God’s People, part 200: Faithless

Read Mark 9:14-29

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Through Christ you have come to trust in God. And you have placed your faith and hope in God because he raised Christ from the dead and gave him great glory.”  (1 Peter 1:21, 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-heal-boy-1Part 200: Faithless. In today’s Scripture, we have a very interesting account where we get to see both the humanity and divinity at play within Jesus. When we picture Christ in our minds, we see this jovial, nice, guy with a smile on his face and a lamb over his shoulders. He’s surrounded by children as he sits on a rock for storytime. He’s calm and serene; sometimes, he’s even glowing (e.g. halo).

Yet, that is merely a two-dimensional view of Jesus, at best. In today’s passage, we see a wholly different side of the Lord. He heard a bunch of arguing and questioned what that was all about. It  was then that a man, whose son was possessed by an evil spirit, spoke up. He told Jesus that he asked the disciples to cast out the spirit and they simply couldn’t.

In that moment, we see a frustration in Jesus we have yet to really see before this point. Jesus vents out to them, “’You faithless people! How long must I be with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.’”  (Mark 9:19, NLT) This of course, caused the disciples to begin to worry if they Jesus was referring to them. Did the Lord actually view them as “faithless”? Thus, when they were alone, they later asked Jesus why they were unable to exorcise the demon. Jesus revealed that “this kind can be cast out only by prayer” (Mark 9:29, NLT).

In my reading of this, while the disciples sometimes displayed a lack of faith, Jesus was not frustrated with them. He knew they had no way of knowing how to specifically cast out the evil spirit. What’s more, they attempted to, which means that they were NOT lacking in faith. Instead, they were stepping out in it.

What this then reveals to us is that Jesus’ frustrations lay with the people who sought help from the disciples. It is there that we see the faithlessness that Jesus was upset about. The people came to the disciples looking for a service to be performed and, when they could not deliver, they came bickering and griping about it to Jesus.

It was that sentiment that frustrated Jesus. They wanted to see the result before they would believe and, when the final product was not delivered on time in they way they were anticipating, they grew angry. They approached the disciples and Jesus as if they were a means to an end, as if they were some sort of miracle producing side-show. They approached them in faithlessness rather than in faith. Of course, Jesus healed the child anyway, but not before making an example of those who came seeking the healing.

It is this that we are being challenged with today. Do we have a relationship with Jesus Christ? Do we place our faith solely in Him? Do we spend time getting to know him or do we merely seek him out when we need something. Do we see Christ as our ultimate and eternal end, or do we simply try to use Him as a means to some sort of self-gratifying end? Let us truly reflect on this and remember that Christ is LORD. Him, and Him alone, do we serve. Let us do so faithfully.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” – Anonymous (Hebrews 13:8, NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, I believe in you. Help me with my unbelief. Amen.

Episode 86 | Prepare For Resistance

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-8fy4w-bc92a7

In this episode, Rev. Todd continues in the four-part series entitled, Prepare. This message, specifically entitled, “Prepare For Resistance”, is about the reality that the resistance can be expected when we align ourselves with the will of God. We need to prepare for resistance so that we avoid buckling under its pressure. This message is based on Galatians 2:11-21.

EPISODE NOTES:

God’s People, part 199: Blind Man

Read Mark 8:22-26

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“They couldn’t bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, so they dug a hole through the roof above his head. Then they lowered the man on his mat, right down in front of Jesus.”  (Mark 2:4, 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-heals-the-blind-manPart 199: Blind Man. Here we have yet another account of Jesus being bombarded by people seeking for him to be healed. In today’s passage, it is a blind man. In fact there are a number of blind people who Jesus heals. There’s the account we have today, which happened in Bethsaida. He also healed blind Bartimaeus later on in Mark. Matthew mentions him healing two blind people at the same time, one of whom may be the same unnamed person that is mentioned in our passage today.

In Luke, heals a blind person as he approached the city of Jericho. Finally, in John, Jesus heals an unnamed man who was born blind. In this account, Jesus does this very publicly in front of the religious leaders, which adds fuel to their fire. In this account, Jesus is not only healing the man for the sake of the man (though he does have compassion on him), but he is also performing the miracle to expose the Pharisees in their own “blindness”. We’ll revisit this account later on in the series.

