The Big Squeeze

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“Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.”  –Luke 13:24

I’m not what you would call a small man.

I’ve lost 30+ pounds and “found them” again, twice.  In the 14 months that I’ve been a vegetarian, I’ve actually gained 5 pounds.  When I shop in the Big & Tall section, no one would mistake me for being there because of my height.

So yeah, I’m a heavy guy.  Which has me wondering about this door Jesus talks about. Just how narrow is it?

You know, I can squeeze into a restaurant booth.  I can squeeze into an airplane seat. I can squeeze into my dress pants without popping a button. But what I really need to know is how tight a squeeze this door really is.  Do I stand a chance? Jesus tells us many will try to enter and not be able.

That makes me nervous.  Because that’s not all I’m carrying.

It’s very hard to enter into the Kingdom if you’re carrying anything sinful: a spare tire around the middle, or an overinflated ego, or bags stuffed with greed, or the giant plank stuck in your eye.

What are you carrying that will make it hard for you to squeeze through the narrow door?

The door is there before us, a challenge for your life and mine, but Jesus didn’t put it there to daunt us or to taunt us.  The truth is, alone, none of us could make it through.  We’re carrying too much!

No, the door serves a purpose for our lives.  Jesus invites us to measure up against that narrow door, to make a wholehearted attempt to mold ourselves into the shape of the Kingdom.  This is the work of discipleship, as we learn to shed what weighs us down and pick up what helps us resemble Christ.

Ultimately, it is God’s Grace that leads us through the door and into the Kingdom.  Every pound we shed is our “Thank You” for bringing us through.

It’s a New Year and a New Start.

So…

What have you got to lose?

Have a great week,

Mitch

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31 Santas

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We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised. –Hebrews 6:1

I’m running a B & B for Santa Clauses. Or a detention center.  I’m not sure.

Out in my cold garage, all wrapped up and nestled on shelves, lie 31 Santa Claus figures.  A burly outdoorsy Santa carrying a tree over his shoulder. A mystical wizard-looking Santa in a robe.  Short, hand painted wooden figurines.  Tall, spindly abstract Santas.

31 of them!

We’ve gathered them over a few decades, but the last couple years it hasn’t seemed worth it to set them all up.  We’ve kept things simpler.  A tree, a manger scene, and that’s about it.

But those Santas…

At night, I can hear them muttering to one another, out in the garage.  They’re restless.  Most of the year they’re content to slumber away, but not in December.

The outdoorsy Santa says:  “If they’d let us out of here we could at least ring the salvation army bells somewhere.”

“Yeah,” an old fashioned looking Santa replies.  “If we went to 31 different locations, think how much change we’d collect!”

“Or,” the mystical looking Santa says, “We could go to 31 different churches and increase everybody’s attendance by one!”

“Maybe,” a gnome-like Santa says, “but I think we could make more of a difference if we all impersonated yard gnomes and made sure nobody stole packages off people’s porches!”

“I mean,” the tall spindly Santa says, “if they’re not going to use us, they could at least give us away to someone else.  Tis the season of giving, right?”

I heard a lot of agreement with that.  He was right. So I got up out of bed, stepped into the cold garage, unboxed each Santa…

And set them free.  They scurried off into the night to do what Santa’s do best.

I spotted the outdoorsy one today, escorting an old man across the street.  The mystical one was at the coffee shop, having a deep theological discussion about the Incarnation.  And I caught a glimpse of three or four at the thrift store, passing out gifts.

I was a little sorry to see them go, but more than anything, I was thinking about why I had collected them in the first place.  To me, Santa is a human attempt to reflect the divine impulse of giving.  Santa reminds us that humans can give grace.  We were made in the image of God, and blessed by the Grace of Jesus. Santa knows this.

Santa isn’t the manager of a toy factory.  Santa is one of the “Saints”, devoting himself to a lifetime of thanks to God by giving to God’s children.  As I, too, should be.

This morning, I walked out to my empty garage, and grinned.

I was ready to be…

Number 32.

Have a Merry Christmas!

