Tag Archives: Church

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 261: Jailer

Read Acts 16:16-39

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,”  (Matthew 5:43-44, NRSV)

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

James Faulkner stars as Paul in a scene from in the film “Paul, Apostle of Christ.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. (CNS photo/Sony Pictures) See MOVIE-REVIEW-PAUL-APOSTLE-OF-CHRIST March 22, 2018.

Part 261: Jailer. We live in such a polemical time where we often being strongly encouraged to take one side or the other. For instance, in America, one is either a Republican or a Democrat. One is either for Black Lives Matter or All Lives Matter. One is either antiracist or racist. The list goes on and on and on. It would be easy for me to say that we are about as divided as I have ever seen in my lifetime; however, these are not the only, nor the most, divisive times in world history.

Paul lived in a very divisive time himself. The Roman Empire eventually crumbled because of political divisiveness and, truth be told, the there was much divisiveness in the church as well. Read 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philemon, 1 & 2 Timothy, 1, 2, & 3 John and other writings in the New Testament. In those epistles (aka letters) you will see that Paul, John and others were dealing with the polemics in the church as well.

Before I move forward with the jailer, I want to be clear that I am not making a moral judgment about any particular stance above. I am merely mentioning them because they have been the sharpest sides drawn as of the writing of this devotion. Nor am I saying that people should not stand up for what they truly believe in and are passionate about. The point of this piece is to show how the Gospel can and DOES change hearts and minds.

In our Scripture today, Paul and Silas find themselves in prison in Philippi, where they had spent time bringing the Good News to the gentiles in that city, nurturing and growing a nascent gentile church that they planted.  What happened was that Paul had cast out a demon out of a local slave girl who was being used by profiteers to make money. Due to her deliverance, she was not longer profitable for them and this caused them to grow enraged. They made legal complaints against both Paul and Silas, who were then locked up in prison.

While in prison, under the watch of a jailer, there was a great earthquake and the doors and bars were knocked a part and opened, leaving plenty of opportunitiy for Paul and Silas to escape. Instead, Paul and Silas urged all of the prisoners to stay put and not escape. This, action, may have you scratching your heads. Why not take the opportunity and get out of dodge? Well, it had the jailer scratching his head to and he was beyond thrilled that everyone was accounted for because, had they not been, he would have certainly been executed for a dereliction of duty.

We don’t know much about the jailer at all. He was most likely a local Philippian beholden to the local government there. More than likely he was a Greek gentile. No doubt, he could have cared less (initially) that Paul and Silas were in jail. They were rabble-rousing troublemakers and, besides, he had a single job to do: make sure they did not escape. Failure to do that job would have costed him his life.

By staying instead of fleeing, that caused Paul and Silas to penetrate the man’s heart. Who would do such a thing given such an opportunity. Who wouldn’t think of theselves first over a stranger, let alone an enemy. Clearly, these gentlemen thought of the jailer, valued the jailer’s life and were not the “lawless” men they had been accused of being.

Because of that, the jailer opened his heart up to the Good News of Jesus Christ that Paul and Silas shared with him. What GREAT news! They witnessed to this man and he and his whole family converted to being Christ-followers as a result! This man went from being a jailer to being a brother! This is the power of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.

Now, back to my preface above, this does not mean that people should not be standing up for what they believe in. I have marched and will continue to march for Black Lives, for equity, and for justice as long as I have legs and life to do so. I will stand up for the Good News of Jesus Christ, for the fact that we are all image bearers of God, and that for people to be treated equally with dignity, compassion, justice, mercy and respect. Paul and Silas were in jail for standing up for what they believe in despite the risks in doing so. That is what our Lord calls us to do as his followers.

With that said, we should also be careful that we are truly representing the Gospel when we do so. It is so easy to get sucked into the polemics, to get sucked into viewing the other as “evil” or “less than” and dehumanizing them. God is the judge of who is evil and who is not. We, on the other hand, are called to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ and hold each other accountable to it out of love.

