Tag Archives: Evil

The Face of Evil, part 3

Read Romans 12:19-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8 NLT).”

Continuing on with the Halloween Franchise, we come up to a whole knew era of the Michael Myers Saga, where he gets a fresh new look from an metal icon turned film director, Rob Zombie. As was mentioned previously, Halloween was based on the film Psycho by Alfred Hitchcock, based off of the novel of the same name by Robert Bloch. In that film, we follow Norman Bates, a deranged, mentally ill man who murdered his mother and assumed her identity. It was scary, and Norman did monstrous things; however, you can’t help but pity him because he cannot help himself.

In Halloween, John Carpenter removes the sympathetic side of the killer out. The film starts with what we believe to be a human being…a six year old boy. We then find out that all humanity has left that little boy as he brutally murders his sister. When he finallyreturns to Haddonfield fifteen years later following an escape from a Mental Health facility, he is no longer a “human being.” Rather, he is a “shape”. The mask he wears is a ghostly shape of a face, and he lingers in the dark, awaiting for someone to pass by him in the shadows. In the original 1978 film, and subsequent sequels, Michael Myers is a rage-filled, unrelenting killing machine with no soul, no moral compass, and no awareness of self even. He is evil incarnate.

Rob Zombie, on the other hand, rebooted the original and took it into a different realm. Instead of dismissing the notion that evil is an evolution, Zombie challenges our understanding of what is evil and how it develops. In his film, we see a young Michael Myers, who is ten years old in this version. We see him at first playing with a rat and then we pan downstairs to see his mom ccoking dinner for her husband and kids. You can tell that they are a lower income, working class, and somewhat dysfunctional family.

When we see young Michael again, he’s washing blood off of his hands and a sharp instrument. He had killed the rat. Clearly, this young child is mentally ill. As we learn more about his home and school environment, it becomes clear that Michael’s behavior is a result of surviving abuse and neglect. His step father is abusive and his mother, who is also an exotic dancer, does her best, but that is not nearly enough for her children. Alcholism, sexual debauchery, and abuse exist in the Myers house.

At school, Michael is bullied and is constantly getting into trouble for writing and drawing distrubing things. The point is, the first third of the film were spent establishing Michael’s back story. The second third of the film is spent showing an adult Michael in the hospital as an adult, his eventual escape and his return to Haddonfield, the final third fo the film is spent the usual way, people running for their lives, blood, guts, mayhem and, eventually, Michael is defeated…but not really. There’s always a sequel, and there was a sequel for Zombie’s film.

In this, Rob Zombie is taking us beyond just sympathizing with a sick person and he is taking us beyond seeing evil as just this unpreventable, unstoppable force that we could never participate in or become; rather, Zombie is reminding us that, while evil does exist, human evil does not exist in a vacuum. Things aren’t always so black & white and, frankly, evil begets more evil. Had Michael grown up in a functional, loving, nurturing environment, his mental illness might not have taken the violent turn it did; what’s more, the household he lived in was so eroded by sin that evil was the natural result…and once evil is unleashed, it becomes a nearly unstoppable force that MUST be eradicated.

This should challenge us to not only avoid being so quick to make judgments, but it also should challenge us to really reflect on the ways we might be contributing to the sin and evil in the world. That is not to say that such mindfulness will result in nobody slipping through the cracks, but it would help us to ensure as few do as possible. Let us be a people who not only avoid being overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Let’s reverse EVIL and by turning to God and beginning to trust him to help us LIVE the lives we were created to live.

PRAYER
Lord, help me to avoid evil but also help me to confront and resist it when it presents itself. Give me the courage and the strength. Amen.

The Face of Evil, part 1

By Rev. Todd R. Lattig

Read Romans 3:1-20

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.” (Romans 12:21)

One of my all-time favorite horror films is John Carpenter’s Halloween, which was inspired by another one of my favorite horror films, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. The two films have been monumentally impactful in the horror genre. What’s more, the two films are connected to each other because the two lead actresses are literally related to each other. That’s right, Janet Leigh, who starred in Psycho, is Halloween star, Jamie Lee Curtis’ mother. In fact, in 1998 for the 20th anniversary of Halloween, both Jamie Lee and Janet Leigh starred together in Halloween: H20.

