Episode 100 | Songs of the Season, part 2: The Path to Peace

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-c3j8v-ca7ba8

In this episode, Rev. Todd continues on in the new Advent Series, Songs of the Season. In this episode, he discusses the importance of living our Peace in a world of chaos. This message is based on Isaiah 2:2-5.

EPISODE NOTES:

A LOOK BACK: Name It, Claim It, Live It

Read Matthew 2; Luke 2

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon.” (John 10:22-23)

MenorahIt’s no big secret to most people that I am not a huge fan of winter. I mean sure, I get the necessity of having the different seasons and I can certainly appreciate the symbolism the cycle of life, but I am not a fan of the bitter cold, the snow, the ice, the howling winds and commuting in those elements. The shortened days and distant sun can be make one feel hollow and depressed.

But with that said one of my favorite times of year happens to lead up to and directly follow the Winter Solstice. Of course I am referring to the season Advent and Christmas. Ironically, though this season commemorates the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, it is almost universally accepted that Jesus was not born during the cold winter month of December but at some other time during the year where the weather would be more conducive to shepherds tending their flocks in the field.

Regardless, I believe this time of year is the perfect time to celebrate the coming of the Christ-child. Theologically speaking, the coming of Christ represents the coming of HOPE into the world. What better time for hope than when we are in the midst of the death. Winter has always represented death and dormancy, where the green of life gives way to the cold, hollow grip of death. Yet, it is in winter where we see the hope of Spring and the return, or resurrection, of life.

Aside from the symbolic nature of the Season itself, it is also around this time that those who are Jewish celebrate Hanukkah. That holiday commemorates the Jews being liberated from Greek-Syrian oppression and the rededication of the Jewish Temple to God. This was a festival that Jesus, who was himself Jewish, participated in (John 10:22-23). Following a bloody war against their oppressors, the Jews took back Jerusalem and rededicated the Temple to God. Even though there was only enough oil to keep the candles burning for one day, those candles kept burning bright for all eight days of the festival. Thus, Hanukkah (also known as the festival of lights) is forever a celebration of the arrival of HOPE and the reminder that God is always present with God’s people.

‘Tis the season for HOPE. Whether we look to the natural cycle of the season, or to the celebration of Hanukkah or to the humble birth of a small, vulnerable baby in a cruel and murderous world, this time of year will forever point people to the fact that HOPE never dies! Like the menorah burning on the last drops of oil, HOPE can never be extinguished. Like the birth of Jesus reminds us, no matter how small and insignificant it may seem, HOPE does conquer all HOPELESSNESS!

The challenge today is for you to be a person of HOPE! Instead of getting caught up in the fears and the cynicism that the world produces, never give up HOPE. God is challenging us to place our faith in God, and to be filled with the HOPE that such a faith provides. There is HOPE for a brighter tomorrow, but more importantly, there is HOPE for a brighter NOW! Name it, claim it, and live it! Have the HOPE and allow that HOPE to transform you into an agent who bears HOPE for others!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“I find hope in the darkest of days, and focus in the brightest. I do not judge the universe.” – Dalai Lama

PRAYER

Lord, fill me and transform me with your hope so that I may be a beacon of that hope for others. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: O Come, O Come Emmanuel

Read Matthew 1:18-23

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Then Isaiah said: ‘Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.’” (Isaiah 7:13-14)

O Come, O Come, EmmanuelIt is hard to put into words the fear, anxiety, sadness, depression and confusion that ran through most people’s minds at the close of this past Friday, December 14. By the end of the day we had learned, following spending the day watching the drama unfold on live TV, that 28 people had been shot and killed at an elementary school in Connecticut. Out of the 28, twenty of them were children between the ages of six and seven years old.

Often times, in tragedies such as this, people ask the question, “Where is God in all of this?”  After all, what kind of God would allow children to be born and grow up in a world that is seemingly as evil as this one is?  What kind of God would create “monsters” who go out and destroy those who are innocent?  What kind of God would be so cold as to not intervene when the lives of the innocent are at stake?