While there are many people who are jailers out there who may be on the wrong side of things, God still loves them and calls us to invite them into a relationship with Jesus Christ. Not all will accept that and we must stand our ground for Jesus regardless; however, we also might find discover Jesus Christ ACTUALLY has the power to transform hearts and minds and our faithfulness to HIM leads others such a place of transformation. In other words, while we stand against the oppressers of the world, let us still find room in our hearts to LOVE them like Christ does.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Hating an evil person is still hate and will lead us to evil; however, LOVE would have us oppose the evil of people and protect people from evil.

PRAYER
Lord, help me a bold and loving warrior for justice without losing myself to blind hate. Increase your love in my heart. Amen.

God’s People, part 255: John Mark

Read Acts 13:13; 15:37-39

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“When you make a promise to God, don’t delay in following through, for God takes no pleasure in fools. Keep all the promises you make to him. It is better to say nothing than to make a promise and not keep it. Don’t let your mouth make you sin. And don’t defend yourself by telling the Temple messenger that the promise you made was a mistake. That would make God angry, and he might wipe out everything you have achieved.”  (Ecclesiastes 5:4-6, NLT)

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

Part 255: John Mark. Traditionally, John Mark has often attributed as the “Mark” who wrote the New Testament, also known as Mark the Evangelist. He was first introduced in Acts 12:12 as being the son of a woman named Mary. He was introduces as “John who was also known as Mark.” In that time period, it was not uncommon for Jews to have their birth name and also have a Hellenistic name as well. John was a Jewish name and Mark was a Greek name. So, this person’s name was actually John and Mark was not his surname, but another name he went by.

Still, he is known to us as John Mark to distinguish him from other Johns in named in the New Testament. John Mark was the cousin of Paul’s mentor, partner and friend Barnabas. In Acts 12:25, we find out that he returned to Jerusalem with Barnabas and Paul (Saul at the time), an indication that he was now working with them as a missionary.

In Acts 13:13, something inexplicable happened. We are told that, on one their missionary journeys, John Mark abruptly left the company and returned home to Jerusalem. We cannot be sure why he left as Luke never elaborated on that; however, you can feel the abruptness in the way Luke writes about it: “Paul and his companions then left Paphos by ship for Pamphylia, landing at the port town of Perga. There John Mark left them and returned to Jerusalem.” From there Luke carries on with Paul and Barnabas and John Mark falls out of the account for two chapters.

He’s next mentioned in Acts 15:37-39. In that passage, Paul invites Barnabas to go with him to visit the cities they’ve visited in the past to check on the believers there. Barnabas agreed to go with Paul, but he wanted to bring John Mark along. Paul strongly objected to this. It says in verse 38, “But Paul disagreed strongly, since John Mark had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in their work.”

It is here where we get to see into the event back in chapter 13. We still don’t know why, but it becomes clear that John Mark’s abrupt exit from their missionary journey was viewed by Paul, if not Barnabas and his other companions, as a desertion. Paul felt he abandoned them and he would not have such an unreliable person joining them, for obvious reasons.

While we cannot be sure what Barnabas felt at the time that John Mark abandoned them, John was still his cousin and wanted to include him in their journey. In fact, he not only wanted to, but was sharply insistent on it. As a result, Paul and Barnabas could not come to a compromise and ended up ending their partnership. They chose to separate. We cannot really judge either one of them because, again, we don’t know the details and why Paul felt this was an unacceptable desertion; however, both felt so strongly in their opposing viewpoints that they could no longer work together. This was tragic turn of events for sure.

Still, what we, as Christians, should pull from this is the importance of being reliable and faithful to our local church community. When we commit to something, we should remain committed. We should not desert our fellow sisters and brothers in Christ and put others in the position of having to defend or oppose our involvement, as sometimes can happen.

