Monday, February 29, 2016

Daily Devotional: February 29

Christ in the House of Simon, Dieric Bouts, 1440s
Week 6, Day 1, The Gospel according to Matthew, Chapter 26

We are nearing the end of Jesus' life. He knows it. Matthew packs tremendous emotion and drama in these pages, and even makes an interesting choice in terms of narrative. Before the story of Jesus' arrest, before the trial before Ciaphus, before the bargain Judas makes for Jesus' life, we see the event that led to Judas' downfall.

Christ's anointing by perfume at Bethany is in a weird place in Matthew. It occurs in all four Gospel accounts, but the other three place it earlier in the life of Christ, only Matthew places it in the midst of the last trip to Jerusalem. I think he does that to further show why Judas acted the way he did. Again, Matthew is a master at giving us a person in the story with which to identify. Again, it's never the person I want it to be.

Why this waste

We want to be liked, and we want to fit in to the group. It's in our nature. We also want to impress people we like. In some circles, this can mean being falsely pious. We put on religion like armor from the real world as a way to separate ourselves from the godless. We stand in churches and sing about mercy and then actually have no interest in offering any to anyone. We point out what we think is overspending on behalf of others, without ever taking into account our own judgemental heart.

How much energy have I wasted trying to show how much better I am than other people? How much energy have I wasted trying to look cool or knowledgeable or spiritual? We, like the disciples, pretend to care about the poor while we are around certain people when we actually couldn't care less.

Why this waste

Jesus points out the only person in the room acting authentically is the woman "wasting" perfume. She is acting out of pure love and submission to Christ, while the disciples are still playing the religion game. Jesus doesn't say, "the poor you will always have with you," as a way to justify inaction on their behalf. He says it to point out the inadequacy of the disciples to actually act of the behalf of the poor as long as their attitude is still to please other people.

"If you're really worried about the poor," Jesus is saying, "They are there and they will be there next week long after I am gone." He knows their hearts. He knows they aren't worried about the poor. He knows they are only trying to impress Him. Meanwhile, the woman just weeps and pours out her best because it's all she can do for the Love she has received.

Why this waste

It's the great juxtaposition of Faith. Any action, no matter how noble, done for selfish gain is a waste. Any action, no matter how menial, done out of devotion and love is to be praised.

We need to stop judging people for how they experience love. We need to stop pretending. We need to waste a lot more time, energy, and money in service to Love.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Daily Devotional: February 26

Week 5, Day 5, The Gospel according to Matthew, Chapter 25

In today's reading, Jesus is again warning His followers about the trials and problems that they will encounter in their lives, and then He transitions to talking about the last days of humanity. One of the ways this parable has been traditionally interpreted is that the sheep are Christians and the goats are non-Christians--condemned to Hell. However, I think that interpretation falls a bit short in a few ways.

There is no mention of belief or faith on the part of the sheep, it is merely their actions that saves them, and throughout the Gospels we see the idea that actions are not the mode through which God saves us. If this were the case, our salvation would entirely be dependent on how we treat the poor. While I want us to treat the poor with dignity and respect, I don't think my treatment of them is getting me to heaven.

Are you aware of where Jesus is

The point Jesus is making to His followers is they will find Him if they look for Him where He is. Just like in His life, Jesus is present among the poor and oppressed--among the fringes of society. If we want to experience Him, we have to look for Him where He is. The first step in growing in righteousness is to find Jesus and be where He is. 

When we find Him, and do the things He is doing, we will be given more and more responsibility. That is the point of the other parables in this chapter. If you aren't responsible with what you've been given, you won't be given more. However, if you cultivate holiness by practicing God's presence and going to the places Jesus would go, you will be given more and more. 

Are you aware of where Jesus is

How often do you find yourself where Jesus would be? Would He be at your favorite places? This point hits me hard because of how often I find myself in coffee shops and cafés and how seldom I find myself in homeless shelters and with the less fortunate. If I want to build my understanding of Jesus, I have to be where He is. 

The more you look for Jesus, the more you'll find Him. Jesus is constantly affirming the divinity of the mundane. Every moment, every breath is a chance to experience God. The eternal punishment is missing this fact. Living a life devoid of the joy that comes with living with Jesus now. 

Be aware of Jesus. Where is He? What is He doing? How can you be a part of it?

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Daily Devotional: February 25

The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans Under the Command of Titus, A.D. 70, Daniel Roberts, 1850
Week 5, Day 4, The Gospel According to Matthew, Chapter 24

Today we are reading an extremely controversial bit of Scripture. For many Christians, especially evangelicals, this chapter is interpreted as a warning or prophecy about the end of the world and the Second Coming of Christ. However, I don't think the warning Jesus was giving had much to do with that event. 

Almost every event described in Matthew 24 actually took place before AD 70. Even the expression "the Gospel will be preached to the whole world," is used by Luke in the book of Acts to describe the preaching of the Apostles at Pentecost. Jesus is warning his followers about one of the worst events in the history of Jerusalem. It will be this warning that will save many followers of Jesus' lives when that event takes place. That event will cause many followers of Jesus to flee the city and move elsewhere, taking this faith to the ends of the world. The destruction of the second temple in AD 70 was a physical representation of something Jesus taught about for His entire ministry.

