Bible, Volume 3?

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So, I really liked parts 1 and 2 (The Old and New Testaments), but do you think it’s time to for another installment?  Should we reopen the canon?

The canon is the collection of writings that have come to be known as The Bible. Hundreds and hundreds of years ago we assembled it carefully and declared it sufficient. But then again, that was before cloning. Maybe we could use some instruction on that.

It was before technology of any sort, really. It was before talk of global warming, or gay marriage, or reality television. Should we commission a supplemental volume to clarify what Jesus wants us to do about these things?

Who would decide what goes in to a Bible Part III? Would scholars? Pastors? You or me?Would we have a 1-800 call in voting system? I wonder. Would we come to blows over what constitutes The Word of God? Probably.

Come to think of it, we already do that with the Bible we have. Okay then. No Bible Part 3.  No point in adding to the “canon fodder”. And it’s a tenet of Christianity that the Bible contains everything necessary for salvation. That’s comforting, but here’s a thought: If God had intended the Bible to be the last word on everything — why have libraries?

Sure, the Bible may be the most important book on the shelf, but that doesn’t mean you ignore the whole library around you, right? No, I think God inspires people even today, in a variety of ways.  The written word, for example, has the power to enlighten and instruct us in supplemental ways even beyond the life-giving pages of The Bible.

Someone, right now, may be writing words on a page that will one day convey a life-changing insight, one that may cause you or I to revise even the most die-hard opinions we’ve had about how we read The Bible.  I’m going to stay open to that possibility, because although God may not change, our understanding of God continues to unfold and expand.

I firmly believe that The Good Book points me to a relationship with God, through Christ. It shows me what salvation means. It welcomes me into a life of Kingdom-living. It is the foundation by which I try to live my life.

But just the same…

When it comes to something like cloning, or global warming, or gay marriage…

I can’t help but think that God

is still speaking volumes.

Mitch

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originally posted in 2014

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barefoot.: devotions & discussions by Rev. Mitch Todd
by Rev. Mitch Todd (Author)

Lucky 13

 

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I did a funeral today.  Can you guess what psalm I used?

That’s right.  Good ole Psalm 23.  The psalm people who don’t even know scripture probably know.

It’s so well constructed.  So heartfelt.  What could beat images like the gentle shepherd, and the valley of the shadow of death, and dwelling in the house of the lord forever?  I don’t know for sure who wrote Psalm 23, but it’s earned its place as Top-10Bests.com’s 2nd most famous scripture, right under the reigning champion  “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

But just once, I’d love someone to suggest something different.  Maybe accidentally ask for Psalm 13 instead of Psalm 23.

Have you read Psalm 13 recently?

Psalm 13

For the director of music. A psalm of David.

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
    and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me

Psalm 13 has a lot going for it.  It’s about the same handy size as Psalm 23, has a nice ending, but most importantly, it SOUNDS like me.  Like the frenzy of thoughts and emotions that can race through my head in a tough time.

Psalm 23, for all it’s glamour, sounds like a perfect vision.  Psalm 13 sounds like a perfect mess.  And when I’m in a serious time of need, that’s what I closely resemble.

Here’s some of the ways Psalm 13 resonates with me:

“Will you forget me forever?”  A flat out accusation of God.  An irrational declaration of abandonment.  CHECK.

“How long must I wrestle with my thought/have sorrow in my heart”.  Yes!  When I’m in a bad way I can’t seem to control my thoughts or feelings.  I’m just stewing in my fragmented juices. CHECK.

“How long will my enemy triumph over me?”  Defeated.  Lost.  Weak and Helpless.  CHECK, CHECK, CHECK and CHECK.

“Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death”.  Overdramatic much?  Yeah, been there too.  CHECK.

And then, right when it seems I’m throwing in the towel, like I’ve dug myself a hole darker than any shadow of death, then I come to my senses.

“I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he’s has been good to me.”  CHECK. Yep.  Wallah! Like a deathbed conversion, I realign myself with God. (Could you say ‘Grace’?)

So that’s it.  For your consideration.  Psalm 13, although far less poetic, and lacking the compelling narrative of other Psalms that end with “3” , really speaks to the crazy messy faith journey I find myself on time and again.

As I understand it, that’s what many of the Psalms are designed to do — hold themselves up like a mirror to our own irrationalities and uncertainties.

Okay… reading Psalm 13 at your funeral?  Maybe not the best choice.  Better to pick something flowery and King Jamesy.

But to help steer you out of the jumbled mess that is your rocky faith life?

You could do worse than Lucky 13. (CHECK!)

Have a great week,

Mitch

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You Need A Makeover

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Take a good long look at yourself.

If nobody else is going to say it, I will.

You, my friend, need a makeover.