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MY NEW 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

In My Undies

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All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me.  –Psalm 22:17

It’s a recurring dream — you may have had a similar one.  I’m walking through a school or a church, rushing to get somewhere, and I realize I’m wearing only my underwear!

The rest of the dream is spent desperately trying to find something else to wear, and failing spectacularly.  Sometimes people notice, point, and laugh.  Always I feel extremely vulnerable.

I think that’s the point of that particular dream.  It’s a subconscious reflection of me feeling vulnerable about something.  My near nakedness in the dream symbolizes an inability to hide myself from others.

Dreams of being naked or near naked frequently make Top 10 lists of common dreams.  We have these dreams because many of us share that same fear:  Forced to reveal ourselves more than is comfortable.

This is not just physical, having our “bones on display”.  It’s more mental or even spiritual.  Having our inner most thoughts, fantasies and fears displayed for others.  Near panic at the notion of people knowing the real us.

What would have to change to make all those scary dreams go away?  Could the world decide it’s time to shed any unneeded clothes and walk around just as God made us?  Or if we all took a couple years of therapy could we develop a healthier self esteem, with no need to hold back who we are?

It just seems such a shame that you and I, created in God’s Image, have to spend so much energy trying to obscure ourselves from others.  It must be some consequence of our sinful nature that our very thoughts and traits can seem unsuitable for public viewing.

This is something we can work on.  We can seek to be more transparent, less terrified of being vulnerable.  We can admit our faults, be faithful with our gifts, and trust to be covered by Grace when our undies are showing.

Come to think of it, many of the people I most admire are those whose soul shines so brilliantly, I don’t even notice how much they’re covered up.  These are the people whose faith helps them clothe those around them in Christ.

I want to be one of those people.  The more aggressively I practice this kind of faith, the less I’ll have that dream.  That’s the premise I’m adopting, anyway…

If that takes stripping down to my spiritual skivvies, so be it.

As for my physical body?

That’s, for now,

a subject I’ve thoroughly covered.

Have a Great Week,

Mitch

Tired of being slowed down at airport security, Vince began to travel in only a pair of Speedos.

 

 

 

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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Unattached

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They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.
–Colossians 2:19

I wrote a strange story, years ago, about a land called Umbillica.  In this world, umbilical cords were permanent.  Children remained attached to their mothers by very long strands of veins and arteries, connecting one generation to the next.

In this way, as many as five generations would travel and live together.  Families were literally bound to each other.  When a woman decided to marry, her new husband would disconnect from his clan, and tie on to his wife’s family.

This kind of connection was the only way the citizens of Umbillica knew how to live.  And in this world, there was really only one thing to fear:  Being unattached.

Being unattached? It only happened in the rare instances when a calamity wiped out the rest of one’s family, leaving a poor figure to walk the world alone.  Or, far more scandalously, it happened when an occasional clan member deliberately untethered themselves from their family, and scampered off into the night, never to be seen again.

There was nothing more taboo than to be unattached.

As the creator of this peculiar world, even I’m not sure why I set it up that way.  But can you imagine such a world?  Where familial attachments reign supreme, and untethered people feel ostracized?

Yeah, I can, too.  Sounds familiar.

Our society can project a subtler form of response to the unattached.  Sometimes we will pity people who are on their own, as if their lives must be sad and incomplete. Sometimes I suppose that’s true, but unattached people frequently find their own new clans to be a part of. New people to connect with.  And unattached people can find joy in their independence, adventure on the horizon, peace in solitude.

It’s important to remember that God’s grace is not just delivered in family-sized doses.   It comes to every person in every circumstance.  Maybe your family is healthy, or in shambles.  Maybe you’ve cut yourself off from your family because of conflict or abuse or dysfunction.  Maybe you can feel the tug of that umbilical cord…it’s just a very long one.   Whatever your attachment (or unattachment) issues are, know this:

God longs to connect with you.  Through other people, out in the world, through scripture, through your family, through the Holy Spirit, and a million other ways.

That’s the way the creator of this peculiar world set it up.

Don’t worry.  God is not stalking you, or trying to smother you.  God’s grace is not dependent on the number or strength of any of your connections, either.

