Tag Archives: Church

God’s People, part 82: The Bronze Snake

Read Numbers 21:4-9

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“He removed the pagan shrines, smashed the sacred pillars, and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke up the bronze serpent that Moses had made, because the people of Israel had been offering sacrifices to it. The bronze serpent was called Nehushtan.” (2 Kings‬ ‭18:4‬ ‭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.

img_1005Part 82: The Bronze Snake. For today’s devotion, I want us to travel back in time for a moment. Before we do, I would like to remind you that that King Hezekiah was a godly king who lived in the ways of the Lord and brought the people of Judah back into a right relationship with God. One of the things that he did was destroyed all of the foreign shrines and idols and enforced that all worship be done in the Temple of the LORD in Jerusalem.

One of the idols that he destroyed was named Nehushtan. That, according to 2 Kings, was the bronze serpent mounted staff that Moses made hundreds of years earlier. It is written that Hezekiah destroyed this relic “because the people of Israel had been offering sacrifices to it.”

Now let us time travel back to the time of Moses. If you recall, Moses had led the people out of Egypt and they had been wandering around the wilderness for 40 years. The reason it took them so long to cross what was relatively a short distance was because they were constantly griping, complaining, and disobeying God. The greatest of those instances came when they abandoned God and demanded that Aaron build a golden calf for them to worship.

According to Numbers 21:4-9, the people were in such crazed fit, angry at God and at Moses for leading them out of Egypt. Now imagine this, they had been miraculously liberated from slavery in Egypt; yet, there they were complaining that God and Moses had led them to where they were. Were they hungry? No. Were they thirsty? No. They had been provided for by God from the beginning.

So, you might ask, why were they angry? Well, they were pulling what kids often pull on their parents. “Dad, we have nothing to eat, nothing to drink in this house.” Of course, if you open up the refrigerator you will see plenty of food and drink; however, what is really being said is, “we don’t have what we would like to eat, we are tired of eating this stuff.” That is exactly what the Hebrews were doing. They were griping against eating the manna that God was sending them, calling it “nothing.” How ungrateful.

So, angry, God sent out poisonous snakes to bite them. Okay, this seems like an outlandish response, but suspend disbelief and bear with it for a moment more. Moses, naturally horrified, prayed to God and repented for the people. He stated, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take away the snakes” (Numbers‬ ‭21:7‬ ‭NLT‬‬). So, God instructed Moses to create a bronze snake and put it on staff. God then instructed the people to look at the snake. Once the people did, they were instantly healed from the snake bites. God’s point was made.‬‬

Unfortunately, what was once holy and healing became perverted into an idol that people worshiped. What was once a reminder of God’s sovereignty and God’s holy presence, became a god unto itself. People forgot that the healing source of the bronze snake was God, and instead worshiped the snake as if it had the power to heal. So, for this reason, Hezekiah destroyed the idol and redirected people to the Temple, where the one, the true, the imageless God was to be worshiped!

What has God done to bring healing and wholeness into your life? How have you taken such things and made idols of them? How have you forgotten what God has done for you? How have you forgotten the sovereignty of God? How have you forgotten our gracious, holy God and how have you turned your eyes away toward other, less-than-holy things? Today is the day for honesty. What has become your bronze snake? What has become your idol. Today’s challenge is to assess what those things are and to eradicate them, as Hezekiah eradicated the bronze snake, from your life.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Man’s mind is like a store of idolatry and superstition; so much so that if a man believes his own mind it is certain that he will forsake God and forge some idol in his own brain.” — John Calvin

PRAYER

Lord, purge me of my idols and set my heart and eyes back toward you. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: Ekklesia

devotions-Bible-Coffee
Photo by Kim Stiver from Pexels

Writing 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 66: Total War

Read 2 Chronicles 13:1

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.” (Matthew 5:9 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.

totalwarPart 66: Total War. One of my favorite games ever was a game called Medieval: Total War, which was a turn-based, strategy and real-time tactics computer game developed by Creative Assembly and distributed by Activision. Released in North America on August 19, 2002, I was fully immersed in that game for years until it no longer ran on the newer Windows platforms. I loved it because I love the Medieval period and the game, for me, was like time traveling back to that period with all its historical glory.

