Click here to view today’s devotion.
Click here to view today’s devotion.
Read John 13:34-35
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.” (Romans 12:10)
One of the great pleasures of being a pastor is the fact that I get to lead in worship week in and week out. I love worship because it brings people together with a common purpose, which is to refresh and renew our connection to our Lord and God. One of the most important elements in worship, for me, is music. I love singing hymns, singing and/listening to “Special Music”, centering myself on the prelude and greeting people during the postlude.
Many people don’t know the actual purpose for hymns. Most people sing hymns in church because it is an “age-old” tradition, never giving it a further thought beyond that. But hymns do play a very important part in the worship service in that they impart important Christian theology to the congregation as they sing them.
One popular hymn tells us that “they will know we are Christians by our love.” This hymn suggests to those singing it that Christians are distinguished from the rest of the world by our love for each other and our love for all of God’s creation. This is one of those hymns that informs us of Jesus’ words to his disciples and for his will for us as his followers; however, when we look at the history of Christianity, and even at Christians today, are we living up to the love for each other that the hymn speaks of? Are we graceful toward one another, are we accepting of difference, and patient with those who don’t see eye-to-eye with the way we believe and understand things?
I remember a couple of years ago, Rob Bell came out with a book titled “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person That Ever Lived.” Up until the writing of this book, Rob had garnered quite a following and was well-liked by most in the Christian world, including Evangelicals; however, once the title of this book was released in order to promote it, that acceptance quickly turned into anathema. People, including the likes of Rev. Franklin Graham, were calling Rob Bell a “heretic” and denouncing this book which, according to the critics, claimed that hell doesn’t exist.
The odd thing is that these criticisms of Rob’s book came out BEFORE the book was released for people to read. That means, in case you didn’t catch it, that people were claiming the book said something without ever having read the book. Their assessment was based off of the title of the book and a promotional video where Rob poses some provocative questions…again, not giving the answers to them but just posing them. After actually reading the book, which was provocative for sure, I did not discover “heresy.” I simply found Rob wrestling, in a relevant way, with a theology that many people wrestle with. Nor did I find him EVER claiming that hell does not exist. Quite the opposite, actually.
The point of this is not to endorse Rob Bell or his book, but rather to put a caution on something that should, by this point, seem obvious. Christ called us to love one another…that people will know we are his by our love of one another. Let us not be so quick to judge, to anathematized, and to demonize fellow Christians who might think differently than we do. If we cannot love our own family in Christ, how can we ever love our neighbors? What’s more, if we cannot love our own spiritual kin, how can we ever love our enemies? Christ has set the bar high for those wishing to follow him, and when we fall short of that bar, we do not reflect Christ. Remember, they will know we are Christian by our love.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
In Christ love ALWAYS wins.
Lord, teach me to be more loving of my fellow Christians, especially those who think and believe differently than me. Amen.
Read Matthew 18:21-35
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15)
I just recently saw the movie “Devil”, which was a film that was produced by and based off of a story written by M. Night Shyamalan. For those of you unfamiliar with his name, he is the one who wrote, directed and produced the widely successful supernatural thriller, “The Sixth Sense.” While many of his other films have not garnered the success that his first film did, I have always been prone to watching them and have found them meaningful and thought provoking. “Devil” certainly is both meaningful and thought provoking.
In this film, five people get on an elevator together. None of them know each other, yet when the elevator breaks down and they are stuck in it for hours, each of them gets to know one another perhaps a little more than they’d like to. Each character has a flaw, which I will not reveal here; however, one of the five characters has a little more than just a flaw as that character (again I will not reveal who) is the incarnation of Satan. Sounds like a real wholesome family film, right? Well, to use a perfectly good pun, the devil is in the details here.
