Tag Archives: Chrsitianity

God’s People, part 264: Philosophers

Read Acts 17:16-34

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Though the LORD is great, he cares for the humble, but he keeps his distance from the proud.”  (Psalms 138:6, 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.

The view of the Acropolis from the Areopagus

Part 264: Philosophers. As a person who has his BA degree in Philosophy, this has always been one of my more favorite encounters in the New Testament. Paul visiting Athens, the western philosophy center of the ancient world, is an epic example of how brilliant Paul was as an evangelist. It shows that Paul had enough cultural intelligence and competency to know how to engage people in a way that drew their attention.

Sadly, when we think of evangelism today we think of tracts being handed at random to people, we think of signs saying, “turn or burn”, and we think of religious fanatics going door to door to tell people about their Lord and Savior Jeeezusah!, without whom they’ll go to hell. Yet, when we look at Paul’s approach, particularly here in Acts 17:16-34, we see that Paul did quite the opposite.

Instead, Paul enters into Athens and the Areopagus with a measure of humility and appreciation of the culture and religion of others. That is not to say that Paul subscribes to their religious beliefs or practices, but he respects them and treats the human beings at the Temple in Athens and the Areopagus as humans created in the image of God. This is absolutely a must, and it is the approach that we see Paul employ throughout his ministry. He didn’t try to change the culture or the cultural traditions; rather, he inserted Christ into them. He invited people to believe in Christ and accept Christ, who accepted them regardless of where they were from or what their culture was or was not.

One great example of this was when he went before the council at the Areopagus and addressed the the leaders and Philosophers as follows:

“Men of Athens, I notice that you are very religious in every way, for as I was walking along I saw your many shrines. And one of your altars had this inscription on it: ‘To an Unknown God.’ This God, whom you worship without knowing, is the one I’m telling you about” (Acts 17:22-23, NLT).

In that discourse with the “men of Athens”, Paul did not denigrate them, nor did he attack them; rather, he saw the value in their religiosity and used that at as the basis from which he shared the Gospel with them. In other words, he took the time to understand them before he embarked on a campaign to share who he was with them. He saw that they humble enough of a people to recognize that they don’t know the fullness of God. As such, he commended them on their setting up an altar to the “Unknown God”, and then proceeded to tell them about the God they did not know.

Of course, Athens being full of philosophers, Paul’s speech led to a ton of philosophical, metaphysical, and theological questions. Paul, of course, entertained those; however they did come a point when he realized that many of those philosophers were merely looking to engage philosophically and were not interested in believing Paul’s teaching on who Jesus Christ was. Again, Paul understood his audience and, instead of further arguing with them in order to force them to see things as he did, he simply walked away and did not return to entertain further useless philosophical debate.

Regardless, there were some who came to believe who Christ was as a result of Paul’s witness, including a woman named Damaris. Praise God! How awesome that Paul was able to understand and respect the culture of other people in a way that invited them to hear about Jesus in non-threatening ways. That, of course, led them to accept him. Again, praise God.

This should challenge us to really consider how we witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ. Do we spread “God’s love” through the bully pulpit, through Bible thumping and through a “holier than thou” approach? Or do we get to know the people we are witnessing to and, instead of trying to change their culture or who they are, bring Christ to them in a way that works for them organically and naturally. Obviously, there are certain theological and doctrinal tenets we need to hold on to; however, the best witness to Christ is to accept people as they are unconditionally and guide them to who Christ truly is. I pray we all take on Paul’s model of evangelism.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“He who is not a good servant will not be a good master.” – Plato

PRAYER
Lord, help me to have the humility to see your image in all people regardless of their beliefs or culture. Amen.

God’s People, part 242: Eunuch

Read Acts 8:26-40

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’”  (Matthew 7:22-23, 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.

Moroe-ArmletPart 242: Eunuch. There is certainly a lot to unpack in the account of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch. Before we can understand the account itself, we ought to understand the components of it. First, we all know of the Gaza strip, which is a contested strip of land that the Israelis fight over with the Palestinians who live there and govern it. It is a small strip of coastal and that strategically borders Egypt.

As far as Biblical history is concerned, the Philistines were located in Gaza originally. Of course, the Philistines and the Israelites did not have a good relationship with one another and it is this group of people which Samson, Saul and King David, among others, notoriously fought against. In 332 B.C., Alexander the Great conquered the area during his Egyptian campaign, and then it became a part of the Ptolemaic and Seleucid Dynasties after that. By the time of Philip the Apostle, the Gaza strip was a part of the Judaean Province of the Roman Empire.

