Tag Archives: belief

God’s People, part 168: Philip

Read John 14:8-14

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.”  (Philippians 4:13, 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.

Rubens_apostel_philippusPart 168: Philip. Philip is one of the disciples/apostles in all four of the Gospel accounts; however, we know very little of him from the synoptic Gospels (e.g. Mark, Matthew, and Luke). Instead, Philip is more prominently figured in the Gospel of John. It is there that we get a sense of who Philip was and how he interacted with the other disciples and with Jesus.

Philip was from the town of Bethsaida, the hometown of Andrew and Peter. According to John’s Gospel, Andrew and an unnamed disciple were followers of John the Baptist. Once John proclaimed Jesus as the Lamb of God, Andrew and the unnamed disciple left the Baptist and followed Jesus. The unnamed disciple has traditionally been understood to be the beloved disciple, whom has also traditionally understood to be John, brother of James. We will refer to him as John to keep things less confusing.

From there, Andrew and John took Jesus to Simon, whom he renamed Cephas (Aramaic for Peter). Presumably, John’s brother James was also there. These were the first four disciples called by Jesus. The next disciple, the fifth to be called, was Philip of Bethsaida. We do not know what Philip’s trade was, whether he was a fisherman or not, but we do know that the Gospel is written in such a way that seems to indicate that Andrew and Peter knew Philip. Bearing a Greek name, it has been speculated Philip may have spoken Greek and may have been known to some Greek pilgrims who were visiting Jerusalem (John 12:21). If that was the case, it certainly went on to be a benefit to him while serving Jesus.

It is believed that Philip was among the disciples at the wedding in Cana, since he was called prior to the event. Philip also introduces Jesus to Nathanael, who was also among those at the wedding. Philip, like Andrew, seemed to have a passion for bringing people into a relationship with his master. On top of introducing Nathanael, Philip let Andrew know that there were Greek pilgrims who wanted to speak to Jesus, and they both went to tell Jesus about it (John 12:22).

Overall, he was a disciple who showed great faith; however, he did waiver in that faith and was sometimes confused in his understanding of Jesus over all. When Jesus asked the disciples to feed the 5,000 men (not counting women and children), it was Philip who was confounded and questioned Jesus on how that was even possible. It was also during the Last Supper that Philip didn’t seem to understand that by knowing and seeing Jesus, he had actually known and seen the Father as well.

I think, if we are honest, Philip is representative of most of us who follow Christ. We are passionate and want to serve Christ faithfully. Sometime, even, we come through on that; however, we often times get confounded by the seeming impossibilities surrounding us, and get lost in focusing on what we do not have as opposed to focusing on what we do have: CHRIST.

The challenge for us to stop relying on our own power and on our own abilities. They will fall short every time, and they will definitely leave us feeling hopeless. Rather, we need to place our faith in Christ, in whom all things are possible if we will only believe and take the step of faith. The challenge, therefore, is for us to place our faith wholly in Christ and to move forward in our Christian walk of faith, even when things seem impossible.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Faith is not about knowledge, it’s about trusting Christ enough to move forward even though one does not know.

PRAYER
Lord, give me the kind of faith that moves mountains. I can do all things through you who gives me strength. Amen.

The Modern Prometheus

Read Psalm 14

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Fools base their thoughts on foolish assumptions, so their conclusions will be wicked madness; they chatter on and on. No one really knows what is going to happen; no one can predict the future.” (Ecclesiastes 10:13-14 NLT)

FrankensteinOne of my more favorite books, as a fan of Gothic Horror, is Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s “Frankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus”. Inspired by a group of friends who were all competing to see who could write the scariest horror story, Shelley penned Frankenstein about a doctor who would use science to create human life. Shelley’s world was one that had gone through the age of enlightenment and scientific knowledge was growing in leaps and bounds. There was seemingly no limit to human potential and it seemed as if humans could achieve anything if they so willed it. All it took was scientific discovery. As has happened ever since the Age of Enlightenment, scientific discovery got more and more narrowed down to physical and/or natural sciences, such as medicine, biology, anatomy, physiology, ecology, etc.