Take it outside

At the beginning of the chapter, the disciples are marveling at the size of the temple. For these guys, most of whom were fishermen from the country, this would have been the most amazing structure they would have ever seen. The size of these buildings, their gold decorations, and the weight of the symbolism contained within the Temple would have been almost overwhelming to these men and women. Jesus knows that, and again reminds them the whole temple system is about to be obsolete. 

For too long, religion tried to keep God behind walls. Walls are Jesus' enemy number one. He continues to affirm a more inclusive, loving, and unconditional form of faith than any teacher prior to Him. He is asking His followers to not be so easily impressed by the glitz and glamour of man-made systems when the Love of God is much more impressive. It can't be contained.

Take it outside

When we see beautiful buildings, flashy cars, and giant homes we can be easily impressed. None of those things matter in the long run. All of those things will one day be torn down, crushed, or burned. When we waste our times on the temporal, we lose chances to take part in the eternal. Every one we meet is an eternal being, and they deserve the respect that comes with their identity. Every one we meet is already loved by a love that can't be kept behind walls and rituals. 

Walls need to be torn down. Walls between races, walls between classes, walls between religious groups. We made these walls, and Jesus can tear them down. The temple is an example we should look to for God's continual movement towards people. He doesn't want us to try to contain Him.

Be amazed by relentless love.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Daily Devotional: February 24

Khabouris Codex, Matt. 23:13-25 (c.a 1000CE)

Week 5, Day 3, the Gospel According to Matthew, Chapter 23

The way Jesus has behaved in our readings over the past few days, it is almost as if He is trying to get Himself killed. Every opportunity to disrupt the system in Jerusalem, He does. In today's passage, we see the most straightforward and deliberate attack of those in power in the entire book of Matthew.
The Pharisees, if you haven't been reading along with these every day, were a sect of Judaism gaining popularity in the first century. They were the power brokers in Jerusalem because many people viewed them as a group of exceedingly righteous men, and in those days your righteousness was social currency.
Jesus is constantly followed by Pharisees and some scholars believe it is because the Pharisees were trying to decide if Jesus was one of them. Some even go as far as to say Jesus was a Pharisee Himself, which is how He is able to admonish them so directly so often. Whatever the case may be, they are a symbol in the gospel of Matthew of religious fundamentalism.
Are you straining gnats?
Jesus' main beef with the Pharisees in this passage isn't one of theology, but one of practice. It's the difference between knowing what to do, and doing it with the right intentions. Winning converts but then burdening them with dead religion is worthless. Following the letter of the law while completely ignoring your neighbor in need is the height of religious nonsense. How many times do we see the argument against Christianity boiled down to the exact things Jesus admonishes the Pharisees for in this passage. 
Are you straining gnats?
In today's passage, the Pharisees are the audience surrogate, in my opinion. They are standing in for us. For any of us who have been guilty of going through the motions of spirituality without ever changing our hearts or minds. For any of us who have judged the sin of someone without giving any thought to that person's burden. For any of us who have been pleased when someone recognizes our "goodness." We have all at times been whitewashed tombs.
We have all strained gnats and swallowed camels. Whether you consider yourself a Christian or not, hypocrisy is part of the human experience. It is in our bones to be disingenuous. We have to be vigilant to protect our hearts from becoming this way. 
Are you straining gnats?
Do you hold people to a standard you can't keep? Do you judge people by their actions and forget about their heart?   

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Daily Devotional: February 23

A Denarius featuring the face of Tiberius Caesar.
Week 5, Day 2, The Gospel According to Matthew, Chapter 22

Matthew 22 has Jesus in Jerusalem teaching crowds and answering difficult questions. His days are numbered, and He is spending His last few days making sure there is no doubt as to what He is doing. In this chapter, we see Him warn the Jewish people in the crowds that their "chosenness" is no guarantee of their goodness. He again makes it clear that the celebration of God's Kingdom is open to more people than they can imagine. 

One of the questions He is asked has to do with allegiance to the Roman Empire. It was a popular form of civil disobedience in those days to withhold taxes, and many people were divided as to what they should do. Most people in Jerusalem were tired of being ruled by Rome. They believed they were God's chosen people, and that one day God would deliver them in glorious victory over Rome. That was what the Messiah was supposed to do, according to them. Having never lived under occupation, I can't really pretend to know what that feels like. I can understand the frustration of giving money to an occupying force that seemingly keeps its boot on your neck.

Do you have a debt to Caesar?

The thing is, the people asking Jesus this question really didn't hate Rome as much as they pretended. They benefitted from the system Rome put in place. They benefitted from the social order, the class system, and the economic growth Rome brought. The Pharisees were protected by Rome, and allowed to exploit the people by Rome. Sure, they wanted a Messiah to come overthrow Rome, but only on their terms. 

When Jesus asks for a coin, it doesn't take long for one of them to produce one. They are deeply immersed in the economy of the State. They have a debt to Caesar because they love the comfort he provides them. We do the same thing today. We call it patriotism, but often it is more like idolatry. Jesus' answer plainly says to pay your debt. If you have a debt you've incurred to the State, you are going to need to pay it. If you have decided to be a part of the world's system, you are responsible for that decision. If you want to live in the Kingdom of the Christ, you have to give yourself to God instead. 

