Tag Archives: Church

God’s People, part 229: Pilate

Read John 18:28-40; 19:1-16

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Pilate saw that he wasn’t getting anywhere and that a riot was developing. So he sent for a bowl of water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood. The responsibility is yours!’”  (Matthew 27:24, 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.

Pontius_Pilate_BustPart 229: Pilate. For a man central in the capital punishment of Jesus of Nazareth, there isn’t a whole lot known about Pontius Pilate. As far as is known he was a part of the well-established Pontii family, who were originally of the plebeian class. Plebs were the general population of free Roman Citizens and were not a part of the ruling Patrician class. Thus, Pilate’s family genealogy was of humble origins during the Roman Republic; however, the Pontii family flourished in the Roman Empire, and the family eventually attained the consulship, which was, at the time of the Empire, a symbolic representative of Rome’s heritage.

Pilate, himself, was appointed as prefect of Jerusalem in 26 C.E. Nothing is really known of him prior to that date. A prefect was a military officer who was appointed by the Emperor as a governor of a less important province of the Empire. At the time, Judaea was a province that was an annex (or extension) of the province of Syria. They typical term length for prefect was 1-3 years, Pilate stayed in his position until 36 C.E., a whopping ten years.

The only primary historical sources we have to rely on in regard to Pontius Pilate are the first century Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, the Alexandrian-Jewish Philosopher and Historian Philo, and the New Testament Gospel accounts. Both Josephus and Philo describe Pilate as a brutal prefect and details some events that are seemingly left out of the Gospel accounts. This has led some scholars to argue that the New Testament Gospel writers were trying to sterilize and soften Pilate’s role in Jesus’ death in order to (A) not upset the Romans too much by the writings or (B) to lay more of the blame on the Jewish groups that were kicking Christian Jews out of the synagogues.

With that said, not all scholars subscribe to that theory and a close reading of the Gospels actually lead one to dismiss it altogether. First, the Gospel’s main focus with Pilate is on his part in the trial of Jesus of Nazareth. Aside from that, they don’t really mention him at all because, until he comes face-to-face with the Roman Prefect, there is no real reason to talk about him. Second, a close reading of the Gospels uncovers Jesus talking about a time when Pilate was particularly brutal in his dealings with the Galileans (people from Jesus’ home region):

“At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.”
(Luke 13:1-3, NRSV)

It is clear that the Gospel writers were not trying to soften who Pilate was and, in my humble opinion, we get a fuller account of the man by reading both the Gospels and the works of Josephus and Philo. These works, when considered together, show a man who was both cunning and cruel. He was a politician who understood the need for diplomacy; however, he was also a military leader who knew how to crush any hint of a rebellion with a swift and brutal blow. The fact that he remained in his post for 10 years (9 to 7 years more than the average prefect) is an indication that he was able to balance cruelty with diplomacy.

In fact, Jesus’ trial is a good example of just how he did that. When Jesus was brought to him, he asked him questions and then found him to be “innocent of the charges.” Why? Because blasphemy against the Jewish God was not a concern of the Roman Empire. When his accusers claimed that he was a Galilean claiming to be king, he sent him to Herod who was Tetrarch (aka regional ruler) of Galilee. When Jesus was sent back to him, he then questioned him on charges of treason against Rome.

The end stunt of washing his hands clean of the blood was not a display that he considered Jesus innocent or that he even cared what happened to this Jewish rabble-rouser. Pilate would have seen Jesus as a threat, no doubt; however, it allowed him to pass the blame away from Rome and onto local Jewish officials. Why? So that he could avoid an uprising against Rome, of course.

Pilate wasn’t stupid and he knew that if he ordered the death of a Jewish Messiah figure during the busiest time of the year in Jerusalem, he’d potentially have a riot on his hands. What’s more, he couldn’t just let Jesus walk out alive either. So, he played some political theater. In the end, though, Pilate brutally put an end, or so he thought, to the Jesus movement.

