A LOOK BACK: Forgiven

lent-CrossesThis week kicks off the most important season in the Christian liturgical calendar. Lent, Holy Week, and Easter remind us of our sinful nature, the cost that our sin ultimately cost, and the hope of the Resurrection in Jesus Christ who conquered the grave. Ash Wednesday kicks off the season of Lent, a 40 day period that parallels Jesus temptation in the wilderness and the 40 years the Israelites spent wandering the wilderness in search of the Promised Land. Click here to kick off your Ash Wednesday on the right foot.

Episode 112 | The Mountain and the Valley

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-9ama2-d475cd

In this episode, Rev. Todd discusses the importance of not losing sight of whose we are. This message is based on 1 Corinthians 3:1-9.

EPISODE NOTES:

The Vernal Falls Hike

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God’s People, part 235: Ananias & Sapphira

Read Acts 5:1-11

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Honesty guides good people; dishonesty destroys treacherous people.”  (Proverbs 11:3, 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.

Ananias_And_SapphiraPart 235: Ananias & Sapphira. In a previous devotion, it was discussed that the Jerusalem church shared everything in common not in order to establish and eco-social-political system of wealth redistribution, but in order to express the love of Christ to each other and to survive the persecution they were experiencing. It was a necessary act of sacrificial love that each member of the Jerusalem Church displayed by giving up their “rights” over property, money and goods in order to share it with the whole. What’s more, the entire church (including the leaders) took a vow of poverty in that they vowed that they would not individually own a single thing but that it would be part of the common good of the whole.

The passage we read for today’s devotion, we come across another one of those Scripture passages that seems harsh and hard to swallow; however, it was written to convey an urgent message regarding the importance of Christian charity. We learn of a man named, Ananias who was married to a woman named Sapphira.

At some point, this couple became members of the Jerusalem Church and sold their property in order to share the money with the larger community; however, instead of being honest, they kept a portion of the money for themselves and gave the difference to the church, claiming that they were giving all that they had. In other words, they entered into the social contract of the Jerusalem Church dishonestly under false pretenses.

Somehow, Peter found out about the deception and he approached Ananias to question him. He told them how shameful their action was, and how sad it was that they allowed Satan to enter their hearts in such a way. Peter said, “The property was yours to sell or not sell, as you wished. And after selling it, the money was also yours to give away. How could you do a thing like this? You weren’t lying to us but to God” (Acts 5:4)!

Instantly, Ananias dropped dead. Sapphira, who was not in the room at the time came in, and saw what had happened. Peter questioned her if the amount they gave was all that they had to give and she, too, lied about it. As such, she also dropped to the floor and was dead. Both Ananias and Sapphira were dishonest people and paid with their lives.

This seems like an awfully harsh sentence for God to carry out on a couple of lying swindlers. Certainly, God could have just let Peter hand their money back to them and kicked them out of the community. Yet, this couple died as a result of their dishonesty, which is a hard pill for many of us to swallow when reading this passage.

Still, it doesn’t really matter if the pill is a hard one to swallow. You should wrestle with these types of challenging passages and it is okay if you have a hard time believing God would actually carry something like that out. Such struggling with Scripture does not make you less of a Christian, but actually shows how serious you take the Bible, how much you desire to understand it, and how compassionate you are.

Still, we can look beyond the macabre details and find the Biblical truth behind what happened to Ananias and Sapphira. They were a couple who wanted to accept the lavish grace of God and the radical hospitality of the church community; however, they did not want to give such grace and hospitality in return. Instead, they allowed their greed to be their god and they chose to lie, and ultimately hurt, the church community.

Whether or not they physically died, their death also equates their spiritual death. They allowed their hearts to be poisoned and taken over by Satan and, as such, they separated themselves from neighbor and from God. Even when they were given a second chance to be honest, they chose the path of dishonesty. This death, physical or otherwise, was not brought on by a cold, vindictive God; rather, it was brought on by their own poisoned, necrotic hearts.