Trivia aside, there’s a lot we can learn from Halloween; however, before we do, we need to look at it’s predecessor, Psycho. In that film, Anthony Perkins plays a seemingly kind but socially awkward motel owner who incidentally meets Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) as she stops for the night due to the rain being so bad. Seeing that the Bates Motel had vacancy, she pulls in and meets Norman (Anthony Perkins) who checks her in and offers her food.

What Norman doesn’t know is that Marion had stolen $40,000 from her employer’s client and was on the run. Her boyfriend didn’t know she was going to pull this off, nor did her sister. So, no one knows that Marion is at the Bates Motel, let alone where she might be. What Marion doesn’t know is that there’s more than meets the eye at the Bates motel and, as a matter of fact, we find out that not only is Norman a perverted peeping Tom, but his “mother” is super jealous of other women.

That last fact, sadly, cost Marion her life. While taking a shower, Norman’s “mother” came into the bathroom slowly and silently, ripped open the curtin and stabbed Marion to death with a large kitchen knife. The scene was more than memorable, it literally scarred some people enough that they refused to take a shower again. Of course, Hitchcock being the brilliant director he was, the scene was pulled off without ever showing the knife connect with the body and, in pure Hitchcock fashion, the blood shown going down the drain was actually Bosco Chocolate Syrup because Hitchcock discovered that it looked more red in the Black & White format. Even shooting in B&W was purposeful, as Technicolor was widely available at the time and Hitchcock chose not to shoot it that way.

Of course, I put the word “mother” in quotes because we learn that Norman’s mother is really dead. Norman was into taxidermy and, after poisoning her, he preserved her well and kept her in the basement. To compensate for the loss of his overbearing mother, Norman dressed up like her, imitated her voice and assumed her identity.

As it turned out, Norman was a very sick man who had Dissociative Identity (formerly known as Multiple Personality) Disorder. He was Norman some of the time, he was Mrs. Bates the rest of the time. As Norman, he was a frail, lonely, insecure, awkward boy in a man’s body. As Mrs. Bates, he was cold, demanding, cruel and, as we find out in the film, jealously murderous.

The beauty of this film is how forward thinking it was in terms of mental health. It’s shocking conclusion, with Norman completely gone and Mrs. Bates being completely the dominant personality, really forces the viewer to come face-to-face with mental illness. One cannot hate Norman at the end of the film. Sure, he horrifies you, but there is a level of pity you have for him. His victims should not have died, not even his cruel mom, but he is a victim in all of this too and he cannot help himself.

In our society, we often look at killers such as Norman Bates as being the “Face of Evil”, but Psycho challenges this. Was Norman evil? I mean, yes…what he did was evil, but was Norman Bates, the man, evil? Or was he a sick individual who slipped through the cracks only to turn up when it was brutally too late? Psycho was a very 1960s way of looking at what we call “evil” and trying to put the humanity back into it.

Overall, that is a great thing because, as easy as it would be to view Norman Bates as less than human or a monster, he really is not much different than you and I. The only difference is how his mind works and, truthfully, all of our minds work a bit differently. Norman Bates was a man who was created and loved by God. No, God did not wish for Norman’s life to go down the path it did; however, since when did that give us the permission to BE GOD and judge?

In fact, one of the many faces of evil is JUDGMENT. People who think they are God enough to pass judgment are putting on evil as their way of life. That does not make THEM evil, but their judgmental attitudes are evil for sure. So, before we start getting all self-righteous, we really do need to take a back seat to God. Let us remember that, no matter how awful a person may be acting, they are still a child of God and we are called to love everyone…not judge them.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Evil is as evil does.