What’s important for us to realize is that God’s people today, like the people in Jesus’ time, often look to the government as their savior and, in doing so, they sell out their true Savior in the process. Jesus was handed over to Pilate, not because the Jewish religious leaders liked Pilate, but because Jesus challenged the status quo and Pilate was the expedient way to avoid Jesus leading people further away from the authority of the religious establishment.

Pilate was a Roman who was known for his brutality and his sharp diplomatic wit. He represented the Roman Government, not God’s will. The same is true about our political leaders today, they represent the current government and national interests, not Jesus Christ who is the true and ONLY Savior of the world. Will we place our faith and hope in the government, selling out Christ in the process, or will we place our faith, hope and loyalty in Jesus Christ, at all costs? The choice is ours.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Who is your master? Jesus Christ taught us that we cannot serve two; therefore, we must choose only one.

PRAYER
Lord, you are my master, my Lord, my Savior, and my friend. Guide me away from looking toward anyone else for what can only come from you. Amen.

God’s People, part 224: Adulterer

Read John 7:53; 8:1-11

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;”  (Luke 8:1-2, 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.

Jesus_Woman-AdultererPart 224: Adulterer. We all are familiar with the account of the adulterer in John 8. This scene has been played out in virtually every movie ever made on Jesus’ life, teachings, death and resurrection. Most likely, it is remembered in the following way:

A crowd of people come storming into the village square, stones in hand as they chase down a woman who is in a ragged undergarment. Her makeup is smeared across her face, and her dark, exotic eyeliner, eye shadow, and mascara are streaking down her face with streams of tears. Jesus sees the angry crowd and also notices one of the religious leaders approaching him.

“Teacher,” the man called out snidely in order to trap Jesus, “this woman was caught in adultery. The law of Moses says we must stone her to death. What do you say?”

Jesus bends down quietly and draws in the sand a fish symbol. Though Jesus doesn’t answer the man, he calls out again and demands an answer. “All right,” Jesus responded, “But let the one who is without sin cast the first stone.

Each person knowing that they aren’t without sin, they begin to drop their stones on the ground and leave dejected. Jesus approaches the woman and asks, “Woman, who here condemns you.

“No one, master,” she replied. Then Jesus said to her, “Then, neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.

Of course, this memory of the Scripture is mostly right, though some of the details are off. First, the crowd was not necessarily holding stones; rather, the account tells us that they brought the woman before Jesus in order to trap him. When Jesus said his famous line, “let the one who is without sin cast the first stone”, there is no mention that the people dropped their stones, but that they just left.

Also, we don’t know what Jesus actually wrote in the sand. Films often have Jesus draw a fish, which was the ancient symbol for Christ followers; however, there is no actual evidence that Jesus drew that symbol, let alone anything else. Most importantly, this woman often gets conflated with Mary Magdalene. In fact, this identity has become so strongly linked to the adulterous woman, that even when we read the text, in which the woman is given no name, we see Mary Magdalene as that woman.

The truth is, Mary was never linked to being an adulterer, nor does the Bible say that Mary Magdalene was ever a prostitute. In fact, the only mention of Mary in her life prior to following Jesus, was that she had been possessed by seven demons and that Jesus had performed an exorcism on her, casting them out. Thus, this woman caught in adultery was NOT Mary Magdalene, but an unnamed, anonymous woman.

Many Christians will read into this lots of different things, none worse than the idea that this passage promotes the common, hideous, phrase of “hate the sin, but love the sinner.” People will use this woman as an example that, while Jesus forgives, he does so on the condition that you go and “sin no more.” There is some truth to that; however, it is a half truth at best and it is often used to justify one’s own judgmentalism.

Yes, Jesus forgives us and, it is true, that Jesus does ask us to go and sin no more. With that said, the forgiveness is not conditioned on anything. It is give to those who believe in Christ and call on his name for forgiveness. Honestly, Christ’s forgiveness is given to all humanity; however, if they do not see their need for forgiveness and do not accept Christ and the forgiveness he offers, they can never receive it. That is not because Christ doesn’t want them to, but because they are unwilling to.

