Tag Archives: Christianity

God’s People, part 150: Embodiment

Read Luke 2:41-52

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“As they approached, Jesus said, ‘Now here is a genuine son of Israel—a man of complete integrity.’
‘How do you know about me?’ Nathanael asked. Jesus replied, ‘I could see you under the fig tree before Philip found you.’”  (John 1:47-48, NLT)

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.

pantocratorchristPart 150: Embodiment. There is a lot of good that comes out of modern Biblical scholarship. For sure, my understanding of the historical, socio-economic, and literary contexts of the Bible comes out of an education steeped in such scholarship. It is important to acknowledge that the Bible cannot simply be understood by merely reading it. We are so far removed from the time and place it was written in that we will inevitable misinterpret it if we do not dive deeper than a mere surface read. It doesn’t take a scholar to do that, but it does take discipline to not cut corners in our personal and/or group Bible studies.

With that said, not everything that has come forth from modern Biblical scholarship has been helpful; indeed, there has been some modern scholarship that has been harmful. One such thing is the notion that the earliest Christians only saw Jesus as a man and overtime Christians mythologized who Jesus was, eventually seeing him as God in the flesh.

This theory postulates that Mark’s Gospel had a very low Christology (Jesus was God’s adopted Son at best). Matthew’s Christology was slightly higher, showing Jesus’ birth to be the result of divine intervention. Luke’s Gospel slightly higher still, with Mary receiving word from an angel that her child, divinely conceived, would be God’s Son. Finally, John’s Gospel has the highest Christology and goes so far as to call Jesus the divine Word of God and, beyond that, the very incarnation of God.

Such a reading, however, is counter to what we ACTUALLY find in the Bible. First, it is blind to the fact that Paul, who wrote before any of the Gospels were written, acknowledges Jesus as the pre-existent Lord, Creator of all that exists (Romans 8:3; 10:13; 1 Corinthians 1:31; 2:16; 8:6; 10:26; 15:47; 2 Corinthians 8:9; 10:17;  Galatian 4:4; etc.). It also willfully ignores the fact that Mark opens up his Gospel with this proclamation: “This is the Good News about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.”  (Mark 1:1, NLT)

In Luke, we see that Jesus is not only a human being but is the embodiment of God’s Law. In the Scripture for today’s devotion, we see Jesus as a 12 year old boy engaging with the religious teachers about God’s law. Luke wrote, “All who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers”  (Luke 2:47, NLT). What’s more, when his frantic parents got a hold of him upon finding him in the Temple and questioned why he took off on them like that, his response was this, “But why did you need to search? Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house” (Luke 2:49, NLT)?

Throughout Luke, and Matthew, Jesus is repeatedly shown to not only know the Law, but to also be the Law-giver. Just like God gave the Law of the old covenant to Moses, Jesus gave the Law of the new covenant to his disciples and, by extension, to us. Thus, it is clear, that the authority of God rests upon Jesus who is God incarnate. This was not just some later claim that came in through mythological development over time, but was a major part of the early Church’s understanding of Jesus’ divine identity.

The challenge for us is to be cautious when modern thinking leads us away from traditional understanding. Sometimes a shift in understanding is good; however, only when it is in line with the revelation of Jesus Christ found in Scripture. Anything that denies Christ’s divine identity and authority will ultimately lead us astray. Let us embrace Christ as Lord and humbly accept his direction in our lives.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation…” – Paul the Apostle  (Colossians 1:15, NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, I accept your Lordship and open myself to your instruction and mission. Guide me to where it is you are calling me and keep me on course. Amen.

God’s People, part 149: 1 Baptism

Read John 3:22-36

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism,” (Ephesians 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.

water-baptismPart 149: 1 Baptism. As was mentioned in the last devotion, the Bible includes 4 perspectives on the Baptism of Jesus of Nazareth. To briefly sum it up, in Mark, Jesus was baptized by John, with no mention of any crowd. Upon coming out of the water Jesus saw the heavens open and the Holy Spirit descend upon him like a dove. Then he heard the voice of God tell him, “You are are my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

In Matthew, John reluctantly baptized Jesus after trying to talk him out of it. Following his baptism, Jesus saw the heavens open and the Holy Spirit descended upon him like a dove. Then the voice of God announced, presumably to all who were there to witness it, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

In Luke, Jesus is baptized by his cousin John during the same time that everyone else is getting baptized. Following his baptism, the heavens opened up and the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form as a dove and settled on Jesus. Then the voice of God proclaimed, “You are my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.