PRAYER
Lord, lead me away from temptation and deliver me from evil. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: Evil Begotten

Read Romans 12:9-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)

Maleficent2

Boy do my wife and daughters know how to make me feel special. Several years ago, for Father’s day, following church and fellowship, they treated me out to see: Disney’s “Maleficent”, which stars Angelina Jolie in the title role. What a spectacular film to get to see and it actually exceeded my expectations, which were quite high, in ways I never foresaw.

While I am not going to ruin the film with spoilers, I will address a theme that is predominant in the film in a way that does not give away anymore of the plot than the trailers and/or previews give. The movie starts off with a young fairy named Maleficent, who was actually anything but Maleficent. She was kind-hearted, thoughtful and filled with the love of life. But all of that changes after her heart, her trust and her hope are broken because of the evil deeds of a greedy and vengeful king.

The evil that was perpetrated against her land, and the evil that was perpetrated against her and her kind, caused her to grow angry and resentful. It drove her to hate the king and all humans for what they had done toward her. It spiraled her downward into becoming a hellish, shadowing, and vengeful queen seeking to bring curses against the ones who sought to destroy her. Evil had begotten evil.

For those of you who have seen the original Walt Disney classic, Sleeping Beauty, you know what becomes of Maleficent and what the evil begotten above did to her. Evil never stays in one place and it found it’s way into the life of an innocent girl named Aurora, who was to be princess of the land. Because of Maleficent’s evil curse, this princess was doomed to be in a “sleep like death”, which could only be broken by “true love’s kiss.” What a sad and tragic story indeed. Where does the evil end?

Some of you might be screaming, “Time out! Why is it that this world wants you to sympathize with the villains? Who cares why Maleficent did what she did?!?! It was wrong and there is no excuse for it!” That is true, there is not excuse for the evil that Maleficent perpetrated on others; however, the world is not so black and white. It is easy when we look at the Maleficents of the world and point the finger, but not so easy when we are forced to look in the mirror at ourselves. How has evil affected you? How have you let the hurts you’ve endured and the challenges that you have faced to effect you? Have you ever lashed out at others because you yourself were hurt and/or vulnerable?

For each of us, the answer to these questions and others like them will be different. Each of us carries around our own set of baggage. Each of us have fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) and have been a participant in sin, and even evil, whether we realize it or not. The point of this is not to shame you or make you feel guilty, but to humbly liberate you from the judgmentalism we so often get trapped in.

Sitting in the judgment seat of God (as Maleficent ended up doing), is not the way to stop evil in its tracks; rather, the best way to stop evil is to simply choose not to participate in it and to counter act it with our love and compassion. We have the choice to repent of our own participation in evil, to reject its pull on our lives, and to rise up out of it with the strong wings of God’s grace. Though we have all suffered, one way or the other, as a result of evil…we can choose not follow suit. So, say NO to evil and YES to the “true love” that God is willing to fill you with.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. – Jesus of Nazareth, Matthew 5:44-45

PRAYER

Lord, pull me away from temptation and deliver me from evil. Fill me with your forgiveness so that I may forgive. Amen.

The Vineyard Revisited

Read Mark 12:1-12

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I will test you with the measuring line of justice and the plumb line of righteousness. Since your refuge is made of lies, a hailstorm will knock it down. Since it is made of deception, a flood will sweep it away.” (Isaiah 28:17 NLT)

The+Vineyard

Jesus had stirred up a hornets nest. Just the day prior, he had gone into the temple, violently overturning the tables, let the animals loose, and drove out anyone who was buying or selling goods for sacrifice, as well as anyone changing their currency into the currency accepted in the Temple or vice versa. The next day, he had also told the religious leaders that he didn’t need to answer their questions, since they were unwilling to answer his. Things were about to get pretty ugly, and Jesus knew it.

Following this, Jesus began to tell a parable. He told of a man who built a vineyard and leased it out as a cropshare to other tenants. When it was time for the harvest, this man sent his servant to collect his share of the crops; however, the tenants grabbed the servant, beat him up, and sent him back to the man empty handed. So he sent another, and another. Only, these times the servants were not only beaten but killed.