The woman was not told to go and sin no more and, upon accepting that condition was forgiven. It was quite the opposite of that. Jesus forgave her and then gave her the opportunity to go and sin no more. No doubt, she probably did sin again at some point. She’s a human being; however, due to her acceptance of Jesus in that moment, she had been freed from living in her sins. As a result, any time she slipped into sin, she could remember the forgiveness given her, repent, and change course toward righteousness by the power of the Holy Spirit.

That is the same for all of us. None of us are in a place to “hate the sin, but love the sinner”, for we are all sinners who sin. That doesn’t mean we should like our sins. No, far from it. We should not like our sins, but instead of being the judge of sin in others, we should be turning to God to help us remove our own sins. Instead of judging sins in others, we should support people who are sinning and extend the kind of graceful guidance that Christ would want us to extend. It is then, that we move from judgment to graceful accountability. “Love the sinner and journey with them as we all move away from our sins toward Christ.” Let us make that our motto.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.” – Jesus of Nazareth in Matthew 7:5

PRAYER
Lord, help me to focus on my own sins, rather than being so quick to see, and judge, the sin in others. I look to you for my salvation and I point others to you out of love. Amen.

God’s People, part 223: Leaders

Read John 7:32-36

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“When they heard this, the people in the synagogue were furious. Jumping up, they mobbed him and forced him to the edge of the hill on which the town was built. They intended to push him over the cliff, but he passed right through the crowd and went on his way.” (Luke 4:28-30, 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.

Trial-of-Jesus Part 223: Leaders. For someone often referred to as the “Prince of Peace”, Jesus sure did find himself in the midst of quite a lot of conflict. In fact, it is safe to say that, out of what is known, much of Jesus’ life was riddled with conflict. When he was born, Jesus had to be snuck out of Bethlehem in the dead of night because an angel warned Joseph that Herod was going to attack Bethlehem and kill every newborn make up to 2 years old. So, the first part of Jesus’ life was living as a refugee, seeking asylum in the foreign kingdom of Egypt.

When Jesus was twelve, he slipped away from his parents, who just assumed he was somewhere in the caravan they were traveling home from Jerusalem with. Meanwhile, Jesus was back in city carrying a theological discussion with the Temple leaders. When his parents realized he was missing, they went back to Jerusalem and searched for him for three days before they found him. For those of you reading this who are parents you can imagine the horror and the anger running through Mary and Joseph’s veins.

All throughout his ministry, Jesus ran into conflict. He ran into conflict with his family, with townsfolk who didn’t quite know what to think of him, with village farmers for casting demons into pigs, with demons (obviously), with local Rabbis, with the Pharisees, with the Sadducees, with Herod, with Herod Antipas and, of course, with the Romans. It would be more than justified to say that Jesus’ life was full of conflict.

In this account within John, a conflict arose between Jesus and the Pharisees because they had heard the crowds whispering among themselves that Jesus was the Messiah. The notion of this man, who had challenged their authority before, being the Messiah was not only outrageous, it was completely scandalous as well. This man was a peasant from Nazareth in Galilee. How could he possibly be the Messiah, this uneducated man from a place that no prophet, let alone Messiah, was likely to be from. What’s more, the Messiah was supposed to be of the line of David, yet this man from Nazareth could not possibly be a descendant since David and his family was from Bethlehem.

It was bad enough that people were looking to Jesus as a prophetic figure and, while the Pharisees couldn’t even stomach the notion of that, there was no way they were going to tolerate this rabble rouser to get hailed the “King of the Jews” (aka the Messiah). That would simply anger God, as they saw it, and God’s wrath would come down upon them all through the might of the Roman Empire. It would not be the first time God’s wrath came down upon Israel through a foreign empire, and the Pharisees, as leaders among the Jewish people, did not want to be the one’s responsible for stoking God’s anger by allowing this riff raff to spread his deceitful teachings.

