Tag Archives: Christianity

God’s People, part 272: Eutychus

Read Acts 20:7-16

“And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.”  (1 Corinthians 2:13, 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.

Part 272: Eutychus. As a pastor, today’s Scripture reading is not a surprising one. Yes, there was pretty fabulous miracle that took place and all of that jazz; however, it’s what led to the need for a miracle that I am referring to. Before I dive into that, let me just say that one does not think of comedy when one thinks of the Bible. Typically, comedy seems a bit irreverent and not “holy” enough for our Western sensibilities.

I may sound like I am being facetious; however, I am not. I once was a at Methodist Annual Conference where the presiding bishop admonished people for laughing during “holy conferencing”. Now, to be fair, it’s not that this bishop viewed laughter as unholy, but rather he wanted to the atmosphere of the conference to be serious and raucus. Still, when we think of the Bible, we have the same thoughts as this bishop did with conferencing: it should be read and taken reverently.

That is what is great about Acts 20:7-16. It is a mythbuster if I have ever seen one. What do I mean by that? I mean that it is one of the more comical verses in the entire Bible, let alone New Testament. That a man died and needed to be resurrected is certainly not funny. That’s tragic. How he died, on the other hand, that is comical. It is also very relatable to both preacher and congregant.

Let me explain. In Acts 20:7-16, we hear of a story where the Apostle Paul, not really known for his brevity (minus his epistle to Philemon), was delivering a sermon at a household worship service. Well, this sermon started following supper (including Holy Communion) and continued onward till midnight. Okay, maybe that is not so relatable. I would smite myself if I carried on that long.

Well, Luke tells us Paul carried on this long because he was leaving the next day and let’s just say he was “caught up in the Spirit”. Sadly, as much as he tried, Eutychus fell asleep. I mean how dare him, right?!?!?! I mean which one of us would dare fall asleep during a 4 or so hour sermon. I mean, geesh!

Truth be told, as a pastor, I have seen countless people fall asleep during my sermons which average at about 16 – 18 minutes, give or take. Having someone fall asleep during a sermon is certainly NOT news to any pastor. Conversely, falling asleep during a sermon is not new to anyone who has listened to a sermon, myself included.

So, here is where the story gets interesting. Eutychus happened to be sitting in the window in the upper room where they were, catching the breeze and, before he knew it, catching Zzzz’s as well. That is not the wisest place to doze of as turns out and Eutychus fell three stories from the window to his death. Again, the death part is not funny, but the circumstances around his death are hilarious! Paul literally killed someone with his long, drawn out, and clearly boring (at least for Eutychus) sermon!

Anyway, that event, you would think, was the cue for Paul to end his preaching for the night; yet, that was not the case. Instead, he went down to the Eutychus, bent over him, and picked him up in his arms saying, “No worries, he’s just asleep.” Then they all went upstairs and Paul proceeded to preach to them UNTIL DAWN! Can you imagine that? No one threw him out, told him to shut up, said, “Hey Pastor! You remember now that service is only supposed to be an hour. Cut your sermon down or I’m going too another church and bringing my money with me!”

Nope, no one evidently did that (or Luke that part out of the story). Instead, they listened to him and when the morning came, Eutychus was fine with no injuries at all! Praise God for that! Still, you may be wondering what is the point of sharing this obscure, crazy story about a long and deadly sermon. The point is this, there is NO time limit, no time constraint, no limitation at all when it comes to God’s word. When the Spirit is speaking to us, we’ll listen as long as it takes. The reason Paul was able to talk that long and the reason all but one of them were engaged so long, is because they were all in the Spirit together.

We have lost that in the modern church, by and large. Everything is run on time and expectations. Services better be only an hour, sermons no more than 10-20 minutes, not too many, but not too little hymns, and well-crafted but brief prayers. We go, we half-listen (if we listen at all) the Scripture and Sermon, we give, we sing, and then we split. This is nothing like the early church was.

I am not saying that Christians ought to listen to 10 hour sermons, or should expect to be in church all day. Nor am I saying they should expect 10-20 minute sermons and be expecting to be out in an hour to get on to “more important” things. Instead, I am saying that, like the earliest Christians, we should be expecting the HOLY SPIRIT, and nothing else. Whatever happens following the arrival of the HOLY SPIRIT, one thing is for sure, it will be MIRACULOUS.