Finally, in John there is no mention of Jesus baptism at all; rather, John reveals that he saw the Holy Spirit descend like a dove upon Jesus and he proclaims that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. This has been assumed to have happened during Jesus’ baptism, even though it is not explicitly in the text.

With those perspectives summarized, it must be made clear that all four perspectives give us different ways of understanding one baptism. This may seem to be an unnecessary distinction to make; however, it is theologically and doctrinally important to make this distinction because by being baptized and commanding his disciples to baptize, he instituted it as a holy Sacrament.

In Matthew, Jesus stated to John that he was to be baptized because it was important that he fulfilled all that God required. What’s more, in the great commission, he commanded the following: “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” (Matthew 28:19-20, NLT).

In Jesus’ baptism we have the model for all other baptisms in Jesus’ name. For Jesus, there was only one baptism, through which Jesus received the Holy Spirit and was sent out for preparation in the wilderness and, from there, sent into ministry. Thus, there is only ONE baptism. There was only one baptism for Jesus. Only one baptism for his disciples, and only one baptism for any person being brought into faith in Jesus Christ. Paul also acknowledged there being only one baptism (Ephesians 4:5).

The importance of acknowledging one baptism is that is acknowledges that what God does is final. Once baptized, God’s grace has been given to us and begins transforming us through the Sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. This transformation is a lifelong process in which we are being perfected in God’s love. There is no need to be “rebaptized” or baptized a second or third time, for our first baptism covers us sufficiently.

The challenge for us is to have faith that God is working within us through the Holy Spirit. We cannot control God or control outcomes by going through more than one baptism. If we were baptized at birth, we can remember our baptism and take the Christian faith upon ourselves through our confirmation of that baptism; however, there is only one baptism.

Likewise, if you have not been baptized but are feeling called to Jesus’ mission and ministry, then I would like to personally encourage you to get involved in a local church and begin to discuss baptism with your pastor. Baptism is necessary because it is a public profession of Jesus Christ as Lord, and it is a witness to the power of the Holy Spirit. For those of us who have been baptized, let us reflect on our baptism and our call to follow Jesus Christ. What does it mean that we’ve been baptized and have confirmed our faith in Jesus Christ as Lord. Let us be challenged to take our baptism seriously and open ourselves up to being ambassadors of God’s Kingdom as opposed to the kingdoms of this world.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“At Baptism, I received grace – that quality that makes me share in the very nature of God.” – Mother Angelica

PRAYER
Lord, as I remember my baptism, spark in me a renewed commitment to you as Lord. Amen.

God’s People, part 148: 4 Views

Read Mark 1:9-11; Matthew 3:13-17; Luke 3:20-22; John 1:29-34

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“The following day John was again standing with two of his disciples. As Jesus walked by, John looked at him and declared, ‘Look! There is the Lamb of God!’”  (John 1:35-36, 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.

baptismofjesusPart 148: 4 Views. Naturally, following a devotion on John the Baptist we will move into one of many parts on Jesus. Today’s focus will be on Jesus’ baptism. The great thing about the New Testament is that the most widely-read accounts of Jesus’ life, teachings, and ministry were all included in the canon. What I mean by that is that Mark, Matthew, Luke and John were all the most widely-read and most universally agreed upon in ancient Christianity. So, they were included even though there are differences between them.

But as most blessings, there is a hidden curse there as well. Overtime, the four stories are read so much and become so familiar that they begin to blend together in the minds of the people reading them. This is not just regarding individual people, but entire communities and churches are guilty of doing this. One of the most common places this happens is in the Nativity Story. Also, the Passion Story has this sort of hodge-podge storytelling happen to it as well. Another area in the Gospels this happens is with regard to Jesus’ baptism.

What is certain is that all of the Gospels have Jesus’ baptism in it; however, each of the Gospels tells it slightly different. The best way to study the difference between the accounts is to read them all, side by side. I hope you have read the suggested Scriptures above. For the purpose of space, I will merely list out the differences here.