Thus, these Rabbinic leaders, along with the Temple Priests, sent the Temple guards to arrest Jesus. When they arrived, they found Jesus waiting for them and ready to teach them: “I will be with you only a little longer. Then I will return to the one who sent me. You will search for me but not find me. And you cannot go where I am going.” (John 7:33-34, NLT) The leaders were puzzled by this. They began to question what he could possibly mean. Was he going to leave Jerusalem and Judaea and go other Jews out in the land of the Gentiles, among the Greeks and the Romans? Would he bring this obscure message to the Greeks themselves?

The leaders were at a loss as to what he could have possibly meant by his words, so much so that he evidently slipped away from them without even getting arrested. These leaders had been stumped by a supposedly uneducated simpleton from Nazareth in Galilee. How embarrassing that must have been. How much more they must have wanted to find this man and have him arrested, especially since they had him in plain sight and, yet, were unable to take him in custody.

The question for us is this, do we think we know more than Jesus. Do we think that, because of our place in the 21st Century, that we are superior to Jesus and the ancient world. Do we look at his miracles as being mythological because we, in the 21st century, know that natural science doesn’t work that way? Do we think that we somehow are in a place to pick and choose which of Jesus’ teachings are worth following and which aren’t?

The truth is that if we take such a position we find ourselves in the place of the Jewish Leaders. The challenge is for us to look to Jesus with new and fresh eyes. The challenge for us is to accept Jesus for who he claimed to be, and to let go of our modern-centric cynicism. Remember, that Jesus is either who he said he is, or he is not worth our time in listening to and following. I personally have experience Jesus Christ as Lord, I have come into his real, living presence, and you can too if you open yourself up to it. I pray you do.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.” – Jesus Christ (Matthew 16:18, NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, help me to grow in my knowledge and experience of you so that I might also grow in my faith and in my faithfulness. Amen.

God’s People, part 221: Samaritan

Read John 4:1-45

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Jesus replied, ‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”  (Matthew 22:37-40, 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.

SamaritanWomanPart 221: Samaritan. It is hard to imagine just how scandalous this chapter in John actually is; however, trust me when I say that this chapter is extremely scandalous in the context of the first century Jewish world. In our day and age, we think very little of this story. We read it as a warm and fuzzy conversation between Jesus and some unnamed woman at a well in Samaria; however, so much more is going on this text.

For starters, Jesus is seen here talking to and teaching, even debating, with a woman. This was unheard of in the first century ancient Middle East; however, this alone is not too shocking for us as we know that Jesus talked to many women, and even had women followers such as Mary Magdalene. With that said, he was not only talking to her; however, he was talking to her alone. This, alone, would have been super scandalous to anyone in that time period. In fact, John wrote: “Just then his disciples came back. They were shocked to find him talking to a woman, but none of them had the nerve to ask, “What do you want with her?” or “Why are you talking to her” (John 4:27, NLT)?

Add to that the fact that this woman was a Samaritan and you add another layer to the scandal. The Jews traditionally detested the Samaritans and saw them as Gentiles of the worst kind. These were people who had mixed heritage. They were Jewish and Assyrian and they chose to worship God in Samaria, instead of Jerusalem. This was against the Law as recorded in the Book of Discipline; however, the Samaritan’s chose to resist the Jews insistence that the Jerusalem Temple was the only place one could worship.

The contention grew to be so divisively bitter that Jews would do anything they could to avoid the Samaritans, for they felt that if they did cross their path, they would instantly be defiled. Yet, Jesus was talking alone with this Samaritan woman, and instructing her in what it means to truly worship God. In the end, Jesus states that both his people and the Samaritans didn’t have it completely right, but that one day people would worship God in spirit and in truth.

Then, yet another layer can be added to the scandal. Not only was this a woman was also a Samaritan, but this was a Samaritan woman who had been previously married five times and the man she was currently living with she wasn’t even married to. Such a person, in the context of Jewish Law and sensibility, was a sinner of the highest order. Yet, Jesus was not only associating with her, but treater her like a worthy student. He even listened to her and entertained her counter points to him. This was completely scandalous and would have offended many people, including Jesus’ own disciples.

