Tag Archives: Christian

Wrath of God, part 2

Read Genesis 4:1-16

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“So the LORD was sorry He had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke His heart.” (Genesis 6:6 NLT)

broken-heartIn the Beginning, God desired to create a world in which God could raise and nurture all of creation. So God set about in that Creation and saw all that was created as divinely good. Finally, God decided to make a creature that would be fashioned in the very image of God. In God’s image (imago Dei), human beings were created and set apart from the rest of Creation.

Now, humans were not set apart so that they could feel superior to God’s creation, for God loved all of Creation; however, God hoped to have a special relationship with humans, a mutual relationship that would be founded on the love of which God created them. God gave them everything they could ever need, and God made sure that they were cared for and nurtured.

Created in God’s image, humans had sharp intelligence and were filled with the creativity of their Creator. They were filled with compassion and a profound sense of their connection with the rest of Creation, so much so that they first people began name the creatures God created and began to be there caretakers, just as God was the care takers of them. Thus, they were living into that very image in which they were Created. To God, everything seemed perfect.

Unfortunately, humans quickly grew to resent their dependence on God and they became bored and complacent in their relationship. Like young adults seeking their independence from their loving parents, they first people chose to do things their own way and to make their own way in the world. They sought out their own wisdom and disregarded the wisdom God had already given to them. They ignored the warnings of God and, as a result, humanity fell into a state of sin. Whether this was a good thing or a bad thing is up for debate. Perhaps this was the final step of Creation, where humans could “fully mature” and could now choose for themselves to have a loving and mutual relationship with God. Perhaps, this was more of a fall than a blessing as humans began making poorer and poorer choices. Or, as I have come to understand it, it was a little of both.

Regardless, overtime humans when from being in a loving, mutual relationship with God to being in a tenuous, and often dysfunctional relationship with God. This was sadly reflected in the dysfunctional relationships that began to plague the relationships humans had with each other. Patriarchy started to develop, where men saw themselves as better, superior, and in control of women. Brothers rose up against their other siblings out of competition and jealousy, murdering their siblings in cold and sadistic blood.

All of God’s creation began to suffer as a result of this terrible imbalance in the world God had created. People started owning animals, owning land, owning other people, ruling those they conquered, and killing all who stood in their way to attain absolute power. The green fields, the deserts, the streams, ponds and oceans went from pure to running red with the blood of the destruction humanity was reigning upon the earth!

God, seeing the terrible turn that creation had taken, began to grieve so deeply that God began to question why God even created anything at all! God’s grief moved from questioning to remorse and that remorse grew into anger. God was angry that Creation had fallen into such a state of disrepair. God was angry that humans were killing humans, that they were denying their divine connection to Creation, and that they were denying their divine connection to and relationship with their Creation. In that deep anger, God also found compassion, and set out to redeem this Creation that had become so tragically broken!

This is, obviously, just the beginning of the narrative of God we find in the Bible. This is just the Genesis, if you will. I fully admit that lots of theological questions pop up in regard to how a perfect God could create a world that went so tragically wrong. I also fully admit that there is no answer out there that fully satisfies those types of questions. But this narrative shows us that God’s reaction to the evil in the world is not unlike ours and that our righteous anger over the brokenness of this world comes from that divine image of God within us. Let us reflect on that for today, and in the days ahead, just as surely we will reflect on the evil that is currently and consistently plaguing this world.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.” – William Blake

PRAYER
Lord, help me to see the world, in its brokenness, through your eyes. In my anger, help me to discover the compassion from which it stems and allow it to fuel me to be even more compassionate. Amen.

Wrath of God, part 1

Read 1 Kings 21:1-29

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
God is a righteous judge, and a God who has indignation every day. (Psalms 7:11 NRSV)

lightning-storm-at-sea-wallpaper-2Anger. It is a natural response to things that not only “upset” us, but things that shake us to our very core. We as humans get angry at a lot of different things for a whole host of different reasons. We get angry when we experience injustice, when we lose loved ones, when we aren’t validated, when we feel out of control, when we feel threatened, and when we are stuck in a world of uncertainty.

