Tag Archives: Devil

God’s People, part 121: Rome

Read Luke 13:1-5

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“This calls for a mind with understanding: The seven heads of the beast represent the seven hills where the woman rules.”  (Revelation 17:9a)

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.

crucifiedPart 121: Rome. If one dances with the devil, they are bound to get burned. Case in point: Judaea’s ill-fated alliance with Rome. If you recall from the last devotion, the Hasmoneans allied themselves with Rome in order to protect themselves from the oppression of the tyrannical Seleucid Empire. The Jews signed a treaty with Rome that stated that both parties would defend the other should anyone attack them.

Initially, Rome held up to its end of the bargain. The Senate sent the Seleucid a “cease and desist” letter, telling them that their would be severe reprocussions for  attacking and or bringing harm to the Jews. Good deal, right? That is exactly what the Jews were hoping to accomplish in that treaty. The problem is that Rome was on the rise to become the most powerful empire EVER and they were not going to ever give the Judaeans an opportunity to rise to the top.

Eventually, following conquering the Seleucid Empire, it sacked Jerusalem in 63 BCE under the general Pompey. Following Rome’s victory, it declared the Hasmonean prince, Hyrcanus II, as “Ethnarch”. An ethnarch is someone who is placed in charge of an ethnic group. What that means is, instead of being the next Hasmonean king, Hyrcanus became a puppet governor of the Jews, who obviously rebelled against the new regime. Rome also appointed Hyrcanus as the High Priest. One can easily imagine how well that went over.

Julius Caesar later went on to appoint Antipater the Idumaean (aka Antipas) as the first Roman Procurator. Antipater’s son, Herod the Great, was eventually designated as “King of the Jews” by the Roman Senate. It is important to note that Herod was from Edom, and was an Edomite. The Edomited traced their lineagute through Esau and had, by this point in history, converted to Judaism. Thus, Herod was born and raised a Jew, contrary to some myths that are out there.

We’ll talk more about Herod in the next devotion; however, suffice it to say, one can easily see what happened as a result of the Hasmonean alliance with Rome. The Romans became even greater persecutors of the Jews than the Seleucids. While Rome did allow for the Jews to follow their religion and customs, something they learned was necessary to keep the peace, they ruled the Jews with an iron fist.

If any one so much as hinted at insurrection or rebellion, they ended up a part of an artificial forest of crosses that lined the roadways as a reminder to all who passed by of what happens to anyone who challenges Roman rule. The Romans took cruelty to an all-time low and had no problem eliminating anyone they felt was a threat to the Roman way.

The challenge for us is to see that when we sell out to save ourselves, we end up losing so much more than we could ever anticiapte. Human hindsight is always 20/20; however, our foresight is often clouded by fear and doubt, both of which lead to poor decision making. The challenge for us is to stop selling our souls for security and safety. We must place our complete faith and trust in God and not put other things, other ways, before Jesus Christ who IS THE WAY.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
The devil always gets more than what one believes is being sold.

PRAYER
Lord, steer me clear of the wiles of the devil. If it requires selling out, it must not be of You, for you’ve already purchased me as I am through your Son Jesus Christ. In him I trust. 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.

Bewitched

Read Galatians 3:1-5

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace.” (Romans 6:14, NLT)

TheWitch01The lights darkened, the room silenced, and the discordant sound of stringed instruments filled the air in an unsettling and disturbing manner. The sounds of violin and cello cut through me like seraded steel as the theater screen faded in from black to the image of a teenager’s stone pale and frightened face. It was clear from the way that she was dressed that she was living in seventeenth century New England and that she was among a group of people known as the Puritans.

As it turns out, her father is standing trial for not adhereing to the laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, at the time a British colony, because he believes those laws to stand against the teachings of the Gospels. As such he and his family are banished and end up moving out of the village they were in and settling in the wilderness of New England on the edge of a think and dark wood (aka forest). While I will not give away anything, as I run a tight “no-spoiler” ship, this is where the 2016 film, “The Witch”, opens up and where the horror begins.

