Tag Archives: wholeness

A Look Back: What’s In A Name

Read John 10:14-18, 25-30

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“But now, O Jacob, listen to the LORD who created you. O Israel, the One who formed you says, “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are Mine.” (Isaiah 43:1 NLT)

Have you ever given much thought to your name? Just the other day I was in a conversation with someone who was talking about how her granddaughter just started to write her own name. Instantly, I was transferred back to when my daughters were first able to write their own names. I remember what a milestone it was to see them do that. What’s more, this conversation also caused me to reflect on my own name, and the moment I was first able to write it. Indeed, I am not sure I remember when I first was able to write my own name. I definitely remember learning to write, and then learning to write in cursive, but I am not sure I remember when I first wrote my own name: Todd.

Then I began thinking, “What is Todd? Who is Todd? What is it that a Todd is supposed to do? How is a Todd supposed to look? How is a Todd supposed to act? What makes a Todd a Todd? What makes me more a Todd than I am a Howie or a Jonathon or a Leonard?” Now this may sound silly to you and, indeed, it feels a little silly writing those questions down; however, have you ever stopped to think about how you got your name and what makes you fit that name, or what makes that name fit you?

The truth is, I am not sure I can fully answer that question. My name is Todd because my parents chose to name that. The name Todd actually comes from my dad’s side of the family. I was named after my grandma’s maiden name. Her name was Jeanette Elizabeth Todd before marrying my grandfather and becoming Jeanette Elizabeth Lattig. For the first few months, I had no self-awareness of any  name. Over time, I learned that those people who are always holding me and feeding me call me “Todd”. Eventually, at some point, I started answering to that name and claiming it to be my own. No doubt, if someone asked me when I was a Toddler (ironic…I know) what my name was, I would say, “My name is Todd.” And eventually, I began to write my name as a way of marking whatever I was writing it on as being “mine.”

So, here it is that I am, indeed, a Todd. But what does that say about me beyond what name I go by? In reality, we are so much more than our names; yet, truth be told, we invest all that we believe we know about ourselves into those names. And others do the same. If you were to ask one of my family members or friends who Todd is, they would no doubt shower you with all they thought that I am. But that would be who they believe this Todd to be…that would say nothing about every other Todd out there.

While we may identify ourselves by our name, and while we may associate our characteristics, strenghts, flaws, personalities and other things with that name, the truth is that our names do not really define us or who we are. Rather, God does define who we are and calls us according to that definition. So whoever you, the reader, are, you are so much more than the name and all the things that you attribute to that name. You are more than you could ever imagine. No matter how well you think you know yourself, and no matter how much others think they might know about you, God is the only one who knows EXACTLY who you are and all that you are capable of. God knows your possibilities and your full potential…and God is calling you, not only by NAME but according to WHO YOU ARE, to reach your full potential. All you need to do is TRUST IN GOD, and take the step forward to answer that call…knowing that God will guide you each step of the way.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.” – Jesus of Nazareth, John 14:1

PRAYER
Lord, reveal to me who I really am and guide me to what it is I am really called to do. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: The Beast Within

Read Luke 15:11-32

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32 NLT)

Just recently I sat down to watch the remake of the Wolfman. Of course, the original 1941 Wolfman starring Lon Chaney Jr., Claude Rains, Bela Legosi and Evelyn Ankers will always be one of my favorite monster movies ever; however, with that said, the 2010 remake of that film does pay homage to it, all the while adding its own twists and spins.The root of the story is the same. Larry Talbot returns home after his brother dies suddenly and horribly. Upon getting home Larry ends up getting bit by what he believes is a wolf, and when the moon shines full and bright in the sky, things begin to get a bit hairy for Larry (pun totally intended) as well as for the village. In the remake, which is where the film departs from the 1941 storyline, we learn that Larry and his father, who is cold and quite distant, had a falling out years earlier over the death of Larry’s mother (among other things). Since that time, Larry had distanced himself with his father and his family (including his brother), and did not wish to return…that is until he learns of  his brother’s death.

When he does finally return he is not welcomed warmly, as is the case in the story of the prodigal son; rather, his father greets him coldly and indifferently. Clearly both father and son have a resentment toward one another and the result is, in the end, catastrophic. In more than one way, the fact that Larry ends up turning into a werewolf serves as a metaphor the hatred, bitterness, anger and unresolved hostility that is caged up inside of him. That is all being said as a matter of observation, without affirming or denying the justification he had to be angry, bitter, and hateful of a father who, in many ways, failed him from his childhood onward.

