Tag Archives: Division

God’s People, part 129: Essenes

Read Titus 3:9-11

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“He knew their thoughts, so he said, ‘Any kingdom divided by civil war is doomed. A family splintered by feuding will fall apart.’”  Luke 11:17 (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.

Week 36b The Essenes_0Part 129: Essenes. Most people are familiar with, or at least have heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls. These scrolls were found in a number of caves in Qumran, which is in the Judaean Desert of the West Bank. These caves, some natural and others made by humans, are in the Dead Sea region, hence the name Dead Sea Scrolls.

Discovered by Bedouin shepherds named Muhammed edh-Dhib, Jum’a Muhammed, and Kahlil Musa, these scrolls were an entire library of ancient Jewish Scripture. Some of the texts were the same books, or expanded books, we find in the Tanakh (or the Old Testament in the Christian Bible). Other scrolls were of texts not found in our Bible, such as The War Scroll.

This ancient library of Scripture belonged to a group of ancient Jews known as the Essenes. They were an ancient sect of Jews who, under the Hasmonean Dynasty, grew dissatisfied with the Temple and political leadership. They saw the Temple as having been corrupted and they believed most of Judaea had gone wayward from God and were awaiting final judgment.

The Roman occupation and the appointment of Herod the Great as King only solidified the Essenes belief that the political and religious system had become completely corrupt. This sect grew increasingly suspicious of the mainstream Jewish leadership, which they saw as being in bed with Satan and the world order. It is also important to note that the Essenes were no small sect, but numbered in the thousands.

Viewing other Jews as being “breakers of the covenant,” the Essenes took vows of celibacy, poverty and refused to eat or sacrifice meat. They were also forbidden from swearing oaths, were disciplined to control their anger, and they only carried weapons for self-defense against bandits and/or robbers. They practiced baptism as and entry ritual into their community; however, one could not be baptized unless they repented and turned from their sins first.

No one is sure of what exactly happened to the Essenes. When the Romans marched through Judaea and the surrounding areas in response to the Jewish uprising, the Essenes hid their library of Scripture and writings in a series of caves in the Dead Sea region and seemingly disappeared. No one knows exactly what became of them; however, their legacy lives on in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

All of these devotions so far should make it clear that Jesus’ time period was as divided of a time as ours currently is. Perhaps it was even more divided than ours. The divisions, by the way, ultimately led to the demise of Jewish sovereignty. The Romans were notorious for making use of the “divide and conquer” method and the Jews were no exception. The challenge for us is to reflect on what divisions exist in our lives and whether or not God would want those divisions to exist. Some may be necessary; bus most dividing lines are not. Christ came to unite us to God, not to divide us away from each other. So, let us seek Christ and, to do so, is to seek unity.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Not one of us can rest, be happy, be at home, be at peace with ourselves, until we end hatred and division.” – John Lewis

PRAYER
Lord,. Help me evaluate myself and remove those things that divide me from others. Amen.

God’s People, part 40: Divided

Read Judges 20-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Jesus knew their thoughts and replied, ‘Any kingdom divided by civil war is doomed. A town or family splintered by feuding will fall apart.’” (Matthew 12:25 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.

MelGibson-BraveheartPart 40: Divided. One of my all-time favorite films was the 1995 Mel Gibson movie, “Braveheart”. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this film, if such a person exists, it is the tale of Sir William Wallace who rose from being a Scottish peasant to the noble whom Scotland hailed as the Guardian of their kingdom. While the film has many historical inaccuracies, it certainly captured heart of a people who were seeking to be unified under a single leader who would rule justly with a pure heart.

The film tells the tale of a Scottish peasant who had to marry his wife in secret so that he didn’t, by law, have to share her with the local English lord. Unfortunately, the English discovered she was married and tried to rape her; however, not before Wallace tried to free her. The attempt to liberate his love from the tyranny of the English failed, and his wife was publicly put to death in order to lure Wallace out of hiding.

