loss of loved ones, sudden and unexpected unemployment, financial difficulties, relationship struggles, and a whole host of other issues. And there were times I felt so burdened down by the weight of everything that I wondered if I could even carry on.

It is human to question ourselves, our surroundings, our situations and even God when things seem to be pressing down on us and crushing the life out of us. It is natural and human to be angry at God, to cry out from the depths of our soul in despair, to question where God has been in our lives. It is natural and healthy for us to be able to engage God with those questions; however, often times we feel guilty for doing so.

When we get angry at God, when we question why God is allowing stuff to happen to us, and when we begin to wonder if God is even there at all, we often will feel guilty because we feel that such anger, such questioning, and such “doubt” is a sign that our faith is weakening, or that it is a sign we don’t have faith, and that God will somehow hold that against us. We often pressure ourselves into repressing our emotions and shutting ourselves off from asking the questions that we so desperately need to ask.

What I would like to impart to you today is that you DO NOT need to add guilt to your grief. First, I would like to challenge you to rethink the question, “why is God allowing this to happen to me?” Is God “ALLOWING” something to happen or does life happen, with all of its ups and downs, despite what God does or doesn’t want? Second, God is love. God is grace. God is present. Repeat those words to yourself, make them your mantra and trust that God is with you, that God wants NOTHING MORE than for you to have hope, for you to rise up out of the situation you’re in, for you to heal, and for you to experience wholeness.

With that said, you do not need to add guilt to your grief. God doesn’t do guilt; guilt is not from God! It is not only okay for you to express your anger and doubt to God, but God WANTS YOU TO. It is a part of the grieving process, when we are grieving any type of loss or circumstance, and it is necessary to our health. Anger, doubt, and asking God the tough questions does not show a dying faith or a lack of faith; rather, quite the contrary…it shows a STRONG FAITH and a STRONG RELATIONSHIP with GOD.

So fear not, God is with you! Be liberated in the fact that you are not alone in your struggles. That in spirit, and in the lives of those supporting you, GOD IS WITH YOU. Do not add guilt to your grief, for your grief is enough to bear on its own. God is calling out to you through the words of Jesus, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, for I will give you rest.”

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“I am with you. I will not fail you or forsake you.” – God (Joshua 1:5)

PRAYER

Lord, thank you for your undying presence in my life and thank you for your listening to me in my times of need. Help me to see when I cannot and to have the peace of your presence when the storms rage on and I feel alone. Amen.