The premise of the game is this: following picking which “faction” one is going to be (e.g. Bittania, Spain, France, Holy Roman Empire, etc.), one works to build up one’s fortresses, troops, and kingdom/empire. One can set taxes and things like that; however, it is also important to keep one’s people happy, otherwise, revolts can and will outbreak. As one plays the game, time passes and historical events (e.g. the plague epidemic, the emergence of the Golden Horde, etc.) take place at in the correct chronological and historical order.

What this all amounts to is, as the title suggests, total war! One must grow their armies, protect their kingdoms and expand their empires through warring with other kingdoms and empires around them. When portions of one’s empire revolt and split off, vendettas occur and one builds up enough troops to go in and conquer the land back! This sort of thing is exactly what happened to Judah when Israel split off from them. Judah kept trying to reclaim Israel through total and constant war.

Thus, we begin to get the picture of how the sin of David with Bathsheba really spun out of control generations later. Had David not seduced and raped Bathsheba, had he not murdered Uriah the Hittite, had he not had Solomon as a son, he would not have been able to put Solomon as his heir. That is important because it was the act of putting Solomon as his heir that caused division in David’s family, that caused Solomon to kill off all of his political opponents, and caused enemies of Solomon to rally and have their day of independence following the death of the king. David’s one selfish act of sexual assault caused his entire Kingdom to divide and fall into a perpetual state of total war.

Perhaps it is too simple to state that it was just one of David’s sins; however, the fact of the matter is that David’s success became David’s failure and, had he followed the LORD instead of his own impulses, things might have been different. Even if others following him became corrupt, it would not have been a result of his own actions. Instead of being united in peace under God, the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah became separate, warring, enemies looking to shed each other’s blood any chance they could to dominate, subdue and lord their power over the other.

We can see this in our own nations and kingdoms today. Different time, same old story. The question for us becomes this: are we going to be a people who follow our leaders into a divide and conquer mentality, or are we going to follow the Lord, our Savior Jesus Christ, in being peacemakers in hostile territories? On our own, we will inevitably pick the former option for that is the result of our sinful, human nature; however, if we open our hearts to Jesus and allow the Holy Spirit to work within us, then all things (including peacemaking) are possible. Let us choose Christ, who is the Prince of Peace, the Lord of lords, and the King of kings.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows. – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

PRAYER
Lord, help me to be a peacemaker among warmongers, so that I may shine the truth of your light into the darkness. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: I WILL BE

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 29: Israel

Read Judges 2:1-15

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“My people bend their tongues like bows to shoot out lies. They refuse to stand up for the truth. They only go from bad to worse. They do not know Me,” says the LORD.” (Jeremiah 9:3)

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.

masadaPart 29: Israel. You may be scratching your head and thinking, “Wait a minute, Israel is the other name of Jacob. Didn’t we already talk about Israel?” If so, my answer to you is yes, we did. With that said, we still have yet to talk about people of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob or, rather, the people of Israel. While Israel, the person was a character, it should be clear to anyone who is familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures, that Israel (the collective people) is a character as well. In fact, Israel in the latter sense is featured far more than any other character in the entire Bible.

Israel was chosen by God to be set a part for God’s redemptive plan in the world. Right from the beginning of God’s covenant with Abraham, Israel’s purpose was to be a blessing to all the nation so of the earth (Genesis 22:18). Yet, the struggle to live up to their divine purpose was real. Just like their forefather Jacob was renamed Israel because he had spent his whole life wresting with God and with people, the Israelites were constantyl wrestling with God and with people. The struggle for Israel, just as it was for Jacob, was real.

In Judges 2, we see Israel at its outset. One would think that beginnings ought to be inspiring and lead people into the golden years, the opposite seems to be the case for Israel. Right from the get go, Israel choose to do their own thing, rather than doing what God instructed them to do. Case in point: God instructed Israel to take over the Promised Land and drive the inhabitants out. While Israel conquered the land, they failed to follow the “driving out” part of God’s instructions. Instead, they enslaved those they didn’t kill (Judges 1:28).

Slavery, of course, profitted Israel greatly as slaves work their tails off for free; however, God did not free the Hebrew slaves so that they could go and enslave others. What’s more, those slaves didn’t remain slaves forever and the land ended up filled with TONS of people who did not believe in God and who were most definitely enemies of Israel. The end result: Israel found itself in a constant state of sin and falling away from God as a result of competing ideologies, and Israel also Israel also found itself under constant threat of attack both from within and without their Kingdom.

