Category Archives: Previous Post

A LOOK BACK: Playground Christianity

Read 1 Corinthians 13

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. (1 John 4:8 NLT)

St.-Johns-Wood-Adventure-Playground-London-Hurtwood-1968

I am one who believes that God can and does reveal truth in all things. Something need not be “Christian” for God to use it for the revelation of truth. Over the years, I have been finding truth in the unlikeliest of places. I have found God’s truth at a Krishna temple in India, I have found it in films, in novels, in Walt Disney World (I mean, who wouldn’t), and I have found it in other faiths, old and young alike.

One such place that I have found some truth is in a book by James Redfield, The Celestine Prophecy. James Redfield was brought up in a Methodist Church that he described as being “loving and community-oriented”; however, he now is an influential person in the New Age movement. He was no doubt influenced by his Christian upbringing, but he also studied Eastern philosophies such as Taoism and Zen while a student at Auburn University.

Though he spent more than 15 years as a therapist for abused children, he left that and, since he published the worldwide bestseller, The Celestine Prophecy, he has become an bestselling New Age author, lecturer, screenwriter, and film producer. The book itself follows the protagonist, never actually named in the book, on a truth-seeking, soul searching adventure in Peru following the loss of a job and other personal crises that arise in his/her life.

In the film version of the book, there is a quote between the protagonist and someone else. While I don’t remember the quote exactly, word for word, I remember the gist of it, “When people have the true God-experience, the debate over whose religion is right or wrong fades away.” That quote truly struck me as provocative and something worthwhile writing about.

First, let me be clear that I DO NOT endorse the theology behind The Celestine Prophecy. As a New Age theology, it is quite simplistic with many glaring holes, inaccuracies of other religious beliefs and is, in many regards, without much substance in terms of a cohesive theology. Its mish-mashing of different theological ideas from different religions is intriguing, but often falls short and does a disservice to all the religions involved. But that does not mean that truth cannot be found within it.

Now, on to my point. One thing I have noticed in Christianity, is that some Christian circles are filled with some of the most insecure people ever. For instance, if one was secure in their faith in Christ and in God, why would they feel the need to demonize others who disagree with them or other religions that are not in line with theirs? If one were not operating out of fear and insecurity, there would be no need to participate in the whole, “My God is bigger than your god” debate.

Yes, there are times that one must defend their faith and their religious beliefs, especially when others are mischaracterizing them. Yes, one should stand up for their faith when others are pressuring him or her to deny it. Yes, one should represent their faith well and should teach people what they believe to be correct and theologically sound. However, one need not go on a crusade against other ideologies, other religions, or other people who differ from him or her.

Christians who aggressively attack other belief systems than their own, who pass out tracts warning people of a religious group that they’re going to be damned to hell, or go on long diatribes online as to why they think someone else has it so wrong, are practicing what I like to call, “Playground Christianity.” They’re acting like elementary-aged bullies on the playground fighting over whose daddy is bigger and can be the other’s dad up. It’s silly and it completely misses the heart of Christ’s message: LOVE.

The “true God experience”, as I see it and certainly as Redfield sees it as evidenced in his book, is the experience of God’s wild, untamable, unconditional LOVE. When one is enveloped and filled by that LOVE, one cannot help being transformed by it either. LOVE begets more love. God’s love transforms us to be creatures of love, to be agents of love, to be bearers of love. When one has the true God experience, when one truly knows and enters a relationship with God, the debate over who’s right or wrong, who’s holier and who’s not, and any other nonsensical comparison fades away. All that remains is LOVE. This doesn’t mean that LOVE doesn’t hold others accountable to truth and justice; however, there is no room for pettiness or divisiveness in LOVE.  I would like to invite you to search God out, to have that true God experience in the context of a community of believers, and let go of anything that counters God’s LOVE.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are My disciples.” – Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ (John 13:34-35 NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, fill me with your love and transform me into an agent of love. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: Xtreme

Read Mark 1:29-34

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Once you were like sheep who wandered away. But now you have turned to your Shepherd, the Guardian of your souls.” (1 Peter 2:25 NLT)

ChristianLove

When I was a youth pastor, I attempted to write a weekly devotion that was directed toward teenagers. I called it, “Xtreme Faith”, because it was edgy sounding and it reflected well the reality of what it means to be a Christian, a person of faith, in today’s times. It also drew a parallel to the ancient church and what it meant to be a Christian in those times as well.

I decided to spell it, Xtreme, because X is the Greek letter in the word χρηστος, which transliterates to the word Christos (pronounced kr-eest-os), which translates in to the word Christ. X was often used as the shorthand for Christ in ancient Christian circles. (Side note: The next time you see Xmas instead of Christmas, don’t get mad, but rejoice because it means the same thing). So, I spelled the word Xtreme, because it pointed to Christ and how extreme following Christ can be in this culture.

I am not sure how successful that short-lived devotion was; however, I believe the name of it, as well as the fundamental message that was being conveyed is vitally important for us as Christians in an increasing secular, and even anti-religious, American world. What’s more, even many professing Christians choose to only halfway follow Christ in ways that are neglectful of, if not antithetical to, the Christian faith we claim to profess.

