Tag Archives: Christian Living

God’s People, part 215: Woman

Read Luke 11:27-28

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Anyone who does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”  (Mark 3:35, 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.

MaryMotherofGodPart 215: Woman. Here we have another strange encounter between Jesus and someone who was in the crowd. He had actually just got done casting out a demon and had been accused by someone in the crowd of being possessed by the demon Beelzebub, which is a parodic name for Satan meaning, “dung god”. In Matthew, Jesus responded to this accuasation as a “blaspheming of the Holy Spirit”; however, in this instance, he simply  rebuts it by saying that Satan can’t possibly kick out Satan and that a kingdom divided by civil war is doomed.

From there, Jesus obscurely taught about the possibility of demons returning seven-fold, making the possessed person worse off than they were when there was only one demon within them. This seems to have been a warning that, just because one has been made clean from evil spirits, doesn’t mean they are out of the water and those spirits can’t return. I can only imagine that Jesus was intent on warning people of the need to remain close to him and, by virtue of that, close to God; however, whatever Jesus meant, it is here that the anonymous woman shouted out at him, “God bless your mother—the womb from which you came, and the breasts that nursed you” (Luke 11:27, NLT)!

This comment is so off topic that it is hard not reading it as someone awkwardly trying to divert the topic away from demons to something more agreeable; however, whatever the person’s intent was, it was put out there for all to hear. Jesus could have answered in any number of ways that could have been in agreement with this woman; instead, he chose to counter her in a way that did not dismiss her proposition, but rose the bar on it. He said, “But even more blessed are all who hear the word of God and put it into practice.” (Luke 11:28, NLT)

On the one hand, he does not dismiss what this woman said. Indeed, his mother was blessed to have given birth to him, nursed him, and raised him up into the man he was. All mothers are viewed as blessed in that regard; still, we also tend to confuse divine blessings with earthly blessings. Thus, Jesus elevated the conversation beyond the things of this earth to the things of God.  “But even more blessed are all who hear the word of God and put it into practice.”

This is a challenge for us too. So often we view our positive human experiences as blessings. Honestly, we should see those things as blessings. It is a blessing to be a parent. It is a blessing to have a roof over our heads. It is a blessing to watch my children grow up into responsible and kind young adults. With that said, my greatest blessing is to have been saved by Jesus Christ and given the opportunity to put Christ’s teachings into practice.

The challenge is for us to put our blessings in the right order. There is no other blessing that is greater than the Word of God, which is Jesus Christ. In Christ, we learn what it means to be a part of God’s family and we learn that Christ is calling us into faithful service. There is no greater blessing than hearing the Word of God, Jesus, and putting his teachings into practice in our lives. Be challenged by this, and be moved by the Holy Spirit to put Christ’s teachings into action in your life.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
There is no greater blessing than our relationship with Jesus Christ.

PRAYER
Lord, help me be a person who puts your teachings in action in my life. Amen.

God’s People, part 153: New Moses

Read Matthew 5:1-20

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also.”  (Matthew 5:38-39, 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.

jesusnewmoses-greatcommissionPart 153: New Moses. In Mark, we learn that Jesus true identity was revealed through his suffering and death on the cross. It was in that moment that the Roman Officer, who was an outsider to Judaism and was the one overseeing Jesus’ crucifixion, was the only human being in Mark’s Gospel who realized Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. The only other place in that Gospel that we see that title being used is at the very beginning when Mark declared it to his audience. Every other human fails to realize it. The only other beings who seem to know who Jesus is are the demons. Flattering, right? It’s no wonder that Jesus was frustrated from chapter 4 onward.

While Mark’s account was written to a predominantly Gentile community, Matthew’s Gospel is written to Jewish followers of Jesus. Thus we do not see Matthew explaining what every Jewish custom was or what certain Aramaic phrases are because, unlike Mark’s community, his community would have understood those things. Instead, because of his context, Matthew focused on connecting Jesus to the Old Testament. Thus, he starts his Gospel with Jesus’ lineage, which traces back through King David to Abraham.

More importantly, Matthew show Jesus to be the New Moses. Just as Moses came out of Egypt, Jesus came out of Egypt following him fleeing there with his parents as refugees. Just as Moses passed through the waters of the Red Sea, Jesus passed through the waters of the Jordan at his baptism. Just as Moses led the Israelites through the wilderness for 40 years, Jesus was in the wilderness and was tempted for 40 days. What’s more, just as Moses received the law from God on the mountain, Jesus gave the law from his sermon on the mount.