I am not referring to petty anger, I am not referring to someone getting “mad” because they didn’t get their way, or because they missed their favorite show, or because their best friends suddenly became super annoying. I am not referring to any sort of petty, temper-tantrum, stubborn anger that wells up out of self-absorption.

Rather, I am referring to the deep, gutteral, extremely emotional, often times physical reaction our souls, minds, and bodies have to the evil in the world that surrounds. This week we do not have to look far or wide to get a sense of what I am talking about. The mass shooting that took place in an LGTBQ nightclub in Orlando, Fl and claimed the lives of 50 people is such an example.

When I first heard of the shooting in the early morning of Saturday, June 12th, I was at first deeply saddened and, if I am honest, a bit numb. How many times are we going to have wake up to hear that more people have been shot, stabbed, and/or maimed? How many times are we going to see images of bloodied, frantic, and devastated people in our streets? While there has always been violence in the world, and in United States, this is not the country or world I remember growing up in.

Of course, others in our country have a far different and more painful memory of the past than I do. Plenty of people in our country have experienced violence and discrimination against themselves because of their race, their gender, their sexual orientation, their age, and their ability. The more I thought about the mass shooting, those suffering as a result of it, and those suffering throughout our country and world because of senseless violence and hatred, the more angry I became.

I am angry that people perpetuate the evil of hatred, of bigotry, and of violence. I am angry that our politicians keep perpetuating an evil divisiveness in their rhetoric toward one another. I am angry that we, as human beings, fail to see the humanity, and the divine image, in one another. I am, pardon the phrase, pissed off that my children have to live in perpetual anxiety of the world around them…that their innocence is gone forever. I am angry.

Most people can accept that I am angry. People get angry, right? That is normal and natural, and the anger above is called for. But what about when we talk about God getting angry. That begins to make us uncomfortable doesn’t it? I recognize there is a flipside to this, but for now I will stick with this side of the topic. For those of us who are in the mainline tradition of Christianity, we get very uncomfortable talking about God’s anger and/or the wrath of God.

Perhaps it is because we have seen evil wrought in the name of God. Perhaps it is because we have heard egregious theology from the mouths of Christians that explain natural disasters, diseases and terrorist attacks to be the wrath of God on a “Godless nation.” Whatever the case may be, we find it challenging to except a God of anger, judgment and wrath.

Today, I beg you to pause and reflect on this. What is the alternative? At what cost do we avoid paying attention to the anger and the wrath of God? Would we prefer an apathetic and aloof God that is disconnected from the painful and horrible realities of evil in the world. The fact that we have a God who DOES get angry, who DOES seek to weed out injustice (aka wrath), means that we have a God who is passionately in love with us, who is actively grieving with those who are in grief, who is actively hurting with those who are hurt, and who is actively seeking to put an end to ALL evil, sin and suffering! Instead of ignoring God’s anger and wrath, let’s deal with it and try to gain a responsible understanding of it.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
There’s nothing wrong with anger provided you use it constructively.
PRAYER
Lord, teach me to trust that, even in your anger, you ARE LOVE! Amen.

Unlock the Cage

Read Revelation 5:1-10

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For thus the LORD said to me, as a lion or a young lion growls over its prey, and–when a band of shepherds is called out against it–is not terrified by their shouting or daunted at their noise, so the LORD of hosts will come down to fight upon Mount Zion and upon its hill.” (Isaiah 31:4 NLT)

lion2As a lover of animals, I find it hard to utilize the animal imagery that is sometimes found in Scripture. The last devotion that was written was utilizing the image of a prowling, hungry lion waiting to devour it’s prey. While the image itself is not unrealistic, it paints a lopsided view of the animal itself.