This film, as I see it, is a work of fine art and there is much for us Christians to pull from it. On the surface, the horror is centering on a potential witch that lives in the woods and is preying upon a New England family that is doing everything they can to remain godly and to stay together as a family. But as misfortune after misfortune happens, and as the family becomes more and more certain they are “witched”, the more and more it is that the real horror is revealed.

Right from the opening scene onward, we are made aware that this family is hypersensitive to their sin, to the sin of others, and to the soveriegnty of God. It is not wrong to be sensitive to those things in a healthy kind of way, but this family is overly sensitive, to the point that every conversation is filled with talk about their sinfulness, the wickedness of the world and the uncertainty of their own, let alone anyone else’s, salvation.

At every turn, the family is reminded that they are wicked and sinful and they start to have the feeling that they are “witched” because God is punishing them and handing them over to the devil as a result of their wickedness. Nowhere, and I mean nowhere, is God’s grace really at play here in this film and in the psyche of the family. Even when God’s mercy is mentioned, it is with the understanding that they are in need of mercy because of their wickedness, and their pleading for it betrays their theology that they worship a God who just might not show mercy to them.

It becomes clear to me, without giving anything away from the actual story line of “The Witch” itself, that the family is bewitched by their own stringent, and horrific, theology. While it is true that God is  sovereign and it is true that we fall short of God’s glorious standard, it is NOT true that God is out to get us for our fallenness. Their theology is so damning that they could never, ever experience the grace and mercy that was already there waiting for them. They were so busy worrying about the prowling devil in the woods that they could not see that they had all they needed to thrive in the wilderness: their family and their faith.

Today’s challenge is this: don’t let yourself get bewitched by a negative and graceless theology. Rather, at every turn, steer clear of the devil by choosing to see the grace of God throughout your life, in your family, and in your community. Community is not perfect, but God is working to perfect it through your presence as well as others. Remember, God saved you from slavery to sin and death, so why negate that by making those things the foundation of your faith? Jesus Christ is the grace of God. That, and that alone, should be your faith’s foundation.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
The devil’s work is division and separation from others.  God is the great uniter.

PRAYER
Lord, keep me from bewitching myself with bad theology. Remind me daily of your grace. Amen.

WORKS OF THE FLESH: Enmity

Read Galatians 5:13-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will.” (Romans 8:7 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.”

fieryEWORKS OF THE FLESH: Enmity. I just got done watching the film, “Selma”, which was about Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Selma to Montgomery Marches in 1965. The film starts off with the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing, where four innocent Christian girls were literally blown to bits by a bomb planted by four Ku Klux Klansmen. This evil, tragic, and horrific event caused an outrage in the public that aided the cause of Dr. King and those seeking equal voting rights for the black community. Segregation laws and and other local laws often prevented those who were black from being able to vote, though they technically had the right.

When looking back on the civil rights movement, and even looking at the racial divide in the country today, I can’t help but think of the word enmity. Enmity is a state of being actively hostile and/or opposed to someone or some group. Looking at our government, some politicians, its laws, and a system that favors some over others, it is easy to see that in many cases our system has embodied enmity. Sure, it has improved over the years and a lot of change to it has occurred rather quickly. With that said, many of the changes have been peripheral and not systemic. We have changed it so that all people of all colors can vote; however, in order to be a candidate one must have a ton of money and financial backing in order to have even a remote chance of winning. As a result, such candidates are often far removed from the poor and disenfranchised and are more representative of the privileged (even if they, themselves, don’t intend to be).

The church is notorious for being filled with enmity. While one can see how enmity could creep up into any government, where the rich rule and the poor are ruled, it is hard to imagine how enmity could possibly show its ugly head; however, enmity has unfortunately found a breeding ground in  the body of Christ. Like a cancer it has spread from person to person, from group to group, from congregation to congregation, and from denomination to denomination. The enmity found in Christians have led them to love some and hate others within the church. White Christians have hated and lynched black Christians. Straight Christians have hated and degraded LGTBQ Christians. One committee within a church has found itself opposed to and at odds with another committee. And so it goes on and on like a cancer, spreading and killing the souls of many.