  • In Mark, the earliest Gospel we have: Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan.
    • As Jesus came out of the water HE saw the heavens splitting apart and the Holy Spirit descend upon him like a dove.
    • Then HE heard the voice God telling him that he is God’s son…and that God was pleased with him.
  • In Matthew: Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan, though John tried to talk him out of it.
    • Jesus told John he must do it to carry out all that God requires.
    • Following the baptism, Jesus saw the heavens open and Holy Spirit descending up on him like a dove.
    • Then God’s voice proclaimed, implicitly to the people witnessing this, “This is my Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
  • In Luke: When all the people gathered were being baptized, John also baptized Jesus.
    • In that moment, the heavens were opened (notice it does not state someone saw this…but that this HAPPENED) and the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in bodily form like a dove.
    • Then God’s voice proclaimed, “You are my son, with whom I am well pleased.”
  • In John: There is no mention of Jesus being baptized. Go ahead, take a look.
    • All that is mentioned is that John saw the Spirit descend upon him like a dove.
      • Most assume that this happened when John baptized Jesus; however, that is because people are reading the other three Gospels into it.
        • It may be a safe assumption, but it is still an assumption.

These are the 4 views of Jesus baptism. They are very similar; however there are some marked differences between them. One thing can be certain, Jesus was baptized and that baptism was like the shot heard around the world. In Jesus, a fire was stoked that not even the Roman Empire could put out. The challenge for us is to remember our own baptism and our own confirmation in the Christian faith. Do you remember the fire you once had, provided you had it, for Jesus? Do you still have that same passion and/or fire burning within you today? If not, why? What can you do to have it re-stoked within you? Today you are challenged to find your fire for Jesus Christ once again, for the harvest is plenty and the workers are few (Luke 10:2).

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
The Holy Spirit cannot be contained.

PRAYER
Lord, fill me with your holy, uncontainable, unquenchable Holy Spirit. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: Spiritual Amnesia

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.

God’s People, part 147: The Baptist

Read Luke 3:1-22

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“So he immediately sent an executioner to the prison to cut off John’s head and bring it to him. The soldier beheaded John in the prison, brought his head on a tray, and gave it to the girl, who took it to her mother.”  (Mark 6:27-28, 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.

john-baptistPart 147: The Baptist. Virtually everyone, at least in the Western World, has heard the name of John the Baptist. They may not know much about him or his theological significance; however, they have at least heard about him and probably have visions of a wild, hairy crazy man shouting at people while standing in the middle of a muddy looking river. Even so, that image is not too far from the truth and it was certainly how Herod and some of the Jewish religious leaders thought of him.

No doubt, in first-century Judaea, John was a little too fiery for his own safety. His sharp words and accusations against sinners in general, but specifically against the political and religious authorities, were dangerous because of the constant threat of revolt. The last thing Herod or the High Priest at the Temple needed was someone to come along and stir up a revolt. Such a revolt could cost all of them their positions and their lives under Roman rule.

John’s message was clear and consistently recorded in all four of the Gospels. Mark wrote: “This messenger was John the Baptist. He was in the wilderness and preached that people should be baptized to show that they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven” (Mark 1:4, NLT). Matthew wrote: “‘In those days John the Baptist came to the Judean wilderness and began preaching. His message was, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near’” (Matthew 3:1-2, NLT).

Luke wrote: “Then John went from place to place on both sides of the Jordan River, preaching that people should be baptized to show that they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven” (Luke 3:3, NLT). Finally, John’s Gospel does not reveal John’s actual message; rather, it echoes the Synoptic (Matthew, Mark and Luke) Gospels’ account of John’s prophetic purpose: “I am a voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘Clear the way for the LORD’s coming!’” (John 1:23, NLT).

But that is not the message that got John in trouble. What caused him to be so dangerous is that he called out the religious leaders for being a brood (or family) of snakes. He told them that they would not escape God’s wrath or fiery judgment. He also called out Herod Antipas for having an affair with his brother’s wife, Herodias, and “Many other things.” Because of his persistence in challenging people to repent of their sins and follow God, John the Baptist was arrested and eventually beheaded.

The truth is that NOBODY likes to be called out or challenged. For instance, some people have told me that they didn’t like my Advent sermon series, including my Christmas Eve service, because it used Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Hitler as an illustration as to why this dark world needs Christ and why it is important we “pledge our allegiance” to Christ and make room for him…and him ALONE…at our inn! But my job is not to make people feel comfortable; rather, my job, like the Baptist’s, is to prepare the way of the Lord, and to clear the road for him.”