These are all valid and good questions to ask ourselves.  It is also safe to say that there really aren’t any answers that fully satisfy our need to understand how evil and God co-exist? I could offer a ton of Christianese clichés that sound good off the cuff, but that would only be to simplify something that is very complex; so, rather than offering easy answers to really tough questions, I will provide one of many possible ways in which we can reflect on what happened and what our response will be.

It is very easy for us to look at where we don’t see God only to miss out on where we are seeing God.  For instance, we look at Adam Lanza and see his actions as a prime example of God failing to be with us. Yet, we also fail to see that God was with the principal who lunged at Adam and was the first to be shot and killed. God was with the teachers as they did everything they could, including cover children with their own bodies, to save their students.  God was with the first responders.  God is also with those who are looking at ways to address the societal issues that end up allowing people like Adam to fall through the cracks unnoticed until it is too late. When Jesus called his disciples to care for “the least of these”, that included those who suffer from mental illness. Yet, in our society, mental illness is stigmatized and our health care system often doesn’t provide affordable ways for people suffering from mental illness to get the kind of care (not just drugs and a locked asylum door) that they need.

The fact of the matter is that bad things do happen. People have free will and choose to do all sorts of things that God would not wish for anyone to choose. But aside from that fact, we still have a God who loves us, a God who is with us, a God who provides hope even in the darkest of circumstances.  The Nativity story is a reminder of the hope of Emmanuel, or rather, the hope of God being with us. This God came to earth and became one of us; this God put others first and sought to be present with all people, regardless of their status or condition. This God was crucified by God’s own creation and resurrected back to life despite being put to death.  This God is the same God who was present with the teachers, administrators and first responders who worked desperately hard to save as many as possible, risking their own lives in the process. This God is the same God who is turning the media’s attention from labeling Adam as “the face of evil”, to looking at how people like Adam haven’t received the care they need.

While we cannot definitively answer the question of why bad things like this happen, aside from the obvious answers, we certainly can still have the hope of Emmanuel. Let us not forget that God never leaves us, nor forsakes us.  We can know that God is with us, and we can let God guide us to be instrumental in sparking the changes that are needed in the communities around us, the very changes that could protect other children and people from such acts of evil. Let us welcome Emmanuel in this world, by seeing God’s revelation in us.  We have been equipped to be the presence of God in the lives of those in need, whether they are children in distress or Adam Lanza’s slipping through the cracks. Let us be like the writer of Hebrews who with confidence proclaims, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid” (Hebrews 13:6).

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
We need not look any further than our own hearts, and the hearts of those around us, to find God.

PRAYER
Lord, I thank you for always being present with me, and thank you for revealing your presence in me. Let me witness to that Good News! Amen.

Originally written on December 19, 2012

Episode 19 | Tales From the Darkside

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-fjfp3-c7ad16

In this episode, fellow POJCasters, Sal and Todd, along with special guest, Rev. Amanda Rohrs-Dodge, discuss their fave brew, fave music, the importance of knowing and understanding the darker side of the Advent/Christmas Season.

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EPISODE NOTES:

He Brews Segement:

Amanda:

Sal

Todd

Most Excellent Music Segment

Sal

Amanda

Todd

The Rhors-Dodge Connection

God’s People, part 224: Adulterer

Read John 7:53; 8:1-11

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Soon afterward Jesus began a tour of the nearby towns and villages, preaching and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom of God. He took his twelve disciples with him, along with some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases. Among them were Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons;”  (Luke 8:1-2, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Jesus_Woman-AdultererPart 224: Adulterer. We all are familiar with the account of the adulterer in John 8. This scene has been played out in virtually every movie ever made on Jesus’ life, teachings, death and resurrection. Most likely, it is remembered in the following way:

A crowd of people come storming into the village square, stones in hand as they chase down a woman who is in a ragged undergarment. Her makeup is smeared across her face, and her dark, exotic eyeliner, eye shadow, and mascara are streaking down her face with streams of tears. Jesus sees the angry crowd and also notices one of the religious leaders approaching him.

