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Read Matthew 7:21-29
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Let anyone with ears listen!” (Mathew 13:9)
Excuses, 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
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.
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)
Nobody 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
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.
Read 1 Timothy 4:7-11
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:25-27)
This past week I started a new exercise program that one of my parishioners let me called T25. It was developed by Shaun T of “insanity” fame, and each workout is only 25 minutes long. Just twenty-five minutes, five days a week, for ten weeks. Each day is a different workout and the order of those workouts alternate week to week. By the end of it all, Shaun T claims that you will shed weight and gain muscle, stamina and endurance. All in ten weeks time. Sounds easy, right? I mean, all you have to do is workout for twenty-five minutes, five days a week? That’s it? For real?
Well, if you are thinking, “Gee, that sounds too good to be true,” then you are both wrong and right. You see, you are wrong because it is true that the work out only lasts for 25 minutes, and that one is supposed to do those workouts five days a week and that the program lasts for ten weeks. It is true that if you follow Shaun T’s plan you will end up shedding weight and gaining muscle, stamina, and endurance. I have seen what his “Insanity” program has done to my friend, and I trust that Shaun’s newest program T25 delivers just well.
But you are right in thinking that this sounds to good, to easy, to be true. While these exercises last only twenty-five minutes, they are an intense and grueling twenty-five minutes of high impact, focused interval training (F.I.T.) that get you the same results as an hour long workout. The sweat starts pouring out within the first ten minutes and the workout is over in twenty-five, but those are the longest twenty-five minutes for someone who is not conditioned to it. In fact, I had to do the modified workout because I am not quite used to all of that hopping and jumping around, and it still owned me!
Shaun T. is famous for saying, “You don’t get results by resting, you get results by working hard.” And that is very true. If we truly want something, we have to be willing to put the effort into what it is we want. If we can easily understand this regarding a work out, if it makes sense in our careers, if it makes sense in the things we want to accomplish, why does it seem to be lacking in our spiritual lives? Why is it that we will give it our all in certain things; however, we slack off on stuff as important as our spirituality and our relationships with God and with our fellow human beings. And then we wonder why we feel out of sorts, lost and a profound emptiness in our lives.
Today’s challenge is for you to step up your game, as it were, when it comes to your spiritual well being. It’s time to become spiritually fit, as well as physically and emotionally fit. Join a faith community, read and actively study the Holy Scriptures, pray regularly, partake in the sacramental life of your faith community, observe as sacred day of rest, and invest yourself in works of charity or, as I like to put it, in works of hope, healing and wholeness. If you do this, if you begin to make these a part of your daily/weekly routine, you will find that the results are amazing! It’s go time!
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“You don’t get results by resting, you get results by working hard.” – Shaun Thompson
Lord, build me up into a whole person who is spiritually fit. Give me a desire to work for a stronger and deeper relationship with you, one that seeks to do your work of hope, healing and wholeness in the world around me. Amen.
Read Psalm 119
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“The end of all things is near; therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers.” (1 Peter 4:7)
For anyone who doesn’t already know this, I am a huge movie fan. What’s more, I am an avid collector of Biblically inspired films. The most recent film added to my collection, The Bible miniseries, is perhaps the most epic Biblical film to-date. The series in its whole, runs ten hours long. Unfortunately, while ten hours seems like it would make a long film, it is not enough to accurately represent the entirety of the Holy Bible.
With that said, the series was a huge commercial success. In fact, it seems that anytime something related to the Bible is produced, people by the millions stop what they are doing to watch it. The first installment of the series drew in 13.1 million viewers, beating out American Idol and other shows. Those are ratings that nobody can scoff at. Yet, when looking at how many people read the Bible on a weekly basis, polls have shown that only about 37-40% of Americans read the Bible at least once a week (and I think that poll is probably more than generous). If we move beyond that to attending worship, or other spiritual disciplines, we will see even lower numbers.
John Wesley, in the third component of his General Rules, stated that it is vital for Christians to attend “upon all the ordinances of God.” An ordinance is a requirement set forth by an authority; therefore, an ordinance of God would be a requirement set forth by God. Wesley believed that regular prayer, regularly studying scripture, partaking in the Lord’s Supper, fasting, and being a part of a Christian community in fellowship with other Christians, all helped to not only bolster the Christian’s faith, but helped them to grow in it as well.
In fact, without those things, we often find ourselves dry, empty and lost. The fact is that, just like any other relationship we have, our relationship with God takes effort and discipline. We cannot grow in our relationships with people if we never see, spend time with, or talk with them. How can we, as Christians, expect to grow in our relationship with God if we don’t attend to all the ordinances of God.
Here is a challenge for us all: attend to all the ordinances of God. Search the scriptures regularly, pray regularly, partake in communion regularly, regularly fast (this doesn’t have to mean abstaining from food) and be a part of the Christian community…not for the sake of “going to church,” but for the sake of growing in your relationship with God. Find a community that is actively seeking to live its faith out in the community and join in the work of bringing hope, healing and wholeness to those around you. It may seem like work at first, as any discipline does (e.g., exercise, education, etc.), but I promise that through it your eyes will open wide to the grace of God that surrounds you.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
How can we expect to grow as Christians, how can we expect to grow closer to God, if we spend our days avoiding the spiritual discipline it takes to experience such growth?
Lord, give me the motivation to spiritually discipline myself to attend to your Holy Ordinances! Amen.