Every so often, while on this elevator, the lights flicker and then go out, leaving the victims and the viewers in the dark. When the lights come on, one of the characters is dead in a weird and gruesome way. This continues to happen through out the film. Meanwhile, a detective, the police and firemen are all trying to get these people safely out of the elevator. They, too, watch in horror as the lights flicker, go out, come back on and they see yet another dead person.
While I will not spoil the whole of the movie, I will spoil it’s message a little as I believe it is so very relevant to us as people of faith. Each person in the movie is being killed by the devil, their souls taken, as a result of their unwillingness to see that they have sinned and are flawed individuals. The result of that is that these individuals never, ever seek forgiveness for what they’ve done, because they continually justify their own actions and, therefore, are blinded to their own sins and sinful nature.
Again, I will not even hint at how the film ends (you really do need to see it), but it is powerful in its message. We often talk of God as being merciful and loving, kind and compassionate, just and filled with unending grace. We often talk about God’s willingness to forgive us all, and we see Jesus Christ as the divine expression of that forgiveness; however, how can we be forgiven if we don’t see our need for forgiveness? How can we be forgiven if we are so blind to our own faults that we we fail to seek or accept forgiveness? What’s more, how can we receive forgiveness if we are unwilling to be forgiven and/or unwilling to give forgiveness to ourselves and to others?
Christ calls us to a life of forgiveness. We are called to a life of being forgiven and to a life of forgiving others. If we are unwilling to see our need for forgiveness and, therefore, are unwilling to be forgiven, then we cannot, and will not, experience the healing power of forgiveness; however, if we are open and transparent to God about our shortcomings, and we seek forgiveness, we will have it in abundance. With that said, we too have to be willing to forgive. For how can we seek forgiveness but not give it in return? How can we experience mercy and not be transformed by it? How can we receive grace but refuse to give it to others? Remember, the devil is in the details. Be transformed by God’s grace and be transformational by extending that grace to others.
THOUGHTS OF THE DAY
“Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them.” – Bruce Lee
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
Lord, soften my heart so that I may admit my faults and seek forgiveness. Also, soften my heart so that I may extend forgiveness to others. Amen.
Read John 19:20-29
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Look at My hands. Look at My feet. You can see that it’s really Me. Touch Me and make sure that I am not a ghost, because ghosts don’t have bodies, as you see that I do.” (Luke 24:39, NLT)
A couple of weeks ago I was eating out at a restaurant with my wife and daughters. During the meal we were sharing in memories of the home we used to live in and we were laughing about how our cat, Sophie, was so cute and adorable when she was little. At one point, I looked up at my youngest daughter and I was reminded of a not so good incident that we had with the other cat we used to have, George. On my daughter’s right cheek is a huge scar and seeing that scar reminded me of the horrible memory of George, what he did to my daughter, and how we could not longer keep him.
My youngest, at the time she was around 7 years old, was playing in a big box as children often do. When she came out of the box, George attacked her clawing at her face. He severely scratched her on her right cheek and nearly got her left eye with the other claw (literally only a centimeter away). This wasn’t the first time he had done this. He had attacked her while she was hugging her mom, and had attacked her another time severely scratching up her legs. The first two times we passed off as being an accident. Perhaps our daughter was playing with him and he was playing rough. But the third time pushed us over the edge. We knew we couldn’t keep him, especially after he nearly took my daughter’s left eye.
The horror of that moment had flooded me and I started my shaking my head in disbelief. “What Dad,” asked my daughter? “I just can’t believe he did that to you,” I replied. “Perhaps we can get that cream the doctor had said helps to remove scars,” I said to her. My daughter put her hand over her face and shook her head no. “I don’t want to get rid of my scar,” my daughter protested. “I want to keep it because so I can remember George.”
George was her favorite cat. She loved him and it was very hard for her when we took George to the animal shelter, especially when we learned what they were going to put him to sleep because they could not give him to another family if he had a history of attacking people. It still hurts me to think of it and, clearly it still hurts my daughter as well. Even more that that, my daughter still loves him and wants to keep her scar because of her love for him. The more I reflected on that, the more I realized the truth behind it.