The question to be asked here is this: how do you react to being challenged? Do you reflect and change, if there is need to do so? Or do you have a knee-jerk reaction and lash out in defense of yourself? I, to be completely honest, have found myself on both sides of that question. The challenge for us is to heed the warnings of the prophets in our lives. Let us NOT be a people seeking warm and fuzzy comfort, but a people who seek to prepare the way of the Lord and clear the road for him.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Having our fundamental assumptions about life challenged is never a comfortable thing.” – Maajid Nawaz

PRAYER
Lord, help me to be receptive to the ways you are challenging me. Lead me from who I am to who you created me to be. Amen!

God’s People, part 146: Anna

Read Luke 2:36-38

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Soon afterward Jesus began a tour of the nearby towns and villages, preaching and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom of God. He took his twelve disciples with him, along with some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases. Among them were Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons; Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s business manager; Susanna; and many others who were contributing from their own resources to support Jesus and his disciples.”  (Luke 8:1-3, NLT)

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

anna-rembrandtPart 146: Anna. In the last devotion, Jesus’ parents brought Jesus up into the Temple to be circumcised on the eighth day, according to Jewish custom. Following the ceremony, they ran into an old man named Simeon who blessed the child and prophesied on the significance of his birth. This man had been promised by God that he would see the coming of the Messiah and now, having witnessed the Christ-child, he was content to die.

The story does not end there; rather, it continues on in a woman named Anna. Before getting into Anna’s story, there needs to be a basic awareness of the social norms of first century Judaea. Typically, society did the value that women had in society was relegated to childbearing, childrearing and housekeeping. The women were responsible for passing down the faith to her children as a part of her childrearing duties; however, that was the basic extent of women’s value in first century Judaea.

Men, on the other hand, had the real voice. Thus, it makes sense that someone like Simeon, in the context of the times, would be the one to prophecy and proclaim the coming of the Christ. It makes sense, within the first century social framework, that visions and proclamations would come from men and not women. In fact, if you look at the Gospel of Matthew you will notice that the visions and actions were done on the part of Joseph, not Mary. Mary has absolutely NO VOICE in that Gospel.

But Luke is not Matthew and his Gospel operates counter to the way the other Gospels operate. Sure, Simeon gets his moment in the Temple to see visions and proclaim the Christ child; however, he is merely a common person. He’s no prophet or soothsayer; rather, he is just an old man holding on to the promises of God.

Anna, on the other hand, is described by Luke in the following way: “Anna, a prophet, was also there in the Temple. She was the daughter of Phanuel from the tribe of Asher, and she was very old. Her husband died when they had been married only seven years” (Luke 2:36, NLT). Simeon was a common man, and Anna was the prophet. As is always the case, Luke flips the social conventions of his day on their head.

While Simeon saw a vision and shared that vision with Mary and Joseph, Anna began praising God and proclaiming to the whole Temple that the Messiah had arrived. While Simeon was blessed with holding the child and praising God before the child’s parents, Anna was tasked by God with proclaiming the Good News to the whole Temple that day.

Luke lets us know that Anna was an old woman, who had been widowed for many years. Widows with no sons to care for them often became homeless. This may have been the case for Anna, who is said to have NEVER left the Temple day or night since the death of her husband. But there’s more to it than that. The reference of never leaving the Temple also suggests that Anna was in close and never-ending communion with God! Wow, right?

This aged widow, this “nobody” in terms of first century social standards, was in direct communication with God through fasting and prayer. Rather than having been voiceless, Anna is the one who tells everyone the GOOD NEWS! You see, God cannot be imprisoned or contained by our social standards. God transcends them and empowers those we would rather keep in their place.

The challenge for us is to reflect on this. We are being to challenged to reflect on the ways in which we try to keep people in their places by placing our social standards like giant cinder blocks around the necks of the voiceless. Remember, God’s ways are not our ways, and God’s wisdom far surpasses our own. Let us be a people who step out of the way and defer such judgment to God.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  – Paul of Tarsus in Galatians 3:28

PRAYER
Lord, help me to see past my own biases and the biases of my society in order to see people as you see them. Amen.