It did, indeed, lure him out. It was that evil, murderous act that sparked the peasant to rise up into a brilliant noble who would lead his Scots to victory against the English at the Battle of Stirling. Again, no one knows if this truly happened this way or if this is more legend than it is history, and we do know that the battle of Stirling Bridge was missing the bridge in the film; however, the reality is that William Wallace did end up leading the Scots to a number of victories against the English.

Yet, in the end, William Wallace was betrayed, captured and ultimately killed by the English. Why? Because the leadership of Scotland were divided. Some of the nobles prized their land and money over the people they served and chose to side with the English King, while others took the side of William Wallace. A people that are divided among themselves cannot stand, but are bound to fall.

We see the same thing going on here throughout Judges, culminating in Judges 20-21. In fact, the last verse of chapter 21 is, “In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.” (Judges 21:25 NLT) Not only did they not have a king and not only did they do whatever they deemed to be right in their own eyes, but they also fought against their own people who were of different tribes.  There was utter chaos among God’s people.

We can learn from this. When we do not look to Christ as our King, when we do not follow and obey our sovereign God, we fall into chaos. We can look to all of the human rulers we want to save us, we will never find salvation through the world, nor through the women and men who lead it. Our salvation comes through Christ, the one and only true King, who has commanded that we be a people of love. When we choose, hatred, enmity, strife, division, and chaos over LOVE, we are choosing the world over God. Let us be a people who know AND FOLLOW our one, and true, Sovereign Ruler. Let us be a people who know AND FOLLOW LOVE.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Out of ignorance and fear comes judgment and division.” – David Furnish

PRAYER
Lord, help me to choose you and not become mired in the chaotic fear and ignorance of this world, which leads to division. Use me as an agent of hope, peace, love and unity. Amen.

Adversary

Read Zechariah 3

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8 NRSV)

lionI just got finished participating in an observance of Memorial Day in my community. Prior to the observance that the memorial park, we start off with an ecumenical service at the Presbyterian Church in my community. This year it was my turn to preach and so, in preparation, I began by reflecting on Memorial Day, on those who gave their lives in defense of their country and its interests, as well as on our society.

Instantly two Scriptures came to mind. The first was that of Jesus being accused of being an agent of Satan by the religious leaders in his day. That Scripture can be found in Luke 11:14-17. The second Scripture is of the division that came to mind was that of Zechariah 3:1-8, where the people are divided against the new high priest, Joshua (Yeshua in Aramaic and Jesus in Greek). Though this is not the same Jesus, from Nazareth, this Jesus is experiencing people throwing accusations against his leadership as the High Priest.

This latter text is the one that is most revealing in terms of what  I want to write about today. In that text, God has it out with the people through the voice of Zechariah. “The Lord rebukes you, Adversary,” Zechariah proclaims. “The Lord, who chooses Jerusalem, rebukes you, Adversary!” The fiery prophet’s word must’ve sounded quite harsh to those on either side of the division.

There, in the midst of the division, Zechariah denonces the “Adversary”. Now, this English word may not sound too harsh on the surface; however, the English is derived from the Hebrew word “Satan” (והשׂטן, pronounced shaw-tawn). In other words, Zechariah is denouncing and rebuking the work of Satan, the Adversary, the arch-enemy of good, amid the people of Jerusalem.

One thing to note here is that Zechariah is pointing out the key function of the Adversary’s role in opposing God. This key function is creating division. While God is trying to establish the divine Kingdom on earth through unity and peace, the Adversary is actively standing in the way of us reaching God’s divine purpose through division and disunity.

How terribly tragic that is. Just pause for a moment; just pause, close your eyes, and begin to reflect on the division you see going on in the world around you. Look at the political climate in our country. For each of the political candidates out there, there is a group of people who hate them. What’s more, they hate those who support the candidates they hate.

Look at the Church, for the church is terribly divided. Now, we in the church all talk about Christ’s call for unity, about the need to “worship without walls”, and yet we divide the body of Christ over politics, over polity, over doctrine, over gender, gender identity, over human sexuality, over theology, over race, over views on other faiths, and just about every other thing imaginable.

