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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Petrichor

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We are given no signs from God;
no prophets are left,
and none of us knows how long this will be.  –Psalm 74:9

How long has it been since your last experience of Petrichor?

Petrichor is, essentially, the smell of rain.  It’s a combination of bacteria being released from dry ground, and the smell of ozone, and the oil from certain dry plants.(Wikipedia)

It’s a wonderful, fresh scent.  The scent of new beginnings.  Starting over.  Purity.

The scent of God-presence.

I love that scent, and I’m happy to say that we’ve had so much water this spring, here in South Central Kansas, that I’ve smelled Petrichor on a number of occasions.

But I’ve had my dry spells.  Long, spiritually barren spans when hope wasn’t to be found, and emptiness was punctuated by parched coughing spells. I’ve had moistureless nights when it seemed everyone around me was lost, too.   No signs.  No prophets.  No scents.

I’ve tried seeding clouds with my tears, to no avail.  I’ve tried dancing and chanting and praying, and still the dry spell continued.  And then…

Petrichor.  Named after combining the Greek words for “rock”, and the “fluid” that runs through the veins of the Gods. (Wikipedia)  It reminds me of God in the dessert, saying…

I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.”  –Exodus 17:6a

None of the Israelites mention any fragrance that accompanied that miracle.  Perhaps they were too thirsty to pay attention. I wonder, did the water God sent smell like Petrichor?  I like to think so.  I think God sends Petrichor in remarkable and commonplace settings, in great floods and bare sprinkles.

And sometimes, yes, God even sends the agonizing dry spell. Why? Is it to test us and torture us with dust and heat?  Or is this all part of the natural rhythms of God’s created systems?  Water follows dust, wet follows dry.  I tend to think of Petrichor as no more possible to predict than any of God’s other rhythms.

We’re moving into the dry months, I know.  I will try to find God in the wilderness, in the dust.  But somedays, as an act of hope, I plan to raise my head towards the sky, and sniff, and declare the thrill of my createdness:

Hallelujah, it smells like rain.

 

Have a great week,

Mitch

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Love The Children Now

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Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.  –Jesus Christ

I don’t have a solution,
But something is amiss,
The problem is appalling
And I can tell you this:

I wouldn’t want to spend my nights,
Upon a concrete floor,
Or caring for a toddler,
I’d never met before.

I wouldn’t want the same three meals
each day for many weeks
Without a way to brush my teeth
Or wash my dirty cheeks.

I wouldn’t want to be apart
from family so long.
To be an innocent, a child.
Who has done nothing wrong.

Forget the funding battles,
Forget building the wall,
We must not be a stumbling block
to children, young and small

Each side, entrenched, the battle waged
The fix? I don’t know how,
but surely Christ would call a truce,
And love the children now.

Mitch

 

#&!%$

swear-jar

36 But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. 37 For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” –Matthew 12:36-37

“I’m sorry,” Saint Peter said, “but it’s judgement time.”  He stood at the counter, there in the clouds, and flipped open a giant book.

The blood ran from my face.

“Really?”  I asked.  “Can I quiz out or something? I was a pastor…”

“Pastors?”  He rolled his eyes.  “Always the worst.”  He pointed at the sign behind him.  “Okay. We start with your words. See where it says ‘every empty word’?”  He looked at the scripture and then me with an amused expression on his face.  “Do you know that your average twenty-minute sermon,” he checked his books, “could have been reduced to six minutes of actual substance?  Six!”

“Well I try to –”

“I know, I know.” He waved a hand.  “You all try.  Not every sermon can bring thousands to the faith.”  He scanned down the page and frowned.  “But what about all these other empty words?”

“What other words?”  I put my sweaty hands on the marble counter.  Behind Peter, I could see the pearly gates.

“Oh, let’s see.” He said in a sing song voice.  “I count,” he punched some numbers into a calculator, “6710 uses of the ‘F’-word.”

“What?” I exploded.  “That can’t be possible–”

“As for the ‘S’-word”, Peter ignored me, eyes growing wide, “11422.  Impressive!”  I looked down.

“I’m sure most of those were in college,” I weakly mumbled.

“And here’s a big one,” Peter continued, “The number of uses of “G-D…” He tapped a moment, and looked across at me.  “33.”  He nodded.  “I see you set some boundaries for yourself.”

“Yessir,” I stammered.  “That one always seemed really disrespectful.”

“Well they’re all disrespectful to an extent.  Simply throwing out empty words, or weighty words like G-D or the “N” word can run the range of cheapening a conversation to actually conveying hate and evil.”  He whispered, “God’s not a fan of any of it.”

“I’m sorry.” I said, feeling the clouds closing in.

“Oh, don’t worry,” Peter smiled.  “Jesus’ death and resurrection wasn’t just to forgive us our actions, but our words as well.”  He closed his book.  “And as it turns out, it’s not your time yet.  You get to go back.”

“I, what?” I was thrilled, but also disappointed to be this close to Heaven and not get to go in.

“And Mitch?” Peter looked right at me.  “Watch your mouth.”

I woke up in my own bed, glad to be alive.  Can I tell you that I’ve never muttered a curse word since?