“Teacher,” the man called out snidely in order to trap Jesus, “this woman was caught in adultery. The law of Moses says we must stone her to death. What do you say?”

Jesus bends down quietly and draws in the sand a fish symbol. Though Jesus doesn’t answer the man, he calls out again and demands an answer. “All right,” Jesus responded, “But let the one who is without sin cast the first stone.

Each person knowing that they aren’t without sin, they begin to drop their stones on the ground and leave dejected. Jesus approaches the woman and asks, “Woman, who here condemns you.

“No one, master,” she replied. Then Jesus said to her, “Then, neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.

Of course, this memory of the Scripture is mostly right, though some of the details are off. First, the crowd was not necessarily holding stones; rather, the account tells us that they brought the woman before Jesus in order to trap him. When Jesus said his famous line, “let the one who is without sin cast the first stone”, there is no mention that the people dropped their stones, but that they just left.

Also, we don’t know what Jesus actually wrote in the sand. Films often have Jesus draw a fish, which was the ancient symbol for Christ followers; however, there is no actual evidence that Jesus drew that symbol, let alone anything else. Most importantly, this woman often gets conflated with Mary Magdalene. In fact, this identity has become so strongly linked to the adulterous woman, that even when we read the text, in which the woman is given no name, we see Mary Magdalene as that woman.

The truth is, Mary was never linked to being an adulterer, nor does the Bible say that Mary Magdalene was ever a prostitute. In fact, the only mention of Mary in her life prior to following Jesus, was that she had been possessed by seven demons and that Jesus had performed an exorcism on her, casting them out. Thus, this woman caught in adultery was NOT Mary Magdalene, but an unnamed, anonymous woman.

Many Christians will read into this lots of different things, none worse than the idea that this passage promotes the common, hideous, phrase of “hate the sin, but love the sinner.” People will use this woman as an example that, while Jesus forgives, he does so on the condition that you go and “sin no more.” There is some truth to that; however, it is a half truth at best and it is often used to justify one’s own judgmentalism.

Yes, Jesus forgives us and, it is true, that Jesus does ask us to go and sin no more. With that said, the forgiveness is not conditioned on anything. It is give to those who believe in Christ and call on his name for forgiveness. Honestly, Christ’s forgiveness is given to all humanity; however, if they do not see their need for forgiveness and do not accept Christ and the forgiveness he offers, they can never receive it. That is not because Christ doesn’t want them to, but because they are unwilling to.

The woman was not told to go and sin no more and, upon accepting that condition was forgiven. It was quite the opposite of that. Jesus forgave her and then gave her the opportunity to go and sin no more. No doubt, she probably did sin again at some point. She’s a human being; however, due to her acceptance of Jesus in that moment, she had been freed from living in her sins. As a result, any time she slipped into sin, she could remember the forgiveness given her, repent, and change course toward righteousness by the power of the Holy Spirit.

That is the same for all of us. None of us are in a place to “hate the sin, but love the sinner”, for we are all sinners who sin. That doesn’t mean we should like our sins. No, far from it. We should not like our sins, but instead of being the judge of sin in others, we should be turning to God to help us remove our own sins. Instead of judging sins in others, we should support people who are sinning and extend the kind of graceful guidance that Christ would want us to extend. It is then, that we move from judgment to graceful accountability. “Love the sinner and journey with them as we all move away from our sins toward Christ.” Let us make that our motto.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.” – Jesus of Nazareth in Matthew 7:5

PRAYER
Lord, help me to focus on my own sins, rather than being so quick to see, and judge, the sin in others. I look to you for my salvation and I point others to you out of love. Amen.