The Eunuch that Philip runs into on the road to Gaza, was a high court official who was the head of the Queen of Ethiopia entire treasury. In the account, the Queen is seemingly named Kandake, or Candice; however, Kandake/Candice was not a name as much as a title. It is in dispute whether or not she was the the sole queen and ruler or if she co-ruled with a King; however, most scholars point to Amantitere as the name of this particular Kandake. Not much is really known about her other than that she was quite affluent. It has been speculated that she may have been Jewish; however, this is little more than speculation due to the fact that her Eunuch was reading Isaiah. It is possible, as there were Jewish settlements in the area; however, that proves little.

As for the Eunuch, he was clearly at the very least a “God-fearer”, or someone who was non-Jewish, but who believed in the Jewish God and came to worship in Jerusalem at the Temple. It is even possible that he, himself, was Jewish. As with all Eunuchs, he was castrated, meaning that he had at least his testicles, if not his penis as well, surgically removed. This form of emasculation was done on slaves who were assigned to the courts of royalty. These Eunuchs served in a variety of different positions, most notably but not limited to, guardians of royal harems.

Our particular Eunuch directly served the queen herself as her treasurer. He was a highly valued person in the queen’s court and was clearly permitted to travel to Jerusalem in order to worship in the Temple. No, doubt, he was probably also there on diplomatic business as well. When Philip ran into him, he was reading Isaiah 53:7-8, which is the prophecy of the Suffering Servant. When he asked Philip to explain to him what he was reading, Philip used that opportunity to talk about how Isaiah was prophesying about the coming of the messiah, who would be a suffering servant through whom God would bring about Salvation for the whole world.

The beauty of this is that we clearly see that the early Jewish Christians saw Isaiah 53 as clear prophecy of who Jesus was. Beyond that, we see how powerfully transformative that passage is in light of Jesus Christ. It is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, prophecied about hundreds of years prior to the event of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The Eunuch believed and got baptized, becoming an early convert to the Christian faith.

Following that Philip was “snatched away” by the Spirit of the Lord. Our fancies can get the best of us hear and we can imagine that Philip vanishing in thin air and appearing elsewhere; however, it would be a mistake to read it that way. Rather, this is poetic license to say that following the Eunuch’s conversion, Philip did not stick around; rather, he followed the guidance of the Holy Spirit and found himself being led to a town farther North. The term “snatched” is from the Greek word ἁρπάζω (pronouced harpazō), which means “carried away”, “snatched”, “take away by force”. In other words, Philp felt compelled by the Spirit to go elsewhere and abruptly left the presence of the Eunuch.

We should be challenged by this. In this passage, we see how the Holy Spirit works. We get called to one thing and, then, the Holy Spirit compels us to go elsewhere. We, as God’s people, get too attached to the seasons we find ourselves in and we are being reminded that, at any moment, God could snatch us away and send us to serve Him elsewhere. Are you okay with that? Are you, like Philip, willing to follow the lead of the Holy Spirit? Are you willing to go where you are being sent? Or do you prize your comfort more than your faith in God?  I challenge you to reflect on your relationship with Christ and his Lordship over your life.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
If we are going to truly call Jesus Christ our Lord, we must be willing to submit our lives to his Lordship.

PRAYER
Lord Jesus, I submit myself to you. Help me to grow stronger in my submission to your way. Amen.

God’s People, part 72: Elisha

Read 2 Kings 2:15-25

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“When the group of prophets from Jericho saw from a distance what happened, they exclaimed, “Elijah’s spirit rests upon Elisha!” And they went to meet him and bowed to the ground before him.” (2 Kings 2:15 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.

elishabearsPart 72: Elisha. On Mount Horeb, while hiding away from Ahab and Jezebel for fear of his life, Elijah was instructed to appoing a successor to him. The man he was to appoint was named Elisha, son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah, who was evidently a farmer. When Elijah found him, he was plowing in a field.

For years following that calling, Elisha assisted Elijah in his work and learned from him. He was Elijah’s apprentice, as it were, and Elisha witnessed many of the great deeds of his mentor, and encountered many of the confrontations between Elijah and the wicked king and queen of Israel, Ahab and Jezebel.

When Elijah, according to Scripture, was taken up into heaven in a firey chariot, Elisha took over in Elijah’s place. Just prior to Elijah’s ascension into heaven, Elisha prayed to God to be given an double portion of Elijah’s spirit. While there is scholarly debate as to what Elijah meant by that prayer, for me it seems that Elisha was praying for even greater prophetic power than that of Elijah.