This should challenge us as Christians? Who do we serve? Do we serve ourselves? Do we put our own interests over God’s and the churches? Do we pretend to be people of God, but deep down are children of Satan? Or are we sinners who are redeemed by our merciful and just God? Do we strive to follow God and, when we do wander off the path, do we strive to own up to our mistakes and repent of our sins? I pray that we all reflect on these questions and allow the Holy Spirit to continue to perfect us in God’s grace and love.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Greed is so destructive. It destroys everything.” – Eartha Kitt

PRAYER
Lord, help me to be a person of integrity and open my heart to accountability when I am not. Amen.

God’s People, part 234: Barnabas

Read Acts 4:36-37

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard what was happening, they tore their clothing in dismay and ran out among the people, shouting,”  (Acts 14:14, 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.

barnabasPart 234: Barnabas. When it comes to the New Testament, we think a few prominent figures. We think of Mary and Joseph. We think of Jesus Christ and his twelve disciples. Among them, we think of Peter, John and James. When it comes to Acts, we predominantly think of the Apostle Paul; however, barring those who have read the Acts of the Apostles and the Pauline epistles (aka letters), most would NOT know the name, “Barnabas”; yet, he was a very influential apostle in the early church.

Barnabas’ actual name was Joseph and he was nicknamed Barnabas which means, “son of encouragement”. While on the surface it may not be clear why he was given that nickname, a closer read of Scripture provides the clues as to how Joseph fit into his nickname. When Saul of Tarsus first became an apostle, he was taken under the wing of Barnabas, with whom he traveled the known world on mission trips to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles.

While the Scriptures do not explicitly say that Barnabas was Paul’s mentor, it can be ascertained by the order in which their names appear. In Acts 11:30; 12:25; 13:2, 7, they are always listed in the following order: Barnabas and Saul. From that point on, however, they were listed as Paul and Barnabas. That means that from that point on, Paul (who decided to use his Roman name) was the apostle in charge.

Yet, mentoring Paul was not the only place where we find Barnabas encouraging people. He was a mentor to many, no doubt, including his cousin John Mark, which may or may not have been the same Mark who wrote the Gospel. Not only did Barnabas encourage him, but he advocated for him when Paul no longer wanted John Mark to be a part their missionary journeys.

The reason behind this is that John Mark had been with Barnabas and Saul (before he was using his Roman name) on their first missionary journey together. At some point during that first journey, John Mark had “abandoned them” midway and returned to Jerusalem. I put the word “abandoned” in quotes because, while it is never mentioned why John Mark left them, Paul was upset by it and clearly viewed it as a sort of abandonment of duties.

Thus, when Paul invited his good friend Barnabas on his next journey, and Barnabas stated he wanted to bring John Mark along, Paul vehemently disagreed. That, sadly, ended up in the a division between Barnabas and Paul. They parted ways and Paul went on his next journey with Silas, while Barnabas went to Cyprus with his cousin. The two sadly never joined forces again.

It is impossible to know if the two kept in contact with each other from that point on, or if their split became a permanent end to their friendship, or if they’re going separate ways made it impossible for them to reunite; however, Barnabas stood up to Paul in defense of his cousin Mark. He believed his cousin should be shown grace and encouraged to grow. As a result, Mark went on to possibly author the Gospel (though that is disputed) and more than likely to be a bishop of Apollonia.

Thus, as Christians, we could use to be like Barnabas. We could use to be an encourager and an advocate for people who we see great potential. Some times we do need to be like Paul and move on from people who are consistently unreliable; however, in this case, Paul may have been too rash as John Mark only left them once.

We, too, can often write people off too quickly because it seems like the easier route; however, Christ (and, ironically, Paul too) encourages us to be encouragers and a people who build others up. We are not to write people off, but to extend grace and extra chances to them, until it becomes clear that they are unwilling to accept such grace and change. Let us be encouragers, like Barnabas, and nurture people into deeper commitment and discipleship.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.”  – Paul of Tarsus, Apostle of Christ in 1 Thessalonians 5:11, NLT

PRAYER
Lord, help me to be an encourager of the church. Give me the grace to extend to those who may not be where I think they should be, for I know I am not where you think I should be. Thank you for your grace and your love. Amen.

Episode 111 | Who’s Our Daddy?

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-dr6wc-d3cea7

In this episode, Rev. Todd discusses the importance of not losing sight of whose we are. This message is based on 1 Corinthians 3:1-9.