The truth is that we all have the beast that lies within us beneath the surface, don’t we. For most of us, we are able to supress the beast, to keep it locked away, and to move our lives forward in a positive, constructive and meaningful manner. Yet, there are some who have truly been beaten up in life, or at least the feel as if they have, and it is very hard for them to move beyond what has happened to them. It’s not right, or wrong, it just is. The problem is that, when we are unable to move beyond our past, that past comes back to haunt us and that is when that inner beast comes out in full force.

Today’s challenge is for those of us who have a hard time moving beyond our past, beyond the hurts, the pain, the abuse, and/or the perceptions we have of those we feel have wronged us (whether they have or not). If you are a person who struggles with this, know that forgiveness is attainable. There is a God who has forgiven us of our past and that same God is calling us to forgive others as well. Forgiveness does not mean that we forget what has happened, or that we somehow pretend it didn’t. Nor does it mean what happened to us is okay, or we should somehow justify it. Forgiveness doesn’t mean we ignore when wrong is being done, nor does it remove the obligation we have to seek justice, as well as reconciliation.

It is also important to note that forgiveness is not just to the benefit of the ones we are forgiving, rather, it is a benefit for us…perhaps even more so than the ones we forgive. Forgiveness is our way of saying that no matter what others do to us, God still loves us and cares for us and we aren’t going to harbor anything against anyone. We are defined by God not them, and in that recognition comes a liberation that not only keeps the beast at bay, but eliminates it altogether. Remember that no one is without the need to be forgiven; therefore, no one is above forgiving others. Forgive and be set free!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

PRAYER
Lord, give me the strength to forgive, even as I seek to be forgiven, and move me beyond my hurts and pains to a life of joy and peace. Amen.

Still 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)

Nineteen years ago from today 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. In today’s world, the terror attacks seem like a distant memory in the past, like a piece of American history. There are now new adults who were not yet alive to witness that day. But 9/11 is a reminder that even we are not immune to the jaws of hatred, violence and horrific destruction! In fact, we are now in a new era of hatred, violence and horrific destruction when it comes to the brutality we inflict upon ourselves. We are now in the jaws of self-inflicted chaos and a raging pandemic.

Still, 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.

God’s People, part 262: Lydia

Read Acts 16:11-14

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“After leaving the prison they went to Lydia’s home; and when they had seen and encouraged the brothers and sisters there, they departed.”  (Acts 16:40, 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.

Part 262: Lydia. Now we get to a character that I’ve been longing to talk about. Lydia is the start of a pattern that comes to be an uncomfortable truth among Paul-loving misogynists throughout the history of Christianity. Lydia, who lived in Philippi at the time, was a gentile convert to Christianity. In Acts 16:11-14, we are told that Philippi was a Roman colony in Macedonia (aka Northern Greece). Lydia was originally from Thyatira, which was located in the western-most part of what is now modern day Turkey, on the coast of the Aegean Sea. The city is geographically situated in what was ancient Lydia (700-200 BC) and the name, Thyatira, was of Lydian origin.

While that may or may not be one gigantic historical/geographical coincidence, Lydia was a woman of prominence in Philippi, where she ended up settling down. In fact, we are told that she was a successful merchant of expensive purple cloth. Purple, of course, was the color of royalty and the reason the cloth was so expenisve was because of the dye used to make it.

Originally, from the city of Tyre, the dye that was used to make purple cloth averaged at an equivalent of what would today be $100,000 an ounce in U.S. American Dollars. The cloth was so expensive that, literally, only the ruling class could afford it, which is how purple became associated with royalty. Thus, it goes without saying that Lydia was extremely wealthy and powerful in her community.

Because of her wealth, she was a prominent figure in her community. This can be seen by the way she is written about in the book of Acts. She is the only one in her family that is named. The passage states that she was a “God Worshiper” or “God-fearer”, meaning that she was one of those Gentiles who believed in the Jewish God and worshipped in the synagogue, though she was not necessarily a full-on convert to Judaism.

Again, the passage states that LYDIA and her household were baptized by Paul into the Christian faith because the Lord opened her heart and she believed what Paul was teaching. The word household did not just mean her family; rather, it also includes any servants and/or slaves that might have been living and serving in her house. As a wealthy person, there is little down that Lydia had servants and/or slaves working for her. This was an accepted and common practice in the Roman Empire and ancient world. As we will see later on, Paul does challenge that common practice among Christians; however, that is not our focus here.

While we do not know Lydia’s exact role in the Philippian church, there can be no doubt that she certainly helped to support it financially and, more than likely, was a leader in that church. This, among other instances, is the reason that the modern “complementarian” view of the role of women in the church is not a Biblical view. Women, as well as men, were equally valued and treated in an egalitarian manner in the early church. Jesus treated women in the same way he treated men. Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of Jesus, were both instrumental figures in the earliest Church, and Paul was a benefactor and co-worker with women.