On the one hand, it is not an unrealistic image of a lion. They do tend to get hungry and prowl around looking for food. That’s natural. To be fair and honest, humans do the same thing. On the other hand, to connect a lion to the devil takes away the natural understanding, and superimoses a supernatural one. The lion is now seen to be like the devil, like Satan, prowling around looking to devour and destroy! While 1 Peter 5:8 is a simile, people unfortunately begin to view and judge the animals as being beastly, primal, and even evil. Throughout history, certain animals have been categorically hunted and eliminated in immoral ways, with such passages in the Bible being used as some sort of theological justification.

But this is not the fault of the Bible, nor is it the fault of its authors who were simply trying to convey ideas through real-life images. For anyone living in areas that are inhabited by lions, the lion poses a real threat when it gets hungry and is on the prowl looking for food. It’s a threat to people and their livestock alike. Rather, this is the fault of people who take things way to literally and interpret the Bible in irresponsible ways.

The Bible itself, actually portrays most, if not all, animals in a very balanced way. Let’s look at the lion. Just as the lion is used to represent the devil on the prowl, so too is the lion being used to represent God. In Isaiah 31:4, God is likened to a lion who will not be scared and will not cower before the Egyptians who were looking to overtake the Kingdom of Judah; rather, God will directly face them and boldy ward them off, just as a lion does against anything that threatens its pride.

What’s more, the risen Christ is called the “Lion of the tribe of Judah” who has conquered sin and death and stands ready to reign as King. There are many such references to God as a lion in the Bible and all of those references utilize the stately, the bold, and the protective power of the lion as a description of God.

Slight switching directions, but still utilizing the theme of God as the lion, we Christians tend to forget that God is our lion. We forget that we serve a God of great power and we feel that we have to prove to others (and to ourselves) just how powerful our God is. I have seen many Christians set out to be “lions” of the faith in order to guard and protect God.

Here’s the problem, God doesn’t need, require, or even want our protection. God does require us to try and prove anything and, more times than not, we not only fail in our attempt to win anyone over, we often do more damage than we do good. The heart of the Gospel is God’s power to forgive, reconcile and restore a broken world back to the paradise it was once created to be.

By trying to prove God and/or by trying to protect God, we inadvertently try to cage God in. We can only prove what we fully know; yet, we try and prove the one who is beyond our full comprehension. The reality is that anytime we try to prove God, or try to “protect” God, all we are really doing is proving or protecting our idea or understanding of God…which amounts to a false god.

The challenge for us is to be responsible in our interpretation of the Bible, and to be humble in it. It is the authority by which we found our faith; however, it is not the foundation. God is! The challenge for us is to stop trying to cage God, but rather for us to unlock the cages we’ve built so that the true LION, the true God, can come forth, rally the pride, and begin to reign in our hearts once and for all.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Trying to prove God is like trying to defend a lion. [The lion] doesn’t need your help, just unlock the cage.” – Jason Petty

PRAYER
Lord, help me to stop trying to be right in my understanding, so that I may be open in my heart. Amen.

Adversary

Read Zechariah 3

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8 NRSV)

lionI just got finished participating in an observance of Memorial Day in my community. Prior to the observance that the memorial park, we start off with an ecumenical service at the Presbyterian Church in my community. This year it was my turn to preach and so, in preparation, I began by reflecting on Memorial Day, on those who gave their lives in defense of their country and its interests, as well as on our society.

Instantly two Scriptures came to mind. The first was that of Jesus being accused of being an agent of Satan by the religious leaders in his day. That Scripture can be found in Luke 11:14-17. The second Scripture is of the division that came to mind was that of Zechariah 3:1-8, where the people are divided against the new high priest, Joshua (Yeshua in Aramaic and Jesus in Greek). Though this is not the same Jesus, from Nazareth, this Jesus is experiencing people throwing accusations against his leadership as the High Priest.

