Tag Archives: Bible

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.

A LOOK BACK: Vehement Prayer

Read Psalm 137

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Depart from evil, and do good; so you shall abide forever. For the LORD loves justice; he will not forsake his faithful ones. The righteous shall be kept safe forever, but the children of the wicked shall be cut off.” (Psalms 37:27-28 NRSV)

BesideTheRiversOfBabylon_VehementPrayer2

This is an incredibly hard text to deal with. I mean, what can be possible said to justify the words that we’ve just read. What can possible be said to defend the horrifying imagery that the psalmist has forever etched into our heads? What can possibly justify the killing of innocent babies and/or children? Why would that even be in the Bible? What constructive good could possibly come for such atrocious and violent rhetoric? What’s more, what can I possibly say about this text that will transform it into something relevant for our lives in today’s time?

First, I always think it is important to understand the historical context of the text before trying to understand the text itself. We are blessed with this Psalm because it actually dates itself, which gives us a really good place to start in understanding what was going on there. The psalmist opens the Psalm in the following way: “By the rivers of Babylon–there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion” (Psalms 137:1 NRSV). So we know where this Psalm takes place, “beside the rivers of Babylon”, which means that the Psalm was written by a Jew within Babylon.

What this ultimately means is that this is a Psalm that comes out of the Exilic Period in Jewish history. This period happened in three waves between 605 BCE and 538 BCE. The Exile of the Jews lasted until the Persian king, Cyrus II, decreed that the Jews could return to their homeland following the Persian takeover of Babylon a year earlier in October of 539 BCE. (NOTE: Before Common Era (BCE) years count backwards.) This means that the Psalm had to be written sometime between 605 and 539 BCE.

The dating of this Psalm is further evidenced by the fact that the psalmist is “remembering Zion, implying that it was laid to waste. What that means is that this psalmist was among those taken captive back to Babylon during the third exilic wave (July or August of 587 BCE), following the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple built by Solomon. Let’s put this into perspective. When Babylon came in and seiged Jerusalem for the third time (due to Judah rebelling against King Nebuchadnezzar), they were made a bloody example of for anyone else who would dare challenge and conspire against the Babylonian Empire who they were previously conquered by and subject to.

So, to be precise, at the time of the Babylonian attack on Judah, there was an estimated population of 75,000 people living in Judah, and Jerusalem was probably much of that population being that it was the main city. Of that population, 20,000 people were deported and brought back to Babylon in exile. That’s over 25% of the population. Now, we all remember what happened on 9/11, just imagine if, on top of the attacks, 25% of all Americans were taken to another country to live.

Just put that into perspective of how horrifying, how awful, and how humiliating that must have been. Twenty-five percent! The remaining 75% were either dead, or were left in Judah to watch their countryside, villages, and the city of Jerusalem smolder, literally. Jerusalem itself, destroyed and depopulated, lay largely in ruins for the next 150 years. Many of their men, women and children were dead, the rest exiled to a foreign land or left to rot in a smoldering land, and they were the utter and absolute laughing stock of an empire.

This psalmist is letting out his or her violent reaction, and getting it out in the open, and that is perfectly okay. Does God condone violence, or dashing infants’ heads on stone? No, I do not believe that God does. Nor does this psalmist even claim that God states that. The violence in this psalm is really a vehement prayer of anguish to God and God does understand the wounded heart of the anguished psalmist and of all people who suffer injustice and pain. God not only understands the oppressed, but stands in solidarity with them, working to bring about justice to those who are suffering under the weight of evil.

It is important for us to know that it is okay if we cry out vehemently to God when we are desperate for justice, for God knows our pain and is working to bring about justice in our situations and in the world. What’s more, we are also challenged to check to see where our own allegiances lie. Are we standing in solidarity with the oppressed, just as God is, or are we among the oppressors who are adding insult to injury? In the end, justice ALWAYS prevails. It did eventually in Babylon, and it will in our world too. Evaluate yourself. Which side are you on?

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Prayer is the tearing open of your rib cage so that your heart can breathe.” – Rob Bell
PRAYER
Lord, hear my own vehement prayers anguish and also lead me to become an answered prayer for those who suffer. Amen.

Online Worship for Sunday, February 28, 2021

Welcome to our Sunday Worship Service for February 28, 2021. We will be continuing on in the new Lenten worship series entitled, Purple Theory. Today we will be discovering the importance of reading Scripture as a daily practice, which makes us healthier through connecting us and drawing us closer to God. Let us not forget about the power of the Bible!

