Tag Archives: Religion and Spirituality

FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT: Gentleness

Read Galatians 5:22-26

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out all the people buying and selling animals for sacrifice. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves.” (Matthew 21:12 NLT)

In his letter to the church in Galatia, the Apostle Paul is writing to a community that is divided over the issue of male circumcision: should new Gentile followers of Jesus be counted as a part of the Jewish covenant without being circumcised, or should they have to be circumcised just as all of the Jews are circumcised. Being that Christianity at the time wasn’t a religion, but a sect of Judaism, this was a VITALLY IMPORTANT question. While Paul is opposed to making Gentiles be circumcised, he also is against divisive behavior regardless of which side it is coming from. In response to this division, Paul describes to the Galatian church what he calls, “The Fruit of the Spirit.”

FruitOsp_GentlenessFRUIT OF THE SPIRIT: Gentleness. In a recent trip to California, I stopped by what used to be the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove. On the grounds of that beautiful work of architecture is the memorial garden in which stands two statues of Jesus. One is of “The Lost Sheep”, with Jesus holding a lamb on his shoulder and sheep looking eagerly toward him. The other is of “The Smiling Jesus,” with Jesus playing with children. While these were both familiar and beautiful images of our Lord and Savior, does the “Gentle Jesus” image show us who Jesus really was?

I think the honest answer is both yes and no. We like to think of Jesus’ Gentleness in idealistic ways. One of the ways we do this is by picturing Jesus in such ways that match up with the images illustrated above. Then when we get angry, we often guilt ourselves because we view that anger as not being of God. We view it as the antithesis of gentleness. Yet, when we look at the big picture of Jesus’ life, he was not always grinning and gentle either. Just look at the “Cleansing of the Temple” account in Matthew 21 and also to Jesus’ reaction to his opponents in Matthew 23-24. Even Jesus, sometimes, got angry and he certainly was not ALWAYS gentle.

Yet, the moments where he was not gentle also have a context to them. They were moments that called for righteous anger and Jesus used it both to stop what was happening, to hold people accountable, and to teach them a better way. With that said, Jesus had a gentle nature about him overall. He loved all people, he cared for people who needed care, he instructed people who would be his followers, and he saw the image of God in all people.  Even when he was angry and/or displaying anger, he was always doing so with the intent of instructing, as well as with the intent of putting an end to the harm he saw certain people inflicting upon others. So even his anger was driven by his gentle heart.

It would be easy for me to simply say that we are to “strive” to have Jesus’ gentleness; however, that would be inconsistent with Paul’s understanding of the fruit, which by now I am hoping you can see for yourselves. Jesus didn’t strive to be gentle…HE WAS GENTLE by the nature of his relationship with God. He was filled with the Holy Spirit and gentleness (along with the other fruits) were born through that relationship. The same is true for us. If we have a deep and committed relationship with God, if we are receptive of and filled with God’s Holy Spirit, then we will bear the fruit of God’s gentleness. This is nothing we earn or strive to do on our own power…but something that happens as a result of the power of God in our lives. If you are not gentle and do not bear the fruit of the Spirit, then it is time to check where you are in your relationship with God. We all fail to maintain that relationship, and none of us are perfect in it, but those of us who have a relationship with God and are receptive to the Holy Spirit, are being perfected in God’s love and are bearing the fruit that comes from that.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength.” – St. Francis de Sales

PRAYER
Lord, fill me with your Holy Spirit so that I may bear the spiritual fruit of gentleness in my life. Amen.

Calling it a Spade

Read Matthew 7:21-29

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Let anyone with ears listen!” (Mathew 13:9)

SpadeExcuses, excuses, excuses. This world is filled with them, isn’t it? And we don’t have to look too far to find a boat-full of excuses do we? The truth is that excuses flow from our mouths as much as they fill our ears. As a person, I have certainly made my share of excuses in my life. When I didn’t like a subject in school, I would come up with excuses as to why I COULD NOT succeed at it. In the past, I have excused myself for bad eating habits. I have excused myself for being in a bad mood, for having a bad attitude, for bad behavior and for a host of other things. It’s not that I am confessing something that would be surprising to anyone, whether they know me or not. If we are all to be completely honest with ourselves, everyone of us has made excuses for a variety of different things.

We Christians, it seems, are just as good at making excuses for ourselves as everyone else is. As someone who has both been in the church and has served the church in a host of different ways, I know the kinds of excuses that get made. For instance, when people are challenged to read the Bible more they will often come up with excuses such as, “I just don’t understand it,” or “Gee, I just don’t have the extra time to read it.” I hear excuses for why people can’t be a part of the life of the church, why they can’t lead in this way or that, why they can’t give more in one way or the other, and a whole host of excuses for not doing a variety of different things.