In this passage, a blind man is brought to Jesus and the people who brought him begged Jesus to heal him of his blindness. Jesus took this man and led him out of the village. In other words, Jesus took the time to guide this man to a private, quiet place where he would not be a spectacle for others to gawk at. After spitting on the man’s eyes (gross…I know), the man told him that he could see, but things were blurry. Following laying his hands on the man, Jesus fully restored his sight and then sent him away, telling him not to go back into the village on his way home.

Minus the spitting, it is a beautiful, intimate, and touching scene between Jesus and this man who was in need. Out of that scene, though, a question arises: what if his friends didn’t take the time to bring him to Jesus and persistently beg for healing? Would that man have ever been healed of his sight? In fact, that question arises out of many of the healing accounts in the Gospel.

The truth is that the blind man and many of the people who were healed in the gospels would not have been healed had they no friends to persist and plead on their behalf. They would have, like countless other people, fallen through the cracks and left in their own suffering, misery and despair. Praise God for the people who decided to advocated for those people who had such desperate needs.

This should also cause us to pause and reflect on ourselves and the world around us. How many people do we know who are struggling and in need of hope, healing and wholeness? Who is pleading on their behalf? Who is advocating for them so that they might find the healing they need? Who is persistent in pleading for their wellness?

We all should be challenged to be like the friends of this blind man, who cared so much that they sought Jesus out and persistently begged for his healing. This should challenge us to be more aware of the needs around us and more inspired to DO SOMETHING to fill those needs. Let us be a people of empathy as opposed to apathy, for this is what pleases the Lord and this is what is desperately needed to counteract the evil and hopelessness of the world.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world.” – Joel A. Barker

PRAYER
Lord, help me be an advocate for those who are in need, so that they may not only receive healing, but that they might also realize they are not alone. Amen.

God’s People, part 198: Deaf Man

Read Mark 7:31-37

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“If you were blind, you wouldn’t be guilty,” Jesus replied. “But you remain guilty because you claim you can see.”  (John 9:41, 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.

009-lumo-deaf-manPart 198: Deaf Man. When I had graduated high school, I had gotten a job as an aide on a special needs bus. To begin with, I had been put with special needs kids who had behavioral issues. There was one boy I specifically remember, who was a good kid but had a hard time sitting still on the bus. Of course, that can pose serious issues for the bus driver and the safety of everyone on board.

This child would get angry if you tried to enforce the rule that he stay seated. He would even get combative.  It was a challenge to work with him, but it was a blessing as well because in the end he and I bonded and I became one of the few people who could reach him and keep him calm.

The next year I ended up working on a bus with deaf kids and that experience taught me a lot about myself. I headed into that assignment thinking that I was dealing with “handicapped” people who were different than I or the other “normal” people I that I went to school with when I was back in elementary school. I didn’t consciously think those things, but they were underlying presumptions I made because I knew that these children were deaf and attending a special school for deaf folks.

Those presumptions couldn’t have been further from the truth. The kids I encountered on that bus were regular, “normal”, kids. The only differences they had from me as a child was that they could not “hear”, and they fluently spoke two languages, English and American Sign Language (ASL). In other words, these kids were actually brighter and more advanced than I was at there age. Wow. Humbling.

I have always been a quick learner with a fairly open heart and so, I learned quickly that I had been wrong in my presumptions and I opened myself up to learn from them. They taught me ASL, at least as much as I could learn on a bus ride and I learned to communicate with them so that we could understand each other. When they spoke in sign language, they also spoke verbally, though the formation of their words were not as clear, because they cannot properly hear themselves speak.

I am imagining that this is exactly what we have in this account of Jesus healing the deaf man with a speech impediment. The speech “impediment” was not that he couldn’t speak properly, but that he could not hear himself speak due to his deafness. When he was brought to Jesus, he led the man away from the crowd so that they could be alone.