This latter text is the one that is most revealing in terms of what  I want to write about today. In that text, God has it out with the people through the voice of Zechariah. “The Lord rebukes you, Adversary,” Zechariah proclaims. “The Lord, who chooses Jerusalem, rebukes you, Adversary!” The fiery prophet’s word must’ve sounded quite harsh to those on either side of the division.

There, in the midst of the division, Zechariah denonces the “Adversary”. Now, this English word may not sound too harsh on the surface; however, the English is derived from the Hebrew word “Satan” (והשׂטן, pronounced shaw-tawn). In other words, Zechariah is denouncing and rebuking the work of Satan, the Adversary, the arch-enemy of good, amid the people of Jerusalem.

One thing to note here is that Zechariah is pointing out the key function of the Adversary’s role in opposing God. This key function is creating division. While God is trying to establish the divine Kingdom on earth through unity and peace, the Adversary is actively standing in the way of us reaching God’s divine purpose through division and disunity.

How terribly tragic that is. Just pause for a moment; just pause, close your eyes, and begin to reflect on the division you see going on in the world around you. Look at the political climate in our country. For each of the political candidates out there, there is a group of people who hate them. What’s more, they hate those who support the candidates they hate.

Look at the Church, for the church is terribly divided. Now, we in the church all talk about Christ’s call for unity, about the need to “worship without walls”, and yet we divide the body of Christ over politics, over polity, over doctrine, over gender, gender identity, over human sexuality, over theology, over race, over views on other faiths, and just about every other thing imaginable.

Here’s the thing, when we get divided, we are failing to follow God and choosing to follow the Adversary. Let that soak in. When we are divided we are NOT following God or Christ, but are following the Adversary. That is not to say that we cannot disagree on issues. That is human and can be quite healthy in the life of the church. BUT DIVISION IS NOT! Our challenge is to, like Zechariah, rebuke the Adversary and choose to be an agent of unity and peace, rather than an agent of division.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
If we don’t unite in Christ we are bound to fall, with the Adversary, in division.

PRAYER
Lord, protect me from the Adversary and keep me far from the sin of division. Make me an agent of unity and of peace and of love. Amen.

Bewitched

Read Galatians 3:1-5

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace.” (Romans 6:14, NLT)

TheWitch01The lights darkened, the room silenced, and the discordant sound of stringed instruments filled the air in an unsettling and disturbing manner. The sounds of violin and cello cut through me like seraded steel as the theater screen faded in from black to the image of a teenager’s stone pale and frightened face. It was clear from the way that she was dressed that she was living in seventeenth century New England and that she was among a group of people known as the Puritans.

As it turns out, her father is standing trial for not adhereing to the laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, at the time a British colony, because he believes those laws to stand against the teachings of the Gospels. As such he and his family are banished and end up moving out of the village they were in and settling in the wilderness of New England on the edge of a think and dark wood (aka forest). While I will not give away anything, as I run a tight “no-spoiler” ship, this is where the 2016 film, “The Witch”, opens up and where the horror begins.

This film, as I see it, is a work of fine art and there is much for us Christians to pull from it. On the surface, the horror is centering on a potential witch that lives in the woods and is preying upon a New England family that is doing everything they can to remain godly and to stay together as a family. But as misfortune after misfortune happens, and as the family becomes more and more certain they are “witched”, the more and more it is that the real horror is revealed.

Right from the opening scene onward, we are made aware that this family is hypersensitive to their sin, to the sin of others, and to the soveriegnty of God. It is not wrong to be sensitive to those things in a healthy kind of way, but this family is overly sensitive, to the point that every conversation is filled with talk about their sinfulness, the wickedness of the world and the uncertainty of their own, let alone anyone else’s, salvation.