Here’s the thing, when we get divided, we are failing to follow God and choosing to follow the Adversary. Let that soak in. When we are divided we are NOT following God or Christ, but are following the Adversary. That is not to say that we cannot disagree on issues. That is human and can be quite healthy in the life of the church. BUT DIVISION IS NOT! Our challenge is to, like Zechariah, rebuke the Adversary and choose to be an agent of unity and peace, rather than an agent of division.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
If we don’t unite in Christ we are bound to fall, with the Adversary, in division.

PRAYER
Lord, protect me from the Adversary and keep me far from the sin of division. Make me an agent of unity and of peace and of love. 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.

Understanding Paul, part 3

Read 1 Corinthians 1:1-9

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stay true to the Lord. I love you and long to see you, dear friends, for you are my joy and the crown I receive for my work.” (Philippians 4:1 NLT)

SAN PABLO10When we read the Christian Scriptures, what has become known as the New Testament, we tend to read it as one narrative written either by the hand of God, or by hands that were dictated to and put into motion by God. In fact, all of the Bible is really read that way. While it is certainly true that the authors of the Bible were inspired by God and by there relationship with God, I think that the way we typically read the Bible takes away from the richness of the individuals who wrote it, as well as their individual contexts and communities. This is no more true than it is with Paul and his letters.

When we read Paul’s letters we read them as Scripture. We look to them for authoritative doctrine and structure for the church. We read them looking for how God wants us, as the church, to live and act. We look to them for the boundaries that make up “the church”, and we look to define what is Christian and contrast it to what IS NOT Christian. When someone says or believes something that seems to go against the rubric of the Pauline Scripture as we interpret it, we tend to distance ourselves from that person and his or her beliefs. Often time the word “heresy” will get thrown away and the label of “false teacher” or “false Christian” will get thrown around.

While I am not saying that we shouldn’t be looking toward Paul’s letters for spiritual guidance, and I am not saying that Paul’s writings aren’t authoritative or useful as a rubric against false beliefs, I am also cautious about using any Paul’s writings, or any Scripture, that way. Paul, at the time, was doing what I like to call “Situational Theology”. He had started a number of Christian communities around Asia Minor and other parts of the Roman Empire and, like in all churches, conflicts and theological disputes arose between different factions (aka cliques) in the church. In the Galatian church, he had Jewish Christians not wanting to accept uncircumcised Gentile Christians into their church community. In the church in Rome, he was dealing with Gentile Christians who were being inhospitable to the Jews in their community, among other things. In another letter, Paul is letting Philemon know that it is not cool to own slaves and that Philemon should let his slave, Onesimus, go free.

Paul, in essences, is writing Christian theological responses to specific situations within specific circumstances. As a Pharisee-turned-Apostle, he is using his understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures, in light of Christ’s death and resurrection, to address the behaviors, conflicts and situations in the local church communities he established. I do not, for one minute, believe that Paul ever foresaw his letters being called “Scripture.” Nor do I think he’d be comfortable with that, especially in light of how his words have often been interpreted.

Don’t get me wrong. I am NOT saying that Paul’s letter’s aren’t Scripture. They are because Christians have and continue to be divinely guided by Paul’s words. Nor am I saying that Paul’s words have no relevance to the church today. They obviously do, and they will continue to for all time. What I am suggesting, however, is that we need to understand the context of Paul’s letters, we need to understand the key theological components of Paul’s central and core beliefs as a Christian Apostle, in order for us to be able to appropriately interpret them in today’s time and context. As with all Scripture, it is not enough to just take the word’s of Paul literally and apply them in heavy-handed and graceless ways; rather, we need to be prayerful and open in our approach to understanding the divine wisdom in the words of Christianity’s most influential theologian.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.” (Galatians 5:25 NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, raise me up into a messenger such as Paul. Fill me with your hope and send me to proclaim that hope, the hope of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all who are hunger and thirst for it. Amen.

