Outrage Us.

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When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened. –Matthew 28:31

As a vegetarian, I was thrilled when Burger King unveiled the Impossible Burger.  It’s so good, and tastes just like meat.

That is not what this devotion is about.  This is about the feeling I had when I went to get one this weekend, and was told that they were out.

I was outraged.  How hard can it be to keep their menu items in stock?  Why wasn’t the woman behind the counter more sympathetic with my plight?  You’ll be happy to know I didn’t dress her down–it wasn’t her fault, after all.

That wasn’t my only brush with outrage this week.  I have a news app on my phone that shows some 50 headlines from a variety of sources.  I scrolled down, reading about impeachment, racism, and another shooting.

Outrage, outrage, outrage.

In fact, most of the headlines activated some level of outrage in me, enough so that I began to wonder if outrage has become my most developed sense.  Not only me —  I see outrage everywhere I look.  I see it on the left and on the right.

I was kind of surprised to find the word “outrage”, or a form of it, popping up in scripture.  The best example, from Matthew, is a story Jesus tells about a debt-ridden man who begs for his freedom and is granted it.   Then, he promptly demands the repayment of someone who owes him, and shows no grace or patience.

Matthew says that the man’s fellow servants were “outraged” when they saw his hypocritical actions, and they told their master about it.  Things didn’t end well for him.

I get that outrage can  produce results, but it also presents a problem in today’s world.  We have SO MUCH outrage in our society, and can find justification for just about any of it, no matter what side of polarizing issues we may find yourself.  Is it healthy?

Is it God’s desire that you and I barrel through life fueled by righteous anger?  Is that the best humanity has to offer — a plague of complaining?  Is outrage the path that will lead us to God’s Kingdom?

I don’t know.  I don’t think so.  I don’t think this is the epitome of human development.  At the same time, there are lots of things in this world that seem offensive, immoral, even unconscionable.  How do we possibly deal with all that, especially when two people sitting together in the same pew can be outraged about opposite things?

Here are four thoughts that come to me:

  • Like the other servants in the story, we can bring our concerns to our Master, God, understanding that we may not be able to fix every problem in the world, but we are not alone.
  • Sometimes there are powerful reasons for feeling outrage.  Instead of just stewing in our angry juices, there is a time for marching, calling congress members, writing letters, and more.
  • There is a chance that our outrage only shows us half the story.  Listening and learning may confirm or deflate these strong emotions.
  • Perhaps the only way for polarized groups of people to find some common ground is to cultivate relationships with people who aren’t, on the surface, like us.

Outrage is a powerful emotion, but it’s also a seductive one.  If the only way we see much of the world is through rage-tinted glasses, we will miss out on the beautiful — albeit complex — creation God has gifted us. God can show us a better way.

After all, with God…

even an Impossible burger is still Possible.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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Listening To October

Today, one of my favorite songs.  Perfect for this week.

Press Play, and listen, with a few of my suggestions below.

  • Much of this song is instrumental.  The pictures above don’t really matter, but the music does.
  • As you listen, take a few deep breaths, and picture your concerns, your possessions, your obstacles as if they were leaves, falling down from a tree.
  •  Here are the lyrics Bono sings:
    • October

      And the trees are stripped bare

      Of all they wear

      What do I care?

      October

      And kingdoms rise

      And kingdoms fall

      But you go on and on

  • As the song concludes, remind yourself what (who) is most important and eternal in your life, and rededicate yourself to God through prayer.
  • Now go and have a glorious October.

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Wow.  I really needed that today.

U2?

Have a great week,

Mitch

 

Is It Okay To Be Content?

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12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.  –Philippians 4:12-13

I had one thing on my list yesterday afternoon. I had a precious 5 hours set aside to relax and be content.

And I just couldn’t do it.

There were too many big pressing issues taking up space in my brain.  Not enough professions of faith at my church this year. The future of my denomination. The constant creep of scary political times.  The busy week ahead.

Not only did I feel plagued by these issues and more, I started feeling like it would be irresponsible to push them aside.  There are, for me, some pretty serious issues on that list.  Big problems.  Disturbances in the Force.  Valid reasons for feeling discontent.

Maybe it was wrong for me to want to be content in the first place.  To take a big sigh and forget my problems for a while.  Maybe that was a mistake.

Maybe my role as a disciple is to carry my cross, shoulder my burdens, keeping my eyes on the prize of the Kingdom come.  As long as things are broken in this world, my job is to be discontent.  Or even a malcontent–fighting the man, even if that turns out to be me.

So, no bingeing on Netflix.  No Burger King Impossible Burger.  No Lazy Boy Recliner.  And NO peace of mind.