There are some verses in Paul’s writings that people might use to say otherwise; however, those writings may not have even been Paul’s and, even if they were, they were clearly specific to certain communities and not viewed by Paul as universal practice. All of this to say that it is long time that the church and, in particular, men in the church, look to women as co-workers in Christ just as Paul did. To do otherwise, is to fall away from Scripture and Biblical truth.

We ought to let this challenge us to see in what ways we discriminate agains women in ministry. As a pastor, I can’t tell you how many times I have had congregants tell me that they are glad to finally have a “male” pastor. Why is that? Why does my gender make me any more of a pastor than someone else who might be a female? God calls who God calls. Let us, once and for all, recognize that women and men alike are called by God to serve for God’s glory. Amen.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”  Apostle Paul (Galatians 3:28, NRSV)

PRAYER
Lord, help to steer clear of discrimination and to accept all of those you have called to serve the church. Amen.

God’s People, part 261: Jailer

Read Acts 16:16-39

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,”  (Matthew 5:43-44, 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.

James Faulkner stars as Paul in a scene from in the film “Paul, Apostle of Christ.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. (CNS photo/Sony Pictures) See MOVIE-REVIEW-PAUL-APOSTLE-OF-CHRIST March 22, 2018.

Part 261: Jailer. We live in such a polemical time where we often being strongly encouraged to take one side or the other. For instance, in America, one is either a Republican or a Democrat. One is either for Black Lives Matter or All Lives Matter. One is either antiracist or racist. The list goes on and on and on. It would be easy for me to say that we are about as divided as I have ever seen in my lifetime; however, these are not the only, nor the most, divisive times in world history.

Paul lived in a very divisive time himself. The Roman Empire eventually crumbled because of political divisiveness and, truth be told, the there was much divisiveness in the church as well. Read 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philemon, 1 & 2 Timothy, 1, 2, & 3 John and other writings in the New Testament. In those epistles (aka letters) you will see that Paul, John and others were dealing with the polemics in the church as well.

Before I move forward with the jailer, I want to be clear that I am not making a moral judgment about any particular stance above. I am merely mentioning them because they have been the sharpest sides drawn as of the writing of this devotion. Nor am I saying that people should not stand up for what they truly believe in and are passionate about. The point of this piece is to show how the Gospel can and DOES change hearts and minds.

In our Scripture today, Paul and Silas find themselves in prison in Philippi, where they had spent time bringing the Good News to the gentiles in that city, nurturing and growing a nascent gentile church that they planted.  What happened was that Paul had cast out a demon out of a local slave girl who was being used by profiteers to make money. Due to her deliverance, she was not longer profitable for them and this caused them to grow enraged. They made legal complaints against both Paul and Silas, who were then locked up in prison.

While in prison, under the watch of a jailer, there was a great earthquake and the doors and bars were knocked a part and opened, leaving plenty of opportunitiy for Paul and Silas to escape. Instead, Paul and Silas urged all of the prisoners to stay put and not escape. This, action, may have you scratching your heads. Why not take the opportunity and get out of dodge? Well, it had the jailer scratching his head to and he was beyond thrilled that everyone was accounted for because, had they not been, he would have certainly been executed for a dereliction of duty.

We don’t know much about the jailer at all. He was most likely a local Philippian beholden to the local government there. More than likely he was a Greek gentile. No doubt, he could have cared less (initially) that Paul and Silas were in jail. They were rabble-rousing troublemakers and, besides, he had a single job to do: make sure they did not escape. Failure to do that job would have costed him his life.

By staying instead of fleeing, that caused Paul and Silas to penetrate the man’s heart. Who would do such a thing given such an opportunity. Who wouldn’t think of theselves first over a stranger, let alone an enemy. Clearly, these gentlemen thought of the jailer, valued the jailer’s life and were not the “lawless” men they had been accused of being.

Because of that, the jailer opened his heart up to the Good News of Jesus Christ that Paul and Silas shared with him. What GREAT news! They witnessed to this man and he and his whole family converted to being Christ-followers as a result! This man went from being a jailer to being a brother! This is the power of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.

Now, back to my preface above, this does not mean that people should not be standing up for what they believe in. I have marched and will continue to march for Black Lives, for equity, and for justice as long as I have legs and life to do so. I will stand up for the Good News of Jesus Christ, for the fact that we are all image bearers of God, and that for people to be treated equally with dignity, compassion, justice, mercy and respect. Paul and Silas were in jail for standing up for what they believe in despite the risks in doing so. That is what our Lord calls us to do as his followers.

With that said, we should also be careful that we are truly representing the Gospel when we do so. It is so easy to get sucked into the polemics, to get sucked into viewing the other as “evil” or “less than” and dehumanizing them. God is the judge of who is evil and who is not. We, on the other hand, are called to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ and hold each other accountable to it out of love.

