Tag Archives: God

God’s People, part 283: Epenetus

Read Romans 16:5

“By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.”  (Galatians 5:22-23, 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.

Part 283: Epenetus. There isn’t a whole lot to write about Epenetus, who is only mentioned in one verse in the entire Bible; however, it is important that we do mention him because of the distinction that Paul gives him in that verse. Paul wrote: “Greet my dear friend Epenetus. He was the first person from the province of Asia to become a follower of Christ” (Romans 16:5, NLT).

Thus, as can be seen from Paul’s own words, Epenetus was the first person to convert to Christianity in all of the Roman province of Asia, which includes modern day Turkey and Greece. Thus, in many ways, Epenetus was the beginning of Western Christianity. Prior to that, Christians were relegated to Judaea and Syria and the surrounding areas. There were, of course, Christians who spread the Gospel east into the continent of Asia; however, Paul was responsible for bringing the faith West through the Roman province of Asia to Rome.

Paul refers to Epenetus a dear friend, which makes sense given the amount of time he would have known him for by the writing of this epistle (letter). Epenetus would have first met Paul somewhere between 48 and 52 CE, either during Pauls’ first or second missionary journey. Traditionally, Epenetus was from Ephesus, though Paul does not specifically say that he was and, so, it is possible that he met Paul as early as 48 or 49 CE. By the time Paul wrote Romans, it was 57 CE and he had known Epenetus for many years.

Epenetus was among the group, led by Phoebe, bringing the letter of Paul to the Romans. Paul asks the church to greet him, stating that Epenetus was the FIRST to convert to the Christian faith in the province of Asia. This is important to Paul to mention because it meant that Epenetus was the first fruit of the mission to the Gentiles, a fruit that would not have been born had it not been for the receptiveness of Gentiles from the province of Asia, such as Epenetus.

There’s not much more to write about him, but it is clear that Paul was showing the Roman church the glory of God through Epenetus. We may start small, but God takes those small seeds and grows them into and untameable and luscious garden filled with the fruit of the Spirit. Apart from God, our efforts would be futile; however, with God, our efforts grow immeasurably.

This should challenge us. As Christians in the modern world, there are a host of challenges that might scare us from spreading the good news; however, do we trust that God can see us through those challenges and immeasurably grow our efforts. Let us be truthful, the challenges we have to day may be slightly different than the challenges in the first centuries of Christianity; however, that makes them no less challenging.

The question for us is this: will we persist in spreading the Good News to all people and communities we come across? If so, how will we spread it? Through personal witness, through acts of kindness, through generosity, through the way we conduct ourselves, or through other means? Our efforts may seem small and miniscule; however, through God, there is nothing that will be able to stand in the way of people coming to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Let us, then, accept this challenge openly and see it through, for Christ’s sake.

There is no limit on Christ. Through Christ, all things are possible.

Lord, renew my faith in you so that I may take risks for your kingdom and bear witness to your miraculous work. Amen.

God’s People, part 282: Phoebe

Read Romans 16:1-2

“There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  (Galatians 3:28, NLT)

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

Part 282: Phoebe. Throughout church history, women have often been seen as “less than” men when it comes to the titles, functions, and duties within the church. Utilizing verses from Ephesians, 1 & 2 Timothy, and a more-than-likely misplaced margin note accidentally inserted into 1 Corinthians, the church has told women that they are not to teach men, that they are to remain silent, and submissive to male authority. This, obviously, has hurt the church in more ways than one and, it has caused many modern women (and men) to leave the church.

Sadly, this ages old interpretation of Paul’s writing is inaccurate and has damaged the church’s witness to the world. Honestly, some of the most faithful and loyal witnesses of the faith have been women. It was Mary Magdalene who first preached the Good News to the disciples, making her the Apostle to the Apostles. In fact, Paul mentions numerous women serving in all sorts of capacities in his earliest of churches.