Yet, Jesus was unfazed but this reality. He treated this woman no differently than he would have treated anyone else! He saw past all of the labels and scandalous controversies to see the human being behind it all. He loved her and treated her with the dignity that all human beings made in God’s image should be treated. To Jesus, this woman was not a woman, a Samaritan, a person divorced and remarried multiple times; this woman, to Jesus, was a child of God created in God’s image.

Let us be challenged by that. Far, too often we define people by the labels we place on them. Worse than that, we judge them as being unfit of our compassion and attention. We simply pass them by because we think it would be far better to do that than to be associated with them; however, that is not what Jesus modeled for us. Let us be a people who no longer define people by the labels they are give; rather, let us be a people who define all people as children of God, created in God’s divine and holy image! Then we will be truly living as our God created us to.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Labels are for products, not for people.

PRAYER
Lord, help me to stop labeling myself and others. Amen.

God’s People, part 188: Bleeding Woman

Read Mark 5:25-34

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“When the woman’s bleeding stops, she must count off seven days. Then she will be ceremonially clean. On the eighth day she must bring two turtledoves or two young pigeons and present them to the priest at the entrance of the Tabernacle. The priest will offer one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering. Through this process, the priest will purify her before the LORD for the ceremonial impurity caused by her bleeding.”  (Leviticus 15:28-30, 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.

woman-touches-clothes-of-jesus-mediumPart 189: Bleeding Woman. When the accounts of Jesus’ healings are read, they are most likely read with a certain “wow” factor in place. Most people, I would imagine, are not aware of the social, economic, or spiritual implications of the afflicted in these accounts. At best, they are most likely looked at as unfortunates whose fortune changes for the good when they encounter Jesus.

In the account of the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years we learn a number of things. First, we learn of what it must have been like in Jesus’ time. So many desperate people were trying to be in the right place at the right time in order to receive healing. Every where Jesus went, people were coming to him seeking to be healed.

We also learn that these people were the “untouchables” in society. While these were the people who NEEDED to see Jesus, the crowds gathered around Jesus completely unaware and apathetic to the plight of the afflicted. In one such story, a paralyzed man had to be lowered down through a roof by his friends in order to get to a place where Jesus could see and heal him.

In this account of the bleeding woman, she too was crowded out by the apathetic mob following Jesus. She had to fight through the to reach Jesus and she could only do so from behind. There was no chance she would have an opportunity to talk with him and explain her affliction. “She thought to herself, ‘If I can just touch his robe, I will be healed.’” (Mark 5:28, NLT)

Before we can fully understand her plight, we need to truly understand the full weight of her condition. The Bible tells us that she was “bleeding” for twelve years. What this meant was that she basically had her menstrual cycle, non-stop, for twelve years. This condition would have rendered, and anyone who came in contact with her, ceremonially unclean.

In Leviticus, the law was laid out clearly. The bleeding from childbirth made a woman unclean for 33 days afterward (Leviticus 12:4). Any woman with her menstrual cycle was ceremonial unclean for two weeks, the week of her period and the week after (Leviticus 15:19). As for a woman experiencing bleeding unrelated to her menstrual cycle, which is exactly what this woman in Mark was experiencing, the law stated: “…she is ceremonially unclean. As during her menstrual period, the woman will be unclean as long as the discharge continues” (Leviticus 15:25).

That means that this poor woman had been ritually unclean for 12 long years, cut off from society and from spiritual nourishment and care. 12 years of isolation and rejection, not to mention the physical effects of it, including pain. Priests wouldn’t go near her, and the doctors were ineffective at curing her. In fact, her condition only worsened.

So, this woman was desperate and in her desperation she wasn’t going to be ignored, even if it mean that she would reach out and grab Jesus’ robe. She was going to do whatever it took to receive healing. Just her touching Jesus would have defiled him in the eyes of the religious leaders. But that didn’t stop Jesus from seeking her out when he felt her touch.