Oh wait.  When I look in the mirror I don’t see you.  I see ME.  Maybe I’m the one that needs a makeover.  Maybe we both do.

Wouldn’t that be fun?  A day on the town?  Makeover Day! We could get new fancy haircuts, maybe some highlights?  We get our nails and toes done.  Then it’s off to the mall.

New outfits!  You get what you want, but I’m thinking about a couple new tailored suits.  This is just a daydream, so money is no object!  Makeover Day, from our head to our feet!

Our feet!  We need shoes.  Really nice ones, with brand names people drool over.  Maybe new jackets for fall.   Some jewelry?  Maybe I’ll get my nose pierced.

And then comes the makeup.  You can’t have a Makeover Day without the makeup!  Now I don’t typically wear makeup, but if you do, I’m more than willing to sit next to you in one of those department stores as somebody dolls you up perfectly. (I might check out some cologne).

And when we’re all done and shiny, we can take a selfie, so we’ll always remember this day when, on a scale from 1 to 10, we jumped from a 6 to an 8.5!

Wow, that was a whirlwind.

Was it worth it?  You and I hopping from store to store, spending hypothetical money on hypothetical self improvements?  Well, I had a good time.  It was kind of nice to pamper ourselves a bit, wasn’t it?

But this scripture kind of makes me wonder:

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. –1 Peter 3:3-4

“The unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit.”  I really like that.  When I look at myself in the mirror, that’s what I want to see.  More than the smoothness of my skin or how trimmed my beard is.  The makeover that matters most is predominantly of the spiritual kind. It’s easy to lose sight of that.

When I look in the mirror I want to see a spark of hope in my eye, and the confidence of a believer in my smile.  I want to be a reflection of the beauty God created in me.  It’s the kind of inner beauty that sees wrinkles as laugh lines, and grants an assurance that every hair on my head has been counted by God, freshly cut or not.

Personally, I don’t think it’s a sin to want to look your best, even though I’m typically a bit of a slob.  I just think the spiritual makeover should take precedent over the physical kind.

So, thank you God for making what I see when I look in the mirror.  Good job.  I’ll try to see what YOU see when you look at me.

Thanks for loving me just as I am.

(But I’m keeping the suits)

Have a great week,

 

Mitch

 

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The Supreme Supreme Court

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Down through the annals of American History, there have been 118 supreme court justices.  We’re due for another, and the confirmation process is getting messy, as it sometimes does.

I understand why.  The stakes are high. As a country, we should be very discerning about who gets to join this exclusive club.  Let’s hope our elected officials make good, informed decisions.

9 people sit on the court, making definitive decisions about what is right, what is just, and what is law in the USA.  When there’s a death or retirement, a replacement justice is found.  Sometimes the nominee leans to the right, and sometimes to the left.  Sometimes the court is more balanced than others.  Whether or not we live up to the “Supreme”, the idea behind this “Court” is a lofty goal for us as a country.

I wonder if you are familiar with a court that is even more supreme than the Supreme Court.  There are hints of it in a few places in the Bible, although we rarely pay attention to it.  Genesis 1:26 is perhaps the best example.  .

26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…”

Who is “us”?  Who is “our”? Why does suddenly God shift to the plural, and then back again afterwards?  Ever notice that?  It may seem like a small thing, but this passage, along with some others (Genesis 3:22 and 11:7, 1 Kings 22:19 and Job 1) paints a picture where God is not alone.

What are some possible explanations for this?  A translation error?  Maybe. Many would say God is speaking within the Trinity, a conversation between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, although that is never spelled out.  Some people have asserted that God is simply using the “Royal We” and talking to himself.

Others believe God is talking to his wife, a hold over from the Canaanite religion.  And still others have pointed out that the name Elohim (which means Children of El) is another ancient idea passed down to the Hebrews, in which God is a little like Zeus, presiding over a divine court.  Truth is?  Nobody really knows.

Regardless of the theological implications, wouldn’t it be kind of cool if God was the Chief Justice of this Supreme Supreme Court?  Making decisions about creation, about how people live together, about right and wrong?  Can you picture them (whoever they are) deliberating and discussing and driven by a desire to do what is right for the sake of the world?

Well now…it may have occurred to you, but God doesn’t NEED a Supreme Supreme Court to do all those things.  God is the source of wisdom, and love, and right and wrong.  God is already our Chief Justice.  That’s why we are a monotheistic religion.  That’s why we declare “In God We Trust”.

If God were being nominated for our Supreme Court, I’d like to think it would be a breezy process, but knowing how complicated things can be we might want to ask him a few billion questions first.

The truth is, God doesn’t need a court.  But we do.  It’s our human attempt to honor our values and each other in a diverse and ever-changing world.  That’s why we try to confirm very human people into these very demanding positions–9 at a time.