Please support us by giving online: https://tithe.ly/give?c=1377216​ or https://paypal.me/newtonumc​ Your support is vital, especially during this COVID-19 pandemic. You can also write and mail a check to First UMC of Newton, 111 Ryerson Ave., Newton, NJ 07860. If you are from another church that is not able to host online worship, we would strongly encourage you give to YOUR church and support them. They no doubt need that support as much as we do. God bless you all for your generosity.

A LOOK BACK: Context is Everything

Read 2 Timothy 3:14-16

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Open my eyes, so that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” (Psalms 119:18)

Context Is EverythingWhat if I were to tell you that the Bible says that “there is no God”? What if I were to tell you that the Bible comes to the conclusion that “everything, including life, is meaningless, like chasing the wind”? What if I were to tell you that the Bible says that God wants people to endure slavery because God put the slave masters in authority over them? Or that God punishes generations of family members for the sins of their ancestors. Or that women are inferior to men and should be silent in churches as they are not fit to teach? Or that the Bible says that women are saved through childbearing?

On the one hand, the Bible does say such things. The words “there is no God” can be found in Psalm 14:1; the words “everything is meaningless” can be found in Ecclesiastes 1:2 and elsewhere in Ecclesiastes; God wishing people to remain slaves can be found in Ephesians 6:5, Colossians 3:22, Titus 2:9-10, and 1 Peter 2:18. That God punishes the descendants of sinful ancestors is found in Numbers 14:18, among other places. That women are inferior to men, are to be silent in churches, are not fit to teach and are saved through child bearing can be found in 1 Timothy 2:11-15.

On the other hand, each one of these verses has something in common tying them together. That common thread is that they’ve all been taken out of context, perhaps in different ways, but they are definitely all out of context. In Psalm 14:1, the Psalmist is ACTUALLY saying that “the fool says in his or her heart that ‘there is no God.'” The words “there is no God was taken textually out of context. Ecclesiastes 1:2 is the opening to a philosophical treatise on how life, and all of its trappings, leads to emptiness and that, at the end of the day, people need to “fear God and keep his commandments” (12:13). While Ephesians and Colossians do state that slaves are to obey their masters, the historical context of this passage shows us a Christian community that is reacting to accusations that Christians are inciting slaves to riot against their masters (which was one of  many accusations that Romans were levying against Christians of the time period). That doesn’t justify the passage, but helps us understand it so that we don’t fall into the same trap.

It was a common tone in the ancient world that if you make God angry, God will punish you. Some of these texts were written in times of tribulation, such as the Babylonian Exile where people were wondering why they had been exiled to begin with. What had they done to deserve such an awful fate…or what had their parents or their parents’ parents done? This understanding is less “God’s word” as much as it is people grappling with their circumstances, though there certainly are many unintended and far reaching consequences to sin. And the bit on women is also a reaction to the fact that women, up until that point, had played prominent roles in the church (e.g., Romans 16:1-4, 7) and the Romans were levying that against Christians as yet another example of how Christians were vile and against Roman order.  Again, this historical context (plus Paul’s commendation of women leaders) helps us to discern and affirm that indeed God DOES call women into ministry and leadership, and that they are saved equally and in the same manner that all human beings are: through faith (Romans 3:19-25; Galatians 3:28).

This is not an exhaustive discussion of those particular topics, but hopefully makes the point that CONTEXT IS EVERYTHING. The Bible is THE MOST IMPORTANT, and INSPIRED, source of our faith; however, it can be made to say anything when the context (textual, socio-economic, and/or historical) is missing. Don’t just read your Bible, but study it. Get into a good Bible Study that dives deep into the texts and gives you a good foundation not only on what the Bible says (keep in mind that we are not reading it in its original languages), but the context behind what it says. Buy books that delve into the Bible and provide the context behind it. Today’s challenge is for you to begin to not only read the Bible, but to build up a solid means of understanding it so that you can relevantly apply it to your life in a way that is true to the Spirit of the Word.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Context is worth 80 IQ points.” – Alan Kay

PRAYER
Lord, guide me in my studying of Scripture so that I may grow, not just in knowledge but also in understanding. Amen.

