What’s on your mind?

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The Israelites secretly did things against the Lord their God that were not right.
-2 Kings 17:9a

I’m not a mind reader.¬† But I’ve thought about it. ūüôā

I think it would be fun for about two minutes.¬† I mean, who wouldn’t want a chance to crawl around in somebody else’s brain?

But then… you’d start picking up everybody around you…

“I just stole $300, and nobody even knows it’s missing.”
-or
“I wonder what she looks like au natural?”
-or
“Can people tell I’m on meth?”
-or
“Sometimes I wish my dad would just drop dead.”
-or
“I’ve got everybody fooled that I’m a nice guy.¬† I’m not.”
-or
“I wonder if he suspects I’m having an affair?”
-or
“I’ve been shortchanging my employees for years.”

Okay, not every thought in every head is a sinful one, like these are.¬† Some of us may be filled with wholesomeness and butterflies.¬† (If you come across somebody with a mind like that, you’ll want to get close to them!) Many of us have our share of secret sin.¬† Notions we wouldn’t even want our best friend to know about.

Wait…have you been thinking you’re the only one? Heavens, no!¬† It happens all the time.¬† Indeed, today’s verse from 2 Kings comes at a time when the Israelites have blown it big time.¬† Their secret deeds have stacked the deck against them, and this whole group of¬† people are sent into exile.

The moral is pretty simple:¬† There are no secrets from God, and sin leads to exile.¬† Honestly, those Israelites weren’t just being punished by God, they had brought it upon themselves.¬† Sin, by its nature, creates separation between us and God.¬† It’s the worst consequence of sin, and we bring exile upon ourselves.

If that were the end of the story, you and I would have long since withered away.  Luckily for us, God IS a mind reader, and knows our faults, and guides us to ask for forgiveness, and regeneration, and the power of Grace.

Luckily for us, there is a future after exile.  We may not always be able to sense what it is, but as we learn to be faithful, we learn to walk healthier paths.

We learn to be more concerned about the contents of our own minds, rather than our neighbor’s.¬† Ultimately, we learn to take on the mind of Christ.

You’ll be happy to know that I have no idea what’s on your mind.¬† Unless you feel like telling me, I’ll never know those things you’re keeping to yourself.¬† And unless you’re willing to be open-minded with God, who already knows all about you, your sense of exile may only expand.

The Israelites went to Assyria…

Who knows?  You could end up in a situation

just as Assyrious.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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You suck.

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Anyone who eats blood must be cut off from their people.‚Äô‚Ä̬† Leviticus 7:27

For the past several weeks Jan and I have been watching the 90s/00s cult favorite show “Buffy, The Vampire Slayer.”

It’s our third time.

The show may or may not be your cup of comedy/horror/drama, but we tend to rank it as some of the most clever writing ever on TV.¬† I’m not recruiting new fans, so don’t go snooping on my account.¬† I just wanted to explain why I’ve got vampires on the brain.¬† (on the neck?)

In the show, vampires are evil.¬† Mostly.¬† They are undead creatures that literally suck the life out of their victims.¬† I am convinced that you and I have some vampire in us.¬† I’ve never met someone who doesn’t.¬† In our most unhealthy moments we can leech other people’s energy and power. We’re needy like that.

I can recall a dating relationship from my high school and college days.¬† I could never figure out why we stayed together so long.¬† We always fought, we weren’t compatible.¬† We didn’t even much like each other.¬† She’d hurt me, and I’d hurt her. It wasn’t healthy, but for some reason we just kept feeding off each other. It was a bloody mess.

In my later life, there were times when I felt weak, helpless, and powerless.¬† Instead of asking for help or reaching out, I found myself manipulating people to my own ends,¬† unhealthily trying to steal their trust and energy.¬† I’ve scared a few people away that way.

Think about the energy flow between you and others.¬† Who gets fed from the relationship, and who leaves feeling a quart low? When a healthy balance of give and take doesn’t exist, who is feeding on you, or who do you find yourself stealing life from?

In Leviticus, we learn about ancient Israel’s system of sacrifice, in this case, a pigeon:

¬†The priest shall bring it to the altar, wring off the head and burn it on the altar; its blood shall be drained out on the side of the altar. –Leviticus 1:15

This was how people dealt with their sins and deficiencies, by splashing the blood of an animal against the altar, and barbecuing the meat as an offering to God.¬† All the way up through the time of Jesus, this was the practice.¬† We look at this as an archaic and perhaps misguided practice, but instead of stealing an animal’s blood and energy, today we tend to steal each others.