Unfortunately, the end result also led Israelites later on to seek to purify their kingdom. They sought to isolate themselves from any multicultural experiences, and to isolate themselves from marrying anyone outside of their own religious identity. The more trouble Israel found itself in with competing kingdoms, the more Israel felt the need to be LESS engaged with the rest of the world. While the history is a long and complicated “back and forth” between the two extremes of embracing and shunning diversity, the ultimate reality is that Israel was failing to live up to its divine purpose of being a BLESSING to the nations.

Much later in this series, we’ll see how God still ultimately finds a way to make Israel the blessing it was intended to be; however, there is a challenge for us here today. Do you realize that God created you to be a blessing to the nations as well? Do you realize that God created you to reflect the love, the mercy, the grace, the hospitality and the inclusivity of God? Do you realize that God created you to be a blessing today and always?

Instead of looking for God’s blessing on us, which was given to us the minute life was breathed into our nostrils, we should be looking to fulfill that divine purpose God gave each of us. We have been equipped with gifts to bless others uniquely. All we need to do is to let God reveal those gifts to us and then use them as God intended us to do. While we all play the part of Israel in “wrestling with God and other people”, and that is quite natural, God does not want us getting so preoccupied with wrestling that we fail to do anything else. Stop wrestling and begin to bless others as God created you to, then you will know just how blessed you truly are.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“After the first blush of sin comes its indifference.” – Henry David Thoreau

PRAYER
Lord, you have created me to be a blessing. Turn me away from sin so that I may fulfill that divine purpose you have given me. Amen.

God’s People, part 13: Laban

Read Genesis 28:1-5

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE “I could destroy you, but the God of your father appeared to me last night and warned me, ‘Leave Jacob alone!’” (Genesis 31:29 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.

Desert-arab-man-copyPart 13: Laban. If I were a betting man, of which I am not, my bet would be that most people are not aware of the character of Laban. My second bet would be that, of those who are aware of Laban’s existence in the Bible, they only are aware of Laban as being the father of Jacob’s favorite wife, Rachel. Again, his is a story where we gloss over details to see the end result and, in doing so, we miss some pretty egregious things.

So, as was just mentioned, Laban was the father of Rachel; however, to get the big picture here we need to do a little genealogy. Laban is son of Bethuel and the brother of Rebekah. Before we go up the family tree, I would like us to head down to the tree’s base, and see who is at its roots. While the genealogy can be tedious to read, it really does play a major part in the narratives being told about God’s people. Bethuel, as it turns out, is a descendent of Shem who was one of Noah’s sons.That means, as Bethuel’s son, Laban was a descendent of Noah through his son Shem.

But now let us look at Rebekah who, as we saw earlier in this series, was the wife of Isaac and the mother of Jacob. Mentioned above, it has been pointed out that Rebekah was Laban’s sister, and Laban was Rachel’s father. If you do the math, you will discover the fact that Jacob comes to his uncle Laban for protection. While there, he falls in love with Laban’s daughter, Rachel, who is HIS COUSIN.

Marriages to cousins are not all that uncommon in human history; however, what is odd about this story is the family dynamics. Laban, as it turns out, is slimy guy who is heading up one very dysfunctional family. Of course, Jacob’s family is no less dysfunctional, but the sliminess of Laban is unparalleled. Jacob turns to Laban for help, but ends up being scammed by his scheming uncle.

Laban’s greeting of Jacob should have been the ultimate red flag. After Jacob told Laban that he had stole his brother Esau’s birthright and was fleeing for his life, Laban embraced him and said, “You really are my flesh and blood.” Long story short, Jacob struck a deal with his uncle to work for him for seven years in order to marry his daughter Rachel. Following the agreement, Laban deceptively married Jacob to his other daughter Leah, and then allowed for him to marry Rachel only if he agreed to work for an additional seven years. Raw deal, right?

Well, the drama went on from there. Laban continued to scheme and con Jacob into serving him in various ways. Over time, Jacob grew weary of his uncle and, conversely, Laban’s attitude began to grow cold toward him. Eventually, Jacob fled from Laban, who in turn chased after him in hot pursuit. He accused Jacob of “stealing his daughters” away from him! He even revealed his desire to “destroy” Jacob, but also revealed that God had come to him in a dream warning him not to lay a finger on his nephew.