God’s People, part 184: Lepers

Read Mark 1:40-45

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Suddenly, a man with leprosy approached him and knelt before him. ‘Lord,’ the man said, ‘if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.’ Jesus reached out and touched him. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be healed!’ And instantly the leprosy disappeared.”  (Matthew 8:2-3, NLT)

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

Leper-HealingPart 184: Lepers. When we hear the word Leprosy or  Lepers, we think of people who have what is also known as Hansen’s Disease. According to the United States Center for Disease Control (CDC), leprosy is a bacterial infection that attacks the nerves, skin, eyes, and the inner lining of the nose. When attacking the nerves, the bacterial infection causes swelling and discoloration of the skin, which can also get flaky.

If left untreated, permanent nerve damage can be done leading also to paralysis of the hands and feet. A slow growing bacteria, it can take up to 20 years before one even shows symptoms of having it. This disease was once considered to be highly contagious; however, researchers have come to realize that it is not so easily spread, especially when it is treatable. People with leprosy, if properly treated, can go on to live normal and productive lives.

In the Bible, we read the word leprosy a number of times. Namaan, the Aramean General in 2 Kings 5, had leprosy. Leprosy is also mentioned a number of times in the Gospels, where Jesus lays hands on them and heals them. There’s a lot we don’t know about the disease that these lepers had; however, what we do know is that those afflicted with leprosy in Biblical times did not have what we know now as Hansen’s disease which was described above. The Hebrew word for leprosy is tzara’ath (צָרַעַת, pronounced tzaw-rah’-ath). This word was used for those who had a dermatological condition that caused the skin to scale.

Psoriasis, which can also lead to crippling psoriatic arthritis, seborrheic dermatitis, scabies, crusted scabies, syphilis, impetigo, scarlet fever, and other such diseases could be classified in the ancient world as tzara’ath or leprosy. In other words, any number of dermatological diseases could have been considered leprosy and anyone with that disease would be viewed as a leper.

Leprosy was viewed as a defiling disease, meaning that anyone with it would be deemed ritually and physically unclean. Such people were shunned and avoided at all costs. They were not allowed to live within the community, nor were they allowed to participate in the community’s religious life. They often lived in “colonies” of others with the disease.

According to the annotations found in The Jewish Study Bible, “The Bible does not view disease per se as defiling. Only those having “tzara’at” or abnormal genital fluxes are considered to be impure…Tzara’at, seen as a gradual erosion of the skin, was thought to culminate, unless the patient recovered, in the ultimate disintegration of the flesh, which was taken as a manifestation of the gradual escape of life. The person afflicted with it was looked upon as potentially dead, death itself having begun to consume his body.”[1]

If one even so much as came in contact with or touched a leper, they too would be seen as defiled. Thus, people avoided lepers like the plague. What’s more, many believed that leprosy was a divine punishment for the act of slander. Thus, those who had leprosy were not only shunned, but judged by society. Thus, we can see how scandalous it was for Jesus to lay hands on and heal lepers. Not only did he risk defiling himself, but he was also showing his power over sin.

When dealing with the healings that Jesus performed, I want us to focus more on society and on us as “the people of God”, for it is there that we see the true sin and missed opportunities in living up to being God’s people. The stories of Jesus healing the lepers ought to challenge us that God loves people equally, no matter what may or may not be afflicting them. When we shun such people because they are “gross”, or “disgusting”, or “we might catch what they have”, we are actually shunning God. When we refuse to help people because “they brought it upon themselves” we are actually putting ourselves above God.

While we should take precautions so as to not infect ourselves or spread infectious diseases, we should approach all people as children of God who deserve to be treated with love, compassion and diginty. We should work toward bringing healing to folks, rather than more harm through shunning and judging them. Let us open ourselves up to being God’s people rather than being people of the world.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
We are blessed that we might be a blessing to others. Shunning people is not blessing them.

PRAYER
Lord, help us to be compassionate to all who suffer no matter the cause, and steer us away from judgment. Amen.

[1] Schwartz, Baruch J. “Annotations for Leviticus 13.1-14.57” in The Jewish Study Bible, Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, eds. (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1999), 234.

God’s People, part 169: Nathanael

Read John 1:43-51

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“‘But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel after those days,’ says the LORD. ‘I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.’”  (Jeremiah 31:33, 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.

nathanael-under-fig-treePart 169: Nathanael. Nathanael is a bit of a mystery. He is only ever mentioned of in the Gospel of John and is found nowhere in Mark, Matthew, or Luke. Yet, Nathanael, in John’s Gospel, is mentioned as one of the earlier of the twelve to be counted among Jesus’ disciples. There is a tradition of thought that may link Nathanael with one the twelve who is mentioned in the Synoptic Gospels but is nowhere to be found in the Gospel of John.