Do you think this pleases God?¬† Not at all.¬† No more than killing animals as an empty sacrifice did.¬† Blood, more than anything, must be associated with life.¬† God given, precious life.¬† To misuse another’s life is to deny God’s purpose and power.

The next time you feel that unholy thirst to take what isn’t yours, look at the cross.¬† It repels vampires, after all.¬† And as for blood?

Jesus is offering his for free.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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130 devotions, complete with study questions! Perfect for individual reflection or group discussion. Get yours on Amazon! CLICK HERE

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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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Meghan Markle Rocks Denim Dress

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They say to write what you know.

That is not what I am doing today.  Today, I am writing about the Duchess of Sussex, otherwise known as Meghan Markle.

Why? Because, as I’ve been surfing around the Interlands this week, I keep seeing little clickbait articles about her everywhere.¬† She is¬†everywhere.¬†

Somebody out there clearly has an obsession with this woman, and all I seem to know is…didn’t she get married or something?

Yes, she did.¬† A little time on Wikipedia makes me a sort-of expert.¬† Here’s what I learned:

  • She was born in 1981.
  • She was a TV actress, best known as Rachel Zane on the law drama “Suits”.
  • She’s been divorced.
  • She married Prince Harry, the Grandson of Queen Elizabeth the II.
  • As far as I can tell, ever since the marriage, the press seems compelled to photograph every item of clothing she wears (like the People headline above), every tiny gesture that is not “proper” enough, and every time her and Harry make eye contact with each other.

It’s been so many months since the wedding, (May ’18) and still people are swooning about her.¬† I finally think I understand why:¬† She’s a living fairy tale.¬† Like Princess Diana a generation ago.¬† She’s an everyday person plucked out of the crowd to be part of the royal family.¬† It’s the kind of thing some folks just drool over.

To you Marklers (or Meghaholics?) please know that I’m not condemning you.¬† A fascination with the Duchess seems harmless enough.¬† But just the same, keep this in mind:

Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness;
–1 Timothy 4:7

It is possible, the writer of Timothy reminds us, to get tangled up in fairy tales, to the point that we lose track of the very real story we’re called to live. Daydreaming about marrying your prince could, if not checked, leave you drifting in fantasy land.

The same holds true for rabid sports fans, video game junkies, breaking news fanatics, Netflix bingers and more.  What fairy tales or other forms of escapism capture too much of your attention?

The Hebrew word for sin translates as “Missing the Mark”.¬† When the focus of our hopes, dreams, and discipleship is something other than God, we make the wrong things the bullseye in our lives.¬† That is sinful behavior, and can cause big problems in our lives!

Most of us have our things we geek out on, and I think that’s okay.¬† It’s part of how we have fun, and can even present itself as a hobby.¬† We just have to make sure we keep our priorities straight.

For instance, if you read the title of today’s devotion and instantly knew that this was the dress Meghan wore to Harry’s polo match a couple weeks ago, you may need to tear yourself away from the tabloids for a while.

After all, you want to avoid Missing the Mark,

even if it means Missing the Markle.

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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Since my last confession.

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Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. –James 5:16

It happened again today.  I watched three more church members crossing the street and walking into the Catholic church down the way.  That was 8 people now, over the past few days.  What was going on?

I decided to find out.¬† I pulled on a hat and trench coat so as not to be easily recognizable.¬† I walked the short distance to the Catholic church and stepped inside.¬† It was a nice enough building.¬† I’d never been inside before.

Just then I caught a glimpse of my church members darting into the sanctuary, so I followed them.  I slouched down into a pew in the back, and watched them sitting over to the side.  Then, one at a time, they stepped into the small door on the side.

It was the confessional!  My people were sneaking into the Catholic church to take confession!

Confession was developed long ago, in the early years of Christianity, as a way of responding to James 5:16, above.  A regular, private, personal confession of sins, heard by a Priest.

When the reformation came, Protestants objected to confession, saying “Who says Priests are qualified to forgive sins?”¬† And some of the penance they prescribed included indulgences — basically a “pay you or your relative’s way out of salvation” scam.¬† So Protestants did away with the practice, replacing it with…not much.