This is not an uncommon thing in our time. Many people abandon their church family for lots of frivilous reasons. Disagreements or a disliking of the pastor, sports or other child/teen activities, wanting to sleep in, and other various things can cause people and their families to drift away from their commitment to the Church and it’s mission. People vow to serve the Christ’s church when they become members, but don’t really view that vow as binding or important. As a pastor, I have seen the hurt that causes relationally, and I have seen it also cause division in the church. What’s more, it can cause the church to fall into despair over a perceived and real decline in church family members. It is a loss the church can’t help but sincerely grieve.

Friends, this should challenge us. Why do we, as Christians, feel that our faith vows are secondary at best to the other things the world is offering? Shouldn’t that be reversed? Shouldn’t our vows to God and each other hold far more weight than personality differences, sports, laziness, and other things? Let us be challenged to return to our vows and uphold them. Let us put Christ and His church first in our lives, so that we can once again instill a foundation of faith in our children, and further the work of bringin heaven, and the reign of God, on earth.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“But most of all, my brothers and sisters, never take an oath, by heaven or earth or anything else. Just say a simple yes or no, so that you will not sin and be condemned.” – James the Just (James 5:12, NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, keep me and my family on the path that leads to the fulfillment of my vows to you. Amen.

God’s People, part 254: Bar-Jesus

Read Acts 13:4-12

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“A false witness will not go unpunished, and a liar will be destroyed.” (Proverbs 19:9)

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

Part 254: Bar-Jesus. Here is another example of an obscure person mentioned in the New Testament. We don’t have much to go on in knowing who this Elymas was, except what we are told about him by Luke in the Acts of the Apostles. So, in order to pull anything meaningful from this text, we need to first examine what is known.

Elymas is first introdcued as Bar-Jesus, or son of Jesus (Greek: βαριησοῦς, pronounced bar-ee-ay-soos), who is a “magician” (in Greek: μάγος, prounounced magos) and as a “false prophet” (in Greek: ψευδοπροφήτης, pronounced pseudoprophētēs). The reason I am giving you the Greek is because it is important to understanding the implications of who this man is according to the original language the Bible was written in. This Elymas, son of Jesus, was a Jew living on the Island of Cyprus and he was seemingly a spiritual advisor to the Roman governor of that island, named Sergius Paulus.

First, let’s look at Elymas name, if that be his name. In fact, Acts tells us that Elymas means magician/sorcerer/wise man, so it is likely that his real name is not even Elymas. Another important thing to grasp is that Jesus (Greek: Ἰησοῦς, pronounced ee-ay-soos) was the Greek equivalent to Joshua and it was a common Jewish name. Just because this Jewish religious adviser was known as the son of Jesus does not mean he was claiming to be the son of Jesus/Joshua of Nazareth; rather, it simply means that this Elymas was the son of a man named Jesus/Joshua. This man’s name is not what makes him suspect to Paul and Barnabas, nor is it why he’s considered to be a false-prophet.

The reason he is considered to be a false-prophet is, as far as we can draw from the text itself, is because he is falsely advising Sergius to not listen to the words of Barnabas and Saul (who, at this point, is evidently starting to use his Roman name Paul). Instead, he wants the governor to listen to him, as if he is the one truly speaking for God. In terms the title magos, it is not clear whether he calls himself that or not. Magos can be interpreted as magician, sorcerer, or even as wise man. The magi (plural for magos) in Matthew’s Gospel is often translated to wise men as opposed to sorcerers or magicians.

It seems likely to me that this term was given to him for, as a Jew, he would not call himself a sorcerer or magician. If he did, why would a God-fearing Roman governor listen to him? The term was a slight against his character as sorcerers were seen to be deceitful and false. This would seem to being consistent with his being called a “false prophet” by Luke. Thus, by calling him a magos, the author is calling into question his character. He is seen by Luke as a shady, deceitful person who has the ability to “put someone under his spell” with deceitful, yet charming, words.

