Tag Archives: Spirit

Schooled

Read John 3:1-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:12 NLT)

38218634Perhaps the most memorized verse in all of the Bible, certainly within Christian circles, is John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (KJV) Yet, I would wager that out of the people who have memorized that particular verse, very few know the context those particular words arose out of. As such, I think it would particularly helpful to shed light on that.

It seems clear that Jesus is in or around the city of Jerusalem. He had just entered the Temple and, in the court of the Gentiles, cleared out any and all who were trying to buy and sell animals, as well as anyone who was trying to exhange their own currency for the Temple Shekel. This angry and violent act had, no doubt, left many of the Temple leadership, the Pharisees, and the Romans on edge about this “teacher” from Galilee.

It is no wonder then that Nicodemus, a Pharisee who had probably witnessed the whole Temple scene take place, came to “discuss things” with Jesus. The question we must ask is this, why did Nicodemus come to Jesus? Had be been sent there by the the Sanhedrin to gather some information on Jesus? Did he come on his own accord, seeking to have a more private and intimate conversation with this teacher? Perhaps Nicodemus saw Jesus as a threat, or perhaps Jesus’ actions had convicted him in a way that caused him to seek answers to satisfy his soul.

What we do know is that Nicodemus, either on his own or instructed by his peers, came in the dark of night, hidden in the shadows and no doubt cloaked in order to make his visit to Jesus a secret. Whether or not he was their on “business” or for his own self-gratification, Nicodemus was not wanting anyone else to know that he was their in the presence of this teacher who had just questioned the authority of the Jewish political and religious leadership.

First and foremost, regardless of the reasoning behind his visit, it can be said that Nicodemus was a proud man. He was one who was exalted by the very position he held as a teacher. He was probably a member of the Sanhedrin, which was the ruling religious body of the Jews made up of the Saducees (Priests) and Scribes (many of whom were Pharisees). As a Pharisee, Nicodemus was a teacher of the Torah, of the Law of God handed down by Moses, as well as a scholar who studied the whole of the Jewish bible (Tanakh). It was the Pharisees, in opposition to the Sadducees, who taught in a resurrection of the dead, and a life after death.

So, no doubt, Nicodemus wanted to know just exactly who this Jesus thought he was. What’s more, I am sure Nicodemus was truly intrigued and concerned by Jesus actions in the Temple and he, no doubt, wanted to test Jesus’ theological understanding, as it were.  So, in the dark of night, this Pharisee came to Jesus and began to question him. He tried to match wits with Jesus and probed him in away that ultimately exposed his lack of understanding in terms of the Spirit. Sure, Nicodemus had great theological knowledge, but he was lacking in his heart-knowledge of the movement of the Spirit. Jesus schooled him.

What’s important to pull from this is that in his pride,  Nicodemus was humbled. He was shown to not be as knowledgeable as he thought he was. He discovered that his exalted position as a Pharisee meant absolutely nothing to God. What matters to God is that one is in tune with the Spirit, that one is open to what God is doing in the here and now. All of the learning CANNOT and WILL NOT replace and openness to the Holy Spirit. And, as the Jesus warned in Mathew 23:12, the proud shall be humbled. The exalted shall be brought low. Today’s challenge for you is to humble yourself before God and open yourself to the work of the Holy Spirit in the world today.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real.” – Thomas Merton

PRAYER
Lord, humble me that I may be caught up in the working of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: Breath of God

181817372While it is important to keep moving forward, sometimes it is also important to pause and look back at what we’ve learned from the past. With that in mind, let’s take a look at this post from November 2013. It is just as relevant now as it was then.

Click here to view today’s devotion.

Many blessings,

Pastor Todd

Meet Antichrist

Read 1 John 2:18-24

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cavity

Read Acts 17:26-31

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let Me.” (Matthew 23:37, NLT)

FluorideToothNobody likes going to the dentist. At least, not anybody I know. I just had to go to the dentist today in order to get a cavity refilled. About a week earlier I had felt something wiggling between my teeth and I just knew that wasn’t a good thing, especially since I had been on another juice fast and I hadn’t eaten anything to get caught between my teeth. Plus, the dentist had told me that this one filling was giving way and that we would have to keep an eye on it. Indeed, no eyes needed anymore, the filling is gone.