Christians not only follow Christ, but they dwell in His Spirit, and his Spirit in them.

Lord, open my heart to the expectation of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

God’s People, part 271: A Growing Fellowship

Read Acts 20:1-6

“In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. ” (Matthew 5:16, 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.

Part 271: A Growing Fellowship. If there is one thing that we notice about Paul as we journey with him through Acts, is that he is a magnetic individual. He starts off with Barnabas and overtime, though he and Barnabas part ways, he ends up with an enite entourage of co-workers in Christ, a growing fellowship if you will. Of course, as with all magnets, when two of the same magnetic pole come together they repel each other; however, while Paul did repel some away from him, he attracted a large number of people through his teaching, charisma, and passion for the Gospel.

In today’s reading we see the list has grown. We already knew that, by this point, he was traveling with Luke, Titus, Timothy, and others. From that, we now learn that ” Sopater son of Pyrrhus from Berea; Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica; Gaius from Derbe; Timothy; and Tychicus and Trophimus from the province of Asia” were all traveling with him. He, indeed, had a growing Fellowship.

This is because Paul understood the heart of the Gospel. The Gospel is not a private, personal affair. In his preface to his 1739 publication, Hymns and Sacred Poems, John Wesley wrote, “Solitary Religion is not to be found there. ‘Holy Solitaries’ is a phrase no more consistent with the Gospel than Holy Adulterers. The Gospel of CHRIST knows of no Religion, but Social; no Holiness but Social Holiness.”

In other words, the American/European model of Christianity, that one must keep it private and not share it with others lest you offend them, is NOT in line with the Chrsitian Gospel. In fact, it is the antithesis of the Gospel. First, it is important to remember that Jesus and Paul and the original Apostles were all Jewish. Judaism is a communial, social religion. That was one of the things that separated and distinguished it from pagan religions, which were mostly personal and private.

Thus, so was Christianity, which branched out from Judaism. Christ did not come, teach, die, and resurrect for his followers to keep that to themselves. In fact, this is exactly what Jesus commanded before ascending to heaven: “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” (Matthew 28:18-19, NLT).

The commandment is a SOCIAL COMMANDMENT. Go. Make disciples. Baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. That is the Christian game plan. Paul understood that and he followed that game plan to a “T”. He engaged people, got to know them, befriended them, and witnessed the Gospel of Jesus Christ to them. I am sure that not everyone who he befriended became Christians, and it is certain he offended a great many people; still, he carried out the Christian mission with utmost faithfulness!

That should challenge us as well. Remember, the Gospel of Jesus Christ knows of no SOLITARY RELIGION. The American message of keep your faith to yourself is NOT a Christian message. It is a civic religion message. Civic religion teaches a FALSE GOSPEL. Let us be a people who break the chains of civic religion and pick up the cross of the Gospel, so that others may see and know that Christ lived and died and rose for them!

“Faith working by Love, is the length and breadth and depth and height of Christian Perfection.” – John Wesley

Lord, let us be a people who follow you boldly and socially so that we may be your witnesses to all around us. Amen.

God’s People, part 270: Gaius & Aristarchus

Read Acts 19:23-41

“Listen, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5, 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 site of what was the Temple of Artemis.

Part 270: Gaius & Aristarchus. Ephesus was an important center for early Christianity. It was a city that had a long and storied history, both in it’s ancient history and in the Roman Empire. Located in what is now modern day Turkey, the city was renowned for its Temple of Artemis, which was one of the seven wonders of the world. In fact, Antipater of Sidon wrote this about the seven wonders and the Temple of Artemis:

I have set eyes on the wall of lofty Babylon on which is a road for chariots, and the statue of Zeus by the Alpheus, and the hanging gardens, and the colossus of the Sun, and the huge labour of the high pyramids, and the vast tomb of Mausolus; but when I saw the house of Artemis that mounted to the clouds, those other marvels lost their brilliancy, and I said, “Lo, apart from Olympus, the Sun never looked on aught so grand” (Antipater, Greek Anthology IX.58).

Ephesus was also where Marc Antony stayed for periods of time when he was proconsul of Rome, and in 33 BCE, he and Cleopatra met there and gathered 800 before the battle of Actium against Octavius (aka Augustus). In fact, Augustus made Ephesus the capital of proconsular Asia, making it the largest and most important city, second only to Rome itself.