With that being the best educated guess we can now discuss the conflict. Barnabas and Paul went to Cyprus to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ to the Cypriots. While there, Governor Sergius Paulus heard of them and their miraculous deeds and invited to them to speak with him about this Jesus of Nazareth, of whom they preached. This was did not make Elymas Bar-Jesus happy because it threatened his very position as a religious advisor to the governor. Think of it this way, if Governor Paulus became a Christian, what need would he have for Bar-Jesus who doesn’t accept Jesus Nazareth as the Christ?

Thus, Bar-Jesus began to counter the Christian witness of Barnabas and Paul right in front of them. As a result, Paul called out Bar-Jesus and cursed him with the same temporary blindness that he had suffered earlier on as a persecutor of the Church. Of course, this curse acted more as a “miracle” as it was a witness to the power and presence of God being upon Barnabas and Paul. Thus, the governor instantly became a Christian believer.

I am sure that Bar-Jesus thought he was right. I am sure he felt that Barnabas and Paul were the deceivers; however, deep in his heart he had selfish motivations for believing that. While I am have no reason to presume he wasn’t sincere in his Jewish beliefs, he was also concerned about his status and position and that was, at least in part, his motivation for opposing the Good News.

This should challenge us. How many times have we rejected God’s Good News in order to hold onto our status, our positions, our friendships, our wealth, our jobs, etc.? In this age of political extremes, how many ditch the good news of Christ, or even pervert it, in order to hold on to their political worldviews and agendas? Notice that I didn’t name any specific party or affiliation. That was done intentionally, because it happense across party lines and affiliations. Let us be challenged to be open to Christ’s Good News. Let us be challenged to prioritize it over everything else, lest we find that we too have been blinded.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Without Christ, we are like the blind leading the blind.

PRAYER
Lord, have mercy on us, sinners. Amen.

God’s People, part 246: Dorcas

Read Acts 9:36-43

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.”  (Romans 12:1, 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.

Dorcas_TabithaPart 246: Dorcas. According to Luke, Tabitha (or Dorcas as she was known in Greek) was a Christian believer and someone that was kind, compassionate, and always serving others, especially the poor. She was a woman who lived by the very example of her Lord Jesus Christ and was, clearly, filled with the Holy Spirit. What a powerful witness she must have been to our Lord Jesus Christ.

So, it must come as a shock to learn that this sweet, kind, loving, compassionate and thoughtful woman found herself succumbing to a serious illness. How could a such a faithful follower of the Lord Jesus Christ die? How could God allow that to happen? Such questions lead us into a realm of theology known as theodicy: why does God allow sin, evil, pain, and suffering to happen to good people. Why do those things exist at all?

Before we progress anymore into Luke’s account, I want us to pause here. First, there is no answer that will satisfy why evil, sin, pain, and suffering exist. The search for solving the dilemma of theodicy has led people in different directions. Some form some pretty horrifying theologies to explain why God either causes or “allows bad things to happen.” Such theology has done much physical, spiritual, psychological and emotional damage to people. While some have found a safe haven in such theology as it seems to give their suffering a purpose, others have been further lost in their suffering as a result of a theology that locks them within it.

What’s more, that theology has lead people to develop and opposite and equally damning theology. “If I am forced to believe in a God who causes or allows evil to happen,” such a people say, “then I would rather just not believe in God. Thank you very much! Have a nice day.” It’s what leads people like outspoken anti-theist Dr. Richard Dawkins to proclaim, “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all of fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully”[1]

What’s important to understand is that much of this comes from a misunderstanding. Most people think that, because God is good, then only good things will ever happen to those who follow God. Yet, as can be seen in Acts, Scripture never promises that. Yes, God is good and wants the very best for us; however, we live in a broken world where people use their free will to turn away from God and follow their own selfish desires. That is sin, which in turn can lead to evil, pain, and suffering for self and for others.