Do you have a debt to Caesar?

Right now, my home country is in the middle of an extremely embarrassing election cycle. I can see on my facebook news feed people who are rendering themselves to Caesar. People caught up in service of the comfort the State provides them are pledging allegiance to whatever candidate will best serve those interests. 

We have to be able to separate what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God. We need clarity, and we need to be devoted to the Kingdom of Love. 

Monday, February 22, 2016

Daily Devotional: February 22

The Purification of the Temple, Jacopo Bassano, 16th Century

Week 5, Day 1, The Gospel According to Matthew, Chapter 21

The cleansing of the Temple is easily one of the weirdest passages of the Gospel. Oftentimes it is misused by people trying to justify their own lust for violence. It is very rarely understood for what it is. Jesus' Guerrilla Interactive Theater Piece. 

Over the centuries, God's prophets had done crazy or dramatic things to draw attention to themselves and their messages. Jesus is aligning Himself squarely in this tradition. He is showing His place in the timeline of prophets bringing the Truth of God to the people of God. In Matthew's depiction of this event, Jesus turns a few tables over and then begins healing people and ministering to the needs of the people around Him.

Hosanna, save us from ourselves

If money can be made off of something, someone will find a way to make money off of it. That is one of the oldest rules of our species. In the case of the first century Temple of Jerusalem, the sacrificial system--a system that kept the people worried they were out of sorts with God--presented an opportunity to make a few people extremely wealthy. As people became convinced they needed to do more, buy more, give more, sacrifice more in order to keep God happy with them, they were met with open arms by people willing to take their money. It isn't hard to see the parallels in our culture today. So many people are still convinced by religious leaders that they aren't good enough, and if they just gave a bit more or did a bit more, Jesus will be happy.

Hosanna, save us from ourselves

Any system that keeps some people extremely wealthy and others extremely poor is the antithesis of the message of unconditional Love. Tables need to be turned in our society, in our hearts, and in our lives. We need to turn over the tables that keep people convinced they are worse than others. We need to turn over the tables that block anyone from the feeling of Love and acceptance offered by Christ. Jesus shows us that sometimes the Gospel looks less like KLove and more like Rage Against the Machine. 

Jesus turns the tables over, then begins ministering to the people there, because He had just removed anything that stood in the way of experiencing the healing Presence of God. We can't be effective followers of Jesus without calling out inequality, breaking down walls, and turning over societal tables of an unjust culture. 

We cry Hosanna today, acknowledging our need for a Savior, and asking for deliverance from a culture of greed. 

Friday, February 19, 2016

Daily Devotional: February 19

Parable of Workers in the Vineyard, Rembrandt, 1637
Week 4, Day 5, The Gospel According to Matthew. Chapter 20

This Parable cuts me to the core of my Western Christian heart. In Matthew 20, there are great stories. We see the mother's request, Christ predicting His death, and even two men being healed from blindness. The parable of the workers in the vineyard leads the chapter and is one of the great examples of Christ explaining His new kingdom and how different it is from what we might want.

We have a strong sense of fairness. We want those who do good to get good things and those who do evil to get bad things. We want some sort of justice to rule the day, and appoint ourselves as judges and juries in our own lives. The idea of karma comes from this deep feeling that somehow justice will prevail and we will get a reward for the good things we have done. Most of the time, we really just want to be proven to be better people than our neighbors. 

Are you envious because He is generous?

The thing about unconditional love is that it's unconditional. It doesn't matter how long you've followed God or how many times you've been to church, it's the same love. It doesn't matter if you become aware of Christ's love as a six year-old or a sixty year-old, it's the same love. Some of us, who have been doing the church thing our whole lives, want this to not be the case, if we are honest. We want to be treated better because of our years of service. We want karma. 

In this story, Jesus shows us the generous heart of God. All who come, no matter when they come, will be given the same amount. There is no karma. We all get love, we all get acceptance, we all get Grace and that is what makes it amazing. No matter who I am or what I have done or am doing, God's Grace covers me. The idea of karma flies at the face of the generous Master who wants to give to everyone who labors on the earth. 

Are you envious because He is generous?

The example of the Master in the story is one all of us who have bank accounts that aren't overdrawn should heed. He gives generously, regardless of whether someone "deserves" it. This idea wouldn't win many elections, but Jesus isn't trying to be the President--He is already the king. Jesus is advocating for a sort of justice that affirms the inherent equality of all humanity. Nothing we do robs us of our humanity, or makes us less worthy than anyone else. 

For those of us who aren't perfect, this is such good news. We are loved and accepted and found worthy of an inheritance. For those who think they deserve more than others, this is a cautionary tale. We should not be envious because He is generous to all. We get the same infinite Love and Grace and Mercy as everyone else! Our lives should be marked with gratitude. 