How faithfully will they accomplish their task?

You and I may debate and disagree on that,

But only God can Judge.

 

Have a great week,

Mitch

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The Devil Came For My Soul — And Couldn’t Find It.

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The Devil came to me in a dream last night, dressed in his red suit and pitchfork and arrogant grin.  We were standing in a rocky, barren place.  He looked around and pointed to some rocks on the ground.

“Hungry?  Sure, you could fast and pray, I suppose.  But why not turn these stones into some bread?”

“Wait, I can do that?” I asked.  (I was kind of hungry)

“In this place,” he smirked, “you’ve got that kind of power.”

“Well, I’m not really a bread guy.”  I turned and yelled at the stones.  “Turn into Nachos!  And a Diet Coke!”  And sure enough, a great big plate of cheesy nachos appeared, along with a 44oz diet coke, light ice.

“That’s it?” the devil blinked at me.  “No hesitation at all.  Just diving in to a plate of nachos.”

I blinked back at him, my mouth full.

“Okay,” he said.  “On to the next”.  He snapped his finger and we were standing on the roof of my church.

“Now,” he continued.  “Throw yourself off this building, and God will keep you from hitting the ground.”

“God would do that?” I asked.

“Well, you believe that bad things only happen to bad people, right?  And you’re a good person.  Right?”  There was a gleam in his eye. “Surely God would save you.”

“Good point,” I said, and before his horrified look I stepped off the ledge.   The fall was not a little bit frightening.  As the sidewalk began to loom before me I thought, “any time now, God”.

But it wasn’t God that saved me, it was the Devil, and he was looking perturbed.

“Look, I couldn’t let you hit the ground.  You’d go splat and then you’d wake up from this dream, and I’m not finished with you yet.”

I looked around to see where God was…probably lurking there in the shadows ready to save a good guy like me at the very last instant.

The Devil grimaced and snapped his fingers. Suddenly, we were standing at the top of Mount Sunflower, the highest point in Kansas.  The Devil waved his arm across the plains around us.

“All you have to do is become my second in command, and all this –”  He frowned.  “Well, all this and lots more you can’t see from here, will be yours.”

“Second in command?” I asked.  “What does that entail?”

“Ah,” the Devil grinned again, “You simply have to agree that I am the absolute authority about what’s right and what’s wrong in this world.”

“Right and wrong?  Why would I think you’re the authority on that?”

“Because I believe exactly what you believe.  Every political opinion, every social issue, every theological, ethical, and moral concept, I believe exactly as you.”

“Well,” I thought a moment, “then in that case, I agree.  So, does my power extend out beyond Kansas?”

The Devil was no longer smiling.

“Do you not even care that you failed all three of my tests?  I mean, you conjured up junk food instead of fasting.  You hurled yourself off a building, naively thinking God would alter the laws of physics just to save you from your own stupidity.  And then you think so highly of your own view of the world that you’d bow down to it–to me–to yourself, instead of God?”

“Wait,” I said.  “What are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about TEMPTATION,” the Devil bellowed.  “But you give in so quickly.  Where’s the fun in that?”  He tossed his pitchfork over his shoulder and sighed.  “You wouldn’t even know your own sin if it bit you on the back of the leg.

“You know what?” he continued.  “You’re so compromised you don’t even need a Devil.”  He heaved a heavy sigh and turned to walk away.   “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but you don’t need a Tempter.”  He called back over his shoulder.  “You need a Savior.”

With that, I jolted awake.  The clock said 11:45am.

I crawled out of bed, feeling hungry.  What was that crazy dream I was having?

It was all fading away now.

Something about Nachos.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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It’s Hip To Be Square

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It’s not just some fad.  It’s not just a Huey Lewis song either.  But let me tell you…

Square is where it’s at.

Quadrilateral, actually.  A 4-sided box that contains a method for making sense of the world.  This is a United Methodist method, in fact, and one you can put to use immediately.

We call it the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral”, although Dr. Albert Outler coined the term centuries after John Wesley’s time.  Outler studied Wesley extensively, and the Quadrilateral isn’t just what Wesley taught but what Wesley did.

It’s a method for strengthening your faith, based on four sources John Wesley drew upon time and again.  Here they are:

SOURCE #1:  Scripture.  This is the big one.  Scripture contains everything sufficient for us as believers, and so we look to it to inform our faith more than the others.  However, we Methodists want to confirm and enhance our understanding as we interpret the Word.  Which brings us to…

SOURCE #2.  Tradition.  For thousands of years now, people have written about God.  Speculated about Jesus.  Tried to interpret the work of the Holy Spirit.  Those writings form the basis of our tradition–and we use them to help us peel back the layers of scripture and yield new understanding.  Tradition can also refer to the activities of different faith groups — including our own — as they’ve passed down through the centuries.