We don’t like to think of him this way, but Jesus of Nazareth was a pretty extreme individual. He called people to give up their careers and social status to follow him (Mark 1:16-20; 2:14). He told people that they were not worthy of following him if they did not forsake all things, including their parents, siblings and family (Luke 14:26). Jesus told people that if they wanted to be his disciples, they should deny their own hopes, dreams, and aspirations. That they should pick up their instrument of capital punishment and follow Jesus to their deaths (Matthew 16:24). I could go one with a plethora of other examples; however, I think the above three prove the point. Jesus was extreme.

Peter knew this to be true. I love the account of Jesus coming to Simon Peter’s home in Mark, because it shows exactly what was at stake for Peter and the rest of the disciples. They weren’t two-dimensional characters from a story book; rather, they were real, living, breathing human beings. Peter had a wife, he probably had children, he had an ailing mother-in-law, and a household to look after. When he chose to leave his career behind to follow this itinerant teacher from Galilee, he was giving up the only source of money he had, and that would affect his WHOLE FAMILY!

If you are still struggling with the idea that Jesus was extreme, let me ask you this: would you leave your ailing family members, your spouse, your children, your homes, and your careers to follow Jesus into the great unknown? Would you be willing to leave behind your cars, your boats, your lifestyles, and your dreams and hopes for the future to follow Jesus to the ends of the earth?

It takes and Xtreme faith to do that, and that is the kind of faith that χρηστος is calling you to. It may not mean that you leave your family as Christ did, but it means that you need to be willing to go wherever Christ is calling you. It means that, no matter what you are called to and no matter how politically incorrect it may be nowadays, a Christian is always willing to bear witness to their faith, to uphold Christ’s two greatest commandments (Matthew 22:37-40) even if it means standing up against the status quo, and to strive to not let any part of your life become a denial of Jesus’ Lordship over you.

Sounds Xtreme? Certainly! But then again, so were the lengths Jesus went to in order to show us how much we are ALL LOVED. So, be Xtreme for χρηστος and be one of the vessels who are bringing Christ’s transformative love into the world!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Being Xtreme does not mean being an extremist; rather, it means following Christ over and above the ways of the world, even if people end up thinking you are.

PRAYER
Lord, help me to be an Xtreme follower of Your way, an Xtreme speaker of your truth, and a witness to the Xtreme LOVE that leads to everlasting life.

Holy Week 2021: Fulfilled: Easter Sunday

Read Isaiah 53:7-12

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“As my vision continued that night, I saw someone like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient One and was led into his presence. He was given authority, honor, and sovereignty over all the nations of the world, so that people of every race and nation and language would obey him. His rule is eternal—it will never end. His kingdom will never be destroyed.” (Daniel‬ ‭7:13-14‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

When we read the Gospels, we get a sense that Jesus saw himself as a savior of his people. We can see how he he lived, how he taught, and how he ultimately took on the role of God’s suffering servant. We see that he claimed not only to be a teacher or a prophet, but that he was the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. What’s more, Jesus claimed to be one with, and the same as, God Almighty, the great I AM.

His disciples not only believed, but were transformed by their relationship with Jesus and, in turn they helped tranform the world. Jesus’ views were not only his own, but ones steeped in his Jewish beliefs and his understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures. Each day this week, let us look at the prophetic connection between Jesus and the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible.

 Easter Sunday. He is risen! In Isaiah 53:7-12, the prophet talks about God’s suffering servant. He mentions that the holy sufferer will see what was accomplished as a result of his suffering and be satisified. The sufferer will know that the suffering had not been in vain; rather, he sees that his suffering has brought redemption to many. Many, as a result of him bearing the sins of the world, will find salvation.

Isaiah continued on to proclaim, “I will give him the honors of a victorious soldier, because he exposed himself to death. He was counted among the rebels. He bore the sins of many and interceded for rebels” (vs. 12). Thus, the suffering servant suffered death but was honored like a victorious soldier. Isaiah, when writing this, may have seen himself as the suffering servant. He may have seen Israel as a whole as the suffering servant, and that Israel was bearing witness of their faith in God to a hostile world.

The neat thing about prophecy is that that, regardless of the original context, a prophecy comes from God and the visions revealed in them prove themselves true in ways we could have never expected. Even if Isaiah had Israel in mind as the suffering servant, the way this prophecy got fulfilled in Jesus Christ is beyond human comprehension. It is the power of God on full display for all the world! Surely, Jesus came from Israel and through Jesus (the righteous suffering servant), many found redemption from their sins. How awesome is our God!

Daniel also prophesied about the Son of Man, and the glorious victory he would have over the sinful world. In verse 17, he enters onto the scene in glory, in the very presence of the living God. Furthermore, in verse 26, Daniel wrote, “Then the sovereignty, power, and greatness of all the kingdoms under heaven will be given to the holy people of the Most High. His kingdom will last forever, and all rulers will serve and obey him” (Daniel‬ ‭7:27‬ ‭NLT‬‬). In other words, the Son of Man (aka Jesus Christ) has established God’s Kingdom on earth and that all the kindoms of the earth will be given over to God’s people who serve and obey the soveriegn God.