Christ calls us to be rid of enmity. We may not always agree with people, we may not understand them or even want to understand others who are different than us; however, that does not give us an excuse to be hostile and actively opposed to our brothers and sisters in Christ. Remember, Christ is our Lord, and we cannot serve two masters. We will either love the one and hate the other or vice versa. We cannot love Christ and enmity. To bear enmity against anyone is to also bear enmity against God, their creator. So be rid of enmity. Drop your hatred. Let go of your bitterness and let God fill you with eternal, unconditional love.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Enmity means ‘hatred toward, hostility to, or a state of opposition.’ It is the power by which Satan wishes to reign over us.” – Ezra Taft Benson

PRAYER
Lord remove from me any enmity that I may possess within me. Fill me with your eternal, unconditional love. 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.

SON OF GOD: Maundy Thursday

Read John 13:21-30

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
For the Son of Man must die, as the Scriptures declared long ago. But how terrible it will be for the one who betrays Him. It would be far better for that man if he had never been born!” (Mark 14:21 NLT)

JudasHave you ever read the story of Jesus’ betrayal in the Gospels? Have you ever noticed the sentiment conveyed about Judas, the one who betrayed Jesus? Have you ever noticed that as you read through the Gospels chronologically in the order they were written (Mark, Matthew, Luke and John), that there is a progression from cold to seething despise in the representation of Judas and his final act of betrayal? In Mark and Matthew, Judas’ actions are more or less presented in a very “matter of fact” way. Judas decides to betray Jesus, for which no reason is given, and he gets paid for the betrayal. In Luke, the author writes that “Satan entered Judas Iscariot” which led him to go to the high priests. In John, Jesus calls Judas “a devil” (John 6:70) and Judas was possessed by Satan, who entered him following eating the bread at the Last Supper (John 13:26).

Since the moment he decided to betray Jesus, Judas has certainly gone down in infamy. He has been forever remembered as the man who betrayed the prince of peace. What sort of man would do such a thing? How could he have possibly even thought that betraying Jesus is a good thing? These questions, and more, to this day remain unanswered. We’ll never know why Judas did what he did. It is easy to understand why a growing number of Christians, from the Gospel writers onward, came to despise him for betraying our Lord. Yet, the ironic part is while we hold Judas accountable (perhaps more than accountable) for his actions, we give the other disciples a complete pass. After all, while Judas actively betrayed Jesus, didn’t the others betray him too? Which one of them stood by Jesus’ side in his time of need? They all deserted, they all fled, they all abandoned him…and in some sense…they all betrayed him.

Yet all of the Gospel accounts are consistent on one thing, if not on their view of Judas himself. They are all consistent on the fact that Judas was welcome at the table of grace, on the fact that Judas was welcome to share in the last supper, but a Jesus who was well aware of his deceit. While we’ll never know what was in Jesus’ mind at the time, it is consistent with his teaching on not judging, and loving even one’s enemies. In fact, Judas wasn’t an enemy at all, he was a friend and he was a trusted confidant of Jesus’. Yet, instead of reacting negatively toward Judas, Jesus pitied him and made room for him at the Last Supper. I would like to believe that Jesus wished that Judas would be able to forgive himself and eventually rejoin the disciples in spreading the Gospel message; however, I also believe that Jesus knew that Judas would never be able to.

The question for us, out of all of this, is how far are you willing to take the Jesus’ command to love? By his very example, Jesus showed us that he wasn’t being hypothetical or theoretical in his calling for us to love our neighbor as ourselves, including our enemies. How far are you willing to go in your love of others? Will you love others, including your enemies, even if it comes at a great personal cost? Today’s challenge, as we approach the Lord’s table of grace at the Last Supper, is to reflect on your call LOVE OTHERS, just as Christ has loved you. Will you follow Jesus in living a life of LOVE, or will you abandon him and his cause for your own comfort and safety? The choice is, ultimately, up to you.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” – Jesus of Nazareth (Matthew 5:46-48 NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, help me to open myself up to your love and help me grow to be a person who more fully loves others, even those who I would otherwise consider to be my enemies. Amen.

Antichrist Superstar

Read Matthew 18:1-10

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I tell you the truth, all sin and blasphemy can be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. This is a sin with eternal consequences.” (Mark 3:28-29 NLT)

tumblr_static_antichristsuperstarIt was October of 1996, I was 18 going on 19 years old, and I remember the religious fervor that was being struck up by a band that had just hit the mainstream airwaves a year before with their cover of the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of These).” Though this band came out in 1994, it was clear that this latest album would become it’s defining moment; for some Christians, choosing to listen to that album would be a soul-damning moment, one that had eternal consequences, and this is just what the band Marilyn Manson was banking on.