Time and time again, these stories shock us when we dig deep and really pay attention at what is going on beneath the surface. Through the character of Laban, we see that God’s People (remember Laban was instrumental in the marriage of his sister Rebekah to Jacob’s father Isaac) are not always aligned with God and that they are not always the best people in the world. It is not their character and integrity that make them God’s people; rather, it is God’s grace that does.

It was God’s grace that gave Jacob the courage to get free from Laban’s control, and it was God’s grace that warned Laban not to harm his nephew. While this story has a somewhat happy ending, not all stories do. This is true for the stories in the Bible, and it is true in our lives as well. Not everyone listen’s to God’s warnings, not everyone follows God’s guidance, and not everyone accepts God’s grace. What makes a person one of God’s people is not whether or not they are perfect. No one is. We are all sinners. But what makes us God’s people or not, is whether or not we accept God’s grace, follow God’s guidance, and change from who we are to who God created us to be. Where do you stand?

THOUGHT OF THE DAY “It is discouraging how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit.” – Noël Coward

PRAYER Lord, for the times I have not followed your guidance, forgive me, I pray. Amen.

Identity

Read Colossians 3:1-17

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“See how very much our Father loves us, for He calls us His children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know Him.” (1 John 3:1 NLT)

identityIn today’s time, we have come to understand the importance of identity. We know that during our toddler years, we are modeling our identity off of our parents and immediate family. As school-aged children we are becoming socialized and beginning to identify ourselves by the people we socialize with and the subjects we we connect with. As teenagers we are trying desperately to find our own identity apart from our parents and family (which is what makes these years so challenging for parents and teens alike). As adults, we spend our working years establishing and maintaining our identity in what we do, in the families we create, the stuff we own, and the stuff that owns us (you know, those bills, bills, bills). Finally, in our later years we re-identify ourselves in our family legacies (as our kids have kids who then have kids, etc.).

Yet the above is really a gross, oversimplification of identity. There are other things that form our identity. First, we are human beings and identitfy as such. Beyond that we find our identity in a whole host of other things such as our sex, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, culture, the groups of people we associate with, and a whole host of other things. We easily find the validity of our own identity and who/what we identify with; however, we tend to look at conflicting identity’s as a threat to who we are and what we think, feel, hold dear, and believe.

What’s more, our identities are not just subjective (meaning that they only exist in our heads), but they are also objective and tied into our bank accounts, our stocks, our careers, and our debts. In fact, our objective identities (name, height, weight, eye color, hair color, birthmarks, tattoos, etc.) are placed onto identification cards and attached to numbers for our own social security, among other things. This reality causes much fear for many people, because there is always the chance that someone else could steal our objective identities and do anything with them.

We are so attached to our subjective and objective identities that we very often forget our TRUE identity, which transcends both the subjective and the objective realities that we get so mired in. That IDENTITY is in God our Creator. We were all created in the image of the Creator, meaning that we were created to be autonomous beings, free to choose to be in a loving relationship with our Creator and free to choose to live into God’s very image: LOVE.

Yet, humanity had its identity stolen by SIN and, unfortunately, what followed was death. Perhaps that is a little vague, so let me add clarity to that last statement. People, out of free will, chose to identify itself by their sins, in place of their creator. They began to identify themselves by the things they desired to be. Such false, human-made identities, led them to be divided amongst themselves. They began to prefer to be with those they identified similarly with, and to reject, spurn, feud with, and even murder those they saw as different than them.

The true tragedy is that, as a result choosing to have their own identity, humans chose to identify themselves apart from God. They divided themselves away from God, for they viewed God as something other than what they were. Instead, they began to worship god(s) fashioned in their own identities and likenesses.

Yet, despite all of this, God did not give up. LOVE NEVER QUITS, IT NEVER GIVES UP. God decided to give up all of the things that “separated” God from humanity in order to become one of us. God, in essence, became Jesus the Christ. In Jesus, God showed us that it is possible to reclaim the divine image we were created in. It is possible to find our reconciliation with God, to give up the false identities we have taken upon ourselves, and to return to our TRUE identity as children of the Creator God! All we need do is place our faith in God through Jesus the Christ, who was, who is and who will come again.