Why alone? Probably because Jesus didn’t want a spectacle. This man, no doubt, had be the victim of everyone’s presumptions. To them he was a deaf man who sounded funny. To them, he had a problem and they were the “normal” people. They had written this man off as less than them, someone who needed fixing. No doubt, this was the case for many of the people Jesus healed; however, this time, Jesus led the man away from the crowd so that they could be alone, and he healed him.

What this account does is tell us about ourselves. We often see ourselves as “normal”, and others as “abnormal”. The truth is, while people without hearing would love to hear again, it was the “normal” people who need healing from the hardness of their hearts. We think that our lives are the pinnacle and anyone who has “less” than us should be pitied and prayed for.

The challenge for us is to be aware of that bias we place on our abilities and to become an agent for removing the stigmas associated with “disability”. In fact, many people choose not to even use that word because of the connotations of it. Remember that while Jesus healed the blind man, he told that Pharisees that they were the ones who were REALLY blind. And while Jesus healed the deaf man, we are the ones who really need to have our ears opened, along with our hearts, to Jesus Christ.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“My disability exists not because I use a wheelchair, but because the broader environment isn’t accessible.” – Stella Young

PRAYER
Lord, open doors of my heart so that I might view all people as children of God, no matter what differences I may perceive. Amen.

Episode 85 | Prepare: To Be Relevant

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-geu9i-bbd2cb

In this episode, Rev. Todd continues in the four-part series entitled, Prepare. This message, specifically entitled, “Prepare To Be Relevant”, is about what being relevant instead of resistant. This message is based on 1 Corinthians 9:19-23.

EPISODE NOTES:

God’s People, part 197: Dog

Read Mark 7:24-30

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“But the voice spoke again: ‘Do not call something unclean if God has made it clean.’”  (Acts 10:15, 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.

DogsPart 197: Dog. This is one of those moments when even the most unquestioning, unwavering Christian has to be wondering, “What gives?” In the Scripture reading for this devotion, we have an episode where Jesus seemingly dehumanized her and almost completely snubbed her. Of course, he did eventually acquiesced to her, so it was not a total snub, but still, “What gives?”

In this account, which is recorded in both Mark and Matthew, the woman was a Gentile. Mark describes her as a “Syrophoenician woman” and Matthew describes her as a Canaanite. While those two descriptions may seem different, they aren’t actually. Tyre, where Jesus found this woman, and Sidon were both cities that were built by the Canaanites and were a part of the land of Canaan. Thus, Syria and Phoenicia were actually Canaanite.

Thus, this woman was a non-Jew, and belonged to a country of people who were enemies of the Jews. She approached Jesus because her daughter was possessed and she was hoping he would heal her. Instead of healing the daughter, Jesus first dismissed the woman: “First I should feed the children—my own family, the Jews. It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs”  (Mark 7:27, NLT).

Sure, this woman was not a Jew and sure Jesus had come as the Jewish Messiah, but he was traveling in HER LAND. Why dismiss her like that. Worse yet, why call her a dog. How dehumanizing is that? I have heard a lot of people try to explain this away by saying, “Oh, Jesus was just testing her faith.” Sure, that is a possibility; however, couldn’t have done so in a less humiliating and degrading way than that?

I don’t think that Jesus was testing her faith at all. Clearly, she had faith in him if, as a Canaanite woman, she sought him out to exorcise her daughter. That would have taken a tremendous amount of faith and humility, quite honestly. What’s more, Jesus didn’t apply that same standard to the Roman centurion or any other non-Jew he interacted with.

I have always seen something else here at play. The religious leaders had been challenging Jesus at every turn and he was being rejected by his own people. This is so true that Jesus often found himself traveling with his disciples outside of Jewish territories. In fact, right before the interaction with this woman, the religious leaders were questioning Jesus on ritual and dietary purity. Jesus chastised them and proceeded to say that food is not what defiles someone. Mark then added the following commentary, “By saying this, he declared that every kind of food is acceptable in God’s eyes.” (Mark 7:19, NLT)

This would have been a big deal and, what’s more, dietary laws were one of the ways that Jews were differentiated from Gentiles such as the Canaanites. Thus, I do not think Jesus’ initial response to the woman was actually intended to be a slight against her; rather, I think he was echoing the unclean thoughts that defiled his own people. He treated her, initially, in a way that the religious leaders and other Jews thought of her.