Finally, the man sends his son to show the tenants how sincere he was about getting his share of the crops. He figured the tenants would see his son, and see that the son came in his authority, and have a change of heart. He hoped they would finally give his share of the crops to his son to return back to the man. Instead, these wicked tenants took hold of the son, beat him and killed him with the intent of taking ownership of the entire estate.

Following the parable, Jesus asked the religious leaders what the man would do once he heard that his son had been killed. Instead of answering, they stood their quiet. They knew the answer, but could not bring themselves to answer it. So, Jesus answered it for them and said, “I’ll tell you—he will come and kill those farmers and lease the vineyard to others. Didn’t you ever read this in the Scriptures? ‘The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone. This is the LORD’s doing, and it is wonderful to see.'” (Mark 12:9-11 NLT)

Of the many parables that Jesus taught, this one seems to be one of the least understood. The end of the parable seems to overshadow people’s interpretation of the rest of it, meaning that God’s wrath seems to overshadow a parable that is otherwise filled with grace. Yet, despite the last couple of sentences, the whole verse gives us a clue as to Jesus’ mission on earth, which was ultimately a mission of God’s unconditional love and grace.

We often look at the cross and Jesus’ sacrifice on it as being substitutionary, meaning that Jesus death was a substitute for our own. Those of us who understand Jesus’ sacrifice and death in this way, often view God as a just God, one who is angry at sin, and because of God’s absolute holiness, cannot allow for sin to go unpunished. Thus, God demands blood as a price for such sin and, knowing this, Jesus offered himself as the blameless, sinless lamb as an atonement for us.

Yet, when you look at this parable, I think it is clear that Jesus is pointing us to a subtly different way of understanding this parable. The cross wasn’t necessary because God is wrathful, vindictive and needed blood to atone for sin. Besides, how is sending an innocent person to his/her death, for the benefit of the guilty, justice? Instead, the cross was necessary because it was the ONLY thing that could shock us enough to SEE our sin for what it is. The horror of the cross reflects the horror of human sin and evil.

In the parable, the landowner who sends his son represents God, for sure, and the landowner’s wrath is a reminder to us that God is ANGRY, and should be angry, at our sin. Yet, the parable is not conveying to us the whole of God’s plan. The parable is meant to teach us that God has tried and tried and tried to bring us to repentance and redemption. God has sent us messengers and messages throughout the millennia to reach us, but our sin kept us from hearing and seeing. What the parable does not tell us is that God not only sent his son, but was the Son. That God took on human flesh and became one of us, knowing that it would lead to his own death. Unlike the landowner, God didn’t destroy us, but brought redemption to us through self-sacrificial LOVE on the cross. God transformed a device of human torture and death into a profound symbol of forgiveness, salvation, and LIFE!

The wrathful ending to the parable is a reflection that God’s plan of redemption cannot be thwarted by our sin. The very people who nailed Jesus to the cross had stumbled on the cornerstone and, no matter how much they thought they had won the day, they had totally lost the battle. While they further damaged their relationship with God and further corrupted their own souls in the process, God’s plan of redemption carried forward from the cross to the empty tomb. In other words, while human sin put Jesus on the cross, God’s redemptive plan came to life again and walked right out of the tomb three days later. The challenge for us, as we journey through Lent, is this: will we humble ourselves, repent and be redeemed, or will we allow sin to further separate us from our loving Creator? In the end, it’s our choice.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“May the perfect grace and eternal love of Christ our Lord be our never-failing protection and help.” – St. Ignatius

PRAYER
Lord, lead me to repentance and save me from the power of sin in my life. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: 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)

TheWitch01

The 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 serrated 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.