Today?¬† According to an article in the Boston Globe, less than 2% of Catholics go to confession regularly.¬† And 3/4 don’t go at all.¬† Confession has become, for many Catholics, and unwelcome sacrament.

But what about us Protestants?¬† After 1,000+ years of very little opportunity for confessing sins, aside from the occasional corporate prayer, the idea of having someone to hand our heavy loads to doesn’t sound half bad.

Based on the actions of my (fictitious) parishioners, I propose a trade.¬† If Priests are willing to listen to our confessions, we’ll do something nice for the Catholics.¬† Give up red meat on Friday during Lent, maybe?¬† Treat our communion elements a little more carefully?¬† Something like that.¬† What do you think?

After my parishioners left the sanctuary, I made my way up front and climbed into that little box.¬† Finally I said, “It’s been…uh…at least 47 years since my last confession.”¬† Then I just kind of laid it all out there.¬† The little things that had been bugging me.¬† The big weights I was tired of carrying.¬† It felt really good.

But afterwards, I realized that I really could just ask Jesus for forgiveness directly.¬† Or talk things over with a friend.¬† Why hadn’t I made this a priority? I’ll admit I did feel a lot better, but not because of that confessional.¬† I felt free because I’d made space in my busy life to accept Christ’s freedom.

Let this be a reminder to us (Protestants and Catholics alike) that confession IS good for the soul.  Whether it involves talking to a priest or minister, or sharing with a good friend, or praying with a congregation, or holding nothing back from Christ, guilt is something too many of us carry around.

Put forth the effort and let it go.

Throw it away like a Hail Mary.

(I’m supposed to say 7 of those)

Have a great week,

Mitch

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Hypocrite in Untraining

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“I do not sit with the deceitful, nor do I associate with hypocrites.”¬† –Psalm 26:4

“Yes, you do.”¬† –Mitch Todd

Is it true?  Are Christians hypocrites?

To find out, I followed someone home from church this week, just to see how hypocritical they actually were.

Here’s a summary of my findings:

  • On Sunday they were a model citizen, until they started shouting obscenities at the game on TV.
  • On Monday, they told their spouse about something from work, and made it sound like they were the hero, when they really weren’t.
  • On Tuesday, they turned the channel away from one of those “starving children” commercials, so they wouldn’t be convinced to give.
  • On Wednesday, they went well over the speed limit.
  • On Thursday, they didn’t tip a waitress, because she brought them the wrong drink.
  • On Friday, they visibly tensed up when someone who didn’t look like¬†them brushed past them at the store.
  • On Saturday, they made a little too merry, and said a few things they probably shouldn’t have.

Nothing earth-shattering there, but everyone of those actions represents some type of hypocrisy.¬† As Christians, we’re not supposed to exaggerate, or turn a blind eye, or break the law, or treat others rudely, or act out of fear, or over-indulge, or speak carelessly. Right?

That (imaginary) church member should know better!

Every day we have an opportunity to represent Jesus Christ in this world, and every Sunday we declare our desire to do just that. And every week, in small ways and great big ways, we fall short.  We all do this.

Most of our shortcomings are the kinds of minor things anyone¬†might do, but when Christians, who proclaim to live according to a higher authority do them,¬†it’s a glaring misstep.¬† It’s hypocrisy at its finest.

Here’s the deal:¬†Despite what many might think about our religion, we haven’t arrived at some perfect¬†destination.¬† Rather, we’re on the journey of a lifetime.¬† A journey to become more and more like Christ.

Methodists call this sanctification.  To be made holy.  The journey has twists and turns, road-blocks, U-turns and slowdowns, but God willing, we grow in our faith.

We’re hypocrites in “untraining.”

It’s like a sign I made years ago. It said,

“Yes, I’m a Christian.
Yes, I’m a hypocrite.
Yes, I’m working on it.”

When others look at me, I want them to see a reflection of Christ.  But when I fail at that, I want them to see someone humble enough to admit it and try again.  Worship at its best instills in us that kind of humility.

On Sunday morning, when you come to church, don’t pretend to be something that you’re not.

Admit it–you’re a hypocrite!

But¬†take a look around…

you’re in good company.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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NOTE:  As we continue prayers for Texas and the Houston area, I invite you to donate to the United Methodist Committee on Relief.  This organization is among the first on the ground and the last to leave when disaster strikes.  Donate through them by visiting UMCOR.