Athazagoraphobia

name-tag

‘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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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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#&!%$

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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

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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

 


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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
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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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