At every turn, the family is reminded that they are wicked and sinful and they start to have the feeling that they are “witched” because God is punishing them and handing them over to the devil as a result of their wickedness. Nowhere, and I mean nowhere, is God’s grace really at play here in this film and in the psyche of the family. Even when God’s mercy is mentioned, it is with the understanding that they are in need of mercy because of their wickedness, and their pleading for it betrays their theology that they worship a God who just might not show mercy to them.

It becomes clear to me, without giving anything away from the actual story line of “The Witch” itself, that the family is bewitched by their own stringent, and horrific, theology. While it is true that God is  sovereign and it is true that we fall short of God’s glorious standard, it is NOT true that God is out to get us for our fallenness. Their theology is so damning that they could never, ever experience the grace and mercy that was already there waiting for them. They were so busy worrying about the prowling devil in the woods that they could not see that they had all they needed to thrive in the wilderness: their family and their faith.

Today’s challenge is this: don’t let yourself get bewitched by a negative and graceless theology. Rather, at every turn, steer clear of the devil by choosing to see the grace of God throughout your life, in your family, and in your community. Community is not perfect, but God is working to perfect it through your presence as well as others. Remember, God saved you from slavery to sin and death, so why negate that by making those things the foundation of your faith? Jesus Christ is the grace of God. That, and that alone, should be your faith’s foundation.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
The devil’s work is division and separation from others.  God is the great uniter.

PRAYER
Lord, keep me from bewitching myself with bad theology. Remind me daily of your grace. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: A Modern Parable

bflw-devotional-800x490Writing the Life-Giving Water devotionals is not only an important ministry, but is a deeply rewarding spiritual discipline for me as well. With that said, observing Sabbath (aka rest) is an important spiritual discipline as well. So here is a LOOK BACK to a devotion I wrote in the past. Read it, reflect on it, be challenged by it. Who knows how God will speak to you through it and how it will bear relevance in your life today? May the Holy Spirit guide you as you read the suggested Scripture and subsequent devotion.

Pledge Allegiance

Read Romans 12:1-3

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. (Luke 12:34 NLT)

PledgeAllegianceToJesusIf you are at all like me, you are probably growing very weary of the American political campaign for the Presidency of the United States of America. It does not matter where in the world you are while reading this, you have no doubt heard the names Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Donald, of course, is now the presumptive GOP nominee, and Hillary is looking like she will be.

I have never used my devotions, or the pulpit, to talk politics and I do not intend to now; however, I have used both platforms to talk about specific spiritual and theological issues that are connected to or implicated by political issues. I am called to speak out prophetically on issues that concern all Christians, regardless of where, when and how those issues arise. Thus, I do so now.

The political climate in America is so divisive and malicious that the country has become a battle ground for a war being waged between very contentious and controversial candidates. We have Donald Trump who has said very hurtful things about fellow candidates and about certain groups of people. We have Hillary Clinton who is caught up in a plethora of scandals and has trust issues among voters. We also have Bernie Sanders who identifies as a Democratic Socialist, who has tried to maintain a campaign focused on the issues important to him, but who has also stepped up the rhetoric by accusing the Democratic Primary System of being rigged and stacked against him and the people.

Worse than the candidates, many religious figures have stepped into the political fray in order to demonize those within their own religious groups who are supporting a candidate different than theirs. Unfortunately, many Christians have followed suit with that. It’s as if such people now identify Christ and Christianity with a certain party or a certain political ideology. Conservative Christians see Christ as socially conservative. Progressive Christians see Christ as socially progressive, and anyone who disagrees with either side must not be a Christian. This is the sad, but unfortunately true, state we American (and dare I say Western) Christians find ourselves in nowadays.

I have family, friends, and colleagues who are on both sides of the political divide. Some of them who are progressive look down on Trump supporters as ignorant, angry, racist, white people of privilege. Some who are supporters of Trump and/or identify as conservative, view the Clinton and Sanders supporters as a threat to the economic stability and American traditions that “made America great” and accuse those supporters of “wanting to fundamentally change and destroy our great country and freedoms.”