But the account did not end there, did it? The woman acknowledged Jesus’ words and then retorted, “That’s true, Lord, but even the dogs under the table are allowed to eat the scraps from the children’s plates” (Mark 7:28, NLT). At that point, Jesus lightened up, commended her answer, and sent her home with these words, “the demon has left your daughter.”

What Jesus did there was further expose the hypocrisy and impurity of those who saw themselves as pure. This Canaanite, Syrophoenician, non-Jewish woman who ate swine and was generally deemed to be impure was, in actuality, the one who had faith and was clean in God’s sight. This should actually be a lesson for all of us who see ourselves as clean, or pure, or “saved”. Christians are just as culpable as the Jewish religious leaders in seeing themselves as above those who are non-Christian and “unsaved”.

The challenge for us as Christians is to humble ourselves and remember God is the one who deems who is clean and/or unclean, not us. We are not some how more valuable that those we look at as “dogs.” Whether they be immigrants, the poor, criminals, the “unchurched”, or whatever label we use to define and describe the other, Jesus can be found among them. When we exclude others, we end up excluding Christ along with them. The challenge for us is to drop our perception and pick up Christ’s.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Let us remember that while we may be “saved”, that is only because we are sinners in need of saving.

PRAYER
Lord, help me to humble myself so that I can see the sinner that I am and work on removing my own logs, rather than other people’s specs. Amen.

God’s People, part 196: The Sick

Read Mark 6:53-56

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“When Jesus heard this, he said, ‘Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.’”  (Matthew 9:12, 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.

SickPart 196: The Sick. “Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head.”  Those words of Jesus’ ring true when we read today’s scripture passage. Anywhere and everywhere Jesus went, he was being bombarded by people who were seeking to get something out of him. Mark tells us that once people recognized who he was, “they ran about the whole area, carrying sick people on mats to wherever he was.”

Bombarded might actually be an understatement. Still, Jesus understood their needs and had compassion toward them. He healed as many of them as possible and continued to minister to those who were sick and healthy alike. No doubt all of this was draining, but the Spirit of God was upon Jesus and, as God’s Son, nothing was going to stop him from doing his Father’s work. Certainly not exhaustion.

With that said, who are the sick? This is one of those English words that doesn’t capture what is being conveyed in the original Greek. When we read the word sick in this and other passages of the Gospels, we have to understand that we are not dealing with people who have the common cold. “The sick” were were not people who had a cough and a fever and needed some rest to recover; rather, these were people who had been suffering terribly from a whole host of various maladies.

In Greek, the word for “sick” comes from the word astheneō (ἀσθενέω, pronounced as-then-eh’-o), which not only means weak or feeble, but can mean diseased. What’s more this word is also used to describe male impotence. With that in mind, “the sick” were those who were crippled, who were suffered from degenerative diseases, who suffered from other types of nasty diseases, men who were impotent, as well as people who fell ill or sick for other reasons.

In other words, “the sick” was a catch-all word that encompassed a whole host of different people with an enumerable variety of illnesses. Certainly, these people were experiencing social and spiritual isolation and rejection due to their illness. While most people would avoid contact with the sick, Jesus was doing the opposite of that. He was engaging them, laying hands on them, and healing them.

What we can learn from “the sick” stems with our reaction to them. Who are the sick in our communities? Perhaps they are physically sick, ill, or people who are differently abled. Perhaps they, are emotionally or psychologically sick. Perhaps they suffer from substance dependence or addiction. What’s our reaction to those who are sick? Do we judge them? Do we try to avoid them? Do we reject them?

The challenge for us is to begin to move in the direction of Christ. We should never shun, reject, avoid, or judge; rather, we should show compassion, we should work against stigma, and be a healing presence in the lives of those who suffer. Let us be a people who model ourselves after Christ and reject the ways of the world. Let us work to bring hope, healing, and wholeness into the lives of those who need it.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Healing takes courage, and we all have courage, even if we have to dig a little to find it.” – Tori Amos

PRAYER
Lord, soften my heart and help me to grow in empathy toward others so that I might be used to bring your hope and healing to others. Amen.