Nathanael is a Hebrew name that means, “God has given.” We are told in the narrative that, following by being called by Jesus, Philip ran to find Nathanael and told him all about the Messiah whom he had met and was not following. We are never told Nathanael’s relationship with Philip, they clearly know each other and are friends.

“Philip went to look for Nathanael and told him, “We have found the very person Moses and the prophets wrote about! His name is Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth.” To us this sounds exciting, right? Philip had just come face-to-face with Jesus, so how could he be less than enamored? He had just witnessed the presence of God incarnate and had been called as a disciple by him? How could anyone NOT find this exciting? Well, in truth, those types of questions only come in hindsight. Nathanael was less than impressed, and made that known to Philip,

“Nazareth!” exclaimed Nathanael. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Nathanael’s was not rejoicing at Philip’s news; rather, he was skeptical of Jesus’ being the Messiah. How could the Messiah, the one who is supposedly going to kick the Romans out and reestablish Israel to her rightful place as a sovereign kingdom under God, ever come from a dinky little village such as Nazareth?

That village “boasted” of maybe 150 residents and was a pocket for those who were discontent with the religious establishment in Jerusalem.  Besides, according to the Scriptures, the Messiah would come from David’s hometown, Bethlehem. Never, in all of the Torah, the Psalms, the Wisdom texts, or the prophets, is Nazareth even hinted at.

“Come and see for yourself,” Philip replied.” (John 1:45-46, NLT) Skeptical as he might be, Nathanael takes Philip on his offer to come and meet Jesus. It is then where his eyes and heart are opened to see Jesus as the Messiah. Why? Because Jesus spoke to him in a way that revealed Nathanael’s heart’s desire: to follow God faithfully. When Jesus saw him, he said, “‘Now here is a genuine son of Israel—a man of complete integrity.’

“‘How do you know about me?’ Nathanael asked. Jesus replied, ‘I could see you under the fig tree before Philip found you.’”  (John 1:47-48, NLT) There are differing interpretations of what Jesus meant when he said “I could see you under the fig tree”; however, the one thing that is for certain is that Jesus true identity was revealed to Nathanael in that moment. As such he responded, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God—the King of Israel!”  (John 1:49, NLT)

Like Nathanael, we too can be skeptical of the things claimed about Jesus. Were they just first century fairytales? Did Jesus really do the things he was claimed to have done? Does the Christian witness really have any sway in today’s time? What allowed Nathanael to see Jesus as the Messiah, was his deep desire to know God and to know God’s word. Some have even suggested that the reference to the fig tree was an allusion to Nathanael’s deep devotion to the Torah, God’s Law.

Perhaps that is an in for us too. Not the attempting to live up to the letter of the Law, but to begin to discern who God is through a faithful studying of God’s word. It is that word that will, in the end, lead us to the Word mad flesh…to Jesus Christ. If we make that a part of our daily discipline, we will find that indeed we do know the teacher, the Son of God, the King of Israel. Challenge yourself the discipline of studying the Bible.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Relationships must be a two-way street. If you put nothing into discovering and relating to others, you will get nothing out of it. The same is true in our relationship with God.

PRAYER
Lord, draw me close to you and teach me who you are so that I may know, follow, and have a relationship with you. Amen.

God’s People, part 135: You

Read James 1:22-25

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message.”  (John 17:20 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.

MirrorBiblePart 135: You. Yes you, the one who is reading this devotion. When one thinks of the Gospels most people do not think of themselves as one of the main characters. One thinks of Mary, Joseph, Jesus, the disciples/apostles, Herod, and the Romans. Heck, one even thinks of the devil and his demons; however, most people do not think of themselves.

I believe that this fact points to a major reason there is such a disconnect between most people and the Gospel message when/if they read the Bible. The Bible, Old and New Testament alike, is being read as a bedtime story filled with two-dimensional characters who bear little to know resemblance to us. At best, the Bible may be read as a work of history, something to look back upon and imagine what it must have been like to be there. Still, we read the Bible as if there is a distance between us and the characters within.