How often we go through life, picking up scars along the way. We get battered down by circumstances and, sometimes, we even get battered down by other people. Many of us try to hide those scars, to mask them, and to pretend they were never there to begin with; however, scars never truly go away, do they? There really isn’t some special cream we can rub on our hurts, our fears, our insecurities and all of the other scars we collect throughout life. There isn’t any magic elixir that will remove the scars we carry with us.
Even Jesus, in a post-Resurrection body, had scars to show his disciples when he appeared to them. The holes in his hands, feet and side were still there, still visible. In fact, those scars were very much a part of Jesus’ transformed identity, in the same way that my daughter’s scars are a part of hers. Rather that trying to erase the scars, rather than trying to bury them or hide them or pretend they never existed, we should acknowledge their existence. We should grieve the loss, the hurt, the circumstances that caused them and, just as importantly, we should also acknowledge the person we’ve grown to be as a result of them. While no amount of reflection will justify the suffering we’ve been through, it will help us to move beyond the suffering, remembering where we’ve come from, and resurrect into a person transformed by the grace of God in spite of the experiences that tried to keep us down. Allow God to, as Robert Schuller once coined, “turn your scars into stars.”
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Turn your scars into stars.” – Rev. Dr. Robert H. Schuller
Lord, help me to turn my scars into stars so that I can move beyond them, without forgetting them, into the life you’ve called me to. Amen.
Read Romans 3:10-233
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin.” (Romans 7:24-25)
Just recently my girls were re-watching the Twilight series. Do you remember that movie series, which ended a couple of years ago with “Breaking Dawn.” Before “New Moon”, “Eclipse”, and “Breaking Dawn” came out, I had read all of the books. I guess I found the movie “Twilight” captivating enough to read the books. My favorite of those books, to this date, is “New Moon” because I love the character development of one of the supporting characters, Jacob Black. In that book, he goes from a boy to a man and, though ending up on the short end of the stick in terms of getting the girl, I would argue he would be the better for it if it weren’t for the author’s contemptuous ending.
But that is neither here nor there. I have a love/hate relationship with that book series. I thought the author did a great job in capturing teenage love, to a “T”, and really transported the older readers back to High School, which for me was more of a nightmare than a pleasure. But still, she did do a good job of that. WIth that said, the entire series, minus one section of the last book, was completely written in the first person. The story is being told as if it were the thoughts of the main character, Bella Swan. SIDE NOTE: Bella means “beautiful” in Italian, so her name really translates to “Beautiful Swan”. Mein Gott!
Despite her name, being inside her head was anything but beautiful. It was in there that I saw her justify manipulating people such as Jacob Black. She used him in order to fill a void in her life that her boyfriend Edward couldn’t fill. And, when she was finished using him, she dumped him like a bag of hot coals. But it wasn’t enough for her to dump him, she had to make him feel guilty for not just wanting to “be friends.” I also saw her manipulate her other friends, her father, and even Edward in order to get the things that she wanted.
I could go on and on about this, but it should suffice to say that being inside her head made me feel trapped. I wanted to get out of in the worst way. Let me pause here, because I don’t want to be too unfair to Ms. Swan. She may be a flawed character, but which one of us arent. Every day we live inside our own heads and every day, we think and do things that aren’t always the most virtuous things to do. It is the nature of being subjective human beings, isn’t it? We know what we are thinking and feeling, and those thoughts and feelings always take precedence over what others are thinking and feeling. After all, we really don’t know what others think and feel…it’s kind of out of sight and out of mind.
Even as I sit here and criticize Bella Swan for being manipulative, I fully recognize that I, too, have been manipulative in the past. Which one of us hasn’t been? If we are honest, we will readily admit that none of us are perfect. As Paul writes, we “all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory” (Romans 3:23). But Christ calls us to move beyond our shortcomings and to enter into a new life of living in Christ’s mind as opposed to ours.