Spend time today asking for eyes to see everyone as worthy of the Love you have been given.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Daily Devotional: February 18

Papyrus manuscript of a section from Matthew 19, 350 AD. 
Week 4, Day 4, The Gospel According to Matthew, Chapter 19

To be honest, I have read this passage of scripture so many times that I have a tendency to breeze over sections of it without absorbing all of it. Today I had to slow down and chew on several words I hadn't wrestled with before. I hope this walk through the Gospel of Matthew is allowing you time to do the same. Slow down when you read Jesus' words, they are important. 

Jesus is approached by an important young man. Some translations call him a "rich young ruler" and some a "rich young man," but it is obvious the people in the crowd would have thought this person was important. The young man asks Jesus "What good things must I do to get eternal life?"

Why do you ask me about what is good?

Jesus' answer is confusing. The more I thought about it this morning, the more I see myself in the face of the young man. When we think about God in polarities "good vs. bad," then we are quick to desire to do the good things we think will please God. The more we retreat into tribalism, the more we seek to "do good" and surround ourselves with others who "do good" all for the desire to be loved by God--and to separate ourselves from those who aren't--the more we miss the point. 

The young man's motivation was to please a god he had created who needed him to follow a list of rules, to be better than others, and to constantly strive to keep the god's favor. His view of God was too small and Jesus used him as an example.  Jesus' question points to the motivation of the young man.

Why do you ask me about what is good?

Jesus gives the man what he wanted. He tells him a further list of things to do, things the young man will never be able to do. None of us can accomplish that list. It's hard for a rich person to do this because they have a high desire to accomplish, to gain, to "earn." The God Jesus shows us cares so little about how well we accomplish, gain, or earn anything that it is rendered useless in light of His Grace. 

There is only One who is good, and He loves unconditionally. No matter what. No matter how hard you work, or how much money you make, or who your dad knows. This is madness to those of us who come from a culture of work, earning, and success. We define things by how well they are made. We define ourselves by how well we do our jobs. We want to accomplish a task and then conquer the next one.

Why do you ask me about what is good?

In the ocean of Grace (an ocean that engulfs everything) there is no room for tiny islands of earnings. God's Grace is in every blade of grass we see touched by the sun! Until we understand our effort has nothing to do with our acceptance by God the Merciful, we will never be able to follow Jesus. 

Give up. Spend a moment giving up. Surrender because you'll never do enough on your own. Pray to understand how much you are loved unconditionally. Kill the polarities in your view of God and accept the unconditional love of a Father. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Daily Devotional: February 17

Week 4, Day 3, The Gospel According to Matthew, Chapter 18

There was a tradition among some Rabbis in the first century to limit the number of times one should forgive someone for the same offense. Some said three, some said four, some said five times. In today's reading from Matthew, we see Jesus take a completely different approach. As is His custom, Jesus uses a story to illustrate His point. 

Jesus tells His disciples they should forgive someone who wrongs them up to seventy-times-seven times. This was an expression that meant "over and over again." Jesus is proposing unlimited forgiveness. He is showing the heart of God to the disciples. 

Over and over 

If forgiveness is limited, then our grace towards someone who wrongs us is allowed to run dry. In the Kingdom God is ushering into the world through Christ's life, Grace is never running dry. We are to forgive without limit, with no strings attached, because that's the way we have been forgiven.

Over and over

In the parable of the unmerciful servant, Jesus tells our story. A man, having been forgiven an enormous debt by the king, leaves the throne-room and immediately holds another person to the standard from which he had just been released. He probably thought the king's brand of forgiveness wasn't "practical," or "real-world," enough for him. We often say we believe in Jesus up to the point of actually doing the things He says to do. 

Over and over

You've been forgiven, and you will be forgiven. No matter what you have done, no matter what you will do, the One you're hurting is forgiving you. Grace never runs out. Never. No matter what you think, say, or do, it is forgiven. Becoming aware of this should make us change. Becoming aware of our forgiven nature should lead us to pass the kindness we have been freely given to others. It feels good to be forgiven, and we should strive to give that gift to others. 

Sit in the knowledge of your forgiveness for a moment. Praise the fact you've been forgiven over and over and over. Let it make you a gracious person today. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Daily Devotional: February 16

Tranfiguration of Christ, Raphael, 1520
I've never been transfigured. Just to get that out of the way. I've never had myself split into two other representations of my self and then appear to others. However, I have been in the presence of God during intense times of prayer or worship. I have felt the Spirit move over me and rest as I felt a warmth and peace I couldn't describe.

I know what it is like feel intense joy in the presence of God. A joy like that is indescribable and when you are there you just want to stay there forever. Often these times are with my fellow believers, during corporate worship. Unfortunately, not every church service can usher people into that type of ecstatic state.

Can we just stay here?

When this happens. When you are you completely removed from your self, completely centered on an Object of true beauty, and completely unaware of the stresses of life, you don't want that moment to end. It is a sacred, holy moment. It is a fleeting glimpse of heaven and unfiltered love available to you in a moment. It is drinking from the fire hydrant of Grace. There is no where else you would rather be.

Can we just stay here?

In this story from Matthew 18, two disciples are taken from the normal world and thrust into the presence of Christ's glory. It is the first true taste of this glory these men have ever had. At this moment, Peter speaks for all of us who have ever been transported to an experience of pure worship. He doesn't want to go back to wandering around and hearing people tell Jesus either to heal them or that Jesus is a heretic. Peter just wants to stay on this mountain forever.