But Shelley also lived in a world that still held on to the other sciences as well. The word science comes from the Latin word scientiae, which means “knowledge.” Therefore, the sciences were avenues to attaining knowledge. Whether it be the knowledge of the physical/natural world, of wisdom (philosophy), of the mind (psychology), or even of God (theology), people have been in pursuit of such knowledge. Thus, the physical and/or natural sciences are no more or less science than philosophy, sociology, psychology, archaeology, and theology. All of these are avenues to knowledge…all of these are sciences.

In Shelley’s novel, Dr. Victor Frankenstein abandons himself to the physical sciences in order to attain something that the other sciences such as theology and philosophy might warn against. He attempts to leave the realm of humanity and starts to play God. The results are catastrophic, as one can imagine. Instead of creating another human being, Dr. Frankenstein creates what he ends up considering to be a monster and an abomination. In reality, the creation (who refers to himself as “Adam” in order to draw a parallel between himself and the first man created in Eden) is not the real monster…rather, Victor Frankenstein is the one who becomes monstrous in creating and abandoning “the Adam of [his] labours”, as well as for the hell he brings upon his household and his people.

Shelley’s novel is one that intentionally warns the reader about the danger of abandoning the sum of knowledge for just one of its parts. While we have learned a great deal about the world through the physical and natural sciences, that is not the whole of the knowledge we have to learn. Just as one who ignores the knowledge we have gained of ourselves and of the world through the physical sciences is considered to be foolish, so too is it foolish for one to ignore the knowledge we have gained of God, of the cosmos, of creation and of our relationship to all of the above through theology.

Today’s challenge is for us to move away from being like Frankenstein and toward a more holistic understanding of reality. We are not just physical beings, but we are also emotional, intellectual, psychological and SPIRITUAL beings as well. We cannot be one without the others. We cannot be one part without the whole. When attempt to be apart from the whole, we end up becoming hollow, shadowy caricatures of our former selves; when we abandon the whole of knowledge we often, in our willful ignorance, end up becoming monstrous and dangerous to the larger community around us. Christ is calling us from that to humility, curiosity, and open-mindedness…values that any true scientist would eagerly embody.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“As dead flies cause even a bottle of perfume to stink, so a little foolishness spoils great wisdom and honor.” (Ecclesiastes 10:1 NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, teach me to be open to all of the possibilities so that I may grow in knowledge, as well as in wisdom. Amen.

Simply Believe

Read John 3:1-18

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“If any of you wants to be My follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow Me.” (Mark 8:34 NLT)

LOVEMany who have grown up in the church have had to learn Bible verses/passages in Sunday School, or VBS, or for confirmation, etc. Many grew up learning the 23rd Psalm, many grew up learning Isaiah 40:28-31, and many others. probably the most learned Bible verse ever, if I had place my bets on it is John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Thank God for the poetic King James Version which only aids in the memorization process because it rings so clearly. With that said, it’s not always the most understandable translation, so I thank God for the more contemporary translations too.

John 3:16 has often been considered the verse of love, in a Gospel that has become known as the Gospel of love. We often hear that verse and are comforted by God’s graciousness in sending his Son to save us from our sins through Jesus’ death on the cross. We see this as God’s great love for all of humankind. The other thing that usually happens in the interpretation of this passage is that it becomes exclusive of anyone that doesn’t “believe” in Jesus, and with that the exclusion goes even deeper as there aren’t two groups of people on this planet that “believe in Jesus” the exact same way. So, this usually amounts to a “my group is saved because we believe, but yours shall perish because you don’t believe or because you believe falsely.”