WORKS OF THE FLESH: Factions

Read Galatians 5:13-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“When one of you says, “I am a follower of Paul,” and another says, “I follow Apollos,” aren’t you acting just like people of the world? After all, who is Apollos? Who is Paul? We are only God’s servants through whom you believed the Good News. Each of us did the work the Lord gave us. I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow.” (1 Corinthians 3:4-6 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.”

FieryFWORKS OF THE FLESH: Factions. In the last devotion, I wrote about dissension in the church. Also, I have in the past written about cliques as well. So, why write about factions? Doesn’t cliques cover it? The answer is no, not quite. While cliques are certainly not healthy within the church, and they can end up growing to be a faction if push came to shove, but on their own cliques are no more than pockets of people who gravitate together, often times gossiping about others and putting others down. A faction, on the other hand is a much more organized and intentional group of people who are gravitating together in order to achieve a common goal. Factions are often the result of subversive dissensions.

Think back to Julius Caesar. It was a subversive dissension that ended up causing factions to rise up and splinter the Roman Republic. The end result of that was that whatever freedoms were under the Republic, and I am sure the dissenters had good reasons to question Caesar, were completely obliterated by the rising up of an empire under the absolute power of a tyrannical emperor. And that tyranny eventually led to even more tyrannical emperors who caused more subversion, which led to more factions seeking to stab the life and the power out of the emperors.

Clearly, factions are detrimental to any government or organization; however, factions are even more detrimental to the life of the Church and they go against Christ who is the very head of the Church. Paul is clear that factions should be a “no go”. For Paul, the Church was an ORGANISM not an organization. It is the resurrected and living BODY OF CHRIST, not a religious institution. In terms of your body, what good would it be if the heart took sides with the lungs and brain and stood in opposition to the lower extremities? All of the blood would go to the top half of the body and the lower half of the body would become necrotic and die. That may not sound like a big deal to the heart, lungs and brain; however, necrosis slowly spreads and eventually even the heart, lungs and head would die.

This may seem like a silly illustration, but only because IT IS A SILLY ILLUSTRATION. Body parts DON’T form factions against other body parts because it is not good for the whole of the body. A body is designed for self-preservation, growth and life. If the Church is the BODY of CHRIST, and if we are the individual parts that make up that body, then we are not designed to form factions against other parts; rather, we are to find harmony and work in cooperation with other parts for the good of the whole. Factions are like cancer and are not good for the body. Don’t take me wrong, I am not saying that healthy, constructive dissent is a cancer…it is not, and it does not lead to factions; however, subversive, undermining dissension does lead to factions and will destroy the body. The Good News is that the Holy Spirit is our immune system and if we choose to live by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we will not take part in factions even if we are being led to be an honest voice of dissent.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.” – Jesus of Nazareth (Mark 3:24-25 NRSV)
PRAYER
Lord, steer me in the opposite direction of factions. Help me to be a healthy and vibrant part of the body of Christ. Amen.

WORKS OF THE FLESH: Dissensions

Read Galatians 5:13-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For the choir director: A psalm of David. O LORD, rescue me from evil people. Protect me from those who are violent, those who plot evil in their hearts and stir up trouble all day long.” (Psalms 140:1-2 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.”

FieryDWORKS OF THE FLESH: Dissensions. Whether one is familiar with the story, has seen the play, is into history, or none of the above, chances are everyone would have heard the name Julius Caesar. Born in 100 BCE, Caesar was a war hero, an extremely brilliant and successful General, and a statesman who, through political and tactical cunning rose up the ranks in the Roman Senate. Once at the top, his ambition and his popularity never ceased. This, of course, also created for him some political enemies. Caesar’s rise to power, and his push to reform the Republic, caused a number of Senators to fear losing their powers and to fear that Caesar was a would-be monarch.