Jesus tells them to get up, and then He begins to walk down the mountain. Jesus understands that these times of worship aren't for us. They are to revive us, to re-energize us, to center us so that we can then come down off the mountain and get to work.

Can we just stay here?

In many liturgical church services, the pastor or leader will end the meeting by saying some version of "our worship has ended, let our service begin," because this is an ancient truth. We exist to do good things for others. We are fed by the Spirit to pour ourselves out for other people outside the walls of an organized church.

Thank God for the brief moments in which He makes Himself known to you. Pray for more of those moments. Be mindful of how they provide you with the tools to help others.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Daily Devotional: February 15

7th Century icon of St. Peter

Week 4, Day 1, The Gospel According to Matthew, Chapter 16

Life isn't very straightforward, and neither are most of us. We do things all the time that contradict things we have done or said previously. We do things that we know are stupid, or wrong, or harmful so often that we have whole schools of philosophy devoted to figuring out why. I find comfort in reading that the giants of our faith were the same way.

If you were making up a religion, it would be really easy to paint the founders of the religion to be perfect. People want to follow people who seem to have it all together, but we don't see the writers of the Gospels doing that at all. In fact, in today's reading, the disciples seem to forget that they just saw Jesus do two miracles providing food to hungry people. When we are hungry, or stressed, or at the end of our ropes, it is difficult to remember our identity as beloved. It is even harder to remember Jesus' identity. 

Who do YOU say that I am?

An example of the disciples being flawed is found in what's known now as "the confession of St. Peter" in chapter 16. Jesus is asking His followers about who the crowds think they are coming to see. No one really knew what to make of Jesus. He was so different from their conception of Messiah or savior that they didn't know what box was His. Jesus listens to the disciples deliver the gossip and then asks a pointed question.

Who do YOU say that I am?

Peter answered and his answer is viewed as one of the most important moments in the history of the Church. He answered that Jesus was Christ, the Son of God, the Messiah. Jesus responds by affirming Peter's answer, and declaring it to be the rock on which the entire Church would be built. He also proclaims that only God can reveal that fact to a man. 

It's our allowance of Jesus to convince us of who He is that gives us life. Our identity is beloved, our identity is children of God. Our identity is reconciled. God reveals to us our identity constantly, we just have to believe Him. We have to believe what Peter says. 

Peter then is called Satan by Jesus a paragraph later. He still didn't understand what a Messiah was going to do. He confessed that Jesus was the Christ, but didn't really let the gravity of that statement sink in. Jesus isn't saying Peter is literally Satan, but is showing that setting our minds on what we want to be true instead of what is being revealed to us by God is against God. If we look for the culture of the West to give us our identity, then all we have to live for is our bank accounts. What does it profit us to gain the whole world and lose our soul, lose our identity?

Spend time asking Jesus "Who do YOU say that I am?" and then allow Him to ask you the same question.

Who do YOU say that I am?

Friday, February 12, 2016

Daily Devotional: February 12

Pieter Bruegel the Elder - The Parable of the Blind Leading the Blind

Week 3, Day 5, The Gospel According to Matthew, Chapter 15

The story at the beginning of Matthew 15 is an important lesson for everyone who considers herself or himself religious. The Pharisees, like us, have a tendency to define themselves by what they don't do. In this case, they are calling out the disciples for not following the rules as they have interpreted them. Jesus immediately calls the Pharisees out for the way they interpret a different rule, showing that no one is perfect if the standard of perfection is someone else's understanding of the rules. The rules, to Jesus, are only useful as far as they demonstrate the heart of the person following them. They are not to be lorded over people.

Does your heart match your mouth?

To Jesus, why we do something is more important than if we do it. If we truly follow Christ's movement in the world, we will see church attendance as no more a metric of spiritual health than eye color. The ability to take account of our hearts, to see what actually festers and spoils within them is the most important outcome of spiritual disciplines. Lent, prayer, fasting, solitude, silence, meditation, and prayer are all ways we take inventory of what is in our hearts. We can't lead people to Jesus if our hearts are wanting something else. We will be like the blind leading the blind into a pit: unable to see the Light of life.

Does your heart match your mouth?

The ability to see is a trope of Jesus' teaching. He is often getting on to the Pharisees for being unable to see, he admonishes the entire generation for being blind, and he often asks that "He who has eyes to see let him see." Jesus is pointing us to the awareness, the enlightenment, that comes with observing His movement in the world. The more you look for Christ on earth, the more you will see Him. The more you take account of your heart, the cleaner you will find it. In Matthew 6, Jesus says id your eye is clean, your whole body will be clean. Here he says if your heart is clean and if your mouth is clean, you will be clean.Your eye is your ability to find what you are looking for. 

Does your heart match your mouth?

Are we able to point people to the Christ that is already all around them? Do we see Him? Are we too busy requiring people to fit into our interpretation of what a 'Christian' is to see how Christ is already moving in them? Do we take account of our hearts on a daily basis?