It’s not that they were banking that their album, Antichrist Superstar, would send people to hell; however, Marilyn Manson were banking on the religious fervor that inevitably ignited against it, and they rode that money train all the way to the bank. The album, to date, has sold over 7 million copies, with 1.9 million of those copies being sold in the United States alone. That’s probably not what the protesting Christians were hoping for, but it was an unintended consequence of all of their protests.

One of my favorite songs off of the album is the title track, “Antichrist Superstar.” In it Manson writes, “You built me up with your wishing hell, I didn’t have to sell you…cut the head off, grows back hard. I am the hydra, now you’ll see your star.” Many Christians feared that Manson was the Antichrist, that he was leading kids to Satan and ultimately to hell, and that the end of the world was near with the rise of someone who seemed so blatantly Satanic. But when you look at the lyrics, we find some substance beyond all of the theatrics. It is Christians who created this “Antichrist”, and it is Christians who were now protesting his rising like a star.

Brian Warner grew up going to a Christian school that taught him all about the devil. It taught him to fear Satan, but to fear God even more. He was taught that if he didn’t do the right things, think the right things, say the right things, and pray the right things, he would end up going to hell. He grew up having nightmares of the Antichrist coming and devouring him, he grew up having nightmares of God damning him to hell for not living the “good” life. This was what Brian Warner (aka Marilyn Manson) grew up believing Christianity was. The lyrics to his song, “Antichrist Superstar,” are a mirror of how Christianity represented Christ to him. It was Christianity that had built him up to fear, it was Christianity that taught him God was a God of wrath, and it was Christianity (sadly enough) that helped drive him away from Christ. Of course, it was only a certain brand of Christianity; however, it was the brand he grew up knowing and fearing. Though he attempts to show he’s broken free of that fear, his album is really more of a reflection of how that fear still consumes him.

As Christians, we are not called to be driving the “fear” of God into anyone. Satan only has as much power as we give him. If all we do is focus on evil, on the possibility of misstepping, of the possibility of damnation, then we imbue power into our fears of such things. God has not called us to do that; rather, God has called us to focus on the hope, healing and wholeness that comes through a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. What saddens me is that Marilyn Manson, and countless others, have not gotten that memo because the ones who were representing Christ were too busy pushing fear rather than love and acceptance. Let us not be such a people. Let us not fail the little ones who look up to us and model themselves off of us. Let them see within us the light of God, rather that the fear of darkness. Let us not build up antichrists by our wishing hell, but let us build up Christians by showing the love and the light of heaven in all we do.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“This is the culture you’re raising your kids in. Don’t be surprised if it blows up in your face.” – Brian Warner

PRAYER
Lord, teach me to move beyond fear and into your eternal arms of love. Help me to grow in that love and share it with others. Amen.

15 Ailments of the Church #9: The Terrorism of Gossip

Read Romans 1:28-32

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Do not spread slanderous gossip among your people. ‘Do not stand idly by when your neighbor’s life is threatened. I am the LORD.’” (Leviticus 19:16 NLT)

evildead_620_101512I can clearly remember my time in Elementary School. I remember that I was not quite in the “popular” group, in fact, I wasn’t “popular” at all…whatever that actually means. I remember what it was like being someone who was being talked about, I remember what it was like having rumors spread about me. By the time I was a junior in high school, I had given up trying to be liked by people. In fact, I used to spread rumors around about myself to see how fast they traveled back to me. Have you ever played that game?

The truth is, I wasn’t guilt-free in the department of participating in gossip, either. None of us are. Each of us have, no doubt had rumors spread about us and we all have, no doubt, participated in the spreading of rumors. What’s worse than that being done in high school or in the world, where it is common place and expected, such gossip is just as prevalent in the church and in the lives of Christians as well. This leads us to Pope Francis I’s 9th Ailment of the Church.