EPISODE NOTES:

God’s People, part 233: In Common

Read Acts 4:32-37

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Right now you have plenty and can help those who are in need. Later, they will have plenty and can share with you when you need it. In this way, things will be equal.”  (2 Corinthians 8:14, 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.

EarlyChurch_LivingInCommonPart 233: In Common. The Scripture reading for today’s devotion is a powerful scripture that has, unfortunately, been vastly misunderstood and misused. It shows us the power that exists within the body of Christ when it is living out the kind of servant-love that Jesus taught and commanded his disciples to carry on following his ascension; however, it also is an example of how Scripture can be used and twisted to carry out the agendas of human beings, even if they do so with good intentions.

Let’s first get the humanist interpretations out of the way. Good people with good intentions can still find themselves paving the way to hell. This Scripture gives us a prime example of how that can happen. People like Karl Marx were largely against religion and, especially, deterministic materialism. The Church, especially the Roman Catholic Church but also including Protestantism, had become an institution that promoted deterministic materialism. It expanded like an empire, demanded that monks not marry in order to retain church property, and pushed to grow its authority on a global scale.

All the while, it taught that “slaves should obey their masters,” that God determined who should serve as rulers and that all people should respect and subject themselves to kings, political authorities, and the law (no matter how immoral it might be), and it held people in subjection to classes defined by wealth. Sadly, many of the religious leaders who held people in their economic places were themselves extremely wealthy (e.g. the Pope, the King of England, bishops and cardinals, etc.).

Thus people like Karl Marx saw religion in such a way: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”[i] Religion was something that needed to be rooted out from society in order for socialistic and systemic change. With that said, Marx was sympathetic to the non-supernatural elements of Christian teaching, especially when it came to everyone living in common as found in Acts 4:32-37.

Marx is not alone in that and many, including Christians, have pushed for social change. In fact, there are some Christians that would call themselves “Communists”. Still, it is not equitable to mention Communism (not to be confused with Socialism and/or Democratic Socialism) and not mention the failings of that political system. Any student of history knows that Communism led to the rise of dictators such as Joseph Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Fidel Castor, Hugo Chavez, etc., who used brutal measures to uphold their authority and Communistic ideals. Of course, those ideals led to the elite government leaders being rich and everyone else being poor.

That is not what we see happening in the early church; rather, what happened in that context was much more practical, organic and self-sustainable. As mounting pressure rose up against early Christ followers from Jewish and Roman authorities, the community came to rely on each other to survive. The early Jewish Christians took a vow to poverty, meaning that they would not own anything to themselves, but would share resources and rely on the charity (love-driven giving) of others to sustain their lives and ministry. That is a far cry from the top-down approach of Communism.

With that said, it was also a witness to the great faith of the the early Christian community in Jerusalem and, we see that even Paul encouraged his churches to contribute to the “poor” in Jerusalem in order to support their lives and ministry (Romans 15:31; 2 Corinthians 8:1-15; Galatians 2:10). It must be noted; however, that this “living in common” was not something that was completely widespread throughout the church, but was specific to the Church in Jerusalem. Clearly, Paul’s churches did not all live in common, giving ownership of everything (e.g. money, property, resources) up to the Church as a whole; however, Paul’s churches still equitably shared their resources with others, including offering their homes up to be used as places of worship, tithing to support the ministries, and sharing in common meals.

What does this say for us? In our churches today, we see less and less giving. People see tithing as a “personal” matter and they get easily offended with pastors and/or church leaders talk about money. People want all of the “services” of a church (e.g. baptism, weddings, funerals, weekly services, Bible studies, Sunday School, counseling, and visitations); however, they don’t feel all that inclined to making their contributions a top priorty over other expenses. In fact, many view giving to the church (local, regional and global) as an obligatory expense.