This brings us to Paul’s ministry in Ephesus. He had been preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ in the synagogues and in the streets, and he had been successful in converting many people and establishing the Ephesian church. Of course, the Gospel focuses on Jesus Christ, son of the Father, who is a part of the Godhead. For Paul, and Jews alike, there is only one God and so he taught.

This, of course, riled up a mob of business owners who were losing money as a result of people no longer wanting to purchase idols of Artemis. Luke also states that their complaint was not merely financial, but religious as well. Artemis was the patron god of Ephesus and the teachings of Paul were not lifting her up in any way, shape or form. It’s not hard to imagine how insulted the Ephesians must have been.

Here’s where mob mentality kicked in. They were so angry that they grabbed Gaius and Aristarchus, two of Paul’s assistants, as they evidently could not find Paul himself. The drug them to the ampitheater and demanded that those men were punished for what they were teaching. Eventually, thankfully, they were released, and the mob dispersed because the Mayor intervened. They had not actively spoken against Artemis, nor had they stolen anything from the temple, but were just sharing their own religious faith. They mayor saw no need for them to be punished and, should the offended have legitimate complaints against the two men, then those offended persons should file a formal complaint with the courts.

Thank God for the mayor, who ruled justly on behalf of Gaius and Aristarchus; however, it also shows how dangerous being Christians can be when preaching the truth to people out in the world. Jesus Christ is not aligned with the ways of the world, nor is his message one of conformity; rather, Jesus calls us to represent the TRUTH of who he is to all people, even when it goes against our society and culture. The question for us, as Christians in the 21st century, do we have the bravery and boldness to live out our convictions regardless of the cost. That is a question I invite you to reflect on.

“If you get into really learning about the roots of monotheism, it was utterly a radical cultural moment. The Bible was so revolutionary and against all that came before it.” – Ezra Furman

Lord, give me the courage to live out my faith and preach the Good News of Jesus Christ with brave boldness and humble grace. Amen.

God’s People, part 269: Erasmus

Read Acts 19:21-23

“Gaius says hello to you. He is my host and also serves as host to the whole church. Erastus, the city treasurer, sends you his greetings, and so does our brother Quartus.”  (Romans 16:23, 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.

Part 269: Erastus. Overall, Erastus is one of those people in the New Testament that we know very little of; however, there are some things that were mentioned about him that will give us enough of an understanding. While we cannot be certain about much regarding Erastus’ life, but we do know that he was an assistant of the Apostle Paul, and that he worked along Timothy.

The first thing that should be mentioned is that Erastus was a man of prominence in his community. At the end of Romans, Paul states that Erastus was a treasurer in the city he was writing the letter in, meaning that he served in high civil office in Corinth. That means that we do know that Erastus was a politician from the city of Corinth. Knowing that, we should pause to get an understanding of the city in which he lived and served.

Ancient Corinth was one of the populous and important cities in Ancient Greece. In 400 BCE it had an estimated population of 90,000. With that said, the city in Paul’s time was a newer city from that of Ancient Corinth. The Romans had leveled it in 146 BCE, but rebuilt it the same year that Julius Caesar was assassinated (44 BCE) and made it the capital of the Roman Province of Greece. In fact, Julius Caesar was the one who started that rebuilding just prior to his assassination. Thus, being the capital of a Roman province, Corinth was a very important city. What’s more, the office of Treasurer of the capital of a major Roman province was a very high and important political office. From this alone, we can tell that Erastus was a person of wealth, status and power.

Corinth was not just the political center of Greece, but it was also the religious and cultural center. There were many famous temples, such as the Temple of Apollo and there was a strong presence of the Imperial Cult, where emperor worship took place. Corinth was a strongly Hellenistic society where there was other cultures were expected to be in the melting pot with Greek culture. This made it a difficult place to be Jewish and Christian. We can see that difficulty played out in the letters to the Corinthians written by Paul.

So, what does all of this tell us about Erastus himself. Let’s look at the facts. Erastus was held a powerful political and civil servant role in one of the most influential political, economic, cultural, and religious centers in the ancient Roman Empire. What’s more, Corinth was a major melting pot, and any resistance to that drew much suspicion. So, it is an enigma how someone like Erastus, a Christian, could effectively serve under such circumstances.