Ignoring the disciples jeering him for wondering who in the crowd touched him, and ignoring the crowd itself, Jesus turned his attention to this woman and, when she presented herself before him, he let her know that her faith had healed her. This woman became an example for us all in the power of faith.

The challenge for us is to have the faith of the bleeding woman and to separate ourselves from the judgmentalism of religious people and people in society. We all struggle with something and our faith can be a healing foundation for us. What’s more, we all have the Holy Spirit given power to be a healing presence in the lives of others; however, we have to take the time to be aware and notice the people who need healing. As God’s people, let us not get distracted by the mundane, but open our eyes to the REAL NEEDS around us.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The smallest seed of faith is better than the largest fruit of happiness.” – Henry David Thoreau

PRAYER
Lord, thank you for the faith you have nurtured within me. May it grow to move this mountain into service of others. Amen.

God’s People, part 185: Paralytic

Read Matthew 9:1-8

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Jesus told him, ‘Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!’”  (John 5:8, 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.

disabled-signPart 185, Paralytic. Accessibility has always been an issue for folks who have been traditionally seen as “disabled”. In fact, it still is an issue as not every place is accommodating of different needs. Still, overall, accessibility has come a long way and more places than not are taking into consideration the needs of others. In fact, the word disabled is even up for discussion as some people feel that is a denigrating label that devalues those with differing abilities.

For instance, while one might not be able to walk, that disability does not, nor should it, define the whole person and/or what they are or aren’t capable of. In fact, we all have “disabilities” one sense or another. For instance, I can sing. That is an ability I have. Others, however, are tone deaf and couldn’t even accidentally stumble onto a right note. That would be a “disability” for them; however, tone deaf people are not labeled and stigmatized by the term “disabled”. Yet, an opera singer who is paralyzed would be labeled “disabled”, which defines them by their disability, rather than their ability.

With all of that said, the fact that we’re even discussing the “labels” that folks in need of ability accommodations shows that we’ve come a long way from where people were in Jesus’ day. That just wasn’t a topic of discussion, nor was it in the social consciousness of people. Especially in Judaism, being born paralyzed or crippled was often seen as a result of sin.

We can see this is the case in the account of Jesus healing the man born blind. “‘Rabbi,’ his disciples asked him, ‘why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins’” (John 9:2, NLT)? In that very question, we see the mindset of the people in Jesus’ day and age. The disciples assumed that someone who was born blind must have been paying the price of sin. Otherwise, why would God allow for that.

Jesus’ response was pastorally corrective. People are not paralyzed, blind, deaf mute, etc. because of their sin or the sin of their parents. God was not behind the man being born blind, he just was. God is not behind paralysis, or the loss of hearing, or any other “disability”; rather, those things happen because we live in a world that is broken and fallen. That brokenness is the result of sin broadly speaking; however, Jesus is clear that someone who is differently abled should not have their “disabilities” held over their heads in judgment.

In fact, the appropriate response to any person, regardless of ability, is to approach with dignity as children of the Most High God. To do otherwise is counter to God’s law and the teachings of Christ. The disciples were looking to find reasons to avoid the blind man and if they knew his sin, that would give them justification for their biases. Yet, Jesus raises their understanding to see the bigger picture: the child of God in front of them and God’s work within that person bringing about the glory of God!

We, as humans, too often fall into the trap of labeling people and judging them based off of the labels we assign them. We do this racially, we do this in terms of age, ability, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, socio-economic status, and a whole host of different categories we label people by. What’s more, as hypocrites, we do not like it when people label us. I don’t like it when someone labels me a “white Anglo-Saxon Protestant male”, but in what ways do I label others?

The challenge for us is to become more aware of how we refer to and treat other people. Are we aware of who they are as human beings, attentive to their needs, and respectful of their humanity and the divine image they’re created in? Or do we assign labels to them and objectify them in ways that take away their dignity and diminish (if not eliminate) their humanity. It is clear, which way is the Christian approach, and which way is not. Let us follow Christ and treat people with dignity regardless of differences.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Everyone wants to be seen. Everyone wants to be heard. Everyone wants to be recognized as the person that they are and not a stereotype or an image.” – Loretta Lynch

PRAYER
Lord, help me to avoid labeling others and help me to treat everyone with dignity, respect and love. Amen.