God’s People, part 145: Simeon

Read Luke 2:25-35

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Then, after doing all those things, I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your old men will dream dreams, and your young men will see visions.”  (Joel 2:28, 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.

SimeonPart 145: Simeon. In the Gospel of Luke we get a little more of Jesus’ back story than we do in the other three Gospels. In Luke and John, we really get no back story at all. In Matthew, we learn that Jesus and his family flee to Egypt to avoid being slaughtered by Herod. After some time, no one really knows how long, Jesus’ family take him back to Israel and settle in the town of Nazareth, which a backwater town that was inconspicuous and far enough away from King Herod’s sons reach.

In Luke, however, Joseph and Mary were originally from Nazareth, traveled to Bethlehem to participate in Caesar Augustus’ census, and gave birth to Jesus in a stable. Eight days later, as per Jewish Law, Jospeh and Mary brought their son to the Temple to be circumcised. Following that they return to Nazareth and raise their son there. From there we are told that Jesus’ family went to the temple annually to partake in Passover and, when Jesus’ was twelve years old, he gives his parents a heart attack when he decides to stay behind as they were traveling home in order to school the religious leaders in the Temple.

But that is getting ahead a bit. After Jesus was circumcised, his parents and him ran into an old man named Simeon. Like most observant and devout Jews, Simeon had spent his life wondering when the God would deliver God’s people from the oppression of foreign occupation. In fact, Simeon not only wondered but, at least as an old man, was lying in lament and wait for this event to happen.

We are told that Simeon was a righteous man, meaning that he lived in right relationship with God and with neighbor and that he was a just man. The Holy Spirit was upon him and revealed to him that he would see the Lord’s Messiah before he died. We are also told that on the day Jesus was circumcised, the Holy Spirit led him to the Temple.

Friends, this is an amazing account because it shows the powerful workings of the Holy Spirit. God’s guidance is given to those who seek God out and open themselves up to what God is doing. That is exactly what happened here to Simeon. As such, not only did Simeon get to see the Christ, but he also was the beginning of the fulfillment of what was prophesied in Joel: “I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your old men will dream dreams, and your young men will see visions.” Joel was not yet fulfilled, that would happen later at Pentecost, but this was a sign of what was to come.

Upon seeing Jesus, Simeon took him into his arms and blessed him and praised God for fulfilling God’s promise to him. He then, again a sign of what was to be fulfilled on Pentecost, prophesied: “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, and many others to rise. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.” (Luke 2:34-35, NLT)

Sisters and brothers, the Holy Spirit IS REAL and works through those who seek out the LORD. The challenge for us is to open ourselves, as Simeon did, to the presence and the working of the Holy Spirit. The time for complacency is over. Christ came, Christ lived, Christ died, Christ rose again and ascended into heaven, and Christ will come again in final glory. We are here in advent of that coming and there is much more work to be done to prepare the way of the coming Lord. Let us be the ones who do not oppose him, but proclaim the Christ’s holy name. Amen.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Yea, amen! let all adore thee, high on thine eternal throne; Savior, take the power and glory, claim the kingdom as thine own: O come quickly! O come quickly! O come quickly! Thou shalt reign, and thou alone.” – Rev. Charles Wesley

PRAYER
Lord, spark your passionate fire within my soul and use me to prepare Your way in this broken world. Amen.

God’s People, part 144: Magi

Read Matthew 2:1-12

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.”  (Genesis 12:3, NLT)

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

TheMagiPart 144: Magi. Last year, the church I currently serve participated in a town event which was trying to promote Small Business Saturday. While my church was supportive of being involved in it, and many of our members were there singing Christmas carols (mostly Christian carols, mind you) there was some buzz from others who thought that was a bad idea because the theme of the event was Harry Potter, and the church should not be “promoting sorcery and witchcraft”. Of course, Harry Potter is a fantasy fiction, just like The Chronicles of Narnia (e.g. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe), The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings, but from the viewpoint of some people, there was “evil” at work behind the fiction.

During Advent, I raised the issue in one of the sermons I preached, regarding the Magi. In that message I said, “I find it ironic that some Christians get up in arms over Harry Potter because it is a story about wizards, sorcerers, witches, magicians and astrologers; yet, their hearts get ‘strangely warmed’ when hearing the story of wizards, sorcerers, witches, magicians, and astrologers coming to visit baby Jesus in a manger.”