This is not how the Church was intended to be. All of us make up the Church Universal, and investing in the Church is the same as investing in ourselves. That was the view of the earliest church, and that is how we should view it today. We are God’s and belong to the body of Christ; therefore, should we not prioritize supporting the body of Christ with our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service and our witness? That should be our top priority, along with bringing the good news of Christ to all people. I pray that you will reflect on that, if you are not already, make that the top priority in your life.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Generosity is as much showing your vulnerability as it is your passion for something.” – David Droga

PRAYER
Lord, help me to let go of my materialistic desires, so that I may generously supply the Church, of which I am a valuable part, its needs so that that it can carry on your ministry and advance the Kingdom of Heaven. Amen.

[i] Marx, Karl. “A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right” in Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher. (Paris, 1844), https://marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1843/critique-hpr/intro.htm.

God’s People, part 232: The Council

Read Acts 4:1-2

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For God chose to save us through our Lord Jesus Christ, not to pour out his anger on us. Christ died for us so that, whether we are dead or alive when he returns, we can live with him forever. So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.”  (1 Thessalonians 5:9-11, 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.

The_Sanhedrin_in_session_2013-12-25_00-59Part 232: The Council. When it came to matters of religious law, there was only one authority that decided whether someone was innocent or guilty for breaking it. That sole authority was the Sanhedrin, which was the council of the top Sadducees and Pharisees that stood as judges over the Jewish people. There was a lesser Sanhedrin made up of 23 people for each of the cities; however, there was one Great Sanhedrin, made up of 71 judges, which acted as the Supreme Court over all of the land. The court met every day except holy observances, including the Sabbath.

Within the Sanhedrin, there was the Nasi who was the president or head of the court, as well as the Av Beit Din, who was the chief judge. On top of them, there were 69 general members of the Sanhedrin. During Jesus and the Apostles’ time, this council/court met in the Hall of Hewn Stones within Temple. This was the council which tried Jesus in the middle of the night, against their own legal procedures, and this was the council which tried Peter and John for preaching about Jesus that we read about in today’s Scripture reading.

With that said, it would be a mistake that this group of people were all corrupt or that they somehow were being malicious in their decisions. No doubt, lots of different factors came into play in their decisions. First, they came to their decisions with the Torah in mind. Did the people in question go against the common understanding of the Torah? Were these people knowingly going against the Torah, or were they simply in error and in need of correction?

This council also had to consider things from a political point of view. How would their judgment effect the people as a whole in light of Roman rule? How would their decisions affect their own authority as the ruling religious body of Israel. It would be a mistake to think that this body was solely religious, just as it would be a mistake to think this body was solely political. In the first century CE, the worlds of religion and politics were intimately connected.

When Peter and John came before them, they were originally seen as ignorant fisherman who got caught up in believing the blasphemous teachings of Jesus Christ. It is clear that the Sanhedrin did not see these two as being intentional in going against their authority in or in blaspheming against God. They had them arrested and held them until the next day, when they could hear their case. In the end, they sent Peter and John away with a stern warning, “Do not continue teaching about this heretic and traitor named Jesus.”

As far as the Sanhedrin was concerned, justice was done but mercy was also shown (Micah 6:8). So, as was mentioned earlier, it would be wrong to read “villainy” into the council and its members. It’s easy to do that because we are invested in those people they were judging against; however, those members of the Sanhedrin thought they were on the right side of God and carrying out God’s justice.

This should challenge us. Most of us believe that we are on the right side of God and that we are living justly under God. We look at those who are like us to be people of God, but we also look at those who are NOT like us as being those who need God. We believe that we are measuring people on God’s standard; however, the real standard is that “those people are NOT like US.” Thus, we become the measure, not God.

Let us be a people who learn that, while it is important to protect the faith from false teachings and things that take people further away from Christ, it is also important to not do so judgmentally, but with humility. We are NOT saved by our right understanding of things, but by the grace and the love of Jesus Christ. Let us correct people when they are in error, but let us walk that fine line without falling into the pit of condemnation. This is the way to the Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus Christ is leading us on!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Compassion will cure more sins than condemnation.” – Rev. Henry Ward Beecher

PRAYER
Lord, give me the discernment to know what the Gospel truth is; however, steer me clear of condemnation. Amen.

Episode 110 | Do Not Hold Back

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-rquxu-d1c719

In this episode, Rev. Todd discusses the importance of acknowledging and confessing our sin. This message is based on Isaiah 58:1-12.

EPISODE NOTES:

A biweekly devotional