Try to see what is in your heart. Ask God to remind you of the things that are inside of you.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Daily Devotional: February 11

Week 3, Day 4, The Gospel According to Matthew, Chapter 14

In Matthew's account of the death of John the Baptist, he mentions how Jesus reacted when He heard what happened. I think this is interesting because it again affirms a fact about Jesus commonly forgotten by our churches: Jesus was a man.

We affirm the divine nature of Jesus, but have a tendency to neglect His humanity. Jesus experienced all the emotions and desires and feelings of a human person, and in this story we see him react to the loss of a loved one. Jesus withdrew to a quiet place, to collect Himself, but when He got there, crowds were already waiting on Him.

How do you respond to stress?

In this story, Jesus hears terrible news and then tries to spend time alone to process this news, but is interuppted by a crowd demanding signs. He performs for them, and then feeds them miraculous food, before he can finally go up on a mountanside to pray. From verse 13 to 22, Jesus is trying to get away to spend time with His father, but He still finds time to minister to people in front of Him.

It is extremely easy to lash out at people when we are stressed. I am guilty of that, admittedly. I bottle up stress in ways that make me explode on people who have nothing to do with the situation. Grief is a heavy stress. It weighs you down, tires you out, and drains you unlike anything else. It would be very easy to excuse yourself if you mistreat someone while grieving.

How do you respond to stress?

Jesus, being a human, is our constant example of humanity. He understood that to process His grief for the death of His friend, he needed to be alone in a solitary place. However, He was still aware of the needs of others. When we grieve, it is easy to rank our pain as higher than everyone else's, and to dismiss their pain. Jesus, our example, is able to identify further with pain through His own, not in spite of it.

Allow yourself to find what you need to be whole. Is it a creative outlet? A good book? We all recharge in different ways, and we need to be aware of those ways. We also need to be able to submit ourselves to the needs of others for a time. Spend time finding your center, allowing yourself to feel the Presence.  

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Daily Devotional: February 10 (First Day of Lenten Season)

Week 3, Day 3, The Gospel According to Matthew, Chapter 13

It wasn't intentional that today's meditation falls on the first day of Lent. However, this is a perfect passage with which to begin the Lenten season. In this chapter, Matthew arranges a group of Jesus' parables in which Christ tries to explain the unique nature of this new Kingdom. One of my favorites in this section is the Parable of the Mustard Seed. 

Do my ears hear, Do my eyes see?

Mustard seeds are small, seemingly insignificant, but after one is buried in the ground it grows into a large, almost intrusive plant. It doesn't take much work to make it grow, but it will be very difficult to remove once it is grown.

Your life might seem insignificant. It might seem as if you can't make any difference to anyone. It might seem like you are alone and disconnected from the other 7 billion people on the planet. However, one of the mysteries of Jesus' message is that you are extremely significant. Your life, when you no longer cherish it, is able to become something in which others find refuge. You can be someone of importance by burying yourself and allowing a new creation to grow. 

Do my ears hear, Do my eyes see?

The great mystery of Christ is Grace. When we realize that Grace is all around us and everything is consumed by it, we understand the significance our insignificance can have. Every person you pass on the street or in the car or in the supermarket has been inundated with Grace upon Grace, they just may not know it. 

Grace causes our seed to grow. Grace changes this life into one of extreme importance. When we allow the Grace that is already there to shine through us, it doesn't take much to change the world in which we live. 

Spend time in meditation on your need to see Grace all around you today. As we remember the sacrifice of Christ, never stop rejoicing in Mercy.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Daily Devotional: February 9

Week 3, Day 2, The Gospel According to Matthew, Chapter 12

The Pharisees get a really bad rap. It always amuses me how many pastors and writers will paint the Pharisees as this evil group of men who hated Jesus' message of love and forgiveness. What they miss is how similar they are, how similar I am, to the Pharisees. How hung up do we get about the way other people experience God?

How big is your God-box?

The Pharisees were a group of religious teachers in the first century. They basically made sure everyone was following the rules as they interpreted them. Imagine if there was someone who told you the way you had to experience God's presence. Imagine thinking you had the right to tell someone they were doing "faith" incorrectly. Don't we do that all the time? Aren't all of us guilty at one time or another of thinking we have it figured out? Denominations, sects, religious orders all exist because people can't agree on what rules to follow and how to follow them.

How big is your God -box?

Jesus confronts the idea of rule-following for the sake of the rules. He does this throughout His ministry. There is no reason to go through the motions of faith. Jesus consistently affirms that people are more important than rules or theory. If your church has great theology and amazing worship and a pastor that has it all together, but the community it is in is suffering in inequality, disunity, and poverty, then Jesus doesn't care what your church thinks about atonement.  Likewise, if you are quick to judge what another faith community is doing because they disagree with your theories about how to best do religion, you're missing the point of Jesus. 

How big is your God-box?

When Jesus heals the man with the withered hand, the Pharisees were blown away. They had to come up with the idea that Christ was using demonic powers to heal people because their God-box didn't allow for healing to happen on the Sabbath. Their religious rules were getting in the way of God. The Bible is a story of people having their minds blown by God over and over again. God's nature is revealed progressively through the entirety of Scripture until He decided to put on skin and show Himself to everyone. 

