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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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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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!

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

 

 

 

 

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!

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

6 scary Bible costume ideas

There’s scary, and then there’s SCARY.  These costume ideas are based on scripture, and while they may or may not frighten children, they ought to put fear in every adult Christian’s heart.

Here we go:  (YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!)

 

THE BOAT MISSER

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This one’s easy.  Just dress like you normally do, but thoroughly douse yourself with water.  When people ask, tell them you’re one of the folks who laughed at Noah.  Then, tonight, when you can’t sleep, shiver to realize the times you heard a prophet’s warning, thought they were all wet, but it turned out that YOU were.

 

THE ALIEN, THE WIDOW, AND THE ORPHAN

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In the Old Testament, it’s like a refrain.  16 times we are called to care for the alien, the widow, and the orphan.  These were the most vulnerable people in society, and that remains quite true today.  To dress up like one of these folks, dress like normal, pack a small bag, and shudder to think about life with just about everything you like/love ripped away.

 

THE RICH YOUNG RULER

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All you need for this costume is a robe and a fake bag of money.  Who hasn’t heard the story of Jesus telling the bright young man all he needs to do is sell all his possessions and follow him?  If you’re like me, you’ve spent countless hours trying to decide just how literal Jesus was being.  After all, just like the man in this story, I’ve got a frightening amount of stuff I just can’t seem to let go of.

 

THE WEIGHT LIFTER

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Grab a burlap sack.  Stencil the word “SIN” on it in big letters.  Add some fake sweat and you’re ready to go!  Dressing as someone who hasn’t asked Christ to carry their sins will remind you (and others) just how hard life can be without the miracle of faith.  (Here’s a chilling thought:  How much are you still carrying around?”)

 

THE WRONG GUY

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Two men went up to the temple to pray.  And you’re gonna be dressed as the wrong one.  Pick out your nicest, most pretentious outfit, lift your eyes to the good Lord in heaven, and add a little swagger to your prayer.  Perfect, you’re a pretentious Christian!  As you lord your good standing in heaven over all the other trick-or-treaters, be sure to take a good look in the mirror.  BOO!  God help you if you recognize yourself!

 

PONTIUS PILATE

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Yep.  This last costume actually has a name.  Grab a robe, maybe a cape, and a bowl of water and you’re good to go.  At every doorbell you can wash your hands of all responsibility for any tricks that might get played.  And while you’re at it, take a moment to think of all the times you might have washed your hands instead of standing up for what’s right, stepping out in faith, and doing the hard thing.

There you have it!  You’re all set to go door to door, filling your plastic bucket with goodies, but with a purpose! No matter which of these costume ideas you pick, you’re guaranteed a chance to do some soul-searching into the murkiest depths of your faith.  It’s true, you might be frightened by some of what you experience, but it’s nothing  the Holy Trinity can’t redeem.

Hmm.  Kind of like a Three Musketeer’s for the soul.

Have a scary week,

Mitch

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5:23am

 

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I look at my watch.  5:23am.

The dog has to pee.  So I climb out of bed and stumble to the back door.  Instead of trying to coax him out like I usually do, I decide to go out with him.

I look up at the sky, still dark.  It takes a moment for my eyes to adjust.  I realize I’m looking up at the moon, and a star, overhead.  Probably a planet, I think.

And then I hear it.

Nothing.  Or just about. There’s the distant chirps of crickets.  The slight hum of wind in my ears.  But mostly, it’s the sound of silence.

No beeps or ringtones.  No traffic or dogs howling.  No distant laughter.

No arguments or small talk.  No spam.  No memes.  No Netflix.

No politics, no announcers, no commentary.  No soundbites.

It is unexpectedly wondrous, there at the beginning of a new day, to pause and reflect on a quiet world.  God’s creation, mostly muted.  I wonder if this is what it was like at 5:23am on the 6th day, before God made the noisy land animals.  Before God made us.

Most days, especially lately, the world is too loud for me.  Humanity makes too much noise.  Puts too many opinions out into the ether.  Falls into camps and dukes it out on the nightly news.  Most days, especially lately, I’m just weary of it all.

I look down at my dog, Tom Petty.  He’s ready to go back inside for another hour of sleep.  He seems unaffected by the vast quiet around him. He’ll be back to barking when the sun has risen.

As for me, I rediscover something I thought was gone from the world forever.  Silence.  It is the most precious moment of my week, so far.

In this Nothing, is Something.  Beneath it all, God is here, a divine finger pressed against God’s lips.  Shhhh.

I am reborn.  Recreated.