God’s People, part 223: Leaders

Read John 7:32-36

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“When they heard this, the people in the synagogue were furious. Jumping up, they mobbed him and forced him to the edge of the hill on which the town was built. They intended to push him over the cliff, but he passed right through the crowd and went on his way.” (Luke 4:28-30, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Trial-of-Jesus Part 223: Leaders. For someone often referred to as the “Prince of Peace”, Jesus sure did find himself in the midst of quite a lot of conflict. In fact, it is safe to say that, out of what is known, much of Jesus’ life was riddled with conflict. When he was born, Jesus had to be snuck out of Bethlehem in the dead of night because an angel warned Joseph that Herod was going to attack Bethlehem and kill every newborn make up to 2 years old. So, the first part of Jesus’ life was living as a refugee, seeking asylum in the foreign kingdom of Egypt.

When Jesus was twelve, he slipped away from his parents, who just assumed he was somewhere in the caravan they were traveling home from Jerusalem with. Meanwhile, Jesus was back in city carrying a theological discussion with the Temple leaders. When his parents realized he was missing, they went back to Jerusalem and searched for him for three days before they found him. For those of you reading this who are parents you can imagine the horror and the anger running through Mary and Joseph’s veins.

All throughout his ministry, Jesus ran into conflict. He ran into conflict with his family, with townsfolk who didn’t quite know what to think of him, with village farmers for casting demons into pigs, with demons (obviously), with local Rabbis, with the Pharisees, with the Sadducees, with Herod, with Herod Antipas and, of course, with the Romans. It would be more than justified to say that Jesus’ life was full of conflict.

In this account within John, a conflict arose between Jesus and the Pharisees because they had heard the crowds whispering among themselves that Jesus was the Messiah. The notion of this man, who had challenged their authority before, being the Messiah was not only outrageous, it was completely scandalous as well. This man was a peasant from Nazareth in Galilee. How could he possibly be the Messiah, this uneducated man from a place that no prophet, let alone Messiah, was likely to be from. What’s more, the Messiah was supposed to be of the line of David, yet this man from Nazareth could not possibly be a descendant since David and his family was from Bethlehem.

It was bad enough that people were looking to Jesus as a prophetic figure and, while the Pharisees couldn’t even stomach the notion of that, there was no way they were going to tolerate this rabble rouser to get hailed the “King of the Jews” (aka the Messiah). That would simply anger God, as they saw it, and God’s wrath would come down upon them all through the might of the Roman Empire. It would not be the first time God’s wrath came down upon Israel through a foreign empire, and the Pharisees, as leaders among the Jewish people, did not want to be the one’s responsible for stoking God’s anger by allowing this riff raff to spread his deceitful teachings.

Thus, these Rabbinic leaders, along with the Temple Priests, sent the Temple guards to arrest Jesus. When they arrived, they found Jesus waiting for them and ready to teach them: “I will be with you only a little longer. Then I will return to the one who sent me. You will search for me but not find me. And you cannot go where I am going.” (John 7:33-34, NLT) The leaders were puzzled by this. They began to question what he could possibly mean. Was he going to leave Jerusalem and Judaea and go other Jews out in the land of the Gentiles, among the Greeks and the Romans? Would he bring this obscure message to the Greeks themselves?

The leaders were at a loss as to what he could have possibly meant by his words, so much so that he evidently slipped away from them without even getting arrested. These leaders had been stumped by a supposedly uneducated simpleton from Nazareth in Galilee. How embarrassing that must have been. How much more they must have wanted to find this man and have him arrested, especially since they had him in plain sight and, yet, were unable to take him in custody.

The question for us is this, do we think we know more than Jesus. Do we think that, because of our place in the 21st Century, that we are superior to Jesus and the ancient world. Do we look at his miracles as being mythological because we, in the 21st century, know that natural science doesn’t work that way? Do we think that we somehow are in a place to pick and choose which of Jesus’ teachings are worth following and which aren’t?

The truth is that if we take such a position we find ourselves in the place of the Jewish Leaders. The challenge is for us to look to Jesus with new and fresh eyes. The challenge for us is to accept Jesus for who he claimed to be, and to let go of our modern-centric cynicism. Remember, that Jesus is either who he said he is, or he is not worth our time in listening to and following. I personally have experience Jesus Christ as Lord, I have come into his real, living presence, and you can too if you open yourself up to it. I pray you do.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.” – Jesus Christ (Matthew 16:18, NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, help me to grow in my knowledge and experience of you so that I might also grow in my faith and in my faithfulness. Amen.