SOURCE #3.  Reason.  Wesley was a strong proponent of logic, reason, and science.  God gave us these intricate minds — it’s only appropriate for us to use them as we try to wrestle with difficult subjects and complicated ideas.

SOURCE #4.  Experience.  This one’s kind of tricky, because experience can be so subjective from one person to the next.  It refers to the experience of the Holy Spirit within and around us–how it has warmed our hearts and confirmed our faith.

Maybe you knew all that and this was just a reminder.  Maybe you’ve never explored such ideas before.  Regardless, let me make it clear:  It’s hip to be square.

It’s incredibly cool to use these four sources to strengthen your faith!  People who embrace the Quadrilateral as part of their daily faith walk will find greater depth, greater balance, and greater meaning in their lives.

Now, you might have noticed — it’s actually possible for two people to use these sources and come out with entirely different notions!  One person could weigh out scripture, tradition, reason, and experience, and decide they are pro-life, and another could do the same thing and identify as pro-choice.   Your faith could point you against gay marriage, and your best friend could believe the opposite.  Faithful people can come to very different faith conclusions.

If we don’t all believe the same way, what good is the Quadrilateral in the first place?

Ah, but that’s the hippest part of the whole thing.   If we carefully, faithfully use these four sources — we may come to different conclusions, but we ARE believing the same way.  We’re holding fast to a process that produces Christians with integrity.

It doesn’t create complete agreement.  It creates creative people.  People who are willing to investigate and ask questions, to delve into the traditions of the church, to read scripture vigorously, and to seek the Holy Spirit’s blessing.

If we can commit to doing all of that, then there is hope for us to learn and grow together.  (Wesley called that Christian Conferencing, a really cool concept for another day).

Do you get it?  Those four sources form a STREngth that cannot be ignored.  The more people choose to be this deliberate and methodical, the stronger we become as God’s family, even when we don’t always agree.

So spread the word.  It’s hip to be square.  Let’s make this precious process popular…

Until everybody’s doing it.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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What are they saying about me?

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About ten years ago, I was visiting a person at the hospital.  It was an important surgery, so I came and prayed, and then waited in the waiting room with their adult sister who had come into town.  Also present was a member of the congregational care team, on call that week to care for people.

The three of us talked for a while, and after about an hour the conversation lulled, and eyes were drifting over to the TV where The Price Is Right was on.  So I said my goodbyes and headed towards the elevator, glad that my church member was sticking around.

As I stood in the elevator, doors closing, I distinctly heard my parishioner say to the woman, “He’s painfully shy”, and then the doors closed.

That was a long 3 flights down.

You ever overhear somebody talking about you like that?  It’s disconcerting.  For one thing, I had on my “attentive pastor” persona that day, alert and responsive. Had I really acted that shy?  It wasn’t said meanly, which somehow made it worse.  They were making excuses for me!

The end result was a few days of paranoia on my part.  What are they saying about me? And not just at the church, either.  When my family talks on the phone, are they talking about how annoying I am? 

What about my bosses–my District Superintendent and my Bishop.  What are they saying about me?  Are they questioning my effectiveness?  Are they talking about me?  Or maybe worse…maybe they never think to talk about me at all?

Ever feel like this?  Like you aren’t your own accurate gauge of who you are and how effective you are in your interactions?  Well…you’re not alone.

Remember this passage?

 Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”  –Mark 8:27

No, I don’t think Jesus was overcome with a sudden bout of low confidence or paranoia. And he certainly wouldn’t advocate us being bullied by other people’s words.  But yes, I think he cared what people thought of him.  He wanted to know how effective he was being.  He wanted to see if his message was getting across.

And so he asked his friends.  People he trusted, who might have some information he hadn’t been privy to.  And sure enough, they had a sense of people’s perceptions which were…close, but not right on the money.  They were viewing him from a less than focused lens.

You remember how this goes, right?  It was the people closest to him, namely Peter, who had the clearest vision when it came to who Jesus was.  That was probably Peter’s proudest moment, when he correctly identified Jesus as “The Messiah, the Son of God who is coming into the world.”

(Of course, 2 minutes later Jesus was berating him, so you win some, you lose some.)

Here’s my point.  Of course people have things to say about you.  You’re a human being with complicated relationships and jobs and friendships, etc.  I’m betting most of the things people say are good, but there could be some criticisms or harsh observations in there too. We have to be careful what feedback is helpful and what should be shaken off.

If you’re worried about what folks are saying, remember that we’re all growing through this thing called life together.  Along the way,  be glad for the friends who love you for who you are…

and be patient with all the others who are still learning.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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