Daniel’s verse is often seen as a prophecy for the future, for the second coming of Christ. While the future has yet to be revealed, it certainly makes sense being that the world has yet to be fully delivered from sin and evil. It is easy to understand that this prophecy could still have more unveiling to do; however, prophecy is the gift that keeps on giving and, while more may be fulfilled in this prophecy, it is also true that it has already seen fulfillment in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Let me explain. Forty days after resurrecting and showing himself to countless people, Jesus ascends (coming on the clouds) into heaven and is “led into [the] presence “of the “Ancient One”. What happened from there? Jesus sent the Holy Spirit, which outpoured onto the disciples, filling them with God’s Spirit and power. From the day of Pentecost and onward, the disciples healed the sick, took care of the poor, visited the imprisoned, raised the dead to life and preached the Good News of Jesus Christ to all of the known world. Within 400 short years, this little sect of Judaism overtook the Roman Empire, the very empire that executed Jesus and his followers. Holy wow!!! Think about that. The impossible was made possible as a result of Jesus’ resurrection! Praise God!

Certainly, the resurrection was not the end of the story, but the beginning of it. Christians, being human beings, have fallen short and have sometimes put the institution of Christianity above Christ; however, Christ is still unfolding the salvation, redemption and sancitification of this world. What’s more, we are a part of that unfolding! We are a part of the story. We are the ones who, if we are faithful, will do even greater things than that of the disciples if we would only open our hearts to the possibility and to the call. With that said, happy Easter! He is risen! Now, rise up and preach the good news of Jesus Christ to all the world!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
He is risen and you can rise with him!

PRAYER
Lord, you have redeemed me and I choose to live the RESURRECTED LIFE in you! Amen.

Holy Week 2021: Fulfilled: The Great Sabbath

Read Zechariah 9:11-12

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“So he went and preached to the spirits in prison— those who disobeyed God long ago when God waited patiently while Noah was building his boat. Only eight people were saved from drowning in that terrible flood.” (1 Peter‬ ‭3:19-20‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

When we read the Gospels, we get a sense that Jesus saw himself as a savior of his people. We can see how he he lived, how he taught, and how he ultimately took on the role of God’s suffering servant. We see that he claimed not only to be a teacher or a prophet, but that he was the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. What’s more, Jesus claimed to be one with, and the same as, God Almighty, the great I AM.

His disciples not only believed, but were transformed by their relationship with Jesus and, in turn they helped tranform the world. Jesus’ views were not only his own, but ones steeped in his Jewish beliefs and his understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures. Each day this week, let us look at the prophetic connection between Jesus and the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible.

 The Great Sabbath. The Great Sabbath, also known as Holy Saturday, is the day following Jesus’ death. While some may wonder why it was called “the Great Sabbath” when Jesus was dead, it is obvious that death is the “final rest”, and Sabbath is the day of rest set apart by God. Thus, even on the surface, it makes sense that Holy Saturday would be considered the Great Rest.

Yet, we can take it one step further. It is also the day that the disciples and Jesus’ family all stayed in hiding for fear that they would be captured and crucified. The times were tense and, while I am sure that Holy Saturday was stressful (not “restful”), they weren’t out and about doing things on that day. What’s more, though they did not realize it at the time, they were lying in wait for what would take place early the next morning.

Still, while the above reasons are all insightful in some way or another, they are not ultimately what makes Holy Saturday “The Great Sabbath”. Saturday, in Judaism (sundown Friday evening to sundown Saturday evening), is Sabbath and/or the day of rest. It was also Passover, which made this particular Sabbath even more special. When we look at the accounts of Jesus in the Gospels, we will notice that while Jesus took God’s call to observe Sabbath seriously, he did not do so legalistically. Yes, he would rest when and where he could. Yes, he would go up onto a mountaintop to pray; however, he would do God’s work on the Sabbath, which often landed him in trouble with the Pharisees.

On this particular Sabbath, while Jesus’ physical body was resting in the stone cold, dark, cavernous tomb, Jesus’s spirit was in Sheol, the place of the dead, preaching the good news to them and showing them the way to salvation (1 Peter 3:19-20). Thus, in God’s great mercy, those who came before Christ and had died in their sin, Christ came and gave them a way out of their sin.

This fulfilled the words of Zechariah “Because of the covenant I made with you, sealed with blood, I will free your prisoners from death in a waterless dungeon” (Zechariah‬ ‭9:11‬ ‭NLT‬‬). The “dungeon” or “pit” is, in this context, is referring to both the grave and Sheol. This passage indicates that God’s plan was to uphold the covenant made with God’s people. This, by the earliest Christians, was seen to be fulfilled in and through Jesus Christ on The Great Sabbath.