Yet, he did. That is not to say that he drew no suspicion or ran into no problems. He very well may have, given that Christians were not the most welcome group of people in that society. With that said, Erastus proves to be an assistant of the Apostle Paul and a faithful Christian witness who happened to also be holding one of the higher civil servant offices.

This shows us that we, as Christians, can be politically active and still serve Christ, although, there is a fine line to walk there. A public servant serves the public. A Christian serves Christ. One can do both, but one must never conflate the two and, no matter what, one’s loyalty to Christ must come first over every other loyalty one might have. We have seen public servants walk that fine line; however, it sometimes becomes a difficult fine line to walk. The same, by the way, is true for us the public. We can engage politically; however, we MUST conform our politics to our faith in Jesus Christ…not try to conform our faith in Jesus Christ to politics.

“The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.” – Dante Alighieri

Lord, help me to be engaged in society in a way that faithfully witnesses to you. Amen.

God’s People, part 268: Apollos

Read Acts 18:24-28

“I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow.”  (1 Corinthians 3:6, 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.

Part 268: Apollos. Apollos was a contemporary of Paul’s. According to our scripture reading today, he was an Alexandrian Jew who, believing in Jesus Christ, arrived in Ephesus and was educated about the baptism of the Holy Spirit by Priscilla and Aquila. From there, he went to Achaia as a missionary and proved to be quite a faithful and effective witness of Jesus Christ.

We also know that Apollos had a successful ministry in the church of Corinth. In his first (technically his 2nd) letter to the Corinthians, Paul mentions the effectiveness of Apollos in baptizing people into the Christian faith. With that said, a bit of a controversy had risen up. Paul had planted that church and was its spiritual father and leader; however, some people felt they owed no allegiance to Paul because they were baptized by Apollos.

The Church of Corinth was a hot mess, honestly! While some of the leaders spent their blood, sweat and tears trying to keep the chuch in line, the majority of its members were caught up in bickering, gossiping, idolatry, and a torrid sexual scandal that most were turning a blind eye to. The scandal was that somone’s husband was in the midst of a sexual affair with his mother-in-law and was refusing to stop said affair. Some in the church felt this was perfectly okay, others felt it was not their business, and others still were so disturbed by this they kept trying to get Paul to put a stop to it.

This is where the Apollos controversy came in. Paul had, in no uncertain terms, told the leaders that they HAD to put an end to this affair. He told them that they were to expel the person sleeping with his mother-in-law out of the church over his unwillingness to stop. Some of these leaders really wanted nothing to do with it and the way they resisted Paul was by decrying him. “Who is this Paul, anyway? We weren’t baptized by him, but by Apollos!” Such was the argument who felt that they owed no allegiance to Paul, despite the fact that the church existed as a result of Paul.

Paul’s answer was just that:

“When one of you says, ‘I am a follower of Paul,’ and another says, ‘I follow Apollos,’ aren’t you acting just like people of the world? After all, who is Apollos? Who is Paul? We are only God’s servants through whom you believed the Good News. Each of us did the work the Lord gave us. I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow.”  (1 Corinthians 3:4-6, NLT)

Paul’s point was that we are not followers of ordinary people, but of Christ. The church should not be a cult of personality and most certainly should not be ego driven; rather, the church is Christocentric, centered on Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. We should be challenged by this as there are many egos and personalities vying for our loyalty. Our loyalty, as Christians, is owed to Christ alone. Amen.

Our loyalty lies with Christ alone!

Lord, my loyalty is yours alone. Amen.

God’s People, part 267: The Mob

Read Acts 18:9-17

“‘Why?’ Pilate demanded. ‘What crime has he committed?’ But the mob roared even louder, ‘Crucify him!’”  (Mark 15:14, 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.

Part 267: The Mob. As an avid moviegoer and history buff, I can tell you that most “creature features” and monster movies has an angry mob. From Disney to Universal Horror, the angry mob often is a character unto itself. Think of Beauty and the Beast. In that film, Gaston was able to turn the villagers of a sleepy French village into an angry mob ready to hunt the Beast. Of think of Frankenstein, where an angry mob rises up against the monster over the accidental death of one of the children.

In history, there are plenty of examples of the angry mob wreaking terror upon individuals caught in their wrath. Marc Antony and Gaius Octavius were able to rouse an entire nation into an angry mob against the conspirators who assassinated Gaius Julius Caesar. Ironically, that mob mentality not only led to the deaths of the conspirators, but also the transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire. Freedoms and a semi-democratic republic were lost due to the anger of the nation. Instead, their anger led to one of the most corrupt and oppressive dictator regimes in history.