Take Phoebe for instance. In today’s Scripture reading, we see that Paul writes, “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a deacon in the church in Cenchrea” (Romans 16:1, NLT). Cenchrea was a village in the city of Corinth. Not only does he mention her at the top of his final greeting to the Roman church, which bears much significance, but he called her a deacon, which means that she was a leader in her church. If Paul were against women in leadership, this would certainly contradict his own mindset on the issue. The fact that Paul joyfully acknowledges Phoebe is proof that he never had such a mindset.

Let’s not stop there, though. Paul goes on to write, “Welcome her in the Lord as one who is worthy of honor among God’s people. Help her in whatever she needs, for she has been helpful to many, and especially to me”  (Romans 16:2, NLT). Paul mentioning her first in such a way indicates much to us. First, she was being sent as Paul’s emissary to the church in Rome, who clearly did not know Phoebe of Corinth.

Thus, he sends her with not only her name and leadership position (deacon), but he sends to them instructions on how she is to be treated as well. Deacon Phoebe was to be welcomed as one worthy of honor among God’s people. She was to be helped in whatever she needed or required, for she had been helpful to many, including Paul. There is no one else who Paul talks more highly of, in all of his letters, than Phoebe.

Phoebe was sent to deliver Paul’s letter to Rome and, with her, Paul sent an entire delegation to help her. Paul expected the men…and the women…to treat Phoebe as if it were Paul they were welcoming in. This, my friends, is more than enough evidence for us to recognize that Paul had a fairly egalitarian view when it came to serving Christ. While the majority of Pauls companions and co-workers were men, as was too be expected of the time he lived in, Paul mentions a number of women who were instrumental in leadership and in witnessing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

This should challenge us. There are many Christians today that hold a “Complimentary View” of leadership. “Complimentary” is a nice word for a tired interpretation of the Bible. It simply means that God created men for leadership, and women to be subservient to men. People will try to smooth that fact over, but that is the truth of the Complimentarianism.

We as Christians need to see that Paul was, in fact, much more egalitarian in his view of leadership. I am sure Paul did not think of it like we do, and probably would not have used those terms; however, if someone showed themselves to be a leader, filled with the Holy Spirit, Paul did not restrict them or stand in their way because of their gender. As such, neither should we. Let us all work together, women and men alike, for in Jesus Christ we are one.

Let no one deem unworthy whom God has deemed worthy.

Lord, help me to see all through your eyes and give me the humility to treat all of your servants, women and men alike, with equality, equity and dignity. Amen.

God’s People, part 181: Rome

Read Acts 28:17-31

“Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13, 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.

281: Rome. As was mentioned in the previous devotion, there was a church already established in the city of Rome. We know that this church was not established by Paul himself; however, word of the church and their faith had reached Paul and he very much wanted to visit them. We know this from his own writings to the church in his epistle to the Romans. In that letter, he wrote:

My ambition has always been to preach the Good News where the name of Christ has never been heard, rather than where a church has already been started by someone else…In fact, my visit to you has been delayed so long because I have been preaching in these places. But now I have finished my work in these regions, and after all these long years of waiting, I am eager to visit you. I am planning to go to Spain, and when I do, I will stop off in Rome. And after I have enjoyed your fellowship for a little while, you can provide for my journey.”  (Romans 15:20, 22-24, NLT)

Paul’s own words tell us that he had never been to Rome before and that someone else was responsible for bringing the Good News of Jesus Christ to them, founding them as a church. By church, it is not meant that they had a physical location to worship at that we now commonly know as a “church”; rather, the church is the group of Christian believers that are gathered in a geographical location, who probably worshiped at multiple different houses throughout the city.

To the earliest Christians, the Church or ekklesia (Greek ἐκκλησία, pronounced eh-ck-lee-sia) means an assembly or gathering of people. It matters not where they gather, but what they are gathering for. In the Christian context, the church is a gathering of Christ followers. Thus, Paul was writing his letters to the body of Christians in the specific cities he addressed them to. In the case of Romans, Paul was addressing the body of Christ followers in the city of Rome, regardless of where they met and worshiped.