Ironically, the progressive view of conservatives is very elitist and sounds awfully similar to the accusations that the Jewish and Roman elites used against Christ and the early Christians. Yet, a word to the wise, ignorance comes in many forms and a college education does not guard against it.  Conversely, the conservative view ironically sounds awfully like the view that the Jewish and Roman leaders held against Jesus, and a lot like the mob mentality of the Romans as they threw Christians, who were seen as being out to destroy Rome’s greatness, to the wild beasts.

What I am going to say may come as a shock to some, and perhaps less so to others, but it is as truthful and honest as I can be. Jesus Christ does not give a damn who you vote for. Christ is not Republican and Christ is not Democrat. Christ is not Amercian and Christ is not the figurehead of Western Civilization. Christ, and Christ alone, is LORD of all Creation! What’s more, there are Christians on all sides of the political divide and their vote does not make them more or less Christian.

What makes us Christian is CHRIST. If our hearts are centered on Christ, then we are Christian. None of us are perfect in that and we serve a God of grace. Christians can and should vote, and I wouldn’t state otherwise. But voting is your national duty, not your Christian duty. Vote for who you are going to vote for, and have the grace and love to let others do the same. In the end, whoever wins will win and, in the end, their term(s) will come to an end. Christ’s reign will NEVER come to an end. What Christians are required to do is follow Christ and and lead others to do the same through their example of Christian love and service. I pray that, whatever your political beliefs are, your true and only allegiance is pledged to CHRIST OUR LORD.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
As we seek out someone to “save our country”, we forget that we are to pledge allegiance to the ONE who saves our world.
PRAYER
Lord, guide me to pledge my allegiance to you over and above anything else. Amen.

Pieces of You

Read James 4:1-12

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.” (Matthew 7:1-2 NLT)

Jewel-Pieces_Of_YouI love music that speaks to my soul. I am not a radio listener, for the most part. I do not listen to music for the sake of hearing catchy pop tunes, or the latest fad. Every now and again I will turn on the radio, just because I am not sure what mood I am in and/or what music I want to listen to, and occasionally I am blessed to come across a gem of a song that inspires me to check out other work by an artist.

It was somewhere during the Spring of 1995 when I turned on the radio in my car.  I had just got my license and I wanted to listen to some music. It was in that car at that moment that I heard the voice of an angel singing a question that still resonates with me today, “Who Will Save Your Soul?” That artist is, of course, Jewel Kilchner (often just referred to as Jewel). The song stuck with me and at some point my parents went out and got me her debut album, “Pieces of You”. It is an album that spoke to my soul in a way that most albums have never done, and most certainly never will.

There was an honesty and complexity in her hauntingly beautiful lyrics mixed with her folk-style guitar playing. Her angelic voice plays on the eardrums like a harpist plays on one’s heartstrings! One of the songs that spoke to me so much was the eponymous track, “Pieces of You.” In that song, Jewel puts each and every one of us on trial as she begins to address common stereotypes and askes probing questions of the listener, who may or may not hold those stereotypes. For those who don’t, the questions reflect the need for them to become a part of the solution rather than just sitting quietly on the sideline. For those who do hold those stereotypes, the song becomes rather convicting and, perhaps, quite a bit uncomfortable as Jewel puts their consciences on trial.

If you haven’t listened to the song, YouTube it. I highly recommend you listen to it as it will add a deeper meaning to this devotion, though I must warn you that she uses language that is often used by those who label those they are stereotyping. It’s not gratuitous, however, and the language is certainly appropriate given the context of the song.

The driving question of the song is this, why do we stereotype people? Why do humans tend to group people together and label them as if they are all the same because of the label we attribute to them? For instance, are women to be defined by their looks? Are they to be defined by their sexuality? Are they to be defined by their body parts? Do men (or women) want to reject a woman because they perceive her as ugly, or do they want to “get with her” just because she is perceived as pretty?