Episode 98 | The Image

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-acm8f-c88b53

In this episode, Rev. Todd discusses God’s call for us to live into the resurrection and be ambassadors for Christ. This message is based on Colossians 1:11-20.

EPISODE NOTES:

God’s People, part 222: Offended Disciples

Read John 7:32-36

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“The life of every creature is in its blood. That is why I have said to the people of Israel, ‘You must never eat or drink blood, for the life of any creature is in its blood.’ So whoever consumes blood will be cut off from the community.”  (Leviticus 17:14, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

holy-communion-5Part 222: At the start of John 6:60-71, Jesus was being questioned by his disciples for something he had just taught. He was in his hometown of Nazareth and he was teaching people about himself and about his relationship with God. What’s more, he was also teaching his theological significance, foreshadowing his role as the sacrificial lamb that removes the sins of the world. Theologically speaking, this text is also explaining the significance of what would go on to be the sacrament known as the Holy Eucharist or Holy Communion.  This is one of the two sacraments that Jesus, himself, instituted and this passage is one of the passages of institution, along with the actual Last Supper he had with his disciples.

Before we can get to the disciples’ response, we have to first understand what Jesus was teaching and the context in which he was teaching it. Jesus was telling the crowds that he was the Bread of Life sent down from heaven. This imagery is parallel to the act of God feeding the Israelites with Manna sent down from the heavens. Jesus is likening himself to that bread, which sustained the Israelites in their 40 year journey through the barren wilderness.

This teaching directly followed Jesus feeding the five thousand, and many people were following him because they saw that miraculous sign. Jesus, seeing that numbers that were following him, let them know that he knew their reason for following him was misguided. They were wowed by the fact that he fed them fish and bread, not because they truly understood what they saw. He also warned them to not be caught up by nourishment that is perishable, but rather they should invest their time in seeking eternal life.

He then proceeded to tell them that the same God that sent their ancestors manna from heaven, God is now sending them the true bread from heaven…namely, Jesus Christ. He then proceeded to challenge their unbelief in him and that only those who believe in him will have eternal life. To sum it up, he then proceeded to tell him that not only is he the true bread from heaven, but those who eat that bread, which is his flesh, will live forever. In fact, those who eat his bread and those who drink his blood will have eternal life.

In the Jewish context, this teaching would be impossible for anyone to accept. They had strict dietary laws of what they could eat, and what they could not eat. The drinking of any animal’s blood was strictly prohibited, let alone the blood of a human being. What’s more, cannibalism was also strictly prohibited. So, it would have been impossible for most Jews to accept this teaching. Let’s be honest, it is impossible for most human beings to accept this teaching.

Of course, Jesus didn’t mean it literally; rather, he was using the flesh and blood as symbols of what he as about to do on the cross as well as sacramental commemoration of it, which would be forever imbued with his living, transformative, presence and grace. Still, many of the disciples just simply could not accept this teaching and, sadly, they left him as a result of it. When Jesus turned and asked his twelve disciples if they would leave as well, Peter famously answered, “Simon Peter replied, ‘Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of God.’”  (John 6:68-69, NLT)

Many people today, including some Christians, will say that they are grossed out by the concept of Holy Eucharist or Communion, because it feels cannibalistic; however, as John Wesley understood it, this holy sacrament is a means of grace for those who partake. It not only symbolizes Christ’s sacrifice for us and calls us to be a people of sacrificial love as well, but it also mysteriously fills us with grace and Christ’s presence. The question is this, will we be like the offended disciples who refuse to accept Jesus simply because we cannot wrap our heads around his teachings, or will we let him penetrate our hearts to the point where we see him, like the 12 disciples did, as the Holy One of God who has the words that give eternal life? I pray that we all respond to Christ as Peter did.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“It was interesting to think that the very first liquid ever poured on the Moon, and the first food eaten there, were communion elements.” – Buzz Aldrin

PRAYER
Lord, where else would I go? You have the words that lead to eternal life. I do believe that you are the Holy One sent by God. Bring me into closer communion with you. Amen.