With that said, Matthew was not merely comparing what Jesus did to what Moses did, as if Jesus was just some sort of uncanny Mosaic doppelgänger; rather, Matthew was showing that Jesus was actually greater than Moses. Moses may have delivered the Israelites out of slavery from Egypt, but Jesus delivers all of humanity from slavery to sin and death. While Moses gave the Law to the Israelites, Jesus gave us new divine teaching that not only gave deeper insight to the heart of the Law of Moses, but that profoundly revealed that the Law not only pointed to him, but also to the opening of the covenant to all people.

Jesus, in Matthew, was not only the New Moses, but was the only one who was righteously poised to judge the world. Yet, instead of judging the world, he was judged on their behalf. Matthew shows us that Jesus was the Suffering Servant prophesied about in Isaiah 53. He came not to judge but, instead became “a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). Jesus’ glory is not merely revealed through the cross, but in divine birth, his fulfillment of prophecy, the breadth of his life, the authoritative scope of his teaching, the pain he endured, the punishment he suffered that led to his death, and the resurrection.

Matthew challenges us to come face-to-face with the King of kings, who is Immanuel (God with us) for all time. Will we humbly bow before our King? Will we accept his divine teachings and follow them intently? Will we trust in his ability to save us from our sinful humanity? Will we follow him, even if it means dying on a cross like he did (Matthew 16:24)? If we answer yes to that question then we MUST take seriously Christ’s teachings and follow his great commission found in Matthew 28. Let us all follow Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, who is Lord of all!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” – Jesus Christ  (Matthew 28:18-20, NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, I want to be a Christian in my heart. Help me to be your follower. Amen.

God’s People, part 141: Baby John

Read Luke 1:57-66

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Then [Jesus] said to the crowd, ‘If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me.’”  (Luke 9:23, 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.

JohnTheBaptistPart 141: Baby John. One may be scratching their heads and asking why on earth would someone be writing about baby John? After all, there really isn’t anything in the Bible about baby John, is there? John isn’t really talked about until he’s a full grown, hairy, sweaty, locust-eating adult, right?

Well, that is mostly correct. John isn’t directly spoken about in the Nativity story with brief reference to him leaping in Elizabeth’s womb at the sound of Mary’s voice. In fact, it is only in Luke where we hear anything at all about the John’s family or his birth. In Mark, the Gospel starts with John baptizing folks and in Matthew, we first hear of John when Jesus shows up at the river’s edge. In the Gospel of John, we again first see John at the Jordan river baptizing people.

It is only in Luke, where there is any back story on John’s birth, on his family, and on his connections to Jesus. In fact, we find out in Luke that John is the cousin of Jesus, as both of their mothers are cousins. This fact is never even hinted at, let alone mentioned in the other three Gospels. Thus, in Luke’s Gospel, John is not just the forerunner crying out for people to repent and heralding the coming Messiah and his Kingdom, rather, he is also a blood-relative of Jesus’ and is a part of the extended Holy Family.

What’s also important to note is that, because of the miraculous nature of his conception and birth, John is seemingly dedicated by his mother to be a Nazarite. While the word Nazarite is not to be found in any of the accounts on John the Baptist, there is evidence in the Scriptures to back this up.

First, a Nazarite was someone who was dedicated to the service of God. They were not to cut their hair, or drink intoxicating liquors of any sort. Nor were they to handle or consume anything made from grapes. They were also to avoid becoming ritually impure. The Nazarite was someone who was considered holy unto God, and thus filled with the Holy Spirit.

In Luke 1:13-15, Gabriel announces to Zechariah: “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John. You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth.”

Thus, Gabriel tells Zechariah that he is to raise his son as a Nazarite from birth. At the end of chapter one, the author confirms that John’s family raised him according to God’s wishes as expressed through Gabriel: “John grew up and became strong in spirit. And he lived in the wilderness until he began his public ministry to Israel” (vs. 80, NLT).

What if  Zechariah and Elizabeth decided not to follow through on that? What if they thought it unfair and even wrong of God to demand that their child be forced to follow the strict Nazarite code? Put yourself in their shoes. Would you have listened to Gabriel and forced the Nazarite vow upon your child?

Would you never give him grapes, never let him attend funerals of family members, never let from getting married (sex ritually defiles a person due to the contact with bodily fluids), etc.? Would you send him off to the wilderness to live so that he has no temptations to live like the other kids in his neighborhood?

The challenge for us is to recognize the kind of commitment God is looking for from each of us. That’s not to say God is calling all of us to be Nazarites, but that God is calling all of us to be committed to Christ. Are you willing to forego all things for the sake of the Gospel? Are you willing to deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow the Lord of all Creation, even if it costs you your very life? Reflect on these questions honestly, and draw yourself closer to the Christ, who denied himself, picked up his cross and died so that we might have abundant life in service to God’s Kingdom.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
How willing are we to follow Jesus Christ and how much are we willing to sacrifice for the sake of God’s Kingdom?