While we do not know who established the church in Rome, it is safe to believe that it was someone who may have known, or at least known of Paul. Paul writes his letter to a people he presumes will know who he is. Whether it was a close associate of Paul or some other Christian who spread the Good News there, it makes perfect sense that the Christian faith would spread quickly to the heart of the empire. After all, there was a large Jewish community within Rome and, no doubt, Christians would have traveled to, and been present in, the Jewish community in the imperial city.

Paul did eventually make his way to the believers. In our Scripture today, we see that Acts concludes with Paul under house arrest in Rome awaiting trial and, of course, spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ to people while he waited. Paul was in the lion’s den, as it were, and yet he boldly proclaimed the Gospel despite his impending trial.

While Acts ends the story at Paul’s arrival, the truth is that the Gospel message would eventually cost Paul his life. More than likely, he was beheaded during Nero’s persecution of Christians. The reason was that Nero scapegoated Christians for a large fire that got out of control and burned half of Rome down. Historians contemporary to the time speculated that Nero started the fire himself; however, Christians received the blame and were put to death in the most horrific of ways, making Paul’s death look like a walk in the park.

Prior to his death, Paul was visited and cared for by friends and by other Christians in the Roman community. He was loved and cared for by his fellow sisters and brothers in Christ. This should challenge us to remember that the church is just that: a community of believers who are charged with visiting and caring for each other. The church is a community of believers called to live out their love for on another, despite differences that would otherwise separate and divide them. Let us, as Christians today, remember that the mission of the church is no different now than it was then. Let us visit each other, care for each other, and love each other just as the Christians in Rome did for Paul.

Love wins. Let us be on the winning side.

Lord, teach me to be like Paul and the earliest Christians. By your grace, help me to love and to care for my fellow sisters and brothers in Christ, living into Christ’s new commandment for those who follow him. Amen.

God’s People, part 280: Believers

Read Acts 28:11-16

“I am planning to go to Spain, and when I do, I will stop off in Rome. And after I have enjoyed your fellowship for a little while, you can provide for my journey.”  (Romans 15:24, NLT)

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

The Appian Way

Part 280: Believers. It is often hard for us, as modern Christians, to picture what early Christianity was like. Too often, we think of an old-time religion where everyone got along, agreed with each other, and were monolithic in their understanding of Christ and his mission. I pray, that as we have been journeying through the New Testament in the Bible, you are seeing first-hand that Christians did not have it as together as we might have imagined.

Even among the Twelve Apostles, there were differences in understanding of what it meant to be a Christian. Peter, at first, sided with James’ brother that Gentiles could not be included into the The Way unless they first converted to Judaism. Jesus was a devout Jewish rabbi and he came to the Jewish people; therefore, Gentiles needed to first accept the God of Israel and convert to the faith of Abraham and the Laws of Moses, before they could truly follow the Messiah.

It actually does make sense when you give it thought from the perspective of Jewish followers of Jesus. Yet, Paul vehemently disagreed with James and the Apostles that supported him. For Paul, a former Pharisee, the question did not start with Moses’ Laws. Yes, for Jews (including Paul), those laws were sacred and holy and vital to the Jewish faith. Also, it is true that God made a covenant with the Jewish people at the base of Mount Sinai, where he gave them the Torah (aka the Law). With that said, the covenant made to Abraham predated the Torah, and it was in that covenant that God promised to bless ALL THE NATIONS as a result of Abraham’s faith.

Thus, it is FAITH that mattered most. It was FAITH from which we were saved. It was FAITH to which the Law pointed. Those who live in FAITH in Jesus Christ, who fulfilled the Law, are SAVED by virtue of their faith in God’s only Son, just as Abraham was saved by virtue of his faith in the only true God, as opposed to the Law. This was what Paul taught to the Gentiles, that it was their faith that saved them. That they were included into the family of God through their faith in Jesus Christ.