Thus, a number of subversive dissenters rose up against Caesar, and on the Ides of March (aka March 15th) in 44 BCE, Caesar was literally stabbed in the back, and a total twenty-three time all over his body for that matter, leaving his body a bloodied corpse on the Senate floor. While the conspirators thought that their dissention-driven assassination would be viewed by the masses as a heroic act; however, they were severely mistaken. Instead, their actions were viewed as treachery and what ensued was a bloody civil war, first between the conspirators and Marc Antony, along with Octavian (Julius Caesar’s great-nephew and adopted son). That campaign was followed by an even bloodier war between Antony and Octavian (both of whom were laying claim to Caesar’s legacy and possession. Eventually, Octavian won out, Antony committed suicide, and Octavian claimed the title of Emperor (taking on the name Augustus Caesar, divi filius or son of the divine one). This single handedly eliminated the Republic of Rome and made it an Empire, with Augustus as its divine emperor for life. The subversive dissenters worst fear was now fully realized.

There is a moral to be learned in all of this. Paul, who had people in his churches subversively dissenting against his authority and apostleship, knew that such dissensions never wind up being a good or healthy thing. The story of Caesar is a great illustration for us to see the nature of subversive dissension. Rather than constructively working for what one believes, those involved in such dissension work behind the scenes and conspire with others to undermine the people and the plans they don’t like. What usually happens is that the organization as whole suffers the consequences, which are far worse than what the fears driving the dissension.

Such fear is not of God. Subversive dissension is not of God. There is a place for healthy and constructive opposition. There is a place for honest dissent; however, subversive dissension is pernicious and destructive. It seeks to have power over a situation, to control an outcome in manipulative and harmful ways. Christ wants us to be filled with grace and love for one another. Christ wants us to find harmony and to let go of nonconstructive and sinful discord. Let us knock off the subversive dissension and extend the grace it takes to honestly dissent and, if possible, work with one another through difficult times and decisions.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“May we never confuse honest dissent with disloyal subversion.” – President Dwight D. Eisenhower

PRAYER
Lord, give me the grace to only dissent in constructive ways, and only for constructive reasons. Steer me away from subversive dissent, but toward peace and unity. Amen.

subversive dissent, but toward peace and unity. Amen.

WORKS OF THE FLESH: Strife

Read Galatians 5:13-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“But when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him to his face, for what he did was very wrong.” (Galatians 2:11 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: Strife. If there was anybody who knew what strife was out of the authors who wrote the Bible, Paul was certainly on the top of the list. We love to look back at early Christianity, as if it was a singular, cohesive, monolithic religion gelled together by peace, single-mindedness, harmony and accord. We sing songs like “Give me that old-time religion” as if the discord and strife we have today never used to exist, but that could not be further from the truth. All one has to do is read Galatians, the very letter that this devotion series is pulling from, to see that Paul certainly was well acquainted with strife in the church.

Paul believed that the risen Christ had been revealed to him by God and that in that revelation he found his true calling: to be an apostle to the Gentiles. Following a few years in training in Saudi Arabia, and following a meeting with Peter and James, the brother of Jesus, Paul set out to preach the Good News to the Gentiles. What was that Good News, you ask? It was that salvation had come to the rest of the world through Jesus the Christ and, through faith in Jesus as their Lord and Savior, they were now included in the covenant made by God to Abraham.

This is truly good news, right? Wrong! Or so thought James and the Jewish church in Jerusalem. For them, only Jews were saved by virtue of the covenant that God made with the Israelites at Mount Sinai. Yes, following Jesus was the ultimate expression of their Judaism; however, faith in Jesus was not enough. One still had to obey the laws, including restricting his or her diet to kosher foods and through circumcision (for males). Those things set one apart from the Gentile world and marked the Jews as God’s people. James and the Jerusalem Church were very much opposed to Paul’s version of the Gospel; even Peter had his reservations because of James’ position, leading Paul to publicly call Peter a hypocrite.