If God were to simply end all sin and evil, what would be left of this world? I think we have a story in the Old Testament that points to what would exactly happen were God to do that: NOAH and the flood. Dawkins, and those like him, fail to realize that the story of Noah was written to provide an explanation as to why God is so patient with the evil and sin that we perpetuate out in the world.

Again, that may not exhaustively satisfy one’s thirst to discover an answer to Theodicy; however, it is also important to not miss the forest for the trees when it comes to stuff that is beyond our understanding. The presence of evil, sin, suffering and pain do not cancel out the possibility of God’s existence any more than they prove any sort of divine reason or purpose for them existing.

Back to Dorcas. Yes, she was a faithful servant who got ill and died. Like countless faithful people before and after her, she fell ill from a virus and died. Had people not been greedy to the point of their being impoverished people, might she had avoided getting ill? We’ll never know as we don’t know how she got ill. Beyond that, even if she hadn’t gotten ill and died then, she would have died eventually. That is a fact of life.

The truth is, unlike Dorcas, most people don’t get resurrected back to life immediately after dying. As with any miracle, her resurrection brought honor and glory to God and caused many people to believe in Dorcas’ Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This miracle, as with all miracles, was performed to glorify and bring others to Christ.

Let us remember what miracles are for and let us also learn to not only look to aggrandized signs as miracles. Miracles happen every day and they come in all shapes and sizes. Anything that brings people into a relationship with Jesus Christ is a miracle.

Dorcas, herself, was a miracle because her loving, compassionate, kind spirit brought people to Christ in life, just as much as in death. Nurses and other frontline workers are miracles as they selflessly risk their lives to save the lives of others and you better believe people are coming to know the glory of God as a result of it. So, instead of waiting around for miracles and signs, and instead of us wondering why God doesn’t do anything to eliminate sin and evil, let us be the miracles that God created us to be.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
How quickly we forget God’s great deliverances in our lives. How easily we take for granted the miracles he performed in our past.

PRAYER
Lord, help me to see the miracles in my life that have brought glory to you, and help me to be a miracle in the lives of others so that they may see your glory as well. Amen.

[1] Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2008), 51.

God’s People, part 245: Aeneas

Read Acts 9:32-35

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“’Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!’ And the man jumped up, grabbed his mat, and walked out through the stunned onlookers. They were all amazed and praised God, exclaiming, ‘We’ve never seen anything like this before!’” (Mark 2:11-12, 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.

WomanOnBeach-MiraclesPart 245: Aeneas. Here again we come across a person who was named, but not much else is known about him. In the Bible there are three basic categories for people. First, there are the main characters where chapters, books, or multiple books are dedicated to describing who they were, what they taught or did, and why they are noteworthy. The second category are those who are merely mentioned by name, but not much else is said about them. The third category are those who remain nameless. There are plenty of those people, for instance, “the man born blind”, “the Samaritan woman at the well”, etc.).

With Aeneas, we have the second category.He is named; however, all that we really know about him is that hey had been a paralytic for eight years prior to being brought to Peter. With that said, that tidbit of information helps us enough to figure out what was going on in the passage. Once, we have a deeper understanding of the passage we can the see how it fits into the bigger picture.

So, let us look at the passage itself. Peter had been traveling place to place and decided, along the way, to visit the believers in Lydda. Today, that city is known by it’s Hebrew name, Lod; however, Lydda was the Greco-Roman name for it. It is located a little over 9 miles southeast of Tel Aviv. It was there, in Lydda, that Peter ran into a paralytic man who had been bedridden for eight years.

Peter told the man, upon meeting him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you! Get up and roll up your sleeping mat.” Following those words, Aeneas was instantly healed! What an amazing miracle for him and others to witness! One can imagine the kind of amazement that must have been filling those witnessing that miracle. In fact, Luke tells us that the entire city, upon seeing Aeneas walking around, turned to the Lord.