Take solace in not having all the answers today. Spend some time thanking God for His bigness and other-ness, and also for His nearness. 

Monday, February 8, 2016

Daily Devotional: February 8

Week 3, Day 1, The Gospel According to Matthew, Chapter 11

In today's reading John the Baptist is in prison. Jesus has been healing people and performing miraculous signs and proclaiming a radical new message of hope and love. However, John has been hearing about all of this from behind the walls of what can only be imagined as a dark, damp, filthy cell. This was not the life John had imagined would await him when Messiah came. He was the forerunner of the King of Kings, yet here he was sitting in chains. 

What if I am wrong?

Doubt is a marker of faith. Just because some times you are less sure of your beliefs than others, doesn't make them any less valid or true. It always makes me upset when spiritual leaders make it seem like having doubts somehow invalidated your faith or your "relationship with Jesus." If we aren't struggling with doubt, then we really aren't doing a very good job testing our faith. 

The man whom Jesus described as the greatest man ever born, John, struggled with doubting the entire reason he believed he was on earth. I can identify with John, and I think you can too. He had devoted everything to proclaiming that Jesus was Messiah, and was worried he may have made a huge mistake. He knew he was going to die in prison, so he sent his disciples to ask Jesus if John had been wrong about the whole thing. 

What if I am wrong?

Jesus assured the disciples of John that He was who John claimed. John hadn't made a mistake, he was just confused about what a Messiah would do. Jesus uses this opportunity to attack the people who are trying to fit Him or John into boxes. He references a children's game about flutes and dirges, and compares His generation to kids mad that no one will play along. Just because Jesus isn't the Messiah we want Him to be, doesn't make Him any less the Messiah we need. 

Allow your doubts to stretch the box in which you keep Jesus. Our boxes will never contain the Infinitely Possible One. Pray for the ability to deconstruct your faith on a consistent basis, only holding on to the things Jesus shows you to be essentials. Be brave. 

Friday, February 5, 2016

Daily Devotional:February 5

Week 2, Day 5, The Gospel According to Matthew, Chapter 10

Today's reading is the first instance in which the 12 disciples, Jesus' closest followers, are named. In this story, we see Jesus sending them out to the cities in the region to basically inform people of the teachings and presence of Jesus among them. In this first story of Christ interacting specifically with his closest friends, we see a phrase being used that I think still has tremendous weight in today's world. 

Don't fear, you're more valuable than many sparrows.

Fear is a good instinct and terrible master. It keeps us alive when we listen to it, but it can also cripple our ability to be compassionate when we are mastered by it. We live in a time where people are motivated by fear. The fear that the world they know is changing or that the lifestyle they enjoy might be threatened is causing otherwise sane people to act in ways they would have been embarrassed of 15 years ago. 

In the modern political climate, people prey upon the fears of the masses, painting the "other" as a villain and scapegoat. This is a dangerous path that leads only to death and destruction. In Jesus' day, the "other" was usually the people Jesus was accused of being around with too much. In every instance in which we see Jesus interacting with a marginalized or oppressed group, he never shows them anything but love. These are people many would have been afraid to befriend. 

Don't fear, you're more valuable than many sparrows.

What are we actually afraid of?  That we will be killed? I think that fear speaks more to a lack of faith in what we claim to believe than anything else. Are we afraid we will be disliked? The fear of what other people will say is rooted in our desire to be valued. We want our friends and colleagues to like us. 

Jesus told his disciples not to fear, because of their value. God values you. He loves you enough to give you a love that drives away fear. You're worth a lot to Him. 

Spend time thanking God for valuing you. 

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Daily Devotional: February 4

Week 2, Day 4, The Gospel According to Matthew, Chapter 9

Chapter Nine picks up where eight left off--more tales of Jesus performing miraculous signs. Matthew also includes in this chapter the story of his own acceptance of Christ's offer. Each story in chapter nine hangs on the faith of one or more people. Personal faith seems to be the catalyst for the movement of the Spirit in these stories. Personal faith is the thing that makes it all happen.

Do you believe I am able to do this?

In this chapter we see the amazing story of the friends whose faith provided their paralyzed friend an opportunity to be healed. We see the blind men asking for mercy and healing, and being given both. We see Jesus heal all the people whose faith made it possible.

Do you believe I am able to do this?

We also see Christ "moved with compassion" for the crowds. That phrase in English isn't quite right. The Greek phrase being translated there (σπλαγχνίζομαι or splagchnizomai) is more closer to "His stomach turned with compassion." He hurt for people deep in the bottom of His gut. He loved people with everything He had.

Do you believe I am able to do this?

Jesus acted out of this splagchnizomai. His every move came from this unique compassion He felt towards people. How often do we have our stomach turned with compassion? How often do we allow ourselves to feel a level of connection with the downtrodden people around us that it makes us sick to think of how mistreated they are? How much faith do we have that God is able do something about the injustice in our world.

Do you believe I am able to do this?

Spend time praying as Jesus asked His followers to pray at the end of chapter 8.