Truthfully, in today’s Scripture, we see the fruit of Paul’s labor. In their travels beyond Malta, Paul and his fellow travelers came across more Gentile believers in Jesus Christ. When a south wind blew their ship to the coast of Puteoli, which is now modern day Pozzuoli (a city and commune of the Metropolitan city of Naples, Italy), Paul, fellow travelers, and crew were greeted by a group of believers who invited them to stay with their group for a week.

From there, they traveled to Rome and were met by Roman believers who traveled the Appian Way and met them in the Forum. The Appian Way was an extremely vital Roman road that was not only well traveled, but was the very road 6,000 slaves were crucified along following the defeat of Spartacus in 71 BC. Even more believers joined them at the Three Taverns.

These believers came because of their faith in Jesus Christ and their love for Paul who had corresponded with them. Paul had not ever been to Italy or Rome, yet, it was his advocacy for Gentile inclusion that had helped churches form in places that he had yet to travel. Their faith in Jesus Christ and their inclusion into the family of Christ is what empowered them to meet Paul and care for him. Luke tells us that Paul found encouragement in their presence and thanked God for them.

The fact of the matter is this, Christian fellowship is more than just a friendly gathering of like-minded people. I am sure that Paul could have found theological or intellectual differences between those believers and himself. What mattered most was their common FAITH in Jesus Christ as Lord. That is what bonded them together in Paul’s time of need.

We, as Christians, ought to be reminded that our common FAITH goes a lot further than our differences. We have been included into God’s family through Jesus Christ our Lord and, truthfully, it is through Christian fellowship where we become encouraged and invigorated to carry on in the mission and ministry of Christ, no matter what our circumstances are. This is why being a part of a Faith Community is SO IMPORTANT. We were not created to be islands, but to be in communion with fellow believers, who share and encourage our FAITH.

“God is so unique in giving His people ways to fellowship, witness, and remember what a mighty and merciful God He is.” – Monica Johnson

Lord, help me to open myself to Christian fellowship, that I might fully live into my Christian faith. Amen.

God’s People, part 279: Publius

Read Acts 28:1-10

“Fear swept through the crowd as they saw this happen. And they praised God for giving humans such authority.”  (Matthew 9:8, NLT)

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

Part 279: Publius. The last devotion in this series focused on Paul’s journey on a ship that departed from Jerusalem under the command of Captain Julius. Paul, of course, was a prisoner who was being sent to Rome since he had appealed his case to the emperor. As has been mentioned, this did not mean that Nero Caesar would hear his case, but that his case would be heard the Roman court.

Julius had taken good care of Paul and showed him an exorbinent amount of trust and respect. In fact, he had so much trust that he had let Paul leave the ship to spend time with friends, which would’ve cost Julius his life had the prisoner escaped. Paul didn’t, however, proving that Julius was right to trust him.  During a major storm, Paul even comforted Julius and his crew by sharing the vision God had given him of their safety. While the ship wrecked, every last member of the crew, and all aboard, survived.

The Scripture for today picks up there. Paul, Julius and the crew find themselves safe on the island of Malta. The people on that island were incredibly kind to them while they were there. There was one incident, however, that caused the islanders to judge Paul as someone who may be under God’s curse. Paul was gathering sticks to put on the fire, when a poisonous snake popped out and bit his wrist. This was clearly a bad omen to the people of Malta and, truth be told, it should have been bad news to Paul too; however, it wasn’t. Instead, Paul shook the snake off and, hours later, was still alive and no worse for wear. The local folks changed their mind about Paul. Instead of being under God’s curse, this Paul must be God.

Following that Paul and his companions stayed at the estate of Publius, who was the chief official of the island. Publius took care of them during their stay, which lasted three days. As it turned out, Publius’ father was ill and, upon praying over and laying hands upon him, Publius’ father was healed. It was a miracle.

If the snake wasn’t enough to cause Paul to become famous on Malta, healing Publius’ father did. After hearing about that, all of the sick people of the town came to Paul to be healed and, as might be expected, they were healed. These miracles blessed the people of Malta so much that Paul and his fellow travelers were showered with honors and Julius, his crew, Paul, and his companions were given everything they needed to complete their trip.