Okay, so I stretched it slightly using the words “wizards, witches, sorcerers and magicians,” but I did so to make a powerful point” of which I’ll explain in a little bit. Still, the principal behind the words above is not scandalous or heretical; rather, it is the truth. In the account of the Magi coming to visit Jesus, we must realize several things in order to truly grasp the power of the account. Let me list those things off for you:

  1. The Magi were not kings, and we do not know how many of them there were. We often think there were only three because of the gifts that they brought; however, there is no evidence whatsoever that there were only three.
  2. The word magi is plural of the Latin word magus, and the Greek word magos, which was derived from the Old Persian word magâunô, which was the priestly caste that Zoroaster was born into. Also, magi is the root of the English word magic.
  3. The Magi were, thus, Zoroastrian priests who were known for their practice of astrology (reading the stars), as well as divination, both of which are forbidden practices in Judaism.
  4. The Magi would not have been sorcerers or magicians, properly speaking, because sorcery was forbidden in Zoroastrianism, and they viewed astrology and divination as a science. Still, for the Jews, astrology and divination are linked to sorcery in Judaism. Jews were supposed to steer clear of such practices and place their faith in God, not in their own ability to see the future.

What we have in Matthew’s account is amazing, then! These Gentiles/pagans from Persia traveled from the East, following the stars and divining that a great King had been born in Bethlehem. Matthew does not record this event as scandalous, though others would have read scandal into it, but as something joyous!

This story reveals two great things about God! First, God can and does work through anyone! Pagan or otherwise, Jew or Gentile, God can work through anything and anyone to bring people to Christ…to Salvation. Second, the Magi showing up that day (Jesus could have been as old as 2 years by the time they arrived) gave us a divine epiphany: God’s salvation plan does not just include one group of “special” people, but that the WHOLE world was to be blessed with Salvation through the Christ, just as God promised Abraham!

To come full circle, the point I was making in the sermon was that if God can work through divination and astrology to lead the Magi to Christ, surely God can work through fictitious novels such as Harry Potter. These things only have as much power as we put in them. God, ultimately, is the only true source of power and we should trust that God is working through us in the world. That is why I choose to participate in community events, even if I don’t agree with everything going on at them. God is the one in control, not me. What’s more, we’ll witness far more to God’s LOVE by being present in community, rather than protesting in opposition to it.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Jesus met people where they were, he did not make people conform to him before engaging with them. We ought to learn to do the same.

PRAYER
Lord, help me to operate from faith instead of fear. Amen.

God’s People, part 143: Shepherds

Read Luke 2:8-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep.”  (John 10:11, 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.

ShepherdsPart 143: Shepherds. We all know the nativity scene, right? Set on a starry night, fairly dark with the exception of the bright star shining down on a basic looking stable. In the stable, there’s Joseph along with Mary hovering over a manger (or feeding trough) with baby Jesus serenely lying in it.

Also in the manger are some sheep, a cow and a donkey. Just at the door of the stable are three kingly looking figures kneeling and giving gifts, while their camels await them outside. Above the door floats an angel pronouncing Christ’s birth. Finally, and no nativity scene would be complete without this, there are shepherds with their flocks, staring in a the babe with awe and wonder.

Seriously, we love the shepherds don’t we. We love that scene where they are outdoors tending to their sheep (a major sign that Christ’s birth was not during the week of the Winter Solstice) and the choir of angels appears to let them know that the son of David, the Messiah, was born that day in Bethlehem! We can imagine the glory of it all; however, the glory is where we end up getting lost in this story.

Shepherds were not a favored group of people in society. They were often viewed as outsiders because they lived apart from societies and were mostly nomadic. Almost always, shepherds were hired hands, tending to the sheep of others. What’s more, it was single men without children who became shepherds.

In some families, the shepherd was a part of the family. In those cases, the shepherd was usually either a youth or an elder who was not able to do harder work. The best Biblical example of this is in the story of David, who was out tending to the family’s sheep when Samuel came to anoint one of Jesse’s children as king. David was almost passed over because he was the youngest and out in the fields when Samuel arrived.