The bloody Reign of Terror during the French Revolution was another horrifying example of mob mentality. During that period, the monarchs, aristocracy, clergy, the wealthy and anyone deemed sympathetic to those institutions and stations lost their heads, literally, in front of angry, bloodthirsty mobs. There are so many other cases of the devastation left behind the wake of angry mobs. Jesus was the victim of one, as was Paul, as was Stephen, and so on and so forth. In the 21st century, we have seen angry mobs burn and loot cities during important civil rights protests and we have seen angry mobs marching with guns and tiki torches, while shouting racist and antisemitic rhetoric.

In our Scripture, some people were angry with Paul and his fellow Christians who were convincingly preaching the good news of Jesus Christ. At first, religious leaders took their complaints against Paul and company to the law; however, the law did not see this as a legal issue and dismissed their complaints. What happened next? Simple. The religious leaders riled up an angry mob and had the leader of the Synagogue that Paul was preaching at beaten. That doesn’t make much sense, right? Well, angry mobs tend to run on angry emotion and not logic.

This should caution us. In a day and age where mob mentality rules, where success is measured on whose mob gathering is biggest, we ought to refrain from joining the mob. Christ did not call us to get sucked up by mob mentality; rather, Christ has called us into himself, and has called us to put his commandments above the commands and/or requests of any other leader. Let us, as Christians, rise above the fray and follow Christ in being peacemakers, not mob rousers.

“Solitude is strength; to depend on the presence of the crowd is weakness. The man who needs a mob to nerve him is much more alone than he imagines.” – Paul Brunton

Lord, help me to rise above mob mentality and keep my heart and my focus on you and your commandments. Amen.


Read Luke 18:9-14

“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. ” (Matthew 7:1, NLT)

Continuing on with our horror theme for Halloween, another favorite out of 1980’s horror is the cult-hit film, Monster Squad. Released in 1987 and rated PG-13, this was a horror-comedy film that was geared to a teenage audience. It was a film that had a perfect balance of fun and scares in it and it captured the imaginations of its younger audiences.

The film centers on a group of misfit kids who belong to a secret monster club in Sean’s (the main character) treehouse. This club consisted of nothing more than these kids meeting to discuss their favorite Universal horror monsters and learning their strengths and weaknesses. Some kids like to play with dolls, others with GI Joes, this group of kids dug monsters.

As it turned out, Count Dracula and the Universal monsters are real and they show up in Sean’s town with a plan to take over the world. In order to pull this off, the Count Dracula recruits Frankenstein’s monster, Gil-Man (aka the Creature from the Black Lagoon), Wolf Man, and the Mummy and moves into an abandon house in town. While most of the adults are oblivious to the clear and present danger to their community and the world, the monster club kids become aware of what is going on.

As such, they recruit an extra team member who happens to be a misfit in school because he’s viewed as a tough “bad boy”. As it turns out, Rudy is not as bad as he appears and actually intervenes to stop one of the monster club members from being bullied. As such, and also because he was able to answer questions about monster movies, Rudy is accepted into the club and together they defeat the monsters under their new name, The Monster Squad.

And this brings me to an important segue. While there are Universal monsters threatening the town, they really were not the only monsters lurking in this sleepy town. Much can be gathered by the way the kids talk and the way the adults act. Sean’s parents are seeking couseling for their marriage and they are on the verge of divorce because his dad, who is a detective, puts his job before his family and before his relationship with his wife. Sean was no doubt affected by the dysfunction in his own household.

Society, as a whole, is pretty monstrous too. The 1980s and 1990s were not a time of political correctness, social sensitivity, or healthy school environments. Horace, who was one of the monster squad members, was bullied because of his weight. The kids in school call him “fat kid” and “faggot”. Even member of the monster squad use language like “homo” to make fun of gay people. They also pick on Sean’s younger sister and try to exclude her from the Monster Squad because she’s a girl, though she ends up being a godsend later on in the film.

The Monster Squad also shows their monstrous side in how they judge an old man who lived alone in a house on Sean’s street. They thought he was a German Nazi who was a mass murderer. Of course, they had no reason to think that, but that was the rumor circulating among the kids in school and they bought into that conspiracy theory.