This should challenge us. First, it was not Paul who performed the miracles; rather, it was God’s power working through Paul. How many of us open ourselves to the presence and the power of God? Second, miracles always serve a greater purpose than the miracle itself. In fact, miracles are a means to God’s end. Miracles reveal God to the people who experience them and they draw people closer into relationship with God. This is always the case in the Bible.

Finally, while we cannot be certain that Publius converted to the Christian faith (though there is a long-standing tradition that he did), it is clear that Publius was profoundly affected by the miracle as was the entire island of Malta. As Christians, we should reflect the times in which God has worked a miracle in our lives through someone else. We should reflect the times in which God worked miracles through us. We sould also pray that God may continue to use us as a vessel for His miracles. Let us be open to the Holy Spirit and be guided by God to be vessels of God’s miracles.

“I believe that miracles happen every day. Every person is a miracle. Every moment is a miracle. If only we can open our eyes, we’ll see God’s love everywhere.” – Bo Sanchez

Lord, what would you have me do today? Show me and I will obey. Amen.

Abomination of Desolation

Read Mark 13:14-23

“And everyone will hate you because you are my followers. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”  (Mark 13:13, NLT)

This is my first week back from renewal leave and, let me tell you, it seems like our country imploded while I was away. Last Wednesday, January 6, 2021, I did the unthinkable thing of turning on the news. We were relaxing at that moment and I figured it would not hurt to watch a little TV, since I hadn’t touched it up until that point and I wanted to see how the electoral vote confirmation was going. Within about 5 minutes of turning it and listening to a couple of senators speak, the news suddenly cut to live video from outside the Capitol Building in Washington D.C.

At first, the correspondant reported that a massive crowd had shown up and were protesting outside the Capitol, waving flags and shouting. That didn’t really take me by surprise, as that is what protestors do; however, the sheer number of people there did take me by surprise. What’s more, only a moment later, the correspondent began to report that the security perimeter had been breached. That was quickly followed by people scaling the walls and the stairs, assaulting police officers, breaking windows, and violently forcing their way into the Capitol Building.

I know this is going to seem cliché, but I had never seen something like that in the United States of America before, nor had I ever expected it to happen, let alone so easily. Yes, I have seen riots, but not directed on the Capitol itself. It was unbelievable, shocking, disheartening, maddening, and disgusting all that the same time. The emotions were raw and, honestly, they have been ever since. I am sure that is true for most, if not all, of us.

What got us here? That is a question that I have been trying to reflect, especially since I saw some Christian signs in the mix. “Jesus Saves”, “Jesus for President 2020” and even a wooden cross were among the images I saw. Now, to be clear, I am sure that there were many Christians there who came to pray and did not participate in the insurrection, which is fine; however, there were some Christians who were a part of the insurrection and who did not see the irony of carrying out a violent revolt in Jesus name. What a horrifyingly terrible witness to the love and salvation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In our Scripture today, we see in part that Jesus was in the midst of telling his disciples about the future destruction of the Temple and the fall of Jerusalem. He talks about a time when a desecrating sareligious object is standing where it should not be. This is so important that Mark chooses to insert his own word of warning, “Reader, pay attention!”

Following that, chaos and destruction fall upon Jerusalem and its Temple. Jesus goes to length to describe the horror that befalls the people caught up in the storm. This, of course, is a prophesy of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 A.D. by the Romans. With that said, it was not just a prophesy about that one event, but about an event in the future, when the Messiah returns again.

This is not just a prophesy for his time or for our time, but for all times leading up to the Second Coming of Christ. In Mark 13:21-22, Jesus warns, “Then if anyone tells you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah,’ or ‘There he is,’ don’t believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will rise up and perform signs and wonders so as to deceive, if possible, even God’s chosen ones’” (NLT).