Why do we get cavities anyway? If God is all-knowing, wouldn’t God know better than to make things that rot or go bad? Now that question may make me sound like I am being facetious and, in some ways, I am. With that said, how many times have we stopped and questioned God over the things that happen in our lives? Whether it be over cavities, our luck, our lot in life or even in the midst of death, we are prone to question God. So, let me ask the original question again. why do we get cavities?

Well, the truth is that we get cavities as a result of poor diet, poor dental hygiene and, on occasion, because of genetic issues. The latter reason is way more rare than the former two reasons, and the majority of us get cavities as a result of the first or the second or even both of those reasons. Believe it or not, diet is a leading cause for cavities. Do you like processed foods? If you eat pre-made foods, cold cuts, junk food and/or spend the majority of your shopping trips in the center aisles of the supermarket, then the answer is that you eat a ton of processed foods. And those types of foods notoriously cause deterioration of our teeth, which is also a sign of deteriorating health.

It is also a known fact that if you don’t brush and floss regularly you will also be prone to cavities and other dental diseases such as gingivitis. The net result of all of this is that our lifestyles and our neglect cause cavities…not God. The same is true spiritually. When in a spiritual rut, we often turn to God and question, “Why?!?!? Why is this happening to me?” We often question God’s presence in our lives and wonder if God has been with us in our time of need, but we fail to stop and question ourselves, and we fail to see ourselves as the culprit of God’s absence.

In fact, it is theologically wrong to say that God was ever absent. The fact is, God is always with us; however, when we’ve spent our time building a wall in the way of our view of God, it is hard to notice that. We spend way too much time prioritizing other things first and foremost and, as a result, a cavity starts to form within our very souls. We begin to ache and throb for help and, only when the pain gets too much to bear, we cry out for God to tear down the wall we’ve been so persistently working on building.

Rather than waiting until moments of pain and despair to cry out to God, let us work diligently on having an ongoing and vibrant relationship with God. Read the Scriptures, pray, read books that focus on the spiritual life, become a part of God’s community of worship with other believers who can be a part of your spiritual journey and you a part of theirs. Serve others for the sake of serving them and become missional in your life. If you do these things, you will begin to promote a healthy spirit and the kind of spiritual cavities that form in a decaying soul. Does it take effort? absolutely! But your health and your relationship with something bigger than you is worth that effort.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“The closer we move toward God, the closer we move toward each other.” – Unknown

PRAYER

Lord, help me to continue building my relationship with you, which will ultimately strengthen my relationships with others. Let me not forget that my relationship with you IS my top priority. Amen.

Two Simple Questions

Read Matthew 16:13-20

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“[Jesus] asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah.’” (Mark 8:29)

4741068-3x2-700x467Over the years I have been in ministry, I have developed a curriculum for teaching youth who are looking to be confirmed into the Christian faith. I feel that Christianity, particularly Protestant Christianity, has become rather lax in its education of confirmands and people in general. So, I took on the task of developing a curriculum that would educate those seeking confirmation so that in the end they knew why they were being confirmed and that they, indeed, wished to be confirmed into the Christian faith.

The curriculum started off with the history of Christianity, starting with Jesus of Nazareth and ending at our present age. And I didn’t just present the sugar-coated, Sunday School “history”, but a ten week study of the real history behind Christianity. Then I taught them the doctrinal and theological positions of our particular denomination, as well as its polity (or structure).

At the very outset of the class I assigned a paper to be written. I actually assigned two papers, but for the sake of this devotion, I will cover one of them. The paper I assigned was one that I actually had to write in seminary and I found it to be such a rewarding exercise that I included it in my confirmation curriculum. The questions I asked each of the students to answer are the following: “Who do people say that Jesus is?” and “Who do you say that Jesus is?”

These are the very questions that Jesus asked his disciples. They are very pointed and very important questions for anyone who places their faith in Christ to answer. None of us have grown up in a bubble. We have all learned who Jesus is from various sources. From reading the Bible, to Sunday School, to Church, to what we’ve gathered about him from our family and friends. All of those sources have helped shape our understanding of who Jesus is. And so the first question should be a fairly easy one for us to answer.