Eventually, after finding a book written in German by the famed vampire hunter, Abraham Van Helsing, they worked up the courage to go to the old man to see if he could help them translate the book. The old man gladly helped and, eventually, he let them know that they were wrongly prejudging him, though he is quite forgiving of them. In this old man, they found a friend and an ally. Upon leaving his house, Sean said to him, “Wow, it seems you really are familiar with monsters”, or something to that effect. The man responded, “Yes, I suppose I am,” and then he closed the door. As he does so, you see numbers tattooed on his arm. He was a holocaust concentration camp survivor.

That was one of the most powerful scenes in the entire movie. Sure, the monsters are cool and the battle between the monsters and the Monster Squad is a lot of fun to watch; however, that scene was a piece of important moral and social commentary. Judging others is one of the most monstrous things we can do as humans because, when we do so, we place ourselves in the place of God who is the only one who is capable of judging. There are many monsters out in the world to fight and defeat in this world; however, we cannot do so if we are monsters ourselves.

The irony about The Monster Squad is that they were doing the same thing that the Nazi’s did. The Nazi’s judged that man and countless others as less than human and put him in a concentration camp as a result. He no doubt endured monstrous and inhuman treatment because of how he was judged. The Monster Squad, though to a lesser extent, were judging the old man because he was recluse and not well-known and German, and they judged him as a Nazi serial killer when, in fact, he was a victim of the Nazis.

Had these boys not fought against their monstrous bias against this man, they would have never been able to defeat the actual monsters that were threatening them and their entire town. This should open our eyes and challenge us too. Are we going to prejudge people based off of how they look, where we think they’re from, how they dress, what accent they have or any other outward appearance? Or are we going to get to know someone for who they are as opposed to how we perceive them? Christ calls us to do the latter and reminds us that we are not the judges. Only God can judge. When we judge others, we become the monsters instead of righteous heroes. Remember, judge not and you will not be judged. Amen.

Judging is God’s role. When we judge, we set ourselves up as God. Judging is the result of self-idolatry.

Lord, help me refrain from judging. Amen.

The Power of Faith

Read Hebrews 11

“I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.”  (Matthew 17:20, NLT)

As you can see, I have been concentrating on horror movies throughout the month of October because that is Halloween month. For me, Halloween is not just a day, it’s an entire season. So, I spend at least October, if not parts of September and November watching horror films and listening to gothic and atmospheric music. This is a yearly ritual for me as Halloween is one of my favorite holidays…EVER.

One of my favorite vampire films from the 80s is one called, “Fright Night”, with William Ragsdale, Amanda Bearse, Roddy McDowall and Chris Sarandon (aka Susan Sarandon’s brother). I love the film because it brings back memories of being a kid in the 80s and watching that film and others during the Halloween season. There is something about horror films in the 80s, with their blend of camp and over the top special effects that just draw me right in.

Anyway, this film is about a boy named Charlie who notices strange goings on next door after it is purchased by a strange, enigmatic man. As it turns out, Charlie becomes aware that his neighbor is a vampire because he sees him biting a woman through the bedroom window. He also saw his neighbor and a helper carrying what looked like a coffin into the basement of the house.

At first he tries to tell his mom; however, she thinks he had a bad nightmare and doesn’t believe him. His friend and his girlfriend don’t believe him either and Charlie feels at wits end because the vampire made it clear that he knows Charlie is on to him. To make matters worse, the neighbor, whose name was Jerry Danridge, was invited over to his house by his mom, which means that Jerry could now enter the house anytime he wants and harm his family.

Out of desperation, Charlie sought out a movie actor who portrayed his favorite vampire slayer, Peter Vincent. Of course, Peter was not REALLY a vampire slayer, but just an actor; however, to make a long story short, Charlie did eventually convince Peter that his neighbor is a vampire and that he needed Peter’s help. There is one scene where Jerry approached Peter Vincent to attack him and he pulled out a cross to ward him off. To Peter and Charlie’s surprise, Jerry  laughed at them, grabbed the cross, and crumbled it in his hand. “You have to have faith,” the vampire mocked, “for this to work Mr. Vincent!”

As he bent down to bit Peter, Charlie, with a fire in his eyes, lifted his cross. You could see that HE DID BELIEVE and, as a result, Jerry hissed backwards and ran away. Charlie, because of his faith in the power of the cross…the power of Christ…was able to save his hero’s life. Charlie and Peter both learned a valuable lesson that day. There is great power in faith.