God’s People, part 221: Samaritan

Read John 4:1-45

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Jesus replied, ‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”  (Matthew 22:37-40, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

SamaritanWomanPart 221: Samaritan. It is hard to imagine just how scandalous this chapter in John actually is; however, trust me when I say that this chapter is extremely scandalous in the context of the first century Jewish world. In our day and age, we think very little of this story. We read it as a warm and fuzzy conversation between Jesus and some unnamed woman at a well in Samaria; however, so much more is going on this text.

For starters, Jesus is seen here talking to and teaching, even debating, with a woman. This was unheard of in the first century ancient Middle East; however, this alone is not too shocking for us as we know that Jesus talked to many women, and even had women followers such as Mary Magdalene. With that said, he was not only talking to her; however, he was talking to her alone. This, alone, would have been super scandalous to anyone in that time period. In fact, John wrote: “Just then his disciples came back. They were shocked to find him talking to a woman, but none of them had the nerve to ask, “What do you want with her?” or “Why are you talking to her” (John 4:27, NLT)?

Add to that the fact that this woman was a Samaritan and you add another layer to the scandal. The Jews traditionally detested the Samaritans and saw them as Gentiles of the worst kind. These were people who had mixed heritage. They were Jewish and Assyrian and they chose to worship God in Samaria, instead of Jerusalem. This was against the Law as recorded in the Book of Discipline; however, the Samaritan’s chose to resist the Jews insistence that the Jerusalem Temple was the only place one could worship.

The contention grew to be so divisively bitter that Jews would do anything they could to avoid the Samaritans, for they felt that if they did cross their path, they would instantly be defiled. Yet, Jesus was talking alone with this Samaritan woman, and instructing her in what it means to truly worship God. In the end, Jesus states that both his people and the Samaritans didn’t have it completely right, but that one day people would worship God in spirit and in truth.

Then, yet another layer can be added to the scandal. Not only was this a woman was also a Samaritan, but this was a Samaritan woman who had been previously married five times and the man she was currently living with she wasn’t even married to. Such a person, in the context of Jewish Law and sensibility, was a sinner of the highest order. Yet, Jesus was not only associating with her, but treater her like a worthy student. He even listened to her and entertained her counter points to him. This was completely scandalous and would have offended many people, including Jesus’ own disciples.

Yet, Jesus was unfazed but this reality. He treated this woman no differently than he would have treated anyone else! He saw past all of the labels and scandalous controversies to see the human being behind it all. He loved her and treated her with the dignity that all human beings made in God’s image should be treated. To Jesus, this woman was not a woman, a Samaritan, a person divorced and remarried multiple times; this woman, to Jesus, was a child of God created in God’s image.

Let us be challenged by that. Far, too often we define people by the labels we place on them. Worse than that, we judge them as being unfit of our compassion and attention. We simply pass them by because we think it would be far better to do that than to be associated with them; however, that is not what Jesus modeled for us. Let us be a people who no longer define people by the labels they are give; rather, let us be a people who define all people as children of God, created in God’s divine and holy image! Then we will be truly living as our God created us to.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Labels are for products, not for people.

PRAYER
Lord, help me to stop labeling myself and others. Amen.

God’s People, part 220: Nicodemus

Read John 3:1-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“With him came Nicodemus, the man who had come to Jesus at night. He brought about seventy-five pounds of perfumed ointment made from myrrh and aloes.” (John 19:39, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

nicodemusJesusPart 220: Nicodemus. Nicodemus is a character well-known and beloved for his interactions with Jesus, especially in the fact that he, along with Joseph of Arimathea, was responsible for making sure that Jesus had a proper and honorable burial as opposed to being thrown into a fiery pit. The Romans were not usually known for such concessions when it came to traitors, which Jesus was convicted of being; however, Nicodemus was a member of the Sanhedrin and had political sway. No doubt, Pilate saw this request as a political win/win as he was able to rid himself of a rabble-rouser, all the while showing a small measure respect to the followers of Jesus and to the Jewish religious establishment.