While this was certainly awesome news back then, it is awesome news even to this day. While we were not literally dead, or literally in the place of the dead (aka the pit), we were once lost, and now we have been found. We were once blind, but now we see. We were once dead, but in Christ we have found TRUE and EVERLASTING LIFE! Hallelujah! Praise the LORD our God, for in Christ we conquer death (in all its aspects) and gain TRUE LIFE.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Hell hath no power at all.” — Demon Hunter, “Storm the Gates of Hell”

PRAYER

Lord, thank you so much for what you have done for me. In your name, help me to storm the gates of hell and preach the good news to all who need it. Amen.

Holy Week 2021: Fulfilled: Good Friday

Read Isaiah 53

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“My God, my God, why have You abandoned me? Why are You so far away when I groan for help?” (Psalms 22:1)

When we read the Gospels, we get a sense that Jesus saw himself as a savior of his people. We can see how he he lived, how he taught, and how he ultimately took on the role of God’s suffering servant. We see that he claimed not only to be a teacher or a prophet, but that he was the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. What’s more, Jesus claimed to be one with, and the same as, God Almighty, the great I AM.

His disciples not only believed, but were transformed by their relationship with Jesus and, in turn they helped tranform the world. Jesus’ views were not only his own, but ones steeped in his Jewish beliefs and his understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures. Each day this week, let us look at the prophetic connection between Jesus and the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible.

 Good Friday. What is so good about Friday of Holy Week? Isn’t this the day that Jesus of Nazareth was put through a mock trial, was found guilty of blasphemy by the religious leaders, sent to Pontius Pilate to be publicly tried, was found guilty of treason against Rome, was whipped, beaten, and crucified? Why in the world would we ever consider this particular Friday good?

Indeed, in terms of what happened to Jesus on that Friday, it was NOT a good Friday. It was the worst of Fridays for him, for his disciples, for his family and for his friends. It was the worst of Fridays for those who put their hope in him as the Jewish messiah, the liberator of the Jews from Roman occupation.

A brief note on the term messiah. The term comes from the Hebrew word מָשִׁיחַ (pronounced maw-shee’-ak), which in Greek is Χριστός (pronounced khris-tos’). This of course is the word that transliterates into Christ in English. The Jews had many different understandings of who the messiah would be, and what his role would be. With that said, the predominant understanding in Jesus’ day was that he would be a king that would rise up out of King David’s lineage, would come from Bethlehem, and would establish his kingdom and reign forever (through royal lineage). This king would overthrow the foreign occupiers, and re-establish Judah/Israel as a united sovereign kingdom.

Yet, that is NOT all the Bible had to say about who this messiah would be. In Daniel, the prophet foresees a divine “one like a son of man” coming on the clouds to overthrow the oppressive world order and establish God’s Kingdom.

Isaiah talked about a “suffering servant” through whom the sins of the world would be redeemed. Isaiah wrote that this was God’s plan for this appointed sufferer, and wrote of this person that “when he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied. And because of his experience, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins.” (Isaiah‬ ‭53:11‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

That is what makes GOOD FRIDAY SO GOOD! Yes, Jesus suffered terribly for those who did not deserve it! Yes, it was not a good day for Jesus or his family or followers. But it WAS…AND IS…Good Friday. If this is still hard to understand, think of someone like Oscar Schindler Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who suffered tremendously (and died) in order to help Jews escape Nazi Germany and who worked tirelessly, and unsuccessfully, to bring down the Adolph Hitler. Or the suffering of Harriet Tubman and others to liberate slaves through the Underground Railroad. While their suffering was not good, it was necessary to liberate countless people. Their suffering was not good, but the moment of liberation was to celebrate!

Good Friday, which marks the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, also marks the fulfillment of God’s promise to liberate humanity from its sin and separation from God. Now, through Jesus Christ, all human beings were given the blessed opportunity to be forgiven for their sins and reunited with their Creator. This is not just good news, THIS IS GREAT NEWS! We do not celebrate the torturous capital punishment of our Lord; rather, we celebrate the good news of liberation from sin, evil and death as a result of his selfless sacrifice. This celebration begins on Good Friday, and culminates on Easter Sunday, when we are given the assurance that in Jesus Christ, sin and death ARE NO MORE!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

There is no Easter Sunday without Good Friday. There can be no resurrection without death.

PRAYER

Lord, help me to die to my sins and liberate me from my old self. Redeem me and recreate me so that I may fully live into your image in which I was created. Amen.

Holy Week 2021: Fulfilled: Maundy Thursday

Read Zechariah 13:7-9

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“On the way, Jesus told them, ‘Tonight all of you will desert Me. For the Scriptures say, God will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’” (Matthew 26:31 NLT)

When we read the Gospels, we get a sense that Jesus saw himself as a savior of his people. We can see how he he lived, how he taught, and how he ultimately took on the role of God’s suffering servant. We see that he claimed not only to be a teacher or a prophet, but that he was the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. What’s more, Jesus claimed to be one with, and the same as, God Almighty, the great I AM.