What’s sad about this is that it takes what is a verse of hope, a verse of complete sacrificial love, and turns it into a verse of judgment and condemnation. Now, don’t get me wrong. I am NOT saying that anything goes and that Jesus’ death on the cross saves everyone unconditionally. Typically, when people try and have a discussion around salvation theology, accusations of “universalism” fly around like bullets out of a machine gun. I am not saying that anything goes because I believe that saying that cheapens what Jesus did for us; however, I am not so quick to turn this verse into a verse of judgement because I believe that ends up discounting and/or nullifying what Christ did for us, at least in the minds and hearts of those we affect.

Instead, I choose to let this verse speak for itself. Jesus Christ sacrificed his life, not just through his death but through his very life. In fact, John 3:16 mentions nothing about God sending Jesus to die…just that God sent God’s only begotten Son. Obviously, his death and resurrection play a vital part, but so did his life. Jesus sacrificed living a normal life, being a husband, being a father, and living out his days relatively peacefully in order to follow God and teach others how to do so as well. In his life, he showed us the truth and the life through his healings, his teachings and his example. Through his death, he showed us the way to the Kingdom of God. In his resurrection, Christ showed us that even death won’t conquer those who follow his way. Anyone who believes in Christ not only believes in his life and death and his resurrection, but also believes they are called to follow in his footsteps.

Jesus didn’t die because he was forced to, or because he HAD to, or even because God willed him to; rather, he died because humanity’s sinful nature rebuked and reviled him. He accepted that reality and took on death because he LOVES US THAT MUCH. He accepted death on a cross because to him, and to God, we MATTER THAT MUCH! Jesus saw in us the what we often fail to see in ourselves…the presence of the Living God. So, why take what is an ENORMOUSLY POSITIVE verse and turn it into something negative? I am not God, nor are you, nor is any other created being in God’s creation. Only God is God, and through Christ, God has showed us the way of love through self-sacrifice. We are to believe, but we are not to judge others who we THINK might not believe. Rather we are to SIMPLY BELIEVE to the point of being moved and transformed from who we are to who GOD is calling us to be. Those who do shall find everlasting peace and life.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.” – Jesus Christ
PRAYER
Lord, help me to believe in you…to truly believe…and not to be in a place of judgment of others. Amen.

Repent and Believe

Read Hebrews 13

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.” (1 Corinthians 12:26 NRSV)

repentAndBelieveToday is Ash Wednesday, and we are entering into the Christian season of Lent. During Lent, which is a forty day period that lasts from Ash Wednesday through Holy Saturday, we enter a period of fasting and of reflection. Christians have traditionally marked the beginning of the Lenten journey by having Ash imposed on their foreheads, a dark and gritty reminder that we are both mortal and tainted by sin. As the ash is marked on the foreheads or hands of the faithful, people are told to “repent and believe the Gospel.”

This year, Ash Wednesday is having a different meaning to me. When I think of the ash that I will no doubt be imposing on the heads of countless people, and of the ash I will have imposed on my head, I cannot help but think of the Jordanian pilot who was lit on fire at the beginning January. When I think of the ashes today, I cannot help but think of the twenty-one Christians who were mass-executed this past weekend. When I think of the ashes today, I cannot help but think of the countless people who have been killed throughout the centuries and millenia for religious differences.

Recently, at a Christian breakfast, President Barack Obama called on Christian leaders to show humility in the face of the imminent threat that ISIL poses to the Middle-East and beyond. He called them to remember what Christians did during the Crusades, during the Inquisition, during American slavery and segregation. Some Christians got upset at this because, while there is no denying that some Christians have done some pretty evil things in the name of Christ, they believed his call to humility only served to play into the propaganda of the ISIL organization.

While this point can be argued, what can’t be argued is that many terrible things have been done by many people in the name of their religion. Honestly, with or without Christian history, people would be killing and maiming in the name of their beliefs. What is sad about this is that most of these belief systems speak much more about the need for peace, love, compassion, humility and mercy than they speak on the need for killing and maiming. But all religious systems can be, and have been, interpreted in ways that “justify” doing great acts of evil.