Yet, Nicodemus was not always such a brave and audacious person when it came to showing respect for Jesus as a rabbi. While Christians have traditionally held that Nicodemus believed in Jesus and became among the first Christians; however, the Bible does not give us a clue as to the depth of Nicodemus’ belief in Jesus; however, he clearly did come to respect him enough to put his neck out there and request a proper burial.

In the beginning, Nicodemus was more of a curious observer of Jesus’ ministry. We are told in John 3:1 that Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a religious leader. In verse 2, we are told that Nicodemus came to Jesus one evening, in the cover of the darkness. This obviously means that he was not comfortable with his colleagues and other people seeing him associating with this itinerant rabbi. Nicodemus clearly did not yet endorse his teachings and, though curious, he was not about to be caught in the same company as Jesus if he could avoid it.

Yet, Nicodemus did have a cautious respect for this obscure rabbi too. He said in verse 2, “Rabbi, we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you.” Nicodemus was not making a statement of faith by saying that, he was simply observing Jesus in light of the Biblical Jewish standard for discerning if a prophet is of God or is false. Clearly, according to Nicodemus, there was something to Jesus and his ministry, because without God there was no way that Jesus could perform the signs he was performing. Again, as was expressed in the previous devotion, the signs point to God’s presence in Jesus.

For Nicodemus, however, Jesus was nothing more than a prophet whom God sent. He did not know Jesus’ true identity and, perhaps, that was exactly why he came to seek Jesus out under the cloak of the dark night. He wanted to find out more of who Jesus ACTUALLY was and, though Nicodemus was perplexed by Jesus answer to him, he got exactly what he was looking for.

In verses 16-21, Jesus proceeded to tell Nicodemus who he was. In fact, in the famous verses 16-17, Jesus gave Nicodemus something hadn’t given anyone up until this point: “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16-17, NLT). In other words, Jesus blatantly told Nicodemus that he was God’s only begotten son and God’s salvation plan for the world.

He also shared with Nicodemus the way in which one might be saved through him: being born again. Throughout the years, this phrase has been hijacked by some Christians to mean “Bible-believing fundamentalist who jams his/her faith down people’s throats.” Yet, that is NOT what Christ meant by born again. Rather, he explains to Nicodemus, one places their faith in God’s only Son, they are born again of the Holy Spirit and become a new creation as a result of that birth.

By the end of the whole exchange, one is left feeling like Nicodemus walked away confused and dejected, feeling as if the whole meeting was incomprehensible and uncertain. Yet, regardless of how Nicodemus may or may not have felt leaving Jesus that night, a seed was planted and something clearly changed within him. How do we know this? In John 7:51, while the Sanhedrin was plotting to arrest and kill Jesus, Nicodemus spoke up in the Nazarene’s defense, “Is it legal to convict a man before he is given a hearing” (NLT)? Also, in John 19:39, Nicodemus was with Joseph of Arimathea (another secret follower of Jesus’) when he buried Jesus in his own tomb. No doubt, Nicodemus (a man with religious and political influence) played a role in procuring Jesus’ body from Pilate.

All of this should remind us that one cannot judge a book by its cover. We never know how God is working in the lives of others. Change almost never happens overnight and one never knows when and how God will bring even the most stubborn person into salvation. Rather than judging people based of who we think they are based off of their status, vocation or any other external factor, we ought to refrain from judgment and just be willing to seed planters, trusting that God will nurture and nourish those seeds. In doing so, we will be following Jesus’ model of patient, compassionate, loving evangelism.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Patience is a good quality in a gardener; likewise, it is good quality in a Christian as well.

PRAYER
Lord, give me the patience and trust I need to know that you are working in the lives of those I have planted seeds. Amen.

A biweekly devotional