Indeed, Elisha was given great power and does many wonderful deeds. Elisha was considered to be a patriot because he lent his services to soldiers and kings. First and foremost, he was known as a wonder worker. He cleansed the infected waters of Jericho, and he multiplied oil for a widow who was being harrassed by a harsh creditor. Through petitions to God he was able to provide the birth of a son to a rich woman who had shown hospitality. He also later resurrected her son back to life after he had died.

Through God, Elisha cured the Syrian military commandar, Naaman, of his leprosy. He did these and performed many other mirculous signs. He was truly one of God’s people who, for the most part, remained faithful to God. Still, not everything that Elisha did seems to hold up to the God of love, mercy and grace.

For instance, in today’s scripture we come across the story of Elisha being mocked by a large group of children. Actually, the Hebrew word (נַעַר, pronounced na’ar) could mean children or it could mean people (young adult aged) who have no religion. Young adults who were, in essence, irreverent people. What were they mocking him over? Namely, they were making fun of the fact that he was bald. Yes, I feel his pain for sure; however, Elisha’s response to that seems hardly warranted. Indignant over their behavior, Elisha cursed them, which resulted in bears coming out of the forest and devouring each and everyone of them. Overkill much?

In that moment, Elisha let his pride and his anger take over and it caused him to do something that had horrific consequences. How many of us find ourselves cursing others out of anger? Perhaps when we are driving down the road, or when someone hurts our feelings, or when someone sins against us? How many of us curse people in those moments? When we do so, can we truly say we are behaving in a way that pleases God? Of course not! Let us learn from Elisha’s sin, repent of our own and, by the grace of God in Jesus Christ, learn to bless people (even if undeserving) rather than curse them.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“I say, if you are even angry with someone [without cause], you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.” – Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ (Matthew 5: 22 NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, allow me to find temperance when I am angry and give me the peace I need to respond to people who hurt me with blessings and not curses. Amen.

Playground Christianity

Read 1 Corinthians 13

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. (1 John 4:8 NLT)

St.-Johns-Wood-Adventure-Playground-London-Hurtwood-1968I am one who believes that God can and does reveal truth in all things. Something need not be “Christian” for God to use it for the revelation of truth. Over the years, I have been finding truth in the unlikeliest of places. I have found God’s truth at a Krishna temple in India, I have found it in films, in novels, in Walt Disney World (I mean, who wouldn’t), and I have found it in other faiths, old and young alike.

One such place that I have found some truth is in a book by James Redfield, The Celestine Prophecy. James Redfield was brought up in a Methodist Church that he described as being “loving and community-oriented”; however, he now is an influential person in the New Age movement. He was no doubt influenced by his Christian upbringing, but he also studied Eastern philosophies such as Taoism and Zen while a student at Auburn University.

Though he spent more than 15 years as a therapist for abused children, he left that and, since he published the worldwide bestseller, The Celestine Prophecy, he has become an bestselling New Age author, lecturer, screenwriter, and film producer. The book itself follows the protagonist, never actually named in the book, on a truth-seeking, soul searching adventure in Peru following the loss of a job and other personal crises that arise in his/her life.

In the film version of the book, there is a quote between the protagonist and someone else. While I don’t remember the quote exactly, word for word, I remember the gist of it, “When people have the true God-experience, the debate over whose religion is right or wrong fades away.” That quote truly struck me as provocative and something worthwhile writing about.

First, let me be clear that I DO NOT endorse the theology behind The Celestine Prophecy. As a New Age theology, it is quite simplistic with many glaring holes, inaccuracies of other religious beliefs and is, in many regards, without much substance in terms of a cohesive theology. Its mish-mashing of different theological ideas from different religions is intriguing, but often falls short and does a disservice to all the religions involved. But that does not mean that truth cannot be found within it.

Now, on to my point. One thing I have noticed in Christianity, is that some Christian circles are filled with some of the most insecure people ever. For instance, if one was secure in their faith in Christ and in God, why would they feel the need to demonize others who disagree with them or other religions that are not in line with theirs? If one were not operating out of fear and insecurity, there would be no need to participate in the whole, “My God is bigger than your god” debate.

Yes, there are times that one must defend their faith and their religious beliefs, especially when others are mischaracterizing them. Yes, one should stand up for their faith when others are pressuring him or her to deny it. Yes, one should represent their faith well and should teach people what they believe to be correct and theologically sound. However, one need not go on a crusade against other ideologies, other religions, or other people who differ from him or her.

Christians who aggressively attack other belief systems than their own, who pass out tracts warning people of a religious group that they’re going to be damned to hell, or go on long diatribes online as to why they think someone else has it so wrong, are practicing what I like to call, “Playground Christianity.” They’re acting like elementary-aged bullies on the playground fighting over whose daddy is bigger and can be the other’s dad up. It’s silly and it completely misses the heart of Christ’s message: LOVE.