God’s People, part 183: Demons

Read Mathew 8:14-17

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror.”  (James 2:19, 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.

Demons_SilhouettePart 183: Demons. If I took the time to write about every individual person healed by Jesus, then I think the concluding words to John’s Gospel would be especially fitting, “If they were all written down, I suppose the whole world could not contain the books that would be written”  (John 21:25, NLT). So, I have decided that I would group most of the healings together per the type of healing they were.

The first grouping of those healed are the demon possessed. In the Gospel of Mark, aside from preaching, exorcism was the very first act Jesus did at the beginning of his ministry. The Gospels state, in fact, that Jesus performed exorcisms on many people throughout his three year ministry. These acts tell us quite a bit about Jesus, about the demons themselves, and about those who were possessed by them. What’s more, it also tells us a lot about the society in which these miracles occurred.

First, that Jesus has the authority to command demons to leave people tells us who Jesus is. Only God has such authority purify the unclean. Each of these exorcisms are an exercise of God’s authority over sin, evil and death. Each of these miracles represent God’s power to forgive sins, to rid a person of evil, and to purify them, making them righteous before God. That Jesus had such a command over demons is a witness to the presence of God within Jesus.

The demons themselves all knew who Jesus was too. In each case, the demons would hiss out at Jesus, “We know who you are, Jesus, Son of God!” Each time, especially in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus commands them to be quiet and to no reveal who he is to the masses; however, the demons DID know who he was. In fact, in the Gospel of Mark they are the only ones who KNOW Jesus’ true identity, with the exception of the Roman Centurion, who figures it out right after Jesus dies.

Again, this all points us to Jesus’ divine identity. Jesus was not merely a nice prophet who taught really nice things before being wrongly put to death on a cross; rather, Jesus IS the Son of God, the embodiment of God in human flesh. The demons all knew that and they were terrified of Jesus because he was filled with the authority of God.

Those who were demon-possessed were truly on the margins of society. Thus, the people themselves were shunned. They were avoided like the plague by friends and community members who saw them as being “unclean”. That meant that they could not participate in community life, and they most definitely could not participate in religious life. Just stop and pause a moment, who needs to be embraced by the religious community more than someone who is possessed by demons. Yet, these folks were isolated away from spiritual nourishment.

The reason for this was the fact that demon-possession was viewed as being the result of sin. Thus, the demon-possessed were viewed by society as being unclean and were to be avoided. We see this most clearly with the demoniac, whom I will write about in more detail in a separate devotion; however, in that person we see someone who was outcast from his community, chained up and living among the caves and tombs.

It is to such people that Jesus came and brought the loving acceptance and healing of God. In fact, Jesus’ actions made it clear for all who witnessed, God doesn’t reject the folks people deem as unclean or unworthy; rather, God shows them favor, forgives them, and includes them in God’s Kingdom. Following their being healed, those who had been demon possessed all became witnesses to the Good News of Jesus Christ!

This should give us hope, for we too have our demons. We are possessed by things that tear us away from God. We also, like the religious community in Jesus’ day, fail to see our own demons are too quick to point out demons in another. One thing is for sure, Jesus Christ is the ONLY One who can exorcise our demons and free us for joyful obedience to God.

Let us open ourselves to Jesus who will save us from the spiritual warfare that rages on within us. What’s more, let us not fall in the judgmental trappings of the religious institution. Christ has empowered us to bear God’s forgiveness, mercy, healing and salvation to all who need it. Let us be demon hunters in Christ Jesus our Lord, as opposed to people judgers.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“If you pain, He’s a pain taker. If you feel lost, He’s a way maker. If you need freedom or saving, He’s a prison-shaking Savior. If you’ve got chains, He’s a chain breaker.” – Zach Williams in his song “Chain Breaker”

PRAYER
Lord, cleanse me from the demons at war within me, and guide me to be a presence of love and healing for those who are struggling with demons of their own. Amen.