While there are many people who are jailers out there who may be on the wrong side of things, God still loves them and calls us to invite them into a relationship with Jesus Christ. Not all will accept that and we must stand our ground for Jesus regardless; however, we also might find discover Jesus Christ ACTUALLY has the power to transform hearts and minds and our faithfulness to HIM leads others such a place of transformation. In other words, while we stand against the oppressers of the world, let us still find room in our hearts to LOVE them like Christ does.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Hating an evil person is still hate and will lead us to evil; however, LOVE would have us oppose the evil of people and protect people from evil.

PRAYER
Lord, help me a bold and loving warrior for justice without losing myself to blind hate. Increase your love in my heart. Amen.

God’s People, part 260: We

Read Acts 16:6-10

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Many people have set out to write accounts about the events that have been fulfilled among us. They used the eyewitness reports circulating among us from the early disciples.”  (Luke 1:1-2, NLT)

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.

Part 60: We. The people in the Bible we have been discussing as of late have been in Luke’s Acts of the Apostles, which is the second volume of a two volume account on the life, teachings, death and resurrection of the Christ and the workings of his earliest followers following his ascension into heaven. Up until this point, it was written in the third person, meaning that Luke telling of these acts of the apostles as though he was not there at the time that they happened.

With that said, something very intriguing and unique happens very subtly, and one could easily glaze right over it without even paying it any attention. But this detail is actually a rather important one and lends apostolic authority to Acts. Let’s take a look at what I am writing about. In Acts 16:6-9, let us look at how the author wrote:

“Next Paul and Silas traveled through the area of Phrygia and Galatia, because the Holy Spirit had prevented them from preaching the word in the province of Asia at that time. Then coming to the borders of Mysia, they headed north for the province of Bithynia, but again the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go there. So instead, they went on through Mysia to the seaport of Troas. That night Paul had a vision: A man from Macedonia in northern Greece was standing there, pleading with him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!””  (Acts 16:6-9, NLT)

Yet, in verse 10 Luke switches to the first person:

“So we decided to leave for Macedonia at once, having concluded that God was calling us to preach the Good News there.”  (Acts 16:10, NLT, emphasis added)

What this indicates is that at this point in the journey Luke, the author of Acts, is with Paul as one of his fellow companions and missionaries. That makes Acts, from chapter 16 onward, a first-hand account of the travels of Paul. This, combined with Paul’s letters, gives us a real insight into Paul and his missionary journeys. Anti-theists and others will often question the reliability of Scriptures; however, here in Acts we have a first-hand account written down 2,000 years ago about the last two remaining missionary journeys of Paul.

If the reliability of sources like Plato’s writings on Socrates don’t get questioned, there is no reason why we should question the reliability of Luke’s Acts of the Apostles, the letters of Paul, or any of New Testament. Why? Because most of these writings were penned within 40 to 60 years after Christ died. Paul’s letters were written by him in real time, and Luke/Acts came out a mere 15 years or so after Paul’s death.

That is incredibly close to the time of the events described in terms of ancient manuscripts. For instance, Homer’s Iliad took place 400 years before Homer penned his poem recounting the Trojan War. 400 years! The earliest manuscripts we have of Homer’s Iliad are dated to the 10th century AD, while homer wrote it in the late 8th or early 7th centuries BC!!! Yet, no one spends much time questioning Homer’s existence or authorship.

On the other hand, the earliest fragment we have of a text in the New Testament is from the Gospel of John, dated to the early 2nd century AD. A mere 10 – 30 years after John wrote his Gospel. The earliest completed copies of a New Testament book dates to 200 AD, a mere 160 or so years after Christ, and the earliest completed copy of the New Testament dates to the 4th century (300s). So, the reliability of the New Testament is far greater than that of Homer’s Iliad. All of this, to say that we can trust what the Bible conveys because it contains eye-witness accounts from Luke, Paul and others and where there are accounts written second-hand, the events were so close to the people writing that it is more unreasonable to doubt their veracity than it is to not.

Let this be a challenge for us then. As Christians we need to take the Bible seriously. It is authoritative in conveying to us the way of Salvation and Christian living. Surely, there are somethings in it that no longer apply to us (e.g. laws on diet, clothing, tattoos, piercings, etc.); however, the core of the Bible is our authority and points us to Christ who died that we might have abundant and everlasting life. Let be a people of THE BOOK so that we might grow even closer to the TRUE WORD OF GOD: JESUS CHRIST. Amen.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
The WORD of God is our Lord Jesus Christ.

PRAYER
Lord, make us thirsty for your word so that we may grow even closer and connected to your LIVING WORD, Jesus Christ.