The Sins of the Father

Read Exodus 34:5-7

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he makes sinners right in his sight when they believe in Jesus.”  (Romans 3:25-26, NLT)

One of my favorite films is The Wolf Man. Of course, the original 1941 film with Lon Chaney, Jr. is my absolute favorite; however, I also loved the flawed but still awesome 2010 remake with Benicio Del Toro. The unrated extended version is the one to watch if you are going to take my recommendation, as it takes more time to develop the characters and scenarios than the theatrical version did. The music by Danny Elfman is brilliant and the special effects by Rick Baker won a much deserved Academy Award for Best Special Effects.

SPOILER ALERT: I will be discussing in this devotion some major plot twists in the 2010 Wolfman film, so if you haven’t seen it and don’t want it spoiled, now is the time to stop reading and go watch the film first. In that film, Lawrence Talbot is an actor who is estranged from his father and brother. One evening, following a stage performance of Hamlet, his brother’s fiancee, Gwen Conliffe, visits Lawrence asking if he has seen or heard from his brother. Of course, he hadn’t and Gwen pleads with him to return to his father’s home to search for his brother.

To make a long story short, he does return home and his brother turns up dead, torn apart by what seems to have been a wild animal or beast. As you get further into the film you begin to quickly realize why Lawrence was estranged from his family: his father. There was something off about him and the audience quickly picks up on that. He’s distant, ice cold, and downright creepy. There’s a hollow blackness, an abyss, in his eyes and you just can’t help but feel he’s hiding a secret.

You also find out that at a young age Lawrence witnessed what we first are led to believe was the suicide of his mother. Later, however, we find out that her death was not a suicide, but accidental homocide by his father. You see, Sir John Talbot (Lawrence’s father), had been bitten on a hunting trip and, upon eventually turning into a werewolf, he attacked and killed his wife. Lawrence witnessed this, went into shock, and was subsequently sent to a mental institution to be treated for his “psychotic delusions”.  Over time, Lawrence repressed those memories; however, they surface once his father reveals the truth about his curse.

As it turns out, it was also his father who attacked and mauled his brother, because his brother was going to get married to Gwen, whom the father has a clear and creepy love interest in. As you can see, there’s A LOT wrong with the father in this story. Again, to keep this as short as possible, prior to knowing his father’s dark secret, he is bit by a werewolf (who happens to be his father) and is thus cursed to become a werewolf himself! The father’s sins are passed on to his son, who then passes it on to others as he terrorizes his village and even London as a werewolf.

This reminds me of our Scripture passage for today, where God warns that the sins of the parents will be passed down from generation to generation, causing calamity for many as a result of wickedness. While people aren’t cursed with lycanthropy in the physical/literal sense, it is clear that we are born into families that all have their levels of dysfunction. Each family is filled with human beings who are sinful by nature. Tragically, those sins are passed on to the children and so on and so forth.

Racism, oppression, injustice, inequity, poverty, hatred, bigotry, violence, and all of the sin and evil we see in the world are the result of this curse that is upon humanity. In Christianity, we call that the doctrine of Original Sin, which came up on the first humans and have passed on to each generation since. The good news is that, unlike Lawrence, we have an much better solution to this curse than a silver bullet. Our solution is Jesus Christ, who took the curse of our sins upon himself and died for us so that we might be free from sin and death and inherit eternal life! WOW! What good news, right?

All that is required is that we believe in the ONE who has saved us, turn our lives over to Him and allow him to change us from the heart outward. If we do that, though we will still fall short and sin, that sin will not hold sway over us and it will begin to break the chains of sin that affect the ones we love. This is the Gospel message. Today, I challenge you to reflect on your life and on the sins that affected you as well as your own sins that have affected others. Pray for forgivenness, open your heart to Jesus Christ, seek reconcilation with those you’ve wronged if possible, and begin to life for Christ who saved you!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not whether they be clergymen or laymen, they alone will shake the gates of Hell and set up the kingdom of Heaven upon Earth.” – John Wesley

PRAYER
Lord, help me fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but you so that I may joing you in hell shaking and kingdom making. Amen.