The truth is, however, that there is less of a distance between us and the books of the Bible than we think. It is true that the authors lived in a different time period than us as well as in a different culture and different part of the world. It is also true that the authors wrote with their own contexts and audiences in mind. With that said, the authors also wrote with YOU in mind. The New Testament authors, especially, wrote to all who would be reading them. Thus, YOU are very much a character in the New Testament.

YOU are the one who needs to hear and learn of the Good News about Jesus Christ. YOU are also the one who is being called to follow Jesus and become a disciple. YOU are the one the author intended to teach what the Rabbi/Teacher taught and YOU are the one to whom the author witnessed about Christ’s miracles.

The reader should not, nay, MUST NOT distance him or herself from the Bible. We are the people the authors are writing to. Mark starts off his Gospel cluing YOU in that he is writing about the good news of Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God. In the very first sentence, YOU are given a clue that the people in the accounts did not have. Then Mark lays before you the accounts of Jesus, not just to tell a neat and fanciful tale, but so that YOU might believe and become a disciple yourself.

The same is true for the other Gospels. Luke has something else going on as well, but we’ll touch upon that next time. Suffice it to say, the Gospel writers, Paul, the other letter writers, and the writer of Revelation all write for YOU, so that you might come to know the truth about Jesus Christ, become a disciple and carry on sharing the Good News with others.

The challenge for us is to read the Bible, especially the New Testament, from a fresh perspective. We need to learn to read it without reading our own contexts into it (because it was not written in our context); conversely, we need to learn to read it as if it were speaking directly to us and as if we were among the characters within it. The truth is WE ARE among the characters in this narrative. What’s more, every time we share the Gospel with others and bring them into a direct relationship with the risen Lord, they too become a character in this ongoing unfolding of God’s redemptive, salvific work in the world.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The Bible is the cradle wherein Christ is laid.” – Martin Luther

PRAYER
Lord, illumine me through the Bible and allow me to see that it was not just written about others, or merely for others, but that it was also written for me. Amen.

God’s People, part 119: The Silent Years

Read 1 Maccabees

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“When Mattathias saw it, he burned with zeal and his heart was stirred. He gave vent to righteous anger; he ran and killed him on the altar.”  (1 Maccabees 2:24 NRSV)

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.

Supermassive_black_holePart 119: The Silent Years. And like that we have reached the end of the Old Testament. Having journeyed from Creation in Genesis to the final prophet Malachi, we have gotten to see the people God claimed as his own and how they did, and often times did not, live up to God’s call to faithfulness. The reality is that each of the people we have learned about were just that people. They were mortal, fallible, sinful, and sometimes they did downright evil things.

What’s more, they were no greater than you or I. They were not the ones who did great things, any more than you or I could do the great things that they are seen in Scripture as having done. Rather, it was the power of the Holy Spirit within them that did great things in, through, and often times in spite of those people. The truth be told, the Holy Spirit can do those great things, and even greater things, through us if we open our hearts to God.

In between the books of Malachi (in the Old Testament) and Matthew (in the New Testament) is a time period known as “the Silent Years” because the Bible is silent on what happened in those periods. Well, the Bible was not really silent at all, rather it was silenced. Many books were written during this time period and those have become known as the “apocrypha”. These are the books that Rev. Martin Luther mistakenly believed the Roman Catholic Church was responsible for placing them in the Bible to begin with.

While there is a whole history behind the compiling of the Bible, and I do not have time to go into it here, the books of the Apocrypha (a word that originally referred to esoteric writings meant to be kept a secret but has since come to mean writings that are questionable) were books were originally among the scrolls considered to be Scripture. They were included in the first Hebrew Bible compilation known as the Septuagint; however, because that first compilation was in Greek and there were some translation disputes between the Greek translation and the original Hebrew, the apocryphal texts ended up getting removed by Jewish scribes looking to compile a Bible in Hebrew.

Regardless, much happened between Malachi and Matthew. The Greeks ended up defeating the Persians and, with Alexander the Great leading them, conquered the known world. Those Greek rulers, over time, ended up becoming tyrannical and defiled the Second Temple. This led to a revolt by Judah Maccabee and his brothers. The Maccabees, upon kicking out the Greeks, established the Hasmonean Dynasty, which lasted only a short while before the Romans came in, conquered them, and put in place a puppet king known as Herod the Great.

There’s more, where that came from too. The point is that though there is nothing between the books of Malachi and Matthew, there were people who lived, who suffered under the oppressive reigns of multiple tyrannical empires and/or dynasties, and who were hoping that the LORD would once and for all deliver them from outside rulers.