One excuse that really gets me is the one that people often make when it comes to living out the Gospel in their lives. It is quite clear when we read the Bible that Jesus called his disciples, and through them he called us, to live as he did. He calls us to love God with our whole being and to love our neighbors, including our enemies, as ourselves. Any preacher worth their weight in salt will most certainly preach that as one of the key components of the Gospel message and will challenge his or her congregants to answer that call; yet, when pressed, people will say, “Of course Jesus lived that way, he’s the Son of God. He was perfect…I’m not.”

I have always been one to call a spade a spade, and so I will be no different here. Not only is that an excuse, it is an affront to the Gospel and it goes against everything that Jesus taught and did. Jesus did not come to “show off” like some entertaining illusionist (though walking on water would be a neat trick to pull off); rather, Jesus lived the life that he was calling us all to join with him in living. In other words, Jesus does not buy our excuses and nor should we. We aren’t fooling God, even if we are fooling ourselves. I believe that, if we search deep down, we’ll find that we are not really fooling ourselves either.

Today’s challenge is to stop making excuses. Call things as they are. If God’s message of unconditional love, acceptance, forgiveness and compassion really move and inspire you, then start living that kind of life. Don’t excuse yourself for not doing it; rather, really start trying to live that way. It’s not about being perfect, but about being sincere. If you don’t want to follow God and live as God created you to, then just be honest and say it. Don’t excuse yourself, for that doesn’t change the fact that you simply don’t want to. If, on the other hand, you love God and want to live as a child of God, then start doing it. Persevere in holy living, in living that is set apart for God, and you will see yourself opened to the transformative power of God and to the hidden possibilities that God has for you.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.” – Thomas Jefferson

PRAYER

Lord, you know all things including the things about me that no one else knows. You know the life I’ve led and the real reasons why I have led it in the manner I have. I am not perfect, but I trust that through you I am being perfected. Strengthen me to be honest with myself and spark the desire in me to live as you have called me to live. Amen.

The Ultimate Reality

Read Ruth 4:13-17

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations.” (Mat 1:17)

11-Moab-MapDo you know Ruth? Some people might be saying, “sure, I know a ‘Ruth’ or two.” So, I will ask this question again, do you you know Ruth? I am not referring to someone you might know with the name “Ruth” who may or may not be among your family, friends, and/or neighbors; however, I am referring to the Biblical character of Ruth, who happens to have her own book in the Hebrew Scriptures. In fact, out of all of the books that bear a person’s name throughout all of the Bible, Ruth is just one of two books bearing the name of a woman. What’s more, Ruth wasn’t even a Hebrew by birth; rather, she was a Moabite. In fact, the author of Ruth reminds us that she is a Moabite seven times, and that she was from the land of Moab (in other words, she’s a Moabite) four times; that’s a total of eleven times within four short chapters, which is the length of this small, yet important, book.

Now let me ask, how many of you know Moabite when you see one? The fact is that Moab was a kingdom that existed in what is now modern-day Jordan. The Moabites worshiped the god Chemosh and would, as was customary for the time and geographical location, often offer human sacrifices to their god. This kingdom also found itself at odds with the Kingdom of Israel, which eventually split into the kingdoms of Israel (in the North) and Judah (in the South) following the reign of Solomon. To make matters worse, in the eyes of the Israelites, Solomon had built a temple to Chemosh to help promote trade between the two kingdoms. That may have been a wise political move, but it did not sit well with the devout followers of Yahweh, the God of the Israelites.

So, Ruth was from a Kingdom that the Israelites detested; yet, there we see her not only prominently displayed in Hebrew religious literature, but also prominently revered in Hebrew history. As it turns out, this Moabite woman named Ruth ended up marrying a Hebrew man named Boaz (read the book of Ruth for the full story) and bearing him a son named Obed. From there we find out that Obed was the father of Jesse who, in turn, was the father of David. Yes, as in King David…arguably the greatest King that Israel ever had. What an odd, odd story. What kind of people attest to their King being born of a woman who was not even one of their own? And don’t forget the ancient Mosaic law that forbid the Israelites from marrying outside of the Hebrew gene pool for fear that the they would forget their covenantal relationship with God (Deuteronomy 7:2-4). Yet, here is Ruth, a convert to Judaism from Moab (the enemy of Israel), shown to be the mother of Israel’s greatest King…and the ancestor of, if we believe the Gospel recording of lineage, Jesus of Nazareth.

The power of this story is that it reminds us that GOD does not choose sides, or favor one people over the other. It does not matter who we are, what religion we do or don’t claim to follow, or anything else we humans choose to be divided over, God is the LORD of us all. And God will choose ANYONE who is open to the call to LOVE GOD with all of our being and to LOVE OUR NEIGHBOR as ourselves.