That is the dangerous path my brain was headed down.  So many Christians have chosen to live that way .  I didn’t fully rest.  I couldn’t relax.  I went to bed exhausted.

Today, I read the scripture above, from Philippians, where Paul talks about being content.  He has figured out the secret–so much so that he can feel at peace when life is producing either a bounty or a scarcity.

The key, it seems, is what gives you contentment.  Paul finds peace in good times and bad.  There is no earthly item on his list that can sway him–because his strength comes from God.  His ongoing connection with God is the most real thing in his life, and holding tightly to that allows him to be content, even when things on earth feel dicey.

I happen to know several times where Paul declares himself to be distressed, so it’s not like he’s unaffected by the problems he’s up against.  It must be that the hope and joy of a life in God simply matters more.

I wish I could go back and live those 5 hours of downtime over again.  I would have leaned on God more.  I would have rested in the sure and certain knowledge that God wants more for me than to fret without ceasing.  Perhaps praying without ceasing would have framed things better.

That kind of bingeing…

is even better than Netflix.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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Athazagoraphobia

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‘I know you by name and you have found favor with me.’  –Exodus 33:12b

I was listening to a podcast the other day, and Ted Danson was the guest being interviewed.  He mentioned about his struggle to remember people’s names, and how he has to “load-in” the names of people he’s about to see.

My first thought was, “Wow!  I have the same problem!”

My second thought was to laugh, realizing that the theme song for his most famous television show describes a place “where everybody knows your name.”

I desperately wish I could remember the name of every person in my church.  I envy people who can do it.  I would be so much more hospitable with second time visitors.  I would greet everybody at the door by name.  I would serve communion by name.  Every phone call, every committee meeting, I’d be throwing out names, left and right.

I’m not sure why I have such a problem, but I do.  Even with people I’ve known well for half a decade, sometimes the name just escapes me.

I looked on WebMD for some help.  They listed 36 conditions that contribute to the loss of names.  Naturally, I gravitated to the more severe ones:  Stroke, Alzheimer’s, Mad Cow Disease.

Probably not.

Then I thought, maybe I just have a phobia about it.  I looked it up:  It’s called Athazagoraphobia, the fear of forgetting or being forgotten.  Kind of funny that its name is something I will NEVER be able to remember!

Maybe I do have Althazha….Athazagrapi….nevermind.  Whatever you call it, I suppose it describes me.  Scared of forgetting people by name.

There are 35 times the NIV Bible uses the phrase “by name”.  Many are census listings in Numbers or Chronicles, or conversations between God and Moses in Exodus, but in Isaiah 43, God says this to God’s people:

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. –Isaiah 43:1b

God knows me.  By name.  Not just me.  Every person who walks through the doors of the church.  Every person who fears forgetting–or being forgotten. No need to fear.

That doesn’t allow me to abdicate my job to “load in” as many names as I can, but truth is, there are few places where “everybody knows your name”.  It’s just not the Norm. (Get it?) Names are tricky sometimes, slippery.  Some people are better at it than others.

But in God’s redeeming of our lives, we are known, by name.  God claims us. God knows us, and wants us to know God, too.

God is the master of name-knowing.  You and I are just apprentices.  Disciples.

So as we continue the hard work of getting to know those around us, we can rejoice that God has long been on the job.

For that, we must be eternally grateful…

So say it with me…

Cheers!

Mitch

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“You’re Wrong”

I wrote a post on the Mulvane Voice.

The Mulvane Voice is a Facebook page where people can comment on community happenings, invite people to events, but mostly, tell everybody if they find a stray dog.

Oh yeah…one more use of the Mulvane Voice:  To tell other people they’re wrong.

Someone will complain about something, somebody else will tell them their wrong, and complain about the other person’s complaining.  This goes back and forth several times, until a third person tells the other two that they’re both wrong, and lamenting how the message board has become one big place for telling others they’re wrong.

My post was an invitation to this year’s blessing of the animals.  We set up right next to the city pool on the evening when they have a special doggie swim.  Lots of people love the idea of thanking God for their precious puppies.  It’s a great time of outreach, and a lot of fun.

And I was looking forward to it, until somebody replied to the post to tell me I was wrong.  That animals have no souls.  They quoted Ecclesiastes 3:1, which says, “Who knows if the human spirit rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?”

And then, lots of people chimed in, on both sides.  The whole thing was a big mess until my wife diffused the whole thing by pointing out this was simply thanking God for our pets, and nothing more.

I think those words, “You’re wrong”, should be used sparingly. They are potent words, creating division, polarizing people, and staking a claim to the truth that might not be one’s to stake.

This online argument, about the presence or absence of a soul in animals reeks of an inner desire to be disagreeable.  Or to be right.  Really, isn’t that what we are saying when we claim “You’re wrong”?  We’re declaring ourselves to be right.  There may subjects and situations where that kind of confidence is warranted, but most of the time? Being right is just not that important.