God’s People, part 182: The Other Women

Read Luke 8:1-3

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and several other women who told the apostles what had happened.”  (Luke 24:10, 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.

bible-films-christ-followers-women-1128908-wallpaperPart 182: The Other Women. One of the truly remarkable aspects of the Gospels is Jesus’ interaction with women. His willingness to teach and engage, let alone permit, women followers distinguishes Jesus from all the rest of the sagely rabbis and philosophers of his day and age. Not only that, but he is honestly distinguishable from all of the teachers and philosophers of years gone by leading up to his age. It was truly unique to Jesus.

Even more remarkable is that the Gospel writers themselves were not scandalized by it; rather, they included that detail in their accounts. I love when people bring up the “inconsistencies” between the Gospel accounts as “proof” that the texts are not reliable historically. Of course, we don’t hold the same standard with differing biographies on JFK or Abraham Lincoln, all of which have discrepancies in them too; however, with the Gospels, modernists like to hold the Gospels to a “higher” standard.

Yet, what makes the Gospel accounts credible to me is that they include things that would be scandalous and even embarrassing for the people they are seeking to account for. For instance, Jesus hanging out with prostitutes and tax collectors would have been a shame on him and an embarrassment to his family, yet that is included in the accounts. What’s more, Jesus having female followers would have been scandalous. Women knew their place in that society and their place was in the home, not learning and debating with sagely teachers. Only men were permitted to do that.

Yet, the Gospel writers include the fact that Jesus had faithful women followers and, even more importantly, that some of them were prominently supporting his ministry financially. On top of that, the Resurrected Christ is first seen and witnessed to by the women and, in a twist of epic proportions, those women become the apostles to the apostles. If the Gospel writers were making up fanciful stories to promote some sort of agenda (as cynical modernists like to imagine), why include those “embarrassing” moments? That makes absolutely no sense at all.

What’s more likely is that women were absolutely VITAL to the spreading of the Jesus movement following his death, resurrection, and ascension to heaven. Jesus had built a culture of inclusion among his disciples that carried on long after he’d gone to heaven, and the earliest Christian writers accounted for that. Some of those women I have already written about, others I will write about in future devotions; however, each of the women (named or unnamed) were vital parts of the Jesus movement. Jesus would have had it no other way.

Unfortunately, we live in a man’s world, and the church fell prey to ideologies that reflected the world’s view of women as opposed to Christ’s view of them. As such, things crept into the Christian tradition and even into the Bible that countered Christ’s acceptance and inclusion of women’s role in ministry. Even to this day there are “complimentarians” in Christianity who are staunchly opposed to the kind of radical inclusion of women in ministry that Jesus first initiated.

As a pastor, in every church I have served at I have had at least some people come up and tell me how happy they are that they now have a man serving as pastor. That always makes me feel uncomfortable and, honestly, offended. What about my anatomy and physiology makes me any better of a pastor than a woman? When one stops and thinks about it, the science is not there to back up any sort of superiority, nor is reason or logic! What’s more, Jesus is not there to back that up as Jesus valued women in ministry and he sent a woman, Mary Magdalene, to  preach the Good News to the Apostles who were hiding in fear of their lives.

The challenge for us is to begin to see things as Christ saw them. The challenge for us is to begin to become more and more inclusive of others. Men and women are equally called to serve Christ and who are we to stand in their way as their adversary? Let us begin to bring the church back to the place where it first started, a place of radical inclusivity and hospitality. In doing so, we will draw even closer to Christ than we already are.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“No doubt [women of faith in the past] were reproached for His name’s sake, and accounted mad women; but they had a faith which enabled them at that time to overcome the world, and by which they climbed up to heaven.” – Rev. George Whitefield

PRAYER
Lord, I thank you for the women of faith in my life and for the women who boldly preach your Gospel so that others might turn and be saved. For such women in the past, now and in the future, I give you thanks. Amen.