Today’s challenge is to step outside of yourself. Begin to see, feel and experience things as Christ did. How do you do this? By entering into a relationship with Christ, one in which you hold yourself accountable to his teachings and to his way of living. Ask the questions, daily, what did Christ do? Then, without a moment’s hesitation, step out and start doing what Christ did. Start caring for the poor, the sick, the differently-abled, the imprisoned, the homeless, the naked. Start being a presence of HOPE, HEALING, and WHOLENESS in the lives of others and you will see that you are no longer trapped in your own head, but are free in Christ’s. Go forth, live and die for others as Christ did.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Above all the grace and the gifts that Christ gives to his beloved is that of overcoming self.” – St. Francis of Assisi
Lord, help me to conquer being stuck in myself and give me your mind, filled with love and compassion for others. 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 Mark 8:27-30; Matthew 16:13-20; Luke 9:18-21
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6)
Anyone who has ever had me as their teacher in confirmation class can attest to the fact that I take confirmation very seriously. I have developed a curriculum that goes beyond teaching the meaning of membership to a curriculum that instructs the students to engage in Christian History from Jesus to our current day and age. The curriculum has the students actively engage theology and doctrine (and the history behind the formation of the doctrines) as well as learn about the meaning of membership in the church.
One of the exercises I have the students do as a requirement for the class is to write a 3 page paper, or longer if they desire, answering two very simple, and very Biblical questions. In Mark 8:27-30, in Matthew 16:13-20, and in Luke 9:18-21, Jesus asks his disciples who people say that he is and, following their various answers, he asks them who they say that he is. So, likewise, I have the students answer those two questions.
It is amazing how challenging such an exercise is. Most of us can easily and quickly come up with a long list of the things that people say Jesus is; however, when it comes to who we say Jesus is, if we are going to take the exercise seriously, it becomes much more difficult to articulate. But each of my students have been through the exercise and each have come away saying that the experience of it was rewarding, leaving them with a richer sense of who Jesus is to them.
When God created humanity, God did not create robots. It was not God’s intention to have an android creation that just mindlessly, and robotically, did whatever God wanted them to do. Rather, God created a free-willed, free-spirited, and free-thinking people who had the ability to not only choose to be in a relationship with God and, in that relationship, seek to come to an understanding of God and of self in the context of that relationship. As human beings, we do not only define ourselves by our own thoughts of who we are, but rather we define ourselves by the relationships we have with ourselves and with others. Who am I without my mom, my sister, my friends, my wife, my children, and myself?
Thus, if we are Christians who claim to be in a relationship with God and with Jesus the Christ, then doesn’t it make sense that we would seek out who Jesus is? Doesn’t it make sense that we would not just settle for who people say Jesus is, but that we would find out who Christ is to us? Doesn’t it makes sense that we would want to get to “know” the person we claim to love and to follow?
Perhaps it wouldn’t hurt for you to write down Jesus’ two probing questions: “Who do people say that I am?” Who do you say that I am?” God is calling you to probe deep into your faith. It is never okay to just accept things at face value. God is calling you to move beyond what you’ve been taught into the realm of personal, experiential knowledge. Who is Christ for you? How have you experienced the power and the love of Christ in your life? How has Christ healed you, been present with you, changed you, and/or challenged you? Where does your story and the Gospel story intersect? God is calling you to truly discover who Jesus is and to deepen your faith in him. Such an invitation leads to transformation and conviction. Get to know your Lord and be convicted to bear his hope, healing and wholeness to world.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The steady discipline of intimate friendship with Jesus results in [people] becoming like Him.” – Harry Emerson Fosdick
Lord, take me deeper in my faith that I may more intimately know you and grow more and more like you. Amen.
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.
While I am recharging my batteries, take a look at this post from this time last year. It is just as relevant now as it was then.
Click here to view today’s devotion.