I look at my watch.

5:25.

Have a great week,

Mitch
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Integrity In Your Bones

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Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but whoever takes crooked paths will be found out. –proverbs 10:9

Want to freak yourself out?  Next time you’re in a crowd, remind yourself that you are in a room full of skeletons.

It’s not something we tend to think of when we look at each other, but just a couple inches beneath each person’s surface lies a collection of bones.  Boo!  Here lies the object of infinite Halloween frights, and the symbol of all things unmentionably hidden.

One does not put one’s bones on display.  Not the ones inside our bodies, or the ones we’ve stuffed into our closets.  They’re private. These bones represent our collection of indiscretions, our taboo secrets, our hidden sins.

With all these skeletons in our closets (and inches beneath our skin), how could a single one of us walk with integrity?  Politicians throw that word around, but managing integrity is a rare feat.   It doesn’t seem like our elected officials have much integrity these days, although they are masters at appearing like it.

They’re not the only ones.  Many people today avoid the church because Christians seem so proficient at integrity — until greed, or abuse, or all manners of non Christ-like behaviors reveal us to be as “boney” as everybody else.

The #MeToo movement is a perfect example of the state of integrity — pulling back the curtain on decades of hidden harassment and demeaning behavior.  I’ve surely hated to see the pitiful contents of some of my favorite public figure’s closets. I’m cautious at pointing a finger, however, because I’d just as soon no one ever peek in my closet.

How about you? Anything to hide?

So, shy of, say, the Dalai Lama, is there anyone with integrity left in this cursed world? Are we all doomed, as proverbs mentions, to walk crooked paths until the day God and humanity discovers what lies beneath each of our feeble attempts to appear good?

No.  We’re not doomed.  Jesus came to save us from the evil that has settled into our very bones.  When Jesus died on that cross, the earthquake that filled the land cleaned out every closet and gave us the ability to walk with our heads held high.  Not with some mock piety, but with the assurance of grace.  We’re not perfect.  Just forgiven.

I wonder if integrity can grow even through our attempt to find it.  Maybe so.  Instead of hiding away the frail remnants of our past, our bones can be made strong in Christ. Stronger than a tanker truck of milk ever could.

The next time you’re in a crowd, don’t freak out about all the skeletons surrounding you.  It’s part of human nature to carry a few sins with us as we go through life.

But strive (with God’s help) for integrity.  It comes when we make room for grace, in our bodies, minds, spirits..

and closets.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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SPOILERS

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It may be the darkest scripture in the whole Bible:  “My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?” My goal last Sunday was to preach it as is — without spoilers about what comes next.

But I couldn’t do it.

I wanted to let this part of the story stand on its own.  I didn’t want to soften the words, or cheapen Jesus’ suffering.  But I couldn’t let this darkest of moments remain pitch black.  I couldn’t just leave him hanging there.

There, at the end of my sermon, I had to throw in a little bit of Easter.  Without even a “spoiler alert” I revealed the big surprise:  Hope, Triumph, Resurrection.

I’m not alone in this. In my reading about this tough verse, not a single writer was willing to just sit with Jesus’ pain.  Nobody could resist spilling the beans about the happy ending that was to come.

Another example — My choir sings a cantata on Palm Sunday every year.  No matter how deep into Holy Week the music takes us, the last song — a long standing tradition — is “The King is Coming!” It’s a great song, but I have mixed feelings about it, because of all the spoilers!  Maundy Thursday and Good Friday have yet to come, and already we’re promising Easter.

I wonder if a new Christian would find themselves annoyed to have the big Easter Surprise revealed just at this agonizing climax?  I know I’d have been mad if someone spoiled the ending of the 6th Sense, or the Usual Suspects, Or The Empire Strikes Back.

Should we treat the story of the cross (and beyond) as a sacred mystery, only to be unveiled on Easter morning?  If we did, how would we handle passages such as this?

17 Now Jesus was going up to Jerusalem. On the way, he took the Twelve aside and said to them, 18 “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death 19 and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!”  Matthew 20:17-19

Umm….SPOILER ALERT, Jesus!

Jesus couldn’t have been any clearer about how this story ends.  In fact, Jesus’ whole life is a spoiler alert.  If we pay careful attention to how Jesus lives, we’ll have all the clues we need to find out how he dies.  And lives again.

I’ve decided it’s not necessary to just sink into “Why have you forsaken me,” and stay there.  The whole point is that Jesus DIDN’T stay there.

He had more to reveal than Keyser Soze, Bruce Willis, and Darth Vader combined.

Have a good week,

Mitch

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