His disciples not only believed, but were transformed by their relationship with Jesus and, in turn they helped tranform the world. Jesus’ views were not only his own, but ones steeped in his Jewish beliefs and his understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures. Each day this week, let us look at the prophetic connection between Jesus and the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible.

011-last-supper

Maundy Thursday. This is the day that Jesus had celebrated the Passover feast with his disciples. It is possible that this day was the day that Passover fell, which would have been considered a Sabbath day, or a day of rest, as well. On the week of Passover, the day of Passover is a Sabbath, along with the high holy Sabbath day of Saturday. With that said, John had Jesus being crucified on the day before the Passover feast. Thus, Jesus celebrated the feast early and, on “slaughter day” (when the lambs were slaughtered for the Passover feast), the Lamb of God was being slaughtered on the cross as the final and ultimate sacrifice for the sins of the world. This chronology would mean, if Jesus was crucified on a Friday as tradition tells us, that Passover that year fell on the high holy Sabbath day (Friday evening through Saturday evening).

This chronology aside, per tradition, Jesus celebrated Passover (his last supper) on Thursday evening. It is there that he wrapped a robe around himself and washed his disciples’ feet (John 13:1-20). This, of course, taught his disciples that the master IS the servant of all. That no one was too high to do the lowliest of tasks. That the economy of Heaven dictates that those who wish to be master must be the slave of all. This is the day that Jesus gave his disciples his new commandment, to LOVE one another as he first loved them. The word Maundy by the way , from the Latin word mandātum, means mandate or command.

It was on this night that Jesus instituted one of the two sacraments instituted by Christ in the Scriptures. That, of course, is the sacrament of Holy Communion, also known as the sacrament of the Eucharist. It was on that night that Judas left the supper to carry out his plan of betrayal, and it was the night that Jesus warned that Peter, his most beloved friend, would deny knowing him out of fear for his own life. It was the night that all of the disciples would flee in fear of being arrested with Jesus.

The reality is that, in his moment of utter despair, Jesus’ closest friends and confidants fled the scene, leaving him alone with those who sought to kill him. This fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah, “‘Awake, O sword, against My shepherd, the man who is My partner,’ says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. ‘Strike down the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered, and I will turn against the lambs’” (Zechariah 13:7 NLT).

Yet, God being graceful and merciful, the story does not end there. Those who were scattered were not permanently lost; rather, they ended up coming back into the fold later, following the resurrection and ascension of the Lord. This fulfilled the words of God through Zechariah, “I will bring that group through the fire and make them pure. I will refine them like silver and purify them like gold. They will call on My name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘These are My people,’ and they will say, ‘The LORD is our God'” (Zechariah 13:9 NLT).

How many of us have found, in anxious moments of confusion and despair, have found ourselves denying Christ? How many of us have found ourselves betraying Christ? Remember, our Lord knows our weaknesses and has shown nothing but grace toward us. Are you willing to accept that grace, or will you allow your guilt to consume you as it did Judas? Remember that God is sovereign and that God’s sovereignty is displayed through grace.  All you need do is accept that grace and find forgiveness for your sins. Let us now take the journey with Jesus to the cross, where God’s grace is displayed for all the world.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” – Saint Paul (Romans 3:23 NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, forgive me for I am a sinner. Bring me back from to the path I strayed from and lead me into your Kingdom. Amen.

Holy Week 2021: Fulfilled: Spy Wednesday

Read Zechariah 11:12-13

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve disciples, went to the leading priests and asked, “How much will you pay me to betray Jesus to you?” And they gave him thirty pieces of silver.” (Matthew 26:14-15 NLT)

When we read the Gospels, we get a sense that Jesus saw himself as a savior of his people. We can see how he he lived, how he taught, and how he ultimately took on the role of God’s suffering servant. We see that he claimed not only to be a teacher or a prophet, but that he was the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. What’s more, Jesus claimed to be one with, and the same as, God Almighty, the great I AM.

His disciples not only believed, but were transformed by their relationship with Jesus and, in turn they helped tranform the world. Jesus’ views were not only his own, but ones steeped in his Jewish beliefs and his understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures. Each day this week, let us look at the prophetic connection between Jesus and the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible.

006-judas-betrays-jesus

Spy Wednesday. In Zechariah, we see the prophet giving up on his office as prophet. He had been embattled serving the people of God. They were divided over who should be high priest, many hardened their hearts toward God, and Zechariah felt that the time had come for him to simply let them have their own sinful way. This was not done because Zechariah was a quitter, but because God had given them the choice between their ways or God’s way, and they had clearly chosen.

Thus, the Lord God was speaking through Zechariah, when he said that he would remove the good shepherd and replace him with a useless, lazy, selfish one (Zechariah 11:16-17). As a result of their hardened hearts, they ended up following the prophets and leaders of this world, to their own demise. Thus, Zechariah requested, “‘If you like, give me my wages, whatever I am worth; but only if you want to.’ So they counted out for my wages thirty pieces of silver” (vs. 12). Continuing on, Zechariah declared, “And the LORD said to me, ‘Throw it to the potter’—this magnificent sum at which they valued me! So I took the thirty coins and threw them to the potter in the Temple of the LORD (vs. 13).