We, of course, never truly have silent years either. Even when we appear to be silent, we are often struggling in the silence. We are being oppressed by our fears, our failures, other people, our governments, our hatred, our bitterness, and plenty of other things. We, too, are longing for the day when the LORD will send the Messiah to us, to liberate us from the chains of bondage. The challenge for us, as it was for the people in those not-so-silent years, is to be willing to embrace the truth of the One who comes to deliver us and to follow him, forsaking all other things but Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”  – St. Paul (Philippians 2:9-11)

PRAYER
Lord, draw me close to you so that I may never wander and always praise you with both my lips and my heart. Amen.

God’s People, part 44: Saul

Read 1 Samuel 15

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
Saul groaned to his armor bearer, ‘Take your sword and kill me before these pagan Philistines come to run me through and taunt and torture me.’ But his armor bearer was afraid and would not do it. So Saul took his own sword and fell on it.” (1 Samuel 31:4 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.

The BiblePart 44: Saul. Well, we come to yet another character in the Bible that people think they know pretty well. Right? We who grew up in the church, we know who that nasty, no good, wicked, egotistical, jealous, power-crazed, heavy-handed King Saul was. There’s no need to discuss him, right?

He was that king who promised to follow God and then didn’t follow through. He was the king who refused to do as God instructed, but went his own way. He was the one who, though anointed by God, he led like he was in league with the devil.  He was an inefficient leader, one who became increasingly paranoid, who murderous in his paranoia and, let’s face it, the dude totally tried to kill the epic, rockin’, swave David. What is up with that?

Well, to be honest, David really wasn’t as rockin’ or swave as people give him credit for. Epic? Sure. But that discussion is for another time and place. In this devotion, we are dealing with Saul and, as much as we would like to view Saul as the villain, he really is more of a tragic hero. Do you know what I mean about that, he is the hero that has it all going for him, the guy who was on the rise until his character flaw got the best of him and he came crashing down, taking others (including his family) with him.

Let us not forget that, when the people rejected the judges, God led Samuel to discover and anoint Saul as their king. Saul was God’s child, God’s chosen leader, and had the potential to be a great king. I am sure that Saul had really good intentions on the way in too; however, you know the phrase: the power went to his head.

Instead of leading by example and pointing the people to be faithful in their relationship with God, instead of ruling God’s people in a holy manner, Saul became more concerned with establishing and solidifying his reign and his dynasty. Instead of taking no prisoners, as God commanded of him and the Israelites, Saul not only took prisoners of war but he took them as slaves.

In fact, it was that disobedience that caused Saul to fall out of favor with God. One might want to have pity on Saul because he chose to keep the King alive (which would seem like an act of mercy); however, he did so only for his own gain, not because he had any sort of benevolent heart within him. He didn’t spare anyone else but the king who he could display as his war trophy.

What’s more, we need to understand that the Amalekites were not good actors, but were attacking the Israelites and trying to eradicate them. A ruler is supposed to do what is in the best interest of his/her people, and keeping one’s people safe and ensuring their survival is at the top of the list. Yet, in his disobedience, Saul showed that all he really cared about was his own vainglory and popularity.

In the end, Saul was rejected by God and he further fell into the abyss from that point on. David was chosen to be the next King (more on that later) and that literally drove Saul mad. He spent the rest of his years chasing after David in order to kill him so that his sons could maintain the throne, and he ultimately failed. Saul, once the hero of his people and the first king of Israel, died defeated in battle along with his sons, his armor bearer, and his entire army.

While it is easy for us to look at Saul as villain, how much harder is it to see ourselves in him; however, is he that different from us? Have we not been chosen by God to reflect the true king, Jesus Christ? Have we not also, time and time again, let our own vainglory (aka excessive pride in ourselves and our achievements) stand in our way? Have we not sought to take control away from God so that we can be in control? Have we not lived our lives with the motto, “my kingdom come, my will be done”, which is the antithesis of the Lord’s Prayer?

Each of us has missed the mark in one way or the other, just like Saul did. The challenge is to repent and turn back to God, rather than letting our desire to be God bring us to our own demise. Repent, profess Jesus as your Lord, and be filled with love, grace, and the God-given power to transform this world through and through.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” – John Emerich Edward

PRAYER
Lord, help curb my pride and remind me of the need to humble myself before you. I am not Lord, you are. Forgive me. I accept your Lordship over my life. Amen.