Jesus’ warning gives us valuable Spiritual insight into our own time. How did we get here? Simple. We have been duped to believe that a president, a party, and/or our government can replace Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. We have listened to our current president call himself the chosen one and have believed him or, in the case of prior presidents, we have placed such faith on our own accord in human beings that fall way short of God’s glorious standard.

We have made idols of our leaders, our parties, our government and our own partisan political beliefs. We have set those idols up where they should not be: in our hearts. As such our hearts have been defiled, corrupted and desecrated. As a result, we have found desolation in hearts, our lives, our homes, our communities and, certainly, in our country.

As Christians, we MUST remember that there is only one Messiah, only one Lord and Savior, and that is Jesus Christ. No matter who tells us that they are the one who can save us, no matter what promises are made, only Jesus Christ HAS come through in saving us. The choice for us is to either draw further away from Salvation, or to draw nearer to Him who is our Salvation. Let us all be reminded that without Christ we are nothing. Let us, who are Christ’s own, not be counted among those who have been decieved.

Christ ALONE is Lord.

Lord, help me to recenter my life on you. You are my Lord and Savior. To you, and you alone, I cling. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: All Authority

Read Luke 9:1-5

“Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.” (Matthew 7:20, NLT)

magic_gateway_wallpaper_by_jerry8448d4nyul6For those of us who are Christian, how easy it is for us to call ourselves people of faith, right? We often set ourselves apart from the “non-believing world.” We often separate ourselves from those who “don’t believe” and/or those who “don’t have faith” and see ourselves in an “us versus them” kind of way. I am not pointing this out in order to point out Christians in a way that is different from any other human religion, institution or group. All humans see their group in an “us versus them” kind of way. That is, whether fortunately or unfortunately, the human condition.

What I am trying to point out, however, is that Christians do see themselves as being people of faith. I am pretty sure that all Christians, everywhere, would agree with that statement. Yet, in my own observance, many Western Christians (in American especially) do not live out their faith with much conviction. Sure, we are good at being convicted about certain things. I mean, many Christians will flip over backwards to tell you how we’ve fallen from God’s glorious standard (Romans 3:23), how Christ’s death was God’s plan to save us from our sins and close the chasm that lay between us and God, and that all we need to do to be saved is to say the sinner’s prayer (whatever that is) and accept Jesus into our hearts. Once that has been done, we are saved and no longer a slave to sin and death (Romans 8:1-2); what’s more, once we’ve been saved nothing can ever separate us from the love and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 8:38-39).

We are convicted to tell you that part of the Gospel story, but that is just about where our conviction ends. As a result, Western Christianity is rather shallow and completely skips over the ACTUAL end of the Gospel. Being forgiven of our sins is only a part of the Gospel story…and it happens to be the beginning of it, not the end. You see, anyone who has read any part of the Hebrew Scriptures could figure out we’re sinners and that God is working to forgive us of our sins. It’s not like God wasn’t forgiving sins before Jesus. Yes, Jesus sacrifice for us and the salvation that sacrifice brings is a part of the Gospel story, but not the whole of it; rather, when we accept Jesus and his atoning sacrifice, we also accept the authority Christ has given us.

What authority you ask? The authority to represent Christ in the world. We have been the authority to fight against injustice and oppression, the authority to care for and bring healing to the sick, the authority to be present with the lost, the depressed and the lonely. We have been given authority over the powers of darkness and over the inner demons that try to take us and others down. To accept Christ’s forgiveness, to attain salvation in Christ, is to accept the authority that Christ is giving us over such things. But that’s not the end of it either. Once we’ve accepted Christ, and Christ’s authority, we being sent out by Christ into the world proclaiming the arrival of God’s Kingdom. In other words, we are to proclaim to the world that the day of equality, social justice, mercy, compassion, peace, love, and God’s presence has finally arrived. This is exactly what Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was doing when he spoke to the nation at the Lincoln Memorial. It was Mother Teresa was doing in Calcutta, India. It was what Bonhoeffer was doing in Nazi Germany. This is not an activity reserved for a few who are called; rather, ALL CHRISTIANS ARE CALLED to go out into the world and proclaim the Gospel. All Christians have been equipped with spiritual gifts to do such.