Yet, Zechariah’s situation aside, this particular verse was foreshadowing what was to happen to Jesus of Nazareth through one of his closest friends and disciples, Judas Iscariot. It was on what has become known as “Spy Wednesday”, that Judas met with the high priest and the Pharisees to plot against Jesus. Judas agreed to betray his Lord and master in exchange for none other than thirty pieces of silver. Thus, Judas became like a spy. He became a wolf among the sheep and waited for the right moment to betray Jesus and have him arrested.

This, of course, was directly following Jesus’ revealing to his disciples that he was going to be “handed over to be crucified.” It was also following Jesus scolding his disciples for their chastizement of the woman who anointed his feet. In Matthew, it is written that the disciples became indignant because such expensive perfume could have been sold and given to the poor. Jesus put the disciples back in their place and praised the woman for her compassion toward him.

The question that puzzles many is this, why would Judas betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver (about $600 in U.S. currency…a handsome amount in the ancient world)? Maybe it was because, as Jesus continued to press and antagonize the religious and political leaders in Jerusalem, Judas feared that they would all go down with Jesus. Maybe, for Judas, Jesus wasn’t doing enough against the Romans and he was among those who wanted to see a physical, bloody revolt. Maybe Judas, along with some of the other disciples, were indignant toward Jesus for the woman anointing him, or maybe for other reasons. There is, of course, the possibility that Judas was always a snake in the grass, was greedy, and looking for any opportunity to find a way to betray Jesus and gain money and status for doing so.

We can only speculate Judas’ motivations; however, we do know that the Judas regretted his decision so much that he took his own life. The blood money he was paid went to pay for a field, fulfilling the words of Zechariah in a new and most sorrowful way. The challenge for us is to look inward on this Spy Wednesday! Are our intentions pure? Do we follow Jesus for the sake of following the Lord, our Savior? Do we follow Jesus for the glory of God and for the Kingdom of God? Or do we have alterior motives for following Christ?

Do we seek out God’s agenda, or are we secretly trying to find ways of working in our own? Are we sheep in Christ’s fold, are are we wolves that have found our way in? Are we Christ’s own, or have we become snakes in the grass? These questions are not comfortable ones; however, they are important to ask. I think that we can find moments in our lives where we are truly aligned with Christ, and others where we are not. Let us be honest this Holy Week and pray for God to remove the inner-Judas that exists within all of us.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
We have two choices in love, faithfulness and betrayal.

PRAYER
Lord, forgive me for the times I have betrayed in you in my thoughts, in my words, and in my deeds. Guide me toward a life of faithfulness. Amen.

Holy Week 2021: Fulfilled: Holy Monday

Read Isaiah 1:1-20

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Then Jesus asked them, ‘Didn’t you ever read this in the Scriptures? The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone. This is the LORD’s doing, and it is wonderful to see‘” (Matthew 21:42; cf. Psalm 118:22-23).

When we read the Gospels, we get a sense that Jesus saw himself as a savior of his people. We can see how he he lived, how he taught, and how he ultimately took on the role of God’s suffering servant. We see that he claimed not only to be a teacher or a prophet, but that he was the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. What’s more, Jesus claimed to be one with, and the same as, God Almighty, the great I AM.

His disciples not only believed, but were transformed by their relationship with Jesus and, in turn they helped tranform the world. Jesus’ views were not only his own, but ones steeped in his Jewish beliefs and his understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures. Each day this week, let us look at the prophetic connection between Jesus and the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible.

004-fig-tree

Holy Monday. On Monday morning, following Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and his cleansing of the Temple, Jesus begins his journey back into Jerusalem. In the evenings, during Holy Week, Jesus and his disciples did not stay within the city, but stayed in the village of Bethany (presumably with his friends Lazarus, Martha and Mary). Bethany is a mere mile and a half to the east of Jerusalem.

Holy Monday, though most people don’t really pay it much mind, was going to be busy day for Jesus. He was further going to push the religious leaders (the Sadducees/priests and the Pharisees/teachers of religious law), the Herodians and all those who had lost their way from God. On his way into the city, Jesus discovered a fig tree that had leaves, but did not bear fruit. Fig trees in that region, evidently, begin to bear fruit before they begin to sprout leaves. With that said, it was not the season for figs to be growing on the tree.

When Jesus saw the tree he cursed it for not bearing fruit. The disciples noticed that the fig had withered immediately upon Jesus cursing it. This action was symbolic of the religious and political leadership (of which the ancient world did not separate) in Jerusalem. They all had leaves so to speak. They looked the part and acted the part, but they were bearing absolutely no fruit. In fact, worse than that, they were bearing all of the WRONG fruit. Jesus’ action of cursing the tree was also a message to his disciples. The time for fruitlessness had passed, the time for God’s Kingdom had come. There was much work to be done. Bear fruit. Little did they know at the time, but the risen and ascended Jesus would send an outpouring of the Holy Spirit on them at Pentecost to help them accomplish just that.