Ailment of the Church #9: Committing the Terrorism of Gossip. According to Paul, we who follow Christ are all a part of Christ’s resurrected body. What does this mean? This means that we are supposed to have died to our old ways, we are supposed to have died to our sinful nature, and we are supposed to have resurrected from that death into a new life. “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NLT)! If we have died to our corruption and resurrected back to life, then we shouldn’t be living corruptible lives. Gossip is, perhaps, one of the greater corruptions within the church and it is a blasphemy against the Spirit of the living, resurrected Christ.

In fact, Pope Francis I calls Gossip a form of terrorism and, honestly, it truly is. Anyone who has been gossiped about knows that terror and damage that it causes. It damages one’s psyche, it damages one’s self-image, it damages one’s soul. Conversely, those who engage in gossip are in great peril themselves because they are hardening their own hearts, growing calloused, and the gossip is consuming their own souls. Like the demons in the movie the Evil Dead, gossip enters in and it consumes who ever participates in it. It destroys them and it seeks to destroy the people being gossiped about as well. How can gossip ever have a place in the body of Christ? It can’t, and the truth is that those who continually engage in it separate themselves from that body.

Christ is calling us to stop the terrorism of gossip. We were not meant to participate in such a pernicious sin, one that so closely walks the line between sin and evil. If you are one who is engaging in gossip, if you are one who engages in cutting people down behind their backs, if you are one who slanders people and murders them with your words, then Christ is calling you to die to that part of your life. Let that be nailed to the cross so that you may join Christ in the resurrected life. We, as Christians, are filled with the Holy Spirit and are new creatures in Christ. We are the ones who have been called to bring the hope, healing and wholeness of Christ as opposed to the despair, decay and death that comes from the terrorism of gossip. I pray that you are freed from those bonds that you may live into the resurrected Christ.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Be Impeccable With Your Word. Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.” – Miguel Angel Ruiz

PRAYER
Lord, forgive me, I pray. Kill any traces of gossip within me and heal me from the times that I have been gossiped about. Resurrect me into a new life, free from gossip and any other kind of slander. Amen.

Crying Wolf

Read Matthew 7:15-27

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. (Matthew 7:1)

wolf-howling-at-the-moon1In Christianity there seems to be a fear that one needs to be careful not to be deceived by the devil who will steer one away from the truth and the light of God. When I was growing up, I remember coming across all sorts of different things in Christian bookstores and in churches. I remember seeing tracts that would warn of the perils of the New Age movement, there were tracts warning against the danger of letting your children watch the TV show “He-Man: Masters of the Universe”, and that there were perils in allowing your children to participate in Role Playing Games (RPGs) such as “Dungeons and Dragons.” I have since seen similar tracts and brochures against books such as “Harry Potter” and the like.

What’s more is that fear often crosses into Christian territory as well. “Beware of false prophets who clothe themselves in words of light but are really agents of darkness.” I have seen devout Christians such as Rob Bell and others get thrown under the proverbial bus as being heretics and agents of Satan. And there seems to be some serious Biblical precedent for it, as Jesus warns, “Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves.” (Matthew 7:15).

But what does Jesus mean by that? Is Jesus trying to strike fear into the hearts of his followers? Or is Jesus doing something completely different? And what do we make of that when we pair it with Jesus’ other warning, “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged”, which only comes 14 verses earlier and is what starts off this section of teachings?

The reality is that, while we ought to be worried about taking a wrong turn onto a destructive path, that worry often turns into a form of “holier than thou” judgmentalism that Christians have been warned against by the one we claim to follow. So, first things first. How do we spot false teachings without falling into a group of hypocrites who judge others and lack the humility to see ourselves as the wolves in sheep’s clothing?

First off, Jesus rightly said in today’s scripture passage that you will know a tree by its fruit. We, as Christians, know what God wants from us. God want our full devotion; we are called to love the Lord our God with all of our hearts, all of our minds, all of our souls, and all of our strength (Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27). And, equally as important, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. ANYTHING or ANYONE who leads you to THAT is producing GOOD FRUIT. After all, this is the heart of the Gospel and, according to Jesus, sums up all the Law and the prophets.