Episode 84 | Prepare: To Change

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-dthkx-baf2d0

In this episode, Rev. Todd begins a new, four-part series entitled, Prepare. This message, specifically entitled, “Prepare To Change”, is about the inevitability of change and the importance of our response to that inevitability. This message is based on Isaiah 43:19-20 and Jeremiah 29:11-13.

EPISODE NOTES:

A LOOK BACK: The Beatitudes, part 9: Persecuted

Volunteer handsWhile I am out volunteering in community this week, I figured it would be a great time for us to LOOK BACK to a previous devotion. I trust you will find this devotion to be as relevant today as it was when I first wrote it. Click here to time jump back to that devotion.

I would also challenge you to find time to volunteer and serve others in your community. Whether that be in a soup kitchen, a food pantry, at your local library, at a church, or any such place where people can be served through volunteerism, it is good to be a part of something larger than yourself. After all, Christ  taught:

“You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many”  (Matthew 20:25-28, NLT).

God’s People, part 195: Salome

Read Mark 14:1-12

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“The LORD is slow to anger and filled with unfailing love, forgiving every kind of sin and rebellion. But he does not excuse the guilty. He lays the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations.”  (Numbers 14:18, 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.

Salome_Baptist-HeadPart 195: Salome. In the Old Testament, there was a passage that I could never fully understand. In Exodus 20:5, in reference to idols God states, “You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me.”  (Exodus 20:5, NLT)

What does God mean when he says, “I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me”? That makes God sound like a harsh and cruel God. It seems to counter the “Jesus Loves Me” personality of God that I was taught in Sunday School and in church growing up. How can the unconditionally loving, all-good, God do that to people? I mean, I can understand why one would suffer consequences for THEIR sins, but why their children or their children’s children? That hardly seems fair.

These questions are valid questions; however, people such as Salome provide cases of what God means in Exodus 20:5. Salome was the daughter of Herodias and Herod II, and she was the step-daughter of her uncle Herod Antipas. As was covered in the last devotion, Herodias divorced Herod II and married his brother Antipas.

The last couple of devotions also highlighted the corruption, power-grabbing, greedy and murderous family that Herod the Great raised up. No one or thing was sacred or safe within it. This was the environment that Herod II, Antipas, and Herodias grew up in and, sadly, this is also the environment that Salome grew up in. As such, Herod the Great’s children followed suit with him and their children did the same as well.

Again, Herodias was power-hungry and divorced her first husband to marry his more powerful younger half-brother, Antipas. Likewise, her daughter Salome was also power-hungry and wanted to eliminate any threat to the legitimacy of her mother’s marriage to Antipas. Though they were rulers over God’s people, the Herodians lacked humility and did not place God above themselves.

Sure, Herodias knew it was against God’s law willy-nilly divorce Herod II to marry his half-brother, but she did it anyway. Sure, Herod Antipas knew it was wrong too. What’s more, he knew that God would not approve lusting after his step-daughter, but he did that anyway. Salome knew that seducing her step-father was not in line with God’s will for her, but she did it anyway. Certainly she knew that murdering one of God’s prophets was not something God willed, but she demanded that Antipas murder John the Baptist.

The challenge here is to NOT view the Herodians as being different than us. They are no different. They were human beings who had dreams, hopes, ambitions, lusts, envy, and longed for control. So are we. We may not find ourselves on the same scale, but we struggle with those things too. All human beings do.

The challenge for us is to not be like Herod, Antipas, Herodias or Salome and to overlook God’s will for our life so that we can have what WE want; rather, we should be challenged to heed God’s will for us, as outlined in Scripture, and purge ourselves of the things that take us away from God. In other words, let’s humble ourselves and purge deceit, corruption, evil desires, jealousy, contempt for God’s way, lust, ambition, and the need for control from our lives. By God’s grace, through the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, this can and will be done if you so choose.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” — Viktor E. Frankl

PRAYER
Lord, guide me through the space between stimulus and response and lead me to respond to you instead of my desires. Help me to ONLY desire you and your will for me. Amen.

A biweekly devotional