The second question, however, is one that forces us to go beyond what we’ve heard and learned about Jesus. I forces us to search our soul and our own personal experiences. It forces us to reflect on how we’ve experienced Jesus in our lives. How has he been revealed to us personally? How has he influenced our lives? How has he communicated with us? The apostles didn’t just hear things and learn things about Jesus. They knew him personally. They walked with him, asked him questions, and followed him. They witnessed him after the resurrection.

If we claim Christianity as our faith, if we believe in Christ, there has to be a reason why. Is the reason merely based off of second or third or fourth hand information passed down to you? Is it because you feel you have to believe it? If that is the case, then perhaps it isn’t belief at all. Surely, somewhere along the line you have experienced the presence of Christ in your life. Somewhere along the line you have been transformed by the presence the love of Christ.

Today’s challenge is for you to seriously reflect on the above two questions. Who do people say Christ is and who do you say Christ is? Take the time to sit, meditate and seriously reflect on who Christ is to you and why you believe the way you do. It is not an easy process, but it is certainly a rewarding one. As you grow your beliefs will adapt and grow as well. So make this exercise a part of your faith journey this Lent and beyond. Every so often revisit these questions and really see how God is working in your life.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Being a Christian is more than just an instantaneous conversion – it is a daily process whereby you grow to be more and more like Christ.” – Billy Graham

PRAYER

Lord, as I continue to walk in your light, illumine me. As I continue to seek your way, strengthen me. As I continue to grow in my faith, reveal yourself to me. Amen.

Abundant Life

Read Genesis 2:1-3; John 10:1-10

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16, NRSV)

Abundant LifeThis coming Saturday is January 12, 2013. Exactly one year ago from that date I embarked on a journey that changed the course of my life forever.  At the time, I was morbidly obese, weighing in at 306.9 pounds. I was on medications for high blood pressure, for high cholesterol, and for type-II diabetes. I had to prick my finger every day to test my blood/sugar levels.

With that said, I felt like things were going well for me. Just a few months earlier I had graduated from Seminary, I was serving as a youth pastor, was in the process toward candidacy for ordination within my denomination, and I thought things were going good for me.  Yet, within me all things were not as well as they seemed on the surface.

On January 12, 2012, I began a sixty day juice fast, which means that for sixty days I only drank raw vegetable and raw fruit juices for my meals, along with lots of water. I had seen a documentary about it and decided to give it a try. Taking it day-by-day, I began to lose more and more weight. But that this isn’t just about weight loss. As the pounds came off, I began to feel such a boost of energy like I had never felt before. As a result, I started walking and then, a week or two later, I started jogging.

The pounds kept coming off and other things started to happen as well. I started to feel more confidence in the things I was doing. I felt happier and more joyful. I felt more connected to myself as a person. I began to listen to what my body was telling me, learning the language that it was speaking to me. I also began to feel a much closer and deeper connection with God, and I always felt I had a deep and close relationship with God; however, since working toward a physically healthier me, I definitely felt closer to God then I ever had before. I was discerning things much clearer than I ever had and I was more attuned with what God was calling me to do.

What I realized, and what I believe each of us needs to come to a realization is that the mind, body and soul are very much connected. We Westerners often like to compartmentalize everything, including our very beings. What I came to realize is that the body, the mind and the spirit could not be separated or compartmentalized so easily. When I am not feeling well physically, that inherently takes a toll on the rest of who I am as a person.  When a part of us is not feeling well, the rest of us cannot be either.

God wants us to take care of ourselves, in fact, if we cannot take care of ourselves we have no business taking care of others.  The church has not been a good place for self-care because many in the church have interpreted self-care to be selfish; however, is it selfish to care for any being that God created? Are we not called to be good stewards of God’s creation, ourselves included? It is important to realize that self-care is not self-centered. It is God-centered to care for God’s creation in a way that honors it as sacred and holy!

God is calling you to care for yourself today, and to continue to care for yourself throughout all of your days. Whatever care you might need, whether it is physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual, etc., God is calling you to take the necessary steps to care for yourself. After all, you are very much a part of God’s creation. You are a being created in the image of God and that is not to be taken lightly.  Therefore, go and take care of yourself and experience the abundant life God has to offer you; then take that life and share it with those around you.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Our bodies are our gardens to which our wills are gardeners” – William Shakespeare

PRAYER

Lord, teach me to see my whole being as your temple and guide me toward the abundant life you wish for me to have. Amen.