Of course, this will not make Christians the most popular people in a world that wants to keep the have-nots in their places. Yet, if we are truly convicted in our beliefs, if we are truly a people of faith, then we will bless those who hear and accept the proclamation of God’s Kingdom and shake the dust off of our feet when it comes to those who refuse to. The latter is not intended to be our judgment against them; rather, Christ is telling us to leave the opponents of God to God and is calling us to focus on those who would ally themselves with God and with the arrival of God’s Kingdom of hope, healing and wholeness. The question for us is this, how convicted are we? How much faith do we possess. God knows what tree we are by our fruit.

It is much easier to call oneself “a person of faith” than it is to ACTUALLY live a life of faith.
Lord, strengthen me and continually work in me so that I may move beyond my fear and accept the authority you have given me. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: Denial and the Cross

Read  Mark 8:34-38

Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9:23)

REVDRMLKJRIf you are Christian you have, no doubt, come across today’s scripture reading before. In one fashion, or another, you have heard that following Jesus means that we need to deny ourselves and pick up our cross. Part of the problem of being a Christian is that, all of these centuries later, we hear Jesus’ words in ways that I believe he never intendeded them. For instance, when we come across today’s Scirpture passage we often interpret it in ways that both trivialize the cross and demonize ourselves into something less than valuable in the eyes of God.

An unhealthy understanding of Bible passages such as these can lead to an unhealthy, and perhaps damning perception of self, of neighbor and, ultimately, of God. So let me begin by stressing what this passage is NOT saying. First, this passage is NOT saying you should hate yourself or deny yourself your basic needs. It is not saying that at all! God created you and God does not create junk or rubbish. God created you, and all, with a divine and holy purpose in mind. Thus, Jesus is not telling us that in order to be his disciple we need to hate ourselves, look down upon ourselves, or neglect to take care of ourselves. To do such would be sinful and would not be in line with God’s will for us. After all, God calls us to be good stewards of God’s creation (in which we are included) and to go against that would be to go against God’s call.

Second, this passage is not intended to trivialize the cross. There is a TobyMac song called Irene, in which TobyMac sings “Pick up your cross and where it everyday.” This is both a reference to Luke’s parallel passage (Luke 9:22-25) and to the trinket people often where on a necklace fastened around their necks. But this is not what the passage is referring to at all. It’s not referring to a necklace, nor is it referring to a lamented obligation, or a personal challenge one has been going through; rather, Jesus is referring to the instrument of capital punishment he would be affixed to as a means of painfully and humiliatingly exterminating his life.

What Jesus is ultimately saying in this passage is that, if anyone wishes to be his follower, we must deny any part of us that would hold us back from following him. Regardless of what those things are (e.g. our sins, our hangups, our fears, our desires, our hopes, our dreams, etc.) we must be willing to put them aside and be willing to pay all costs for being associated with Jesus. Even if the cost is our very lives, we must be willing to give it all to follow Christ. It has nothing to do with self-loathing, though. It has to do with one’s identity! If one truly identifies as a Christians, and sees him/herself as belonging to Christ, then that will be the most important thing to him/her over and above anything else, including his/her own life.

There are numerous examples of people who saw Christ as being at the core of their identity. This week it behooves us to look at the life of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who was a disciple of Christ who denied the fears and things that held him back from following Christ. Dr. King certainly picked up his cross, the burden of fighting for equality and freedom for all people regardless of their skin color, and ended up paying the ultimate price for doing so. When we look at Dr. King we see a man who certainly denied himself, picked up his cross and followed Jesus.