Send out workers into the harvest.
Send out workers.
Send me out.
Yes, Lord. I believe you are able to do this.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Daily Devotional: February 3

Week 2, Day 3, The Gospel According to Matthew, Chapter 8

Matthew chapter eight tells five stories about miracles Jesus performed. They range from healing the sick to calming a storm, but all are meant to show Christ’s dominion over all things.

Tucked in between two of these stories is a super weird story about “the cost of following Jesus.” Christ is getting into a boat to cross to the other side of the lake, because the crowds on the shore were getting too big. A “teacher of the Law,” as my translation calls him, comes out of the crowd and approaches Jesus to ask if He can be a follower. This man would have been part of the societal elite in those days. He was part of the group who was always trying to find fault with Jesus—to discredit His teachings. This teacher of the law had caught wind of something new. He had recognized the reality in front of him. He took a step in front of the crowd and asked Jesus if he could be a part of this new thing. 

Foxes have holes, I don't.

Following Jesus isn't like following other teachers. While a follower of Christ exhibits stillness and treasures solitude and silence as disciplines for growing in communion with God, following Jesus is tough, continual motion. 

Foxes have holes, I don't

While there is work to do, Jesus is working. To follow Him means complete devotion to this lifestyle. The teacher of the law probably didn't want to leave his job, home, and family and become a homeless follower of Jesus. 

Foxes have holes, I dont

Love of the world, of possessions, of status, is a love of the false promise of comfort. The foxholes of fabricated ease and comfort are difficult to dig ourselves out of, but once we do, we see home is found in the continual motion of following.

Spend some time searching your heart for foxholes. Where do you retreat to? Are you really willing to give it all up?

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Daily Devotional: February 2

Week 2, Day 2 The Gospel According to Matthew, Chapter 7

We have heard all of these verses before. The ideas of not judging, of seeking the Kingdom first, and of building a house on the rock are now over 2000 years old. Sometimes it is in our best interest to try to forget that we have heard all this before. Try to put yourself in the position of the first hearers of this message. The eye-witnesses to the Sermon on the Mount would have been standing wide-eyed and slack-jawed and some of these concepts. They are so counter-cultural to the 1st century and they are still counter-cultural in the 21st.

Is your eye clean?

We are still a quick-to-judge society. If you don't believe me, you must not be on twitter. There isn't much grace for people who make mistakes in the public eye. We are waiting for people to mess up and then we can pounce on them, making them look bad and ourselves look better. 

Jesus' admonition that we avoid judging others in order to keep ourselves from judgement holds true in the world of public falls from grace. Those who are viewed as judgemental have a much more difficult time when they make a mistake. They are the ones the masses love to rip into pieces. The best plan is to not be viewed as judgemental in the first place.

Is your eye clean?

The ability to keep asking, seeking, and knocking also relies on the ability to stop judging other people. We are so worried about what other people are doing, and whether they are being "adequately" punished for what we think is wrong. How much energy is wasted worrying about other people's sin? Other people's problems? How much better could we seek God if we worried only about how well we are seeking God?

Too often I will focus on someone else's problem or what someone else is doing wrong because it distracts me from having to clean up messes in my own life.

Spend some time in silence. Ask God to show you where you have been quick to focus on someone else's problems. Ask God to show you your problems.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Daily Devotional: February 1

Week Two, Day One, The Gospel According to Matthew, Chapter Six

I could do an entire month of meditations on Matthew six, it's that rich. It contains the Lord's Prayer, probably the most well known section of scripture in the Gospels, and I am not even focusing on that passage today. In this sermon, Jesus is laying bare the ethos of the Kingdom He is bringing onto earth--telling us what type of person is going to be created in this new world. 

How can your life be simplified?

The most amazing mornings in my life are spent with a cup of warm coffee and people I love. Stressful mornings, when I have to rush out the door and sprint to the train and gulp too-hot-coffee are unwelcome parts of my life. Stress makes our bodies react in terrible ways. It destroys relationships, makes us fat, and ruins otherwise beautiful mornings. 

Jesus' message at the end of chapter about worry continues to hit home for me. It is the section of the Bible I have read the most in the past year and I continue to be amazed by it. Don't worry about your clothes, your food, or your life. That is an important message for us 21st century Westerners, but imagine Christ's first audience. Their next meal wasn't as guaranteed as ours. They likely only had one set of good clothes. They have every right to be worried about their lives, and Jesus is telling them not to worry about anything. 

How can your life be simplified?

The more we worry, the more we will be overcome with desire for the things we don't have. The more we worry about food and clothes, the more money will become our master. The more we worry about our lives, the more we will seek recognition from other people. Worry is the source of these problems, and the source of worry is a lack of contentment.

Simplifying life involves slowing down, removing the unnecessary things from our lives, and ending the competition for who can be busiest. It is a radical change in behavior for so many of us. It involves relentless trust in provision that comes from outside ourselves. It involves giving in to the idea that we don't spin the planet. 

Our phones don't hold the secret of life.

Our schedules don't make us.

Our happiness isn't found at warp speed.

Spend some time in silence. Repeat the verse "Sufficient for the day is its own trouble" slowly. Take two breaths to say it. 

Breathe in
"Sufficent for the day,"

Breathe out
"Is its own trouble."

About Drew

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A follower of Jesus, trying to build myself and others up from the inside out.