Far more important is to be loving.  Remember this?

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  –1 Corinthians 13:4-5

Remember, Paul did not write these words for a marriage ceremony, but for a church community that had taken to seeing the “wrong” in each other.  Love here is not some gushy, uninformed sentiment.  It is a truth-focussed, other-centered declaration   A better way to act and behave.   It is a way that has slipped away from so much of our world.

I never give advice in these devotions, but I feel compelled to today:  When you are conversing with someone, in person, over the phone, even on a message board, avoid, as much and as long as possible those two words:  You’re wrong.  The moment’s flash of superiority they may gain you will so quickly be replaced by an empty void where love might have been.

As for me, I realized that if I could bless a bunch of strange dogs, I could struggle to offer a blessing for all us strange folks on the Mulvane Voice.  Call that what you will, but if you call it love…

you wouldn’t be wrong.
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My dog, Tom Petty, getting ready to help bless the animals.

 

 

That Chaos Moment

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In Exodus 14:14, Moses tells the Israelites:
“The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

And, then in the very next verse,

Exodus 14:15, God tells Moses this:
“Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on.” 

Ladies and Gentlemen, That Chaos Moment.  The moment when communication breaks down, and vision grows fuzzy.

It’s no wonder that God and Moses got their wires crossed.  Moses said, “God’s got this.  Be still.”  God said, “I’ve got this.  Keep moving!”  For a moment there, the communication lines between God, Moses, and the Hebrews were about as shaky as it gets.

We give the Hebrews a lot of grief for being whiney and complaining but, you know, none of them had ever done this before.  Crossing the red sea?  Chariots chasing them?  This was all chaos to them.

We would probably be smart to recognize that such a moment can happen to churches, too, especially ones moving into uncharted territory.  The pastor or church leadership may have one direction in mind, the people may be impatient or uncertain, and God may be desperately trying to move the church in yet another direction.

That Chaos Moment may be necessary, and not nearly as scary as it sounds.  God’s advice is rarely wrong, of course.  We just need to heed God’s call to “keep moving”–to step boldly into the uncertain.   That doesn’t mean our Moses-types are necessarily wrong, encouraging the “stillness” of discernment.  It is, after all, a sure way to reacquire God’s signal and direction.

And as for the impatient, even complaining person in the pew?  They can be a potent reminder that the vision must be shared amongst everyone.  Of course, even the best communicated vision can fail to bring along all the stragglers, but when the core people reengage with God and church leaders, there’s no barrier that cannot be crossed over.  Or through.

That Chaos Moment can hit any church, any time, but especially the church that’s charted a course towards a spiritual unknown.   It takes faith to pass through the waters of chaos and see the dry land of the very next moment…

Here it comes…

That Liberation Moment.

Have a Great Week,

Mitch

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Despite Your Best Efforts

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Not your best week.

You walked 10,000 steps a day, and ate salads at lunch, and stepped on the scale.
You gained 2 lbs.

You spoke your mind, and wrote your senators, and finally did something.
The other side won.

You practiced patience.  You listened, and tried to comfort.  You nurtured, even.
But your teenager is locked in their bedroom, pouting.

You went to 2 meetings.  You met with your sponsor.  You prayed.
Yet here you are, sitting at the bar, a drink in your hand.
At what point in time do you just throw in the towel?  There’s nothing more demoralizing than working really hard for something, only to be greeted by failure.  We’re conditioned to believe that our best efforts will always be rewarded, that success comes to those who earn it.  When that doesn’t happen, it’s as if the world has stopped functioning properly.  We begin to question God’s plans.

11For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. –Jeremiah 9:11

After all, why wouldn’t God want us to be successful?  Why wouldn’t God reward our hard work?  Why wouldn’t God’s plans match up perfectly with the responsible, healthy plans we make for ourselves? Actually…

When I think of God’s plans for us, I don’t think of God charting out our weight loss or even our alcohol consumption.  God’s plans, to me, are played out at more of a cosmic level.  Plans for our souls to flourish, plans for us to be adopted as children of God.  Plans to prosper us with long-term benefits like hope and a future that spreads into eternity.

And so, while God is always present and gently nudging us with Grace, I see the work of our daily lives as our work.  God provides a space for that to happen, called free will.

That means, some days our best efforts will yield us a bounty, and somedays we’ll fall flat on our face.  This is more of a gift than we realize, because the uncertain nature of our lives is what helps us grow.  Think on this:  We cannot always count on life to be fair.  Instead, God offers a lifeline– a future, with hope.

A tomorrow that allows today to be what it will be.

Have a great week,

Mitch

 

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