From this account we see a couple of things happening. First, we’ve seen this miracle before. This miracle parallels Jesus’ healing of the paralytic man. Instead of forgiving this man’s sins, however, Peter simply points the man to Jesus who, clearly, forgives his sins. “Jesus Christ heals you,” Peter proclaimed.

The second thing to note is this, we see the beginning of the fulfillment that the disciples would not only do what Jesus had done in the past, but they would surpass him. In this account, Peter not only did what Christ did in healing the paralytic man; however, he pointed people to Jesus and watched them believe en masse! Wow!

Finally, we see exactly the model for discipleship. We are called to follow Jesus, to learn from him, to imitate him and to allow the power of the Holy Spirit to work through us! When we do, when we genuinely put our faith in Christ to work through us, it is amazing the sorts of miracles that come about. With that said, let’s pause here. What’s the point of a miracle? That question is answered in this passage as well. Miracles lead people to recognize and turn to the Lord. They are not magic tricks, they’re not brought about by our own power or will; rather, they signal to those who witness them that God is near and real!

This should challenge us. We should not set out looking to be miracles workers, otherwise, we will fall into the trap of Simon magus. Rather, we should set out looking to be faithful in our service to Christ. Once we seek out faithfulness, we will find ourselves stepping up and out in ways we never knew possible. That alone, my friends, is miraculous! Just imagine what God can do in and through your faithfulness! Let us be challenged to be like Peter who was faithful to Christ and never saw someone as being too insignificant for his time and presence.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Miracles are not contrary to nature, but only contrary to what we know about nature.” – Augustine of Hippo

PRAYER
Lord, work through me in a way that witnesses to others your glory and your coming Kingdom. Amen.

Maundy Thursday Online Worship

pictures-of-jesus-gethsemane-960152-wallpaperJoin Rev. Todd and First UMC of Newton, NJ for their Maundy Thursday Online Worship service at 7:30 p.m. Eastern Time (U.S./Canada) on YouTube. https://youtu.be/SMdTRcV6tEA
Holy Week is more than just Easter. It starts with Palm Sunday, works its way to Upper Room and Garden of Gethsemane on Maundy Thursday, to the foot of the cross on Good Friday. Without the suffering of Christ and his death on the cross, there would be no Easter! Join First UMC of Newton tonight and tomorrow night and prepare for the joyous celebration of Easter morning!

Coronavirus Update…

IMG_6127To all of my readers,

I pray that the grace of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, be upon you all! As you know, the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic has spread virulently throughout the world and that there is no place that really has avoided the spread. I live and serve in New Jersey, USA, and we are in an area that the virus is spreading exponentially. Our state as shut down bars, restaurants, movie theaters, and there is an 8 p.m. curfew here that will continue throughout the foreseeable future. What’s more, our president and federal government has asked that groups of no more than 10 people gather at any given time. Thus, as a pastor, I have had to make the hard decision of closing our place of worship and moving to an online format. I have also been placed on a Coronavirus Response Team for our Skylands District of the United Methodist Church of Greater NJ. All of this has taken tremendous amount of time and energy and, as a result, I have not had the chance to write this week’s devotions. I am fully planning on getting back into the swing of things next week, the Lord willing. I thank you all for your readership, understanding, your patience, and your prayers.

In the mean time, check out this message of encouragement I gave to my church on our Facebook Page:

With Love in Christ,

Rev. Todd Lattig

A LOOK BACK: Rising From the Ash

lent-CrossesThis week kicks off the most important season in the Christian liturgical calendar. Lent, Holy Week, and Easter remind us of our sinful nature, the cost that our sin ultimately cost, and the hope of the Resurrection in Jesus Christ who conquered the grave. Ash Wednesday kicks off the season of Lent, a 40 day period that parallels Jesus temptation in the wilderness and the 40 years the Israelites spent wandering the wilderness in search of the Promised Land. Click here to kick off your Ash Wednesday on the right foot.