God’s People, part 261: Jailer

Read Acts 16:16-39

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s People, part 211: Jerusalem

Read Matthew 23:37-39

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth, before Abraham was even born, I AM!’”  (John 8:58, 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.

Jerusalem-2013-Aerial-Temple_Mount-(south_exposure)Part 211: Jerusalem. When I look at the United States of America, the country from which I am from, I find myself in lament nowadays. Don’t get me wrong, I take great pride in being an American and I love my country dearly. I really, really do. My father served this country in the Army over in Vietnam and is paying the price for his service. Yet, he would never take back his service. While, I did not serve in the military, I come from a family where mostly everyone did.

So, I come from a family that is deeply rooted in this country and I grew up being proud of it. I have a deep respect for America and for those who have sacrifice so much to serve it and to make it a place of freedom and opportunity. In fact, it is out of this love for my country that my lament comes. When I look around today and see the deep, ever intensifying division, my heart sinks. There is social discord on just about every level imaginable.

Looking at all of this, I have thought to myself that this is not the America I grew up in. Yet, the more I reflect on that statement, I am beginning to realize that it is untrue. This is the America I grew up in, we just did a better job at hiding it. These divisions we see now are not divisions that sprouted up over night; rather, they are divisions that have been brewing behind the scenes and now, following a few significant triggers, they are now exploding all over the place. So, I find myself in lament.

To lament is to passionately express grief or sorrow. In our Scripture reading for today, we see Jesus lamenting over Jerusalem. Like how I feel about my country, Jesus had a love for Jerusalem, like any good Jew would have. This was the city of his ancestor David and was the center of Jewish worship. This was a city with much history and glory, a city to which people from all around the world came to visit.

Yet, the leadership in Jerusalem were corrupt and their hearts were hardened. They didn’t care about those suffering underneath them. They didn’t care about those affected by their rigid laws and their calloused attitudes to those in a much weaker and vulnerable state than they were in. All that they really cared about was maintaining the status quo so that they could keep ahold of the power they had acquired.

Even if that mean consorting with the Romans, they were willing to do what it took to keep themselves at the top. Of course, they claimed that they were looking out for the safety of their people, and they no doubt fooled themselves into believing that; however, Jesus saw their hearts and the hearts of those who came before them. This was the same city that through Jeremiah into a cistern, the same city from with the wicked kings of Judah’s past had allowed idolatrous temples to be built for the worship of foreign gods, and the same city that had put countless prophets and people of God to death. What’s more, they were about to do it again in putting Jesus, the Son of God, to death.

Friends, it is out of a love of one’s country that one laments the evil found within it. We often think that patriotic loyalty means a blind acceptance of one’s nation without any questioning of the powers that be. This, however, is not patriotic loyalty, it is merely a toxic form of nationalism that put one’s nation over and above God and all that is good and right.

Let us be challenged by Jesus lament over Jerusalem and let us look with Christ’s eyes at our own countries. No matter where you are from, you live in a country that sometimes gets it right, and other times gets it wrong? In what ways, and over what things, should you be lamenting. More importantly, what are you willing to do about it? Jesus’ marched into Jerusalem and offered himself up as a sacrifice for the world’s sins. While we can never do what Christ did, we can offer ourselves up for Christ and for the Christian witness in our world. I pray we all have the strength and courage to do so.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not whether they be clergymen or laymen, they alone will shake the gates of Hell and set up the kingdom of Heaven upon Earth.” – John Wesley

PRAYER
Lord, help me to see things clear enough to lament the wrong I see, and give me the courage to stand against such things in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: Meet Antichrist

bflw-devotional-800x490Writing the Life-Giving Water devotionals is not only an important ministry, but is a deeply rewarding spiritual discipline for me as well. With that said, observing Sabbath (aka rest) is an important spiritual discipline as well. So here is a LOOK BACK to a devotion I wrote in the past. Read it, reflect on it, be challenged by it. Who knows how God will speak to you through it and how it will bear relevance in your life today? May the Holy Spirit guide you as you read the suggested Scripture and subsequent devotion.