Tag Archives: deceit

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 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.

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.

Deception

Read Genesis 3

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8, NRSV)

SerpentWhen we think of the Garden of Eden, we think of Adam and Eve. We think of a vast and luscious garden filled to the max with vegetables and fruits. We think of humanity and the animal world living side-by-side in peace with one another. We think of people living in a complete and perfect relationship with God and of pure, unadulterated innocence.

With that said, let’s be honest. That is not all we think of when we think of the Garden of Eden; rather, we think of human sin, of the forbidden tree with the forbidden fruit. We think of humanity’s desire to have knowledge of Good and Evil, to be like God with the ability to judge. We think of the Eve being duped by the deceptive snake that caused the fall of humanity from innocence, from paradise, and from the grace of God.

All of this, of course, assumes that we are reading the story correctly and not reading into it our own theological understanding that has been imparted to us by people within our own traditions. On the one hand, there can be no doubt that the Garden of Eden story tells a tale of a perfect creation that ends up becoming less than desirable due to sin. There can be no doubt that paradise falls into the hellish reality that we find in our world today. There can be no doubt that the Garden narrative tells the tale of how the evil in this world came to be.

Beyond what is true in our telling of the story, we often view the serpent as the deceptive one. It is true that the snake was revealed as the most cunning (עָרוּם, ‛ârûm, pronounced aw-room’) of all of the animals. Cunning, of course, is the skill of being able to attain one’s end through deceit. So, the snake was written in as a deceptive character for sure. With that said, the snake’s deception came through the truth, that Adam and Eve would not die (physically at least) if they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Yet, the snake was not the only deceptive one and, contrary to popular belief, Eve was not guilty of causing the fall of humankind. Let us note forget that Eve was never given the direct command from God not to eat from the tree; rather, Adam was. The story would have assume that Eve was told not to by Adam, but one can also presuppose that she wasn’t given much more information. Eve was deceived by the cunning serpent, but Adam should have known better.

When God finally tracked them down and asked Adam if they had eaten from the forbidden tree,Adam responded with deception of his own. “The woman ate the fruit and then gave it to me.” While that is technically the truth, it is deceptive in that it implies that the real one at fault is Eve. It is the first example of humanity throwing the other, the innocent, under the proverbial bus. People will do anything to cover their own hides, and that is exactly what Adam does. He points the finger at Eve in order to avoid taking responsibility for his own actions.

This sin does not stop with Adam but passes down to his son Cain who murdered his brother Abel and tries to deceptively dismiss himself of the responsibility of that murder. From that point on, humanity became mired in its sins and the propensity to pass the buck and place the blame on others rather than taking responsibility.

In God, there is no deception and in God we cannot hide from the truth. For those who live in deceit, the presence of God is a scary thing because it brings them into the presence of the truth, which sears their souls with their responsibility in their sins. For those who live in the truth, they grow from their shortfalls and sins into a life that is centered on God and on community.

Rather than passing the buck, they take responsibility for their mistakes, pay the consequences, and grow into better people. This path, not the former, is the one that God is calling us all to. If we follow it, if we follow the path of the truth, then we will rise above the deceit and become godly people of character and integrity and we will begin to put an end to the deceptive work of the serpent in our lives.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
You may be able to deceive yourself and others, but you cannot deceive God who is the author of Truth.
PRAYER
Lord, fill me with your truth, no matter how painful it is, so that I may live in your light. Amen.

WORKS OF THE FLESH: Sorcery

Read Galatians 5:13-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
People may cover their hatred with pleasant words, but they’re deceiving you. (Proverbs 26:24 NLT)

In his letter to the church in Galatia, the Apostle Paul is writing to a community that is divided over the issue of male circumcision: should new Gentile followers of Jesus be counted as a part of the Jewish covenant without being circumcised, or should they have to be circumcised just as all of the Jews are circumcised. Being that Christianity at the time wasn’t a religion, but a sect of Judaism, this was a VITALLY IMPORTANT question. While Paul is opposed to making Gentiles be circumcised, he also is against divisive behavior regardless of which side it is coming from. In response to this division, Paul describes to the Galatian church what he calls, “the works of the flesh.”

FierySWORKS OF THE FLESH: Sorcery. Well, hello Paul! I mean out of all of the possibilities out there, you choose sorcery?!? I think the past thousand years of European history, and the past 323 years of American history, has given us ample reason to steer clear of pointing the finger at people and crying “witch!” All I need do is mention the Inquisition, the European Witch Craze, and the Salem Witch trials to know that we Christians have a bad history of attacking people we believe are “sorcerers.” Even today, there are “Christians” who protest Harry Potter books and the like because they believe that they promote sorcery and witchcraft.

Since I have an affinity for all religions in general, and have studied Neo-Pagan religions such as Wicca, I am not about to go down that road. Not to mention, one of the works of the flesh that is implicit in some of the other works Paul names, is “judgmentalism.” Not to knock Paul, but I find it to be a tad better to look at one’s own religion rather than trying to hurl stones at a religion one doesn’t practice, know, or really understand. After all, Jesus practiced the same humility with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4.

So how can we look at sorcery in a way that will speak to us as Christians? How is it that we Christians are practicing sorcery? What if we replaced the word sorcery with deceit? While that might not make sense at first, please hear me out. Many Christians, and people in general, are guilty of being deceitful and putting on a false “charm” in order to manipulate people into doing what they want them to do. Oh, we are so good at that sometimes, aren’t we? You know, we get into a group at church and we just work our “magic” to spell-bind people into thinking this or that. We purposefully lay the charm on thick in order to persuade people to think our way, and we are even good at spewing out Scripture in deceitful ways to support whatever we want. I have seen such “magic” worked within church cliques in ways that are injurious to individuals and to the health of the congregation as a whole.

Christ is calling us to put an end to all deceit. False charm is the worst kind of sorcery because it lures people away from Christ and the kind of LOVE he is calling us to LIVE. Sorcery, in this sense, is certainly a work of the flesh and there is no room for it in the spiritual body of Christ! If you are such a person, or if you are being falsely charmed by such a person, remember that we are all children of God and God does not desire to have any of the children brought to harm by deceit or false charm. Remember what Jesus warned his disciples about harming God’s children: “It would be better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone hung around your neck than to cause one of these little ones to fall into sin” (Luke 17:2 NLT).

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“In a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” – George Orwell

PRAYER
Lord, steer me clear of false charm and deceit so that I may continue to walk in the footsteps of your truth. Amen.