In the Old Testament, we see the prophet Isaiah, as well as other prophets, calling out the religious and political leaders of their day. Through Isaiah, God denounced them, “Even an ox knows its owner, and a donkey recognizes its master’s care—but Israel doesn’t know its Master. My people don’t recognize My care for them. Oh, what a sinful nation they are—loaded down with a burden of guilt. They are evil people, corrupt children who have rejected the LORD. They have despised the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on Him.” (Isaiah 1:3-4 NLT)

In Jeremiah, the prophet scolded the King Jehoiakim of Judah when he proclaimed for the LORD, “’But a beautiful cedar palace does not make a great king! Your father, Josiah, also had plenty to eat and drink. But he was just and right in all his dealings. That is why God blessed him. He gave justice and help to the poor and needy, and everything went well for him. Isn’t that what it means to know Me?’ says the LORD. ‘But you! You have eyes only for greed and dishonesty! You murder the innocent, oppress the poor, and reign ruthlessly’” (Jeremiah 22:15-17 NLT).

Jesus not only carried on the prophetic tradition of holding the leaders accountable; rather, he was the fulfillment of the visions of the prophets who proceeded him. Christ’s coming was both a judgment on the world order, and a way to salvation for all who chose to heed God and follow God’s only son, who was himself was the incarnation of God. Immanuel. On that Holy Monday nearly 2,000 years ago, Jesus held the leaders accountable. He pointed them to their hypocrisy and pronounced that their rejection of him was their rejection of God. As a result of their choosing to reject the cornerstone of God’s kingdom, Jesus Christ, God’s Holy Spirit had passed them by and left them desolate, just like the fig tree.

The time has come to bear fruit. The church is now in the same position of the leaders in Jesus’ day. We have a choice to accept Christ’s call on our lives and to bear fruit, or to continue on in complacency and ignore the very cornerstone of the Kingdom God is building. If we do the latter, the Holy Spirit will move on to those who will open their hearts to the presence and working of God. Let us not end up like the fig tree. Let us, rather, through the power of the Holy Spirit, witness to the fulfillment of God’s covenant and the coming of God’s Kingdom through Jesus Christ.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
The tree that produces little to no fruit is a dying tree.

PRAYER
Lord, prune the dead branches in my life so that I may continue to produce vibrant, hearty fruit for your Kingdom. Amen.

Holy Week 2021: Fulfilled: Palm Sunday

Read Zechariah 9:9-17

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“This took place to fulfill the prophecy that said, “Tell the people of Jerusalem, ‘Look, your King is coming to you. He is humble, riding on a donkey— riding on a donkey’s colt.’” Matthew‬ ‭21:4-5‬ ‭NLT‬‬‬‬

When we read the Gospels, we get a sense that Jesus saw himself as a savior of his people. We can see how he he lived, how he taught, and how he ultimately took on the role of God’s suffering servant. We see that he claimed not only to be a teacher or a prophet, but that he was the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. What’s more, Jesus claimed to be one with, and the same as, God Almighty, the great I AM.

His disciples not only believed, but were transformed by their relationship with Jesus and, in turn they helped tranform the world. Jesus’ views were not only his own, but ones steeped in his Jewish beliefs and his understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures. Each day this week, let us look at the prophetic connection between Jesus and the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible.

 Palm Sunday. There can be no doubt that Jesus sparked great controversy due to his actions on Palm Sunday. In the life of the church, we think of this day as a joyous celebration, one that involves little children whipping each other with palm leaves and, subsequently, their parents transforming those leaves into palm crosses.

Yet, for Jesus, all of the pomp and circumstance was bitter-sweet. It must have been a sight for him to see all of those people, thousands, crowded around him, laying branches before the donkey carrying him, and shouting, “Hosanna”, a Hebrew word that means, “Help”, or “Save, I pray.” It must have been awesome to witness those crowds hailing him as the Messiah.

With that said, he also knew that the Romans would not ignore the fact that the crowd was hailing him as “King of the Jews.” Nor would King Herod Antipas. Nor would the High Priest, who had much politically to lose if Pontius Pilate were to choose to intervene and stomp out any potential rebellion. Jesus knew that, even though the crowds were hailing him as king on this day nearly 2,000 years ago, they would not be hailing him as king by the end of the week.

But how could this act of riding on a donkey be taken to mean that Jesus was king? Simple. This was prophesied about the messiah that was to come in Zechariah 9:9, “Rejoice, O people of Zion! Shout in triumph, O people of Jerusalem! Look, your king is coming to you. He is righteous and victorious, yet he is humble, riding on a donkey— riding on a donkey’s colt.” (‭NLT)‬‬‬

Jesus’ choosing to ride into Jerusalem on a donkey shows that he understood himself as the fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy of the coming messiah. He understood himself to be the coming King that would liberate God’s people. With that said, he also knew that the kind of liberation they were seeking was not the kind he was bringing.