Of course,

it’s only been 7 minutes.

Have a great week,

Mitch

no-profanity


BAREFOOT!  A collection of my favorite devotions from over the years, complete with study questions.  Perfect for individual reflection or group discussion.  Get yours on Amazon!

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Four Blessings

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Recognize this?

“I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”  Genesis 12:2-3

This is God’s call of Abram, long before their famous covenant is made.  It’s just the beginning of their relationship, but look at all God is offering in such a small space.

Two short verses, four distinct blessings.  

Blessing #1: I will bless you (Genesis 12:2a)  God is talking to Abram and Abram’s offspring here, and says it outright:  You and I are going into a partnership, and I’m gonna make sure that your lives will be rewarding and Holy, and your future will be fruitful.  Wow. Just one blessing in and already hard to resist.

Blessing #2: You will be a blessing (Genesis 12:2b) Here’s an unexpected curve ball. Not only will Abram’s family know the blessings of God, they will also show the blessings of God.   From the beginning, here, there is a divine mission and a special purpose given. To properly receive a blessing from God is to multiply it.

Blessing #3:I will bless those who bless you (Genesis 12:3a) What?  This level of blessing is unexpected and extravagant.  God’s blessing will extend to those who show kindness and mercy to God’s people.  God’s promises now extend to all who choose blessing as a way of life.

Blessing #4. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you. (Genesis 12:3b) God throws the power of blessing wide open, and makes it clear.   The world will be better because Abram and his people are a part of it.  This is a charge to make God’s blessings known through the whole earth.   Through us, God has a message to send to all who will listen.

Just think of it.  In two verses, God calls Abram into a relationship that has literally world-changing ramifications.  In four blessings, God frames out God’s task with and for humanity, a task that has in so many ways come true, yet continues to unfold.

Abraham’s children include approximately 53% of the people on planet Earth.  Christianity, Judaism, Islam and others all trace their lineage back to this man.

What would happen if those 3.6 billion people responded to God’s call to be a 4-fold blessing? We’d have to find some of them first.

(Oh yeah–I am one of them, and so are you).

Have a great week,

Mitch

 


BAREFOOT!  A collection of my favorite devotions from over the years, complete with study questions.  Perfect for individual reflection or group discussion.  Get yours on Amazon!

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Going Freestyle

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So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What are we to drink?” Exodus 15:24

Let me tell you. Olive Garden will refill your iced tea quicker than you can drink it.  Carlos O’Kelly’s has gigantic 32oz tumblers that they’re more than happy to fill with Diet Mountain Dew.  A Route 44 Arnold Palmer from Sonic never fails to hit the spot.

Good stuff, one and all, but these can’t compare to Freestyle.  It’s been around for about a decade, I’d guess, so there’s a good chance you’ve seen it.

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It is, as I like to call it, an amusement park for thirsty people.   And I am a thirsty person.

Freestyle boasts 100+ drink options, and I’ve likely tried them all. The possibilities are only limited by the room my internal organs can set aside for liquid.  Let’s see…

I’ll start with something fruity and exotic, maybe Dasani sparkling cherry&Minute Maid lemonade&Fuze unsweet tea.  Ahhh.  Then something a little more traditional:  Coke Zero&Barq’s crème soda.  Nice. And then, something in the flavored ginger ale oeuvre.  Freestyle is a marvel of the modern world.

I should mention, however, that there is no Living Water button on the Freestyle.  So if you’re looking to meet a spiritual thirst, you may be out of luck.

Where today can somebody get their hands on Living Water?  The Hebrews complained about it enough so Moses gushed some out of a rock.  Jesus offered some to the woman at the well.  And whoever wrote the 23rd Psalm sounds like they got good and quenched.

What about us?  It’s funny, but when I think about Living Water, a spiritual experience of the Holy Spirit, Freestyle seems just too….Freestyle to me.  Too much flexibility, and sugar and aspartame and caffeine and weird stuff I can’t pronounce.

When I think about whetting my whistle with Living Water, interesting places spring up in my mind:  1)  Drinking from a Garden Hose, as a kid.  2) That 1-in-a-thousand drinking fountain with the perfect combination of temperature, pressure, and arc.  3) Cool water from a mountain stream, drunk right from my cupped hands. None of those places were labeled “Living Water”…but I just knew.

What about you?  Where have you found Living Water?  I suppose it doesn’t have to be water, we’re really talking about the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, but my thirstiness ties the two notions together for me much like the scriptures do.  So where you do you drink of the Spirit?

I realize that what my life needs is to be Structured, more than Freestyled.  That doesn’t mean I’ll give up the occasional Lemonade&Raspberry PowerAde&Mello Yellow concoction.  It just means that, deep down, I’ll pay attention to my thirst for the singular, elemental, spiritual guidance of God most of all.

It comes in just one flavor:

Holy.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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MY BOOK!  A collection of my favorite devotions from over the years, complete with study questions.  Perfect for individual reflection or group discussion.  Get yours on Amazon!

barefoot.: devotions & discussions by Rev. Mitch Todd Paperback