The Bible teaches us that “faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see” (Hebrews 11:1, NLT). Charlie had hoped that by raising the cross he would be able to stop the vampire from doing harm to Peter. He had no evidence that it would work, and he couldn’t physically see how a cross could stop such evil; however, he believed that if he raised that cross, it WOULD WORK. He had faith and, because of that, he was able to overcome the evil that was attacking him and Peter Vincent.

While we live in the real world, where vampired don’t exist, we still are called to stand up against evil and oppression. Yet, how can we do that? How can we, who are sinful human beings, ever resist the forces of sin, evil, oppression and death? Christ calls us to have faith, to believe in HIS power to overcome such things through us. It’s not we who have the power, but HE who lives within us who can stop evil in it’s tracks and make it cower before the GOOD NEWS of Jesus Christ as expressed both on the cross and in the empty tomb.

This should challenge us to grow in our faith and to grow in our relationship with Jesus Christ. Like Charlie, not everyone will believe us, nor will they believe in what we believe in. Some may even mock us and most will not join us in our effort to do what is right despite the overwhelming odds. None of that matters if we keep our focus and our faith in Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. It is him who will lead us to rise up against and resist evil and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.

“Faith is not belief without proof, but trust without reservation.” – D. Elton Trueblood

Lord, I do believe. Help me with my unbelief. Amen.

The Sins of the Father

Read Exodus 34:5-7

“For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he makes sinners right in his sight when they believe in Jesus.”  (Romans 3:25-26, NLT)

One of my favorite films is The Wolf Man. Of course, the original 1941 film with Lon Chaney, Jr. is my absolute favorite; however, I also loved the flawed but still awesome 2010 remake with Benicio Del Toro. The unrated extended version is the one to watch if you are going to take my recommendation, as it takes more time to develop the characters and scenarios than the theatrical version did. The music by Danny Elfman is brilliant and the special effects by Rick Baker won a much deserved Academy Award for Best Special Effects.

SPOILER ALERT: I will be discussing in this devotion some major plot twists in the 2010 Wolfman film, so if you haven’t seen it and don’t want it spoiled, now is the time to stop reading and go watch the film first. In that film, Lawrence Talbot is an actor who is estranged from his father and brother. One evening, following a stage performance of Hamlet, his brother’s fiancee, Gwen Conliffe, visits Lawrence asking if he has seen or heard from his brother. Of course, he hadn’t and Gwen pleads with him to return to his father’s home to search for his brother.

To make a long story short, he does return home and his brother turns up dead, torn apart by what seems to have been a wild animal or beast. As you get further into the film you begin to quickly realize why Lawrence was estranged from his family: his father. There was something off about him and the audience quickly picks up on that. He’s distant, ice cold, and downright creepy. There’s a hollow blackness, an abyss, in his eyes and you just can’t help but feel he’s hiding a secret.

You also find out that at a young age Lawrence witnessed what we first are led to believe was the suicide of his mother. Later, however, we find out that her death was not a suicide, but accidental homocide by his father. You see, Sir John Talbot (Lawrence’s father), had been bitten on a hunting trip and, upon eventually turning into a werewolf, he attacked and killed his wife. Lawrence witnessed this, went into shock, and was subsequently sent to a mental institution to be treated for his “psychotic delusions”.  Over time, Lawrence repressed those memories; however, they surface once his father reveals the truth about his curse.

As it turns out, it was also his father who attacked and mauled his brother, because his brother was going to get married to Gwen, whom the father has a clear and creepy love interest in. As you can see, there’s A LOT wrong with the father in this story. Again, to keep this as short as possible, prior to knowing his father’s dark secret, he is bit by a werewolf (who happens to be his father) and is thus cursed to become a werewolf himself! The father’s sins are passed on to his son, who then passes it on to others as he terrorizes his village and even London as a werewolf.

This reminds me of our Scripture passage for today, where God warns that the sins of the parents will be passed down from generation to generation, causing calamity for many as a result of wickedness. While people aren’t cursed with lycanthropy in the physical/literal sense, it is clear that we are born into families that all have their levels of dysfunction. Each family is filled with human beings who are sinful by nature. Tragically, those sins are passed on to the children and so on and so forth.