How about gay men and women? Do we want to deny their humanity, that they were created in the image of God like the rest of us? Do we want to shun them? Should they merely be defined by their sexuality, by their orientation, and by who they are in love with? Or how about people of different religious beliefs? Do we judge them as less than us because we view our beliefs as superior? Do we judge them as peculiar because their normal is different than our normal? Do we judge them as sinners because their expression of faith is different than ours?

The question that Jewel asks is one we should be asking ourselves. Do we hate different people because of any valid or good reason? Is there any reason to hate? Or do we hate different people because of fear, because when we look at them we are reminded that they are pieces of us, and that the differences in them remind us of the parts of us that are unknown and uncertain? If we are truly lovers of God, if we are true followers of Christ, we know that it is not our place to judge and that we are constantly being called to step outside of our comfort zone to love ALL people. Jesus didn’t put any exceptions on who we should and shouldn’t love. What’s more, Jesus did not give us any loopholes in which it would be okay for us to judge. Instead of rejecting people, I pray we can all begin to accept others as “pieces of us”, for if we do that we will begin to recognize that we are all related to each other and to the human experience.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
For every sin you point your finger at in the Bible, the Bible has ten pointing back at you.

PRAYER
Lord, teach us to love others as you have loved us. Help us to drop our false labels, in order that we may begin to see people as they TRULY are…your children. Amen.

Ekklesia

Read 1 Corinthians 12

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need.” (Acts 2:44-45)

riformaIt was October 31, 1517 a German Augustinian monk marched toward the door of All Saints’ church in Wittenberg, Germany. In his hand he held a finely crafted document, inked in Latin, that outlined grievances he had with a certain practice with the church. It was on the eve of All Saint’s Day, and on the door of All Saints’ Church that this monk nailed that document to the door with the hope that it would spark a debate among church leaders within the Roman Catholic Church, and with the ultimate hope that it would spark the church to be more responsible in it’s practices and more faithful to the Scripture on which those practices are based.

Yet, instead of a debate, Martin Luther inadvertantly started a war, for the “95 Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulences” was not just challenging of theology, but also of Ecclesiastical and Papal power. While Luther was simply trying to look after the Spiritual well-fare of the church and its flock, Pope Leo X was trying to build St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and took Luther’s challenge as a threat to both his authority and his legacy in building such a magnificient structure to house the body of the Apostle Peter. Leo was not going to allow an upstart, German monk stand between him and that legacy and thus, according to some accounts, Pope Leo X told his officials that “Luther is a drunken German.  He will feel different when he is sober.” In two sentences, the Pope had ordered Luther to be tried and, if he did not recant, be excommunicated and executed as a heretic.

I would like to say that from that point on the Protestant church went on to model what it means to put Scripture over ecclesiastical hierarchy and structure; however, that is not the case either. While Luther tried to responsibly interpret and live by Scripture, and while he tried to provide a Scriptural model for the church, it still became about hierarchy, doctrine, power and structure. Others, beside Luther, rose up to found church communities and their authority over them. King Henry VIII broke from the Roman Catholic Church only to turn around and make himself the “Supreme Head of the Church.” John Calvin founded his reformed church in Geneva, Switzerland and went on to rule that church with an iron fist, even to the point of having those who were viewed as threats executed (e.g. Michael Servetus).

How did Christianity end up so far removed from its founder? How did the church (Greek: ἐκκλησία or ekklēsia) go from community of mutual love and sharing to an institution of power, authority and corruption? Many today, when they hear the word “church”, think of the organization, of the institution, and of a place of worship. Many are disillusioned by the tainted, complex and often hypocritical history of the church and many have turned away because of it.

I would love to say that I don’t have that view of the church, but even I find myself sitting under the shadow of the steeple. Even I find myself within the hierarchical structure of the institution and/or organization. Also, to be quite honest, even the earliest church had some structure and some hierarchy. Those things are not inherently bad and are needed in order for people to feel a sense of belonging, purpose, and place. There will always be the people who are called to lead and those who follow their leadership.