Second, if we come across something that is counter to what we find above, we simply avoid it. There is no need to interject Satan, or throw around judgments on the beliefs or their adherents. After all, judgmentalism is BAD FRUIT. We simply need to avoid bad fruit and nourish ourselves on good fruit. But to be in line with Micah 6:8, we also need to have a smidge of humility. Many people say and think differently than us, but that doesn’t make their thoughts and words FALSE. We need to be open to different angles on things without compromising on the core values of LOVING GOD and NEIGHBOR.

In the end, Jesus is calling us about being vigilant in regard to not failing to see the image of God in ALL PEOPLE, even those who express things differently than us. Jesus’ words were not to inflict fear but to caution us to remain true to the Gospel and to spark a little bit of humility in us. Let us not point the scapegoating finger at people and “cry wolf” just because they are different. Rather, let us measure the teachings we hear by the RUBRIC OF LOVE and then determine whether that is something we should or shouldn’t pursue. And let us not forget to measure ourselves and our beliefs by that same rubric!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“LOVE, not fear, IS OF GOD.” – Rev. Todd R. Lattig

PRAYER
Lord, teach me to be open to difference without judgment, and allow me to discern, even among my beliefs, the GOOD FRUIT from the BAD FRUIT.

The Devil Is In the Details

Read Matthew 18:21-35

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15)

DevilI just recently saw the movie “Devil”, which was a film that was produced by and based off of a story written by M. Night Shyamalan. For those of you unfamiliar with his name, he is the one who wrote, directed and produced the widely successful supernatural thriller, “The Sixth Sense.” While many of his other films have not garnered the success that his first film did, I have always been prone to watching them and have found them meaningful and thought provoking. “Devil” certainly is both meaningful and thought provoking.

In this film, five people get on an elevator together. None of them know each other, yet when the elevator breaks down and they are stuck in it for hours, each of them gets to know one another perhaps a little more than they’d like to. Each character has a flaw, which I will not reveal here; however, one of the five characters has a little more than just a flaw as that character (again I will not reveal who) is the incarnation of Satan. Sounds like a real wholesome family film, right? Well, to use a perfectly good pun, the devil is in the details here.

Every so often, while on this elevator, the lights flicker and then go out, leaving the victims and the viewers in the dark. When the lights come on, one of the characters is dead in a weird and gruesome way. This continues to happen through out the film. Meanwhile, a detective, the police and firemen are all trying to get these people safely out of the elevator. They, too, watch in horror as the lights flicker, go out, come back on and they see yet another dead person.

While I will not spoil the whole of the movie, I will spoil it’s message a little as I believe it is so very relevant to us as people of faith. Each person in the movie is being killed by the devil, their souls taken, as a result of their unwillingness to see that they have sinned and are flawed individuals. The result of that is that these individuals never, ever seek forgiveness for what they’ve done, because they continually justify their own actions and, therefore, are blinded to their own sins and sinful nature.

Again, I will not even hint at how the film ends (you really do need to see it), but it is powerful in its message. We often talk of God as being merciful and loving, kind and compassionate, just and filled with unending grace. We often talk about God’s willingness to forgive us all, and we see Jesus Christ as the divine expression of that forgiveness; however, how can we be forgiven if we don’t see our need for forgiveness? How can we be forgiven if we are so blind to our own faults that we we fail to seek or accept forgiveness? What’s more, how can we receive forgiveness if we are unwilling to be forgiven and/or unwilling to give forgiveness to ourselves and to others?

Christ calls us to a life of forgiveness. We are called to a life of being forgiven and to a life of forgiving others. If we are unwilling to see our need for forgiveness and, therefore, are unwilling to be forgiven, then we cannot, and will not, experience the healing power of forgiveness; however, if we are open and transparent to God about our shortcomings, and we seek forgiveness, we will have it in abundance. With that said, we too have to be willing to forgive. For how can we seek forgiveness but not give it in return? How can we experience mercy and not be transformed by it? How can we receive grace but refuse to give it to others? Remember, the devil is in the details. Be transformed by God’s grace and be transformational by extending that grace to others.

THOUGHTS OF THE DAY
“Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them.” – Bruce Lee
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

PRAYER
Lord, soften my heart so that I may admit my faults and seek forgiveness. Also, soften my heart so that I may extend forgiveness to others. Amen.