That is what the LORD requires of all creation…LOVE. Ruth was filled with LOVE. She LOVED GOD, she LOVED HER NEIGHBORS, she even LOVED HER ENEMIES, and God blessed her for it. And, as with all people who have been truly blessed, Ruth BECAME A BLESSING to and entire kingdom of people, and went on to be a BLESSING to many throughout the whole world through the followers of her descendant, Jesus of Nazareth. I pray that you, too, will open yourself up to GOD, who is the ULTIMATE REALITY, just as this remarkable Ruth did so many years ago!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried.” – Ruth (Ruth 1:16-17)

PRAYER
LORD, build up in me the faith of Ruth that I may boldly go where you lead me and boldly love everyone, no matter how different they are from me. Amen.

It’s Story Time

Read Genesis 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE WAY

Read Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Leviticus 19:11-18

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

Abstract Circular Maze whit Glowing Solution PathThis past Sunday, I just celebrated the two-year anniversary of my starting a 60 day juice fast that would, ultimately, change my life.  Sixty days and sixty-six pounds later, I was on the road to a new me…a healthy me…and I wasn’t about to start looking back. From that point on, I stayed vegan. For most people, the word “Vegan” sounds like something from Mr. Spock would say in an old Star Trek episode. All it means is that I abstain from eating meat, dairy, eggs and anything that comes from an animal.

Many people don’t understand why anyone in the world would want to abstain from meats, butter, cheese, milk, ice cream, eggs and all of the things that come from those products. I often get many questions and, to be honest, some people balk at me as if I am a lunatic. While it is true that I may be a little nutty, as it turns out my being vegan has absolutely nothing to do with it! Just ask anyone of my friends and family members.

Of course, I can certainly understand why people are put off by the notion of being vegan. In our culture, it goes against everything we were taught about a well-rounded diet. We’ve been told that we need animal protein, that we need milk to make our bones strong, and who can ever imagine baking without butter and eggs? Seriously! The truth is that I, too, balked at vegans before becoming one. I swore that I was a carnivorous meat-eater through and through. I could eat a block of cheese in a single sitting! I loved cheese! And baked goods, cookies in particular, forget about it! I couldn’t get enough of them.

But in my quest to lose weight and regain my health, I discovered what life without them would be like. I discovered that I would have tons of energy, that I would get rid of all of the diseases plaguing me, and that I would actually LOVE food just as much…if not more so…than I did before! Anyone who knows me knows that I NEVER stop talking about food and I certainly never stop trying new recipes! Yet, the foods I eat are definitely different than the ones I used to consume, and as a result, I am a new and transformed person.

While I have been talking about my personal dietary lifestyle, I can truly tell you that the same principles apply to our spiritual lives. In our culture, we are told to seek fame, fortune, and bliss. We are taught to expect things automatically. We are told what is beautiful and what is ugly. We are told what is healthy and unhealthy; however, a majority of people in our world are plagued with spiritual dis-ease. Many are seeking answers in all of the wrong places and balk at people when they are told that there is a better way.

Yet, there IS a better way! There is a way that is healthy and wholesome! There is a way that leads to abundant life! There is a way that will transform you completely from the inside out! There is a way that will lift you out of dis-ease and into HOPE, HEALING and WHOLENESS. That way was embodied by Jesus the Christ. That way leads us into service of others. That way leads us to love our neighbors as ourselves. It leads us to seek justice and love mercy. It leads us to forsake everything, but the Gospel of UNCONDITIONAL LOVE, as rubbish and worthless. Jesus embodied THE WAY and is calling you to join him in doing the same.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Transformation in the world happens when people are healed and start investing in other people.” – Michael W. Smith

PRAYER

Lord, transform me. Lead me on the way toward hope, healing and wholeness so that I may bear witness to it for the transformation of the world. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: What Did Jesus Do?

press-job-work-1

This past month has been a busy one, filled with pressing work and fast-approaching deadlines. As a result, I taken the liberty of sharing some devotions from the past that, I believe, are just as relevant now as they were when I first wrote them. Of course, I have written a couple of new ones over the course of the month and, once November 1st passes, I will get back to my usual discipline of writing new devotions every week. I thank you for your patience and for journeying with me, looking back at some very relevant messages.

Click here to read today’s devotion.

 

A LOOK BACK: The Masks We Wear

press-job-work-1

This past month has been a busy one, filled with pressing work and fastly approaching deadlines. As a result, I taken the liberty of sharing some devotions from the past that, I believe, are just as relevant now as they were when I first wrote them. Of course, I have written a couple of new ones over the course of the month and, once November 1st passes, I will get back to my usual discipline of writing new devotions every week. I thank you for your patience and for journeying with me, looking back at some very relevant messages.

Click here to read today’s devotion.