The point is, the Shepherd was pretty low on the totem pole in ancient Israel. As outsiders, they were viewed with suspicion and often with disdain. They often appeared like beggars, wearing dirty clothes and smelling to high-heaven of the pasture, if you know what I mean. They were not the folks one would invite to a kingly birth. Yet, the angels announced to the shepherds: “Behold! Born to you this day in the City of David is the Messiah. You will find him laying…how?…wrapped in rags! You will find him…where?…lying in a feeding trough.

This king was the SHEPHERDS’ KING. And like the Shepherd, this king would be despised and distrusted. The challenge for us is to shift our understanding of God’s glory. It is not about kingly riches, a bright light show, and exquisite music. It is not Christmas as we know it; rather, God’s glory comes looking poor, beggar-ish, dirty, and smelling to high-heaven of the pasture. Let us shut down our over-the-top expectations and turn on our awareness of the REAL glory of God: Jesus Christ, who is LORD of all!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“He who has not Christmas in his heart will never find it under a tree.” – Roy L. Smith

PRAYER
Lord, heal my blindness so that I may see from your perspective and not my own, for your glory and not mine! Amen!

God’s People, part 142: Baby Jesus

Read Luke 2:1-7

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“[The wise men] entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”  (Matthew 2:11, 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.

Iesus Christi, Filii DeiPart 142: Baby Jesus. So, here we have it. We’ve arrived at the birth of the Christ-child, and the delivery of Baby Jesus into the world. For those of you who have been religiously (pun intended) reading all 141 devotions that have led up to this point, you probably have been wondering what would be said about baby Jesus. Perhaps it is a surprise to you that I am talking about Baby Jesus as opposed to just Jesus himself.

If the latter is the case, put that question on hold for just a moment and bear with me. Yes, Jesus will be addressed more detail; however, it is important the 8-pound (give or take) baby Jesus gets his due so that it is possible to move beyond him. That may sound calloused, but I assure you it is not meant that way. I have nothing against the actual baby Jesus; however, sweet baby Jesus often becomes a distraction as to who Christ actually is and what Christ actually calls us to do. This is especially true within the church in America.

So, let’s talk about baby Jesus. It is important to note that the earliest Christians did not observe Christ’s birthday. To them, that was irrelevant because the Good News was not that a baby was born, but that God’s Word became flesh and made his dwelling place among us. The Good News had nothing to do with an innocent baby, but everything to do with Jesus Christ who “though he was God…did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being” (Philippians 2:6-7a, NLT).

The earliest Christians did not view Jesus’ birth as special, but rather his life. More importantly, they viewed his death and resurrection to be the event worthy of observance. Thus, Lent, Holy Week, and Easter were always observed in the church from the Lord’s Supper onward through history; however, Christmas did not become an established feast day until Constantine and his successors in the 4th century.

In fact, only two of the four canonical Gospels even included a birth narrative. What’s more, while both narratives are in agreement as to Jesus divine conception and identity in God, they do not agree on many of the minute details surrounding the Birth. Matthew seemingly has Mary and Joseph living in a home in Bethlehem with no mention of any sort of census or journey from Nazareth. Luke, on the other hand, has Mary and Joseph living in Nazareth, and he has them traveling to Bethlehem for the census.

Matthew has the Holy Family living in a home when Jesus was born, Luke has the family in a manger because there were no guest rooms available to them. Matthew has Jesus visited by wise men and chased after by a megalomaniacal king, whereas Luke has Jesus visited by poor shepherds. You get the idea. The two accounts differ in such ways and, again, there are only two accounts out of the four that even bother to mention Jesus’ birth at all.

This is not to knock Christmas, as I happen to love that holiday and I look forward to celebrating it every year.  With that said, we need to come to a place of recognition that if the baby Jesus is the only Jesus we really pay attention to, we’re in error to say the least. Let us be challenged to seek out the risen King Jesus who is our sovereign ruler.

For it is that Jesus, not the cute baby we would rather not have grow up on us, that calls us to follow him. It is the risen Jesus who commands the direction of the Christian’s life and who we ought to worship. Anyone else and anything less is an idol. This Christmas and all Christmases, reflect upon the risen Christ who is Lord, and turn your hearts over to him who died for you so that you might live.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“There would be no Christmas if there was no Easter.” – George B. Hinckley

PRAYER
Lord, help me to move past your birth so that I might be consumed by your resurrection. Amen.