PRAYER
Lord, I am far from being as committed as I should be. Work within me so that those parts of my heart that are hardened to you and your call, may be softened bent toward your will for me. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: The Categorical Imperative

Well, it is Thanksgiving Week and I am busy preparing for an Ecumenical Thanksgiving service and lots of time with family over the Thanksgiving Day weekend. Thus, I have selected two devotions from the past. Both are as relevant now as they were when I initially wrote them. I pray they speak to you and challenge you to grow in your faithfulness. Click here for today’s devotion. HAPPY THANKSGIVING.

God’s People, part 75: Gehazi

Read 2 Kings 5:15-27

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows.” (1 Timothy 6:10 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.

3393-largePart 75: Gehazi. The story of Naaman is one of the greatest examples in the Old Testament of the gracefulness of God. There was a man who was technically not one of God’s people, meaning that he was not under the Jewish covenant with the one, true God, yet he sought out the help of God through the prophet Elisha. In doing so, in humbling himself, God cleansed Naaman of his lebrosy.

Such an experience would, obviously, be life changing. 2 Kings tells us that Naaman went with all of his accompanying party back to Elisha and declared, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel.” He also proclaimed, ” Then Naaman said,  “From now on I will never again offer burnt offerings or sacrifices to any other god except the LORD.” (vv. 15b, 17a).

This is the power of God through those who effectively witness to God’s love and merciful grace. Because of Elisha’s faithfulness in caring for an enemy, that enemy became a brother in the LORD. Naaman made one other request of Elisha. While he would only ever worship the LORD God of Israel, he still needed to show loyalty to his king. He asked if God would pardon him for bowing before the King. Though this is technically a sign of worship, as much as it is a sign of loyalty and respect, Naaman’s heart was set on worshiping the LORD and not his king. God knows the hearts of people. Elisha’s response was conciliatory. He said to Naaman, “Go in peace.”

How awesome the grace of God is! God knew Naaman’s heart and was not going to force Naaman to disrespect his king over a technicality. The overjoyed Syrian commander wanted to give Elisha a gift; however, Elisha refused to accept one. His work was not for payment, but in service of the living God. Unfortunately, that sort of humility and selflessness fell on deaf ears and a hardened heart with Elisha’s servant, Gehazi.

Gehazi was angry over his master not accepting the gifts. He vowed to chase after Naaman and get something from him. Upon reaching Naaman, he made up a lie about prophets arriving as guests and that Elisha was in need of 75 pounds of silver to entertain and care for them. Naaman, of course, was overjoyed to help and gave Gehazi twice the amount he asked for.

Once he returned home, Gehazi hid the money in his house. Yet, God knew what he had done and, as it turns out, so did Elisha who had a vision of him committing the crime. Unlike Naaman, who had humbled himself, Gehazi was proud and full of greed. He was not acting like the servant of God that he was called to be. As a result, Gehazi ended up contracting leprosy. His skin became crusty white, as snow.

Stories of God’s wrath always make us uncomfortable, probably because we all know that we all fall short of God’s glorious standard (Romans 3:23); yet, it is important to realize that whether Gehazi had gotten leprosy or not, his actions poisoned his soul and led him far from where God was calling him to be. The challenge for us is to not dismiss accounts of the wrath of God because they makes us uncomfortable, but to let them cause us to reflect on our own lives, on where we are and where we ought to be. Are we, God’s servants, living up to the purpose God has for us, or are we selling out to our base nature and giving in to other spirits, voices and temptations? Let us strive to be like Naaman and avoid, like the plague (pun intended), the way of Gehazi.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“God’s judgment is not like man’s judgment. It is not a suspension of His Love but an extension of His Love. His justice is always righteous, so His judgment is always Love.” – Criss Jami

PRAYER
Lord, help me from following my base nature and turn my heart back to you. You have created me, apart from sin. Remove my sins and renew me, once more, as your servant. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: Proving God?

Well, it’s summertime again and my family and I are on vacation. While we are away, I will not be writing any new devotionals; however, this is a great opportunity to look back at a couple of devotions that were written over the course of the past year.  Today’s devotion was written on Wednesday, August 29, 2012. I hope that though this was written last year, that in it you may find a relevant message that God is speaking to you. So without further adieu, click below to read:

Proving God?

Michelangelo's "God Touching Adam" segment of the Sistine Chapel Ceiling