If we do that we will begin to be tranformed into who we are into who we were Created to be. The Holy Spirit will enter into us and will guide us in becoming embodiments of God’s LOVE. We will no longer seek our own identities, our own ways, our own desires, our own fears. We will no longer seek to destroy, or to get vengeance, or to hate on others because we think they hate on us. We will no longer see things through human eyes, but through the eyes of the one who Created us all! If you would like that, if you find yourself trapped in your own humanity, if you find yourself desparate for an escape from hell this world and your false identity offers, then stop in your tracks, acknowledge your need for help, and turn to the one who LOVES YOU so much that not even death would get in the way of SAVING YOU! God lovingly awaits.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.” – Jesus the Christ (John 14:1 NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, save me from myself and restore to me the identity that is truly mine, for I am your beloved child. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: Pieces of You

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.

Not an Excuse

Read Luke 13:1-9

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Jesus told him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through Me.’” (John 14:6 NLT)

mass-crucifixion-appian-way-2I am sure everyone who has been consistently reading these devotions knows that I am a huge fan of The Walking Dead. For those of us who watch the show faithfully, we know that the opening to Season 7 was a doozy. I am not going to give away any major spoilers; however, I am going to discuss this first episode in a way that I think will lend itself to this devotion. The season kicked off where the previous season left off, with Rick Grimes and the leaders from the Alexandria community grouped together in a circle bound up and on their knees.

In the previous season, the Alexandria community decided to help the Hilltop community in fighting against a common threat: The Saviors. These supposed “Saviors” were anything but. They were some pretty bad dudes who were forcing other communities to either work for them or, if the community refused, killing them in brutally awful ways. So the Alexandria community attacked the Saviors outpost and killed everyone there, only to find out that the outpost the attacked was merely one outpost among many. There were far more Saviors than Alexandria could handle, and the plan ultimately backfired. The Alexandria leaders were eventually captured and grouped together in the circle we see them in at the start of Season 7.

What happened following that can only be described as horrific,  brutal and extremely hard to watch. To sum it up and spare you the emotional trauma that TWD fans had to endure, unless you are already among them, a bloodbath ensues. Negan (pronounced Nee-gan), the leader of The Saviors, plays a twisted game of “eeny meeny miny moe”, where he selects the person who is going to die. When he arrives at the person, he brutally bludgeons him to death with a barb-wire wrapped bat that Negan has nicknamed “Lucille”. Trust me when I say this, it wasn’t pretty. It was graphic, numbing, scarring, and certainly painful to watch. But it was not pretty. What’s more, Negan didn’t stop with the first victim, but ended up choosing a second one to kill in the same fashion.

The point of my bringing this up is because we can very easily imagine such violence existing in our world. As much as we try to pretend it doesn’t exist, we know it does. Honestly, it doesn’t take a zombie apocalypse for that kind of stuff to happen. Yet, while such senseless, brutal violence exists in our world, it is also true that most of us (in Western Civilization anyway) have the choice to be sheltered from it. We can choose to not watch the news, to not open our eyes to the suffering of others around the world, and to live as disconnected from such violence as we choose to be. Yes, I realize that some suffer domestic violence and that not everyone has this choice, but most of us do.

With that said and out there, there are many in our world who think that we can excuse ourselves, as Christians, from following in Jesus’ footsteps. We think that Jesus’ teachings were good for his time because he didn’t live in the age of terrorism. We think that Jesus lived in a golden age that allowed for him to be all “tree-huggy” and “hipster” like. First, Jesus was no tree-hugger nor was he a hippie. Those things come from our world not his. Second, if we truly think that Jesus’ world was less dangerous and less violent than ours, it is time for us to head back to World History 101.

God’s honest truth is that while the actions of Negan shock us because we NEVER see anything like that on a regular basis, Jesus and the people in 1st century Palestine would not have been shocked in the slightest. Growing up, Jesus would vividly remember the forest of crosses, upon which thousands of Galilean men and women were crucified on because of their trying to revolt against King Herod. He drew a reference to, and clearly was aware of, Pontius Pilate slaughtering the mob of people he lured to the public square to “talk” to them about their grievances. It is true, Jesus’ world was not like ours. It was much, much worse.

So, the challenge for us today is to show both a bit of honesty and a lot of humility. Comparing the things we face in our world to that of Jesus’ is NOT AN EXCUSE for us not following the Christ. If we believe in Jesus, then it is clear what we ought to be doing. If we don’t believe, or we don’t think that Jesus’ teachings make sense for us today, then at least be honest and admit that you don’t follow Jesus. This is not meant to push anyone way, but to draw the line so that we can honestly evaluate ourselves. As Christians, everything we do, say and believe ought to be measured by THE ONE who is THE WAY in which we follow. I pray that we all have a heart-to-heart with Jesus during this Lenten journey and choose to follow The Way, The Truth and the Life.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“We must not reduce the bosom of the universal church to a nest protecting our mediocrity.” – Pope Francis I
PRAYER
Lord, help me face the truth and shed the excuses. I am yours. I follow you. Amen.