The “true God experience”, as I see it and certainly as Redfield sees it as evidenced in his book, is the experience of God’s wild, untamable, unconditional LOVE. When one is enveloped and filled by that LOVE, one cannot help being transformed by it either. LOVE begets more love. God’s love transforms us to be creatures of love, to be agents of love, to be bearers of love. When one has the true God experience, when one truly knows and enters a relationship with God, the debate over who’s right or wrong, who’s holier and who’s not, and any other nonsensical comparison fades away. All that remains is LOVE. This doesn’t mean that LOVE doesn’t hold others accountable to truth and justice; however, there is no room for pettiness or divisiveness in LOVE.  I would like to invite you to search God out, to have that true God experience in the context of a community of believers, and let go of anything that counters God’s LOVE.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are My disciples.” – Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ (John 13:34-35 NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, fill me with your love and transform me into an agent of love. Amen.

The Beatitudes, part 1: Intro

Read Matthew 5:1-12; Luke 6:20-23

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the one who is firstborn from among the dead so that he might occupy the first place in everything.” (Colossians 1:18 CEB)

417679427823_417679427823_SermonMountWe’ve all heard them, even those who are not “religious” or have never opened a Bible are familiar with them,  and most people hold them up as the pinnacle of Jesus’ teachings. But the question remains, how many people truly understand what Jesus is teaching in the Beatitudes? In order to shed light on them, I have decided to write a series on the beatitudes, which will precede an even larger series on Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” as a whole.

When we think of Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount,” we often think first of “the Beatitudes”, which are a collection of blessings proclaimed on specific groupings of people. While they sound like pleasant and idealistic platitudes given by a lofty and well-intentioned teacher, we often pass them off as being “the mark of perfection” and/or wholly unattainable. In other words, we either dismiss ourselves from centering our lives on them because we are not “the Christ” and, therefore, will fall short of them, and/or we think of them to be unrealistic and/or unattainable in this broken and fallen world.

Yet, both of the above fall into a general misunderstandings of what Jesus is doing in them. The word beatitude comes from the Latin Vulgate translation of Matthew 5:1-11, where Jesus proclaims “Beati”, which means “happy,” and is from the root Latin word of “beātitūdō,” meaning happiness. Yet, the Latin does not quite capture what Jesus is doing in this set of proclamations. In Greek, the language in which the Gospel According to Matthew was written, the word Jesus uses is, “makarios” (μακάριος) meaning, supremely or divinely “blessed” and, by extension, privileged, fortunate and/or well-off. This better fits what Jesus is doing as he is proclaiming an objective reality that is a result of an act of God (being blessed), and not about a subjective feeling (being happy).

Drawing on a tradition that is found both in ancient Jewish and ancient pagan writings, Jesus uses these beatitudes to teach people the heart of God as well as the center of God’s coming Kingdom. The beatitudes are not objective truths that are a reality in this present world order; rather, they seem to go against what we humans commonly value and they seem to go against our common human experience.

Surely, the poor are not blessed. Surely the meek do not inherit the earth. Surely, the hungry are not blessed, nor are those who being persecuted for any reason. How can Jesus claim these things, which are so clearly and evidently NOT true, and still maintain credibility? How can we follow a Jesus who seems so clearly aloof and disconnected with reality?

What’s important to note here is that the beatitudes are not true in and of themselves, nor is Jesus proclaiming them to be. To read them that way is to, ultimately, miss what Jesus is doing here. He is not declaring these things to be present realities within the world order; rather, Jesus is declaring them to be realities in the divine order. In other words, by virtue of Jesus’ authority as the as the Son of God and Lord of the Church, these nine “blessings” are true and to be held as such by all who submit to Jesus’ authority.

As we prepare to study the Beatitudes, prepare yourself by reading them carefully, more than once, and by opening yourself to what Jesus is proclaiming. Ask yourself, why is Jesus proclaiming these groupings of people to be divinely blessed? Why are they the ones who are privileged, fortunate, and well-off and what does Jesus’ proclamation say about our current world order and those who, by the world’s measure, are privileged, fortunate and/or well-off? Finally, ask yourself this: do you accept the authority of Jesus as Lord and, by extension, do you embrace Jesus’ proclamation on the basis of his authority? I pray that, as we move forward, the wisdom of the Beatitudes will ever transform you.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The Beatitudes are no spiritual ‘to do list’ to be attempted by eager, rule-keeping disciples. It is a spiritual ‘done’ list of the qualities God brings to bear in the people who follow Jesus.” – Ronnie McBrayer

PRAYER
Lord, prepare my heart and open it up to your wisdom and the authority of your Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. Amen.