Rather than getting outraged about being called out on the atrocities of the past, we should be outraged about the atrocities of the present. Rather than pointing at the past as a way of reminding others of what people long dead have done, we should be reflecting on the ways in which we can help to stop the sins we are committing right here and right now? We don’t have to look at the middle-east to see that we have been complacent in the face of suffering, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist or a sagely oracle to realize that such complacency has us far away from the heart of the Gospel.

Today, on this Ash Wednesday, Christ is calling us to repent and to believe the Good News. Let us repent of the ways in which we have been complacent, and let us begin to live into the Gospel as if we ACTUALLY believe in it! Let us begin to live in solidarity with those who are suffering. Let us pray for the countless Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, and others who are being put to death because of their beliefs. Let us begin to treat others with the respect that should be afforded all human beings, who are created in the image of God. If we live in such a way, we will have truly received the Lenten message and will have begun our journey to the cross. It is there, and only there, that we will truly die to ourselves and resurrect into a new and glorious life.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY “Of all acts of man repentance is the most divine. The greatest of all faults is to be conscious of none.” – Thomas Carlyle

PRAYER Lord, today I repent and ask for you to reveal your Gospel within me so that I may believe and follow it. Amen.

Well Worth the Investment

Read Deuteronomy 11:18-23

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalms 119:105)

IstheBibleReliableOne of the things I have noticed in the past several years of ministry, is that most people don’t know much about their own faith heritage. I certainly cannot speak for other faiths outside of Christianity, but within the Christian faith, there seems to be more people who DON’T even really know WHAT they believe, let alone why they believe it. To add to that, most people don’t even know the Bible that they claim their faith is based in.

As a Christian educator and, in particular, as someone who has taught many confirmation classes, I have made it a priority to encourage, promote and provide opportunity for Christian education. In confirmation class, I developed a curriculum in which the confirmands had to learn Christian history, become acquainted with doctrine and its historical and theological development, gain working knowledge of the way our church operates, and begin to think theologically for themselves. While, no doubt, this sounds like a lot for someone at the age of confirmation…my students will attest that the process was immensely rewarding for them as they grew in ways they didn’t know they could.

John Wesley believed in the vital importance of “attending to the ordinances of God.” In other words, in order to maintain our spiritual well-being, including spiritual growth, people need to actively participate in their faith. It is important for a Christian to be actively a part of the Christian community (aka church). It is important for a Christian to participate in the sacraments. It is important for a Christian to maintain a consistent prayer life. It is also vitally important for a Christian to study his or her Bible. And, of course, anyone who has read the Bible knows that it teaches us of the vital importance to serve others and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

The fact of the matter is that many people do not invest themselves in their faith. When it comes to their faith, most people only know what they have heard from others and have no real or personal understanding of why it is they believe what say they believe. They take what they hear at face value without ever really taking the time to probe into it. As a result, many people find themselves stagnating in their faith, rather than seeing themselves grow and transform. For many people faith is just another one of those “religious” words.

Today’s challenge…and to be honest, this is a challenge for the rest of our lives…is for us to begin to take our faith more seriously. We should be seeking to devote time to reading and getting to know Scripture. We should be seeking to join Bible and/or book studies to enhance our understanding. We should be seeking to participate in all of the ordinances of God so that we not only claim to believe, but that we also know WHAT we believe and WHY we believe it.

It is such conviction that will lead us to live out our beliefs. If we are merely claiming to believe something, then their is no REAL reason for us to carry it out beyond our mental assent. If we do not know WHAT we believe, there is no way we can act upon our beliefs. If we don’t know WHY we believe, then we will not have the conviction it takes to act upon those beliefs. So, take the challenge and find ways to grow in your faith. Seek to gain an understanding of what you believe and why you believe it, study the Bible and it’s historical contexts, and actively participate in the life and mission of the Christian community! Invest in your faith and you’ll find it was well worth the investment!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

Belief is so much more than mere mental assent.

PRAYER

Lord, spark a passion for investing in my faith and grounding myself in what I believe so that I may live in a way that reflects that faith. Amen.