Yes Paul knew much about strife. Paul also did everything he could to eliminate it. Though he disagreed with James and the Jerusalem church, he still tried to partner with them and find common ground. He still called his Gentile churches to support the Church in Jerusalem, which had taken a vow of poverty. Our challenge is, even in the midst of controversial and heated debates, to work harder to maintain a sense of harmony with other Christians who see things differently than us. The church today is divided on a host of different issues. Human sexuality, marriage equality, abortion, social justice, church and state, as well as theology and other things have all been issues that have proven to bring much strife in Christianity. While these are important issues, and Christians need to take a stand for what they believe in, God is calling us to do so in a way that does not demonize Christians who disagree with us. Remember, there are Christians on either side of any given debate. Let us, while holding fast to what we believe, approach each other with that kind humble understanding. Let us join Paul in his quest to eliminate strife.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“When you are full of pride on the inside, it makes you stiff, stubborn, and creates strife with others.” – John C. Maxwell

PRAYER
Lord, inspire me to be a person who balances the need to fight for what is right and the call to see you in my Christian brothers and sisters who are opposed to the dictates of where, in my heart and conscience, I believe the Holy Spirit is leading the Church. Amen.

In Search for the Essentials

Read Matthew 22:34-40

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are My disciples.” (John 13:35)

DiscipleTattooWhen it comes to how Christians should treat each other regarding theological and doctrinal differences, there is a seventeenth century quote that says, “In the essentials unity, in the non-essentials liberty, in all things, charity (meaning love).” Yet, it seems as if that is much easier said than done in Christianity, or any religion for that matter. People tend to invest themselves in their religions, and they identify themselves by their beliefs, and so doctrines and theologies become awfully personal.

As such, attacks against one’s beliefs often ends up getting translated as an attack against oneself. I have, no doubt, been both on the receiving and the giving ends of those attacks. If we are honest, most of us have been. Sometimes when one questions someone’s beliefs, he or she is not meaning to “attack” at all; however, it gets interpreted that way because of the personal nature of faith. Yet, there are many times that one just vehemently disagrees with the beliefs of another, often feeling that their beliefs are threatened the opposing beliefs of another, and so they react in ways that are both spiritually damaging and ungodly.

Sometimes it isn’t even beliefs that called into question, but personal practices or forms of expression. For instance, I have been questioned before because I have eight tattoos. I have been asked, “What would Jesus think of you having those tattoos? Surely, you must know that Jesus was a good Jewish boy and he would not have condoned your marking your body up like that.” What does one say to such a comment? It is true that Jesus would not have been down at the tattoo parlor getting WWJD and fish symbols tattooed to his body; however, it is also true that Jesus wouldn’t have been eating shrimp. He wouldn’t have eaten pork. He wouldn’t be wearing clothing with mixed fibers (e.g. shirts made with cotton and polyester). Yet, the majority of Christians have no problem eating and wearing such things.

Of course, I could go on quoting Jesus on what defiles a person, or perhaps quoting Paul on how Christians are free to do all things in Christ, though not all things are beneficial. But that is beyond the point. How do we, as people of faith, live into the quote above? First off, what are the essentials? It seems that there are no groups of Christians that can agree on just what the essentials are. One group will hold the Apostles Creed as the essentials; however, other groups might dispute one or more of the Apostle’s Creed as essential. What’s more, even if they accept the Apostle’s Creed as essential, they might interpret its parts differently than others, leading to conflict. If people can’t agree on what is essential, then it is impossible to move beyond to what is non-essential.