And it comes (you’ll be happy to learn),

with no strings attached.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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Christians and Karma

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One person gives freely, yet gains even more;
    another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.

A generous person will prosper;
    whoever refreshes others will be refreshed. –Proverbs 11:24-25

Ever say things like, “Well, you get what you deserve”, or “These are my past deeds coming back to haunt me”, or “I must have been really bad in a past life?”  I say this stuff, too, sometimes.

Maybe we would make good Hindus, or Buddhists.  Words like these reflect an ancient concept present in both of those religions, called Karma.

Karma is the idea that your good and bad deeds will reward or punish you in the life to come.    There’s something about the notion of Karma, with its multiple lifetimes and black-or-white morality that can be very alluring to us as Christians.

I’ll find myself playing the Karma game when things go wrong.  I’ll think, “I deserve to be punished like this.  I wasn’t faithful enough before.”   As if Karma somehow evens things out.  I’ve heard other people say, “There’s equal amounts of Good and Evil in the world, and this is just the Devil getting his due.”

This is all kind of a Westernized view of Karma.  The Hindu and Buddhist concepts are much more nuanced, I’m sure.  But when Christians think in terms of Karma, they run the risk of ignoring Christ, which is a shame, because Christ plays by far better rules:

  • Christ offers GraceEven when we don’t deserve it!
  • Christ offers Eternal Life present with God.
  • Christ offers Goodness that forever tips the scales against evil.
  • Christ offers Companionship when the road is hard,
    Second Chances when we mess up, and a
    Reason for Living that is so much more than simple spiritual accounting.

Even though there are passages, like the one from Proverbs, that can make it sound like the Bible is talking about Karma, ultimately they refer to a God who is an ever-present blessing to us, in good times and bad.  We believe that, because of God, the universe is fundamentally skewed towards Grace.

Instead of trying to win at life, as if it’s some cosmic game of Chutes and Ladders,  Christians are called to boldly take every step–even the hard ones, because their path is illuminated by the Light of Christ.

Personally, I think Karma is a pretty interesting idea.  I’ve even wondered about past lives and reincarnation from time to time.  Hinduism and Buddhism both have a great many things to offer and teach us.

But I’ve got no plans to change my colors and abandon Christianity.

Which means, I’m definitely not a…

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Have a great week,

Mitch

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Second Mouth

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10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.

–James 3:10

I’m having surgery next week.

Yep, gonna have a second mouth installed.  Right in the back of my neck.

I figure it’ll cut way down on the time it takes for me to eat a meal.

And I’ll be able to give my wife a kiss and look at my iPhone at the same time, so that’s nice.

Oh, and harmonizing with myself?  It’ll be beautiful, I’m sure.

Of course, I predict some drawbacks with having two mouths.  Twice as much time brushing my teeth, for one thing.  And probably twice as many dental bills.

But that will be worth it for the main benefit having two mouths is going to give me:

My front mouth will be do the praising, and my back will be for cursing.

Isn’t that perfect? In that scripture up there, James is right when he says to do both out of the same mouth is just plain wrong.  It’s this mixing of the sacred and profane.

It’s a misuse of the mouth!

So now, with my second mouth, I can keep things separate.

My front mouth will be kind and gentle, faithful and humble.  I’ll have a kind word for everyone I see.

Meanwhile, my back mouth will be used for moments of road rage, commenting on idiots on the TV, and general gossip and hate speech.

It’s a great system.  As long as I can keep my back mouth shut when I’m at church. Or with my in-laws.

I wonder.  Which mouth will get more use?

And then I wonder this:  If I have a mouth designated for foulness, will I come to hate it?  Will I get tired of hearing the filth that comes out of it?

Imagine me, going through this whole surgery, only to get fed up and duct tape my second mouth shut.

Well, I guess that’s one way to cut down on my cursing.

Another way could be avoiding the surgery all-together, and trying to be more mindful of the words that pass through my lips.

God hears every word we utter, no matter how many mouths we have. So perhaps I can work to make the things I say a better reflection of the Grace God has given me.

In the end,

It’s better to practice graciousness and self-control,

than to go through life being two-faced about it.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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