The truth be told, we are all both followers and leaders in our own right. That was the initial understanding of the church and it is the understanding we need to revert back to, if at all possible. Let us not be a people who seek the organization, but a people who are vital organs within a living organism. Ekklesia is not an organization; rather, it is the very living, resurrected body of Christ. Christ died for all and gives grace to all who receive it. Those who receive it are called to do the same in mutual love and mutual care. Organizations breed competition for power and authority; on the other hand, organisms thrive on unity and working in unison, with no one more important than the next regardless of their role. This is what it means to be the church.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one…” – Jesus of Nazareth (John 17:20-21a)
PRAYER
Lord, I am a part of the living, resurrected body of Christ.  Use me in a way that promotes unity, grace, love, and acceptance. Amen.

Demon Hunters

Read Mark 5:1-13

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Whenever the evil spirits saw him, they fell down at his feet and shouted, ‘You are God’s Son!’” (Mark‬ ‭3:11‬ ‭CEB)‬‬‬‬

  It is no secret to most people that one of my favorite metal bands is Demon Hunter. I love heavy metal, in general, because it often rages against the machine (so-to-speak), and the lyrics address issues within the status quo. Demon Hunter is certainly no exception to that; however, instead of just raging against political machines, it rages against the religious and social machine as well. What I mean by this is that Demon Hunter’s lyrics often speak out against the status quo within the church, as well as the status quo in society.

 They don’t do this just for the sake of being whiney against the way things are, but because they recognize that real people suffer in society and, in particular, in the church. What’s more, they also call out the fact that the church often turns it’s back on such people, and they seek to do differently in their lyrics. There song, “I Am You”, which I have already written another devotion on, speaks to the fact that they struggle like everyone else, and that they stand in solidarity with those who do struggle. The song, “I Will Fail You,” speaks to the fact that we should not put our faith in other people; rather, we should put our faith in God for, unlike people, God will not fail us.

Aside from their music, I also love the artwork on their albums, in particular, I love their band’s logo of which is the demon skull. One of my favorite Demon Hunter skulls is from their third album, “The Triptych”. The skull itself is pretty typical in that it has the uneven horns and is the skull of a goat that has a bullet hole in the forehead, which obviously symbolizes that the demon had been shot and slayed. But this is skull has something else going on. For one thing, the skull itself looks like it is made of some sort of armor, and it is pegged together by spikes. Also, there is a red and black snake slithering through the mouth, through one of the eye sockets, and up over the top of the skull.

As weird as this might say, it is a rather beautiful work of art. Granted it is dark, but there is something alluring about it. Beyond its aesthetics, however, it speaks a profound truth to me. You see, we often spend our lives running and hiding from our demons. With that said, even when we kill our demons and try to move beyond them, they never truly die. They often just lie dormant until something or someone triggers them back to life. Now, when I say demons, I am not thinking of the word in a literal sense, but more of a metaphorical sense. Demons can be personality and character flaws, it can be addiction, anger, bitterness, hatred, envy, or any of the things that possess us and rule our lives.

God is calling us all to be demon hunters, but we cannot be that on our own. The reality is that the things we struggle with will inevitably resurface in our lives. That is why it is so important for us to place our faith in God and to be a part of the community of Christ so that we are not alone in hunting our demons. The more we are surrounded by supportive people, the more likely we are able to overcome our demons and vanquish them. We all have demons, but they need not define who we are. Rather, allow God to help you vanquish your demons through a community that will stand in solidarity with you, support you, hold you accountable, and help you rise up in triumph over the things that have been pulling you down.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“If you don’t deal with your demons, they will deal with you, and it’s gonna hurt.” – Nikki Sixx

PRAYER

Lord, help me with my demons so that I may rise above them and defeat them. Amen.