Be Gone!

Read Matthew 4:1-11

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“If you make the LORD your refuge, if you make the Most High your shelter, no evil will conquer you; no plague will come near your home.” (Psalms 91:9-10 NLT)

melaToday is Ash Wednesday, which kicks off the Lenten journey. Lent is, so to speak, a time in the wilderness. It is a time to fast, to pray, and to reflect on the sin we find ourselves enslaved to. What’s more, it is also a time for us to be take the journey with Jesus from the wilderness to the cross. Yet, we cannot make that journey without being prepared for it.

That is what the wilderness is all about. It is about time away from the trappings of the world. It is about time away from those things that make us comfortable. It is about time away from those things we long for in order that we might draw closer to God and be prepared for the transformation God is continually working within our hearts. Lent is a time for changing one’s heart and doing a U-Turn in order to head back in the direction God is calling us.

In the Scripture, we see Jesus enter into the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights, the exact length of time of the Lenten season. During his stay in the wilderness, it is written that Jesus underwent a series of temptations from the devil. To be exact, we read of three specific things that Satan was tempting him and the exact ways in which he responds back to the devil.

First, Satan tempts Jesus with his physical needs. He suggests to him that he simply command the stones on the ground into loaves of bread. This does not seem to be an unreasonable suggestion. After all, why would God wish for Jesus to die of starvation in the wilderness? Surely, God did not send Jesus out there to die. Jesus, of course, does not fall for this temptation but responds by quoting Scripture, Deuteronomy 8:3 to be exact. Jesus rebukes Satan by reciting and upholding God’s Law!

This does not deter Satan, however, and so Satan takes the game up a notch. As we find out, Jesus is not the only one who knows Scripture. “Throw yourself from this high place”, Satan challenges Jesus. “For as the Scriptures say, ‘God will order his angels to protect you. And they will hold you up in their hands so that you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.” Here Satan is quoting Psalm 91:11, but Jesus is not fooled for Satan is taking the verse out of context.

If one reads the Psalm, it is clear that those who make GOD their refuge have nothing to fear for God will protect them. Putting God to the test is NOT making God one’s refuge. Thus, Jesus rebukes Satan a second time, once again quoting God’s Law that is is not cool to put the Lord God to the test (Deuteronomy 6:16). Finally, Satan promises Jesus to give him all of the power and possessions of the world if Jesus will only bow down and worship him. Fat chance. It is at this point that Jesus gives Satan the strongest rebuke yet: “Be gone! The Scripture says, ‘You must worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’”

In Jesus’ wilderness temptations, we can see how temptation works in our lives. We can allow our physical needs to become temptations to stray from God. We can allow our own interpretations of Scripture to allow us to stray from God. We can also allow our desires, our hopes, our fears, and our ambition to steer us away from God. Like the snake in the garden, tempation slithers into our lives in the most subtle, but deceitful of ways. On the surface things seem fine until we find ourselves being constricted by the sins coiled around us.

With that said, Jesus’ wilderness experience we can see how to respond to the temptations that ensnare us. The truth is that Satan and/or the tempations we suffer only have the power that we give to them. If we are in a relationship with God, if we know what God commands of us through Scripture and through being a part of the community of God (aka the church), then we know the difference between God’s Word and our temptations.

This Lent, instead of giving up trivial things, take up Studying Scripture. Take up worshiping in a faith community that reflects the love and grace of God. Join in on small covenant groups with people who will nurture you in your faith and hold you accountable to growing in it. Begin to take your Spiritual needs seriously, and seek first the Kingdom of God and God’s righteousness. It is then that you will realize that you have been given power over your temptations and that, through Jesus Christ, you can command the devil to “be gone” from your life! I pray that this Lent you spend your time preparing to move from the wilderness of temptation to the cross of eternal love, grace and redemption!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“If any of you wants to be My follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow Me.” – Jesus the Christ in Matthew 16:24 NLT

PRAYER
Lord, help me cast away my temptations to live my life fully in you who are my refuge! Amen.