Where is charity in all of this? Where is love? Thankfully for us Christians, Jesus answered what is MOST important for all people of faith, and I will extend this decree to all people of faith…and not just Christians. What is most important, what is essential, is this: that you LOVE God with all of your being, and that you LOVE your neighbor as yourself. For Jesus, those two commands summed up all of the laws of Judaism and were what was essential to that religion. As such, that is what is essential for Christians as well, and be hard pressed not to see that as essential for all people, regardless of faith. If we all were more unified in our LOVE of God, as opposed to our LOVE of OUR IDEA OF GOD, and if we were all unified in our LOVE OF NEIGHBOR, then we would find out that the non-essentials would fade away and that CHARITY would rule the day. This is what we, as beings created in the image of God, are called to do…to LOVE and to never cease in that LOVE.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“So don’t make judgments about anyone ahead of time—before the Lord returns. For He will bring our darkest secrets to light and will reveal our private motives. Then God will give to each one whatever praise is due.” Paul of Tarsus, (1 Corinthians 4:5)

PRAYER

Lord, give me the grace to be graceful and give me peace enough in my own beliefs so that I do not feel threatened by the beliefs of others.  In you, I am secure. Fill me with your love so that I may, in turn, love others. Amen.

Born to Follow Revisited

Read Galatians 3:23-29

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.” (John 13:34)

Bon_Jovi_TheCircleAlong with being a pastor and a chaplain, I am also the co-coordinator of the district youth team in the district that I am serving. As the District Youth Co-coordinator, I am act as a bridge between the youth in each of the local congregations within the district. This past weekend I co-led a district wide Open-Mic Night which turned out to be a wonderful evening of listening to all of the many talents that came out and shared their gifts. I also performed and, being that I just recently wrote about it, I chose to perform Bon Jovi’s “We Weren’t Born to Follow”, among others.  It really is an awesome song and it is a lot of fun to sing to. So, I gave that song my all and enjoyed rocking out to it.

Prior to singing the song, I explained to the people present that I had just written a devotion about the song, and how we ARE actually BORN TO FOLLOW. We are born to follow the ONE who created us. We are born to follow LOVE and to be LOVE wherever we may go. I basically succinctly summed up what I had written in that devotion, because I feel that it is important to take the stigma off of following. There is NOTHING wrong with being a follower…depending on who or what it is that one is following.

But I didn’t end it there, as I had in the last devotion. It is absolutely true that WE ARE BORN TO FOLLOW, that we were made in our Creator’s image, and were born to follow the example and the path that our Creator laid before us. That being said, Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora weren’t talking about that when they both wrote the song; rather, they were talking about following what others tell us about ourselves…about following in line with who and what world tells us we are. I am not sure where Jon and Richie stand spiritually, especially regarding this song; however, there is definitely some wisdom to be found in their words.

This world often tells us that we ought define ourselves based off of what we do for a living, based off of our status in life, based off of what community we live in, based off of our income, and based off of other such things. The world tells us how thin to be, how pretty to be, what clothes to wear, what foods to eat, and how to continue to hollow ourselves out into shallow, empty shells with no purpose or meaning to fill our lives. If we turn to the world we learn about might makes right, strength (aka force/violence) equals peace, and that there is a pecking order that we need to submit ourselves to.

But WE ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY WERE NOT BORN TO FOLLOW THE WORLD!!!! We were born to follow God, in whom there is no longer Jew or Greek or French or Iraqi or Russian or American. We were born to to follow God, in whom there is no longer slave or free, male or female or transgendered or whatever other label the world wants to impose on each of us. That is not to say that we should ignore the unique value of each individual, or that we should pretend we don’t have differences, but that we should stop limiting our sights to the “labels” that we use to define each individual!

In the end, we are all CHILDREN OF GOD! That’s what matters! Each one of us was born a child of God, which makes each one of us related to each other in and by the Spirit of God. We weren’t born to follow the World’s labels or definitions. We weren’t born to follow the things of this world but, rather, were were born and are called to follow our Creator who had deemed us to be one, to be united as kin! Let us stop getting hung up on what the world tells us to think and/or to do, and let us preoccupy ourselves with following the ONE who created us with a purpose and a plan in mind: TO LOVE ONE ANOTHER AS GOD HAS LOVED US!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Keep love in your heart. A life without it is like a sunless garden when the flowers are dead.” – Oscar Wilde

PRAYER

Lord, help me to tear down the walls of division in my heart. Heal me and teach me to love others as you love me. Amen.