The people wanted a liberation from the tyrannical rule of Rome; however, who would save them from the tyrannical rule of sin and death. Even if one could have overthrown the Roman Empire, what would stop him or her from becoming yet another tyrannical ruler. Look at the kings of Israel and Judah. Each generation of rulers became more wicked than the last.

It is important to realize that Jesus did not come to liberate in a worldly fashion. Jesus did not come to follow the world’s ways and methods of liberation; rather, Jesus came to change the hearts and the souls of a people who he knew had closed off their hearts to him. Still, with that said, that fact was no deterent for Jesus. He entered the city in triumphal fashion, went straight to the temple, overturned the money changers, and fulfilled another prophecy, “Passion for your house has consumed me, and the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me” (Psalms‬ ‭69:9‬ ‭NLT).‬‬ Jesus stayed the course and took the one-way march into Jerusalem; a march unto his bloody, torturous death. God’s suffering servant was ready to take on the weight of the world‬‬

MOMENT OF REFLECTION

In what ways have you closed your heart to Jesus, the Christ? Are you willing to allow the passion of our Lord to soften your heart, once again, and let him in?

PRAYER

Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner. Bring me back into your presence and your loving care. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: Truth Vs. Fact

Read John 14:6-10

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32, NLT)

Tropical big fish in a small fish bowl

One of the things that intrigues me most about the Bible is about how the Bible interacts with history. I love reading the stories about Esther and the Persian King Ahasuerus who, for good reason, is believed to be King Xerxes I of Persia. I love reading about archaeological finds that corroborate the stuff found in the Bible. One such example is the discovery of Caiaphas’s ossuary, which is a chest containing the bones of the high priest who found Jesus guilty of blasphemy and had him handed over to Pontius Pilate. It intrigues me when I learn that we have discovered Pontius Pilate’s name inscribed in stone. This kind of stuff makes me feel like a boy watching Indiana Jones and relishing in the history and the adventure.

As a person who gets excited about history, I find the links between the Bible and historical records to be simply stunning and thought-provoking. I also love studying, apart from the Bible, the times and contexts of the areas that the Bible is referring to. For instance, the Bible says that Abraham came from Ur. Where was Ur? What did it mean to be rooted in the culture of Ur. What sorts of religious, cultural and social practices existed in that land and in that time? Or, what was it like growing up in first century Palestine? What did it mean to be a Jew in that time, what sorts of things did the people of Jesus’ time have to deal/cope with. What did it mean to be poor, sick, lame, imprisoned, etc., in the time of Jesus?

With that said, our culture has become too reliant on history as a measure of truth. For instance, were Adam and Eve literal people? Was the world created in six literal days? Was there really a Noah and did God literally flood the earth, killing everything on it? Did Jonah really get swallowed up by a gigantic fish? Did Elijah really get carried off to heaven in a chariot of fire? For some, perhaps for many in today’s day and age, these questions and more become the focal point. And this focal point leads us to even more questions. If those things weren’t historically accurate, if they didn’t literally happen exactly as it was written (word for word) in the Bible, then should we just discount the Bible as being nothing more than a fanciful fairy-tale, full of lies and superstition?

In today’s time, people equate fact with truth. People tend to hold the following proposition: “if it isn’t factual, then it isn’t true.” Then they will take a story like Jonah and search for historical proof that Jonah existed, they’ll search for historical and scientific evidence that one can be swallowed up by a fish. If they cannot find said evidence, they end up with the following conclusion: “there is no historical evidence to prove that this really happened; therefore, its historicity is in question and we must conlcude the Jonah story is not true.

Yet, the proposition is what lacks in truth and it leads to such a false conclusion. It can be said that in order for something to be truly and/or wholly historical, in must be factual. It can also be said that if something is factual, it must be true.  Yet, while facts are dependent on truth, it does not follow that truth is dependent on fact. Just because something didn’t actually happen, does not mean it is not true! Take Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. Was there a Good Samaritan? Did such a Good Samaritan actually exist? Who knows?!?! It was a parable that Jesus told in order to convey the truth of what it means to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Whether, it was a parable drawn from a historical event, or whether it was spun up by Jesus’ masterful storytelling skills in the moment is completely irrelevant!

The point of this is that, while we can get intrigued by the historicity of the Bible, we ought not get caught up in whether it is historical or not. The Bible was not written to be a history text book. Yes, it does include historical events in it. It also includes allegory, poetry, mythology, laws, songs, philosophy, and a whole host of other things. What the Bible was written for was to convey theology and spiritual truth. To stumble on our 21st understanding of history and whether or not the Bible holds up to it is to, quite frankly, foolishly and senselessly miss the point. Rather than seeking the historicity of the Bible, seek truth within its pages, for the Bible is spiritually authoritative and it is a profound part of the foundation of our faith, filled with the Truth.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“It’s like a finger pointing to the moon, don’t concentrate on the finger or you’ll miss all of that heavenly glory.” – Bruce Lee

PRAYER
Lord, rather than facts, fill me with your truth that I may be set free to live out that truth in my life. Amen.