Racism, oppression, injustice, inequity, poverty, hatred, bigotry, violence, and all of the sin and evil we see in the world are the result of this curse that is upon humanity. In Christianity, we call that the doctrine of Original Sin, which came up on the first humans and have passed on to each generation since. The good news is that, unlike Lawrence, we have an much better solution to this curse than a silver bullet. Our solution is Jesus Christ, who took the curse of our sins upon himself and died for us so that we might be free from sin and death and inherit eternal life! WOW! What good news, right?

All that is required is that we believe in the ONE who has saved us, turn our lives over to Him and allow him to change us from the heart outward. If we do that, though we will still fall short and sin, that sin will not hold sway over us and it will begin to break the chains of sin that affect the ones we love. This is the Gospel message. Today, I challenge you to reflect on your life and on the sins that affected you as well as your own sins that have affected others. Pray for forgivenness, open your heart to Jesus Christ, seek reconcilation with those you’ve wronged if possible, and begin to life for Christ who saved you!

“Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not whether they be clergymen or laymen, they alone will shake the gates of Hell and set up the kingdom of Heaven upon Earth.” – John Wesley

Lord, help me fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but you so that I may joing you in hell shaking and kingdom making. Amen.

Vampire Hunters

Read Ephesians 6:11-18

“Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.”  (1 Peter 5:8, NLT)

I just watched a new Netflix Original film entitled, “Vampires vs. the Bronx”, which is a comedy horror film about Vampires moving into the Bronx in order to take over the community and feed on its people. With that said, these vampires aren’t doing so out in the open; rather, they are hiding behind a real estate company that is run by a “familiar”, a human being who is promised by the vampires to be given immortality if he faithfully serves them.

The story centers around a young teenager (maybe 14 or a little younger) named Miguel Martinez, who is also nicknamed Li’l Mayor because of his desire to community organize. In fact, we first see him and his friends passing out flyers to save a local bodega (convenience store/deli), which is suffering because of people “moving out” of the community due to being bought out by a real estate company named, “Murnau Properties.” If you are a vampire fan, you will recognize that the real estate is named after F. W. Murnau, who was the director of the 1922 film, Nosferatu.

As it turns out, these business and home owners were not moving out; rather, they were being “bought out”, sold out, and then killed by the vampires. Miguel and his friends discover this and set out to stop the vampires from taking over their community; however, they find themselves grossly underprepared. Why? Let me just say, it is not because they are kids. In fact, if anything that is their greatest strength because their innocence and imaginations aren’t destroyed by adulthood.

The reason they are underprepared is because they don’t have all the tools they need to hunt and fight these vampires. They aren’t just fighting human beings behaving badly. They cannot just call the police, because they won’t believe these kids of color in the ‘hood over an establised, white real estate business. These kids are fighting SPIRITUAL forces of evil and injustice and, community organizing isn’t enough in spiritual warfare.

These kids, then, realize that though they typically avoided church and religion, they had to turn to it in order to fight these vampires. They needed to go to church, they needed to understand the power of the Eucharist (Holy Communion), they needed to rely on the power of the Cross, and the power of FAITH in Jesus Christ to defeat these foes. Suddenly, the church they saw as a boring obligation became their hope, and the priest they thought was too tough on them became their ally.

These kids learned an invaluable lesson that it takes more than activism and community organize to fight the forces of sin and evil. Spiritual warfare needs to be fought spiritually. In one of my favorite scenes, a vampire is about to kill one of the kids who, suddenly, pulls out the host and places it in the vampire’s mouth after proclaiming, “The Body of Christ”. The vampire was, at that very instant, rendered to ash.

This should challenge us to remember the importance of faith. Activism and community organizing will only ever take us so far. Why? Because people are sinful by nature and, even with the best intentions, will fail in truly setting up sinless institutions and organizations of change. What’s more, we are fighting forces that are not merely human, but are spiritual and evil in nature. In order to conquer such forces, we need to turn to the ONE who conquered sin, evil and death on the cross! Only Jesus Christ can help us overcome such forces and usher in the Kingdom of God in this world. Let us look toward Miguel and his friends as our example of why religion, faith and Jesus Christ are VITAL to changing our world.

Do you rely on Jesus to resist sin, evil and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?

Lord, I place my full trust in you. Hold me to this and steer me on the path of righteousness. Amen.