The question for us today is this, will we let our fears and our desires keep us from accepting Christ as our Lord? Will we refuse to pick up our cross because of the possible consequences? Will we deny Christ, or deny the parts of ourselves that keep us from accepting Christ? Will we be ashamed of Christ, Christ’s message, and the way of the Cross because it is more convenient for us to do so? Or will we deny our own convenience for the sake of Christ, for the sake of others and for the sake of God’s Kingdom? The choice is ultimately yours and I pray that your response is one of affirmation rather than one of denial and embarrassment. The world could use more disciples of Christ and the hope, healing and wholeness that such disciples bring in Christ’s name.

When we deny the poor and the vulnerable their own human dignity and capacity for freedom and choice, it becomes self-denial. It becomes a denial of both our collective and individual dignity, at all levels of society. – Jacqueline Novogratz
Lord, I give me the strength to deny the things that hold me back from you, to pick up my cross, and to follow you at all costs. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: A New Year’s Resolution

Read Luke 16:19-31

“And He will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these My brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help Me.’” (Matthew 25:45)

homelessWhat does it mean to be elite? The word, no doubt, has many different meanings for each of us. As a football fan, I think of elite in terms of superior skill and athleticism. I remember when NY Giants quarterback Eli Manning was being asked if he thought he were an “elite” quarterback. In that sense, the question was asking him if he thought his skills were at a level that was above most quarterbacks in the league. But being elite does not just refer to success; rather, it also means being among the extremely privileged. It means being a part of a select group of people who are superior in ability and/or qualities, such as success, status, skill, wealth, and other such things.

There is nothing wrong with being elite in the most basic sense of the word. There is nothing wrong with being the best at something, or being the most skilled, or giving the best performance, etc. There is nothing wrong with being gifted in a way that sets one apart from others; however, what tends to happen is that such “elite” people tend to get treated better than others because they are viewed as being elite. What’s more, a system gets put in place by the elite in order for them to maintain the status they feel entitled to. Because the elite see themselves as being superior in one way or the other from those who are not considered elite, the elite begin to see themselves superior in all respects and they do whatever it takes to keep their status and their privilege in place.

It is in this system of power and status that we find the rise of elitism. When I went to India in 2010, there was plenty of elitism to see. Flying in to the airport in Bangalore, it was hard at first to even see the difference between that and Liberty International Airport. Bangalore is practically the tech capital of the world and some of the wealthiest people in India live there. Yet, stepping foot out of that airport and into the city streets, one could see the vast disparity between the haves and the have-nots. In fact, the further away from the cities one got in India, the more clear that disparity became. It would be easy for me to merely bring up India, and the still prevalent caste system, as an example; however, that would only serve to make us think that we are off of the proverbial hook, when in reality we are not.

Elitism exists in our Western society as well. It exists in our government, in Hollywood, in media, and in businesses. It exists in our educational system, where the elite in our society go to the best private schools, the semi-elite go to the better public schools, and the rest go to what’s left over. It exists in our medical system, in our hospitals, in our doctor’s offices, in our retirement communities, and other places. Those who have the money get the best and most quality care, while everyone else is relegated to clinics and/or whatever the government might provide. It exists in our towns and communities, where people in need are often told to “go elsewhere” so that those who have plenty can feel comfortable living in their communities and shopping at their local stores.

As the New Year commences, I want to challenge everyone who reads this devotional to reflect on the elitism that we are apart of and/or the elitism we have fallen victim to. Are we operating our lives, schools, businesses, health care facilities, communities, and governments in a way that is modeled on the “Economy of Heaven”, as seen in our suggested Scripture readings today, or are we modeled after the “Economy of this World.” I am not challening us in order to lay blame, point the finger, or stir the pot. I am writing this because I have been asking myself this question and know that God is calling us all to. The challenge for us is to assess how we, as children of God, can better live into God’s call to usher in Heaven on Earth. What can we do to help God’s vision of a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21:1-7) become a reality? How do we join God in making all things new again? Perhaps, like me, you have been wondering this too? Regardless, I hope that you accept the challenge and start working toward the personal and communal changes needed to make that happen.

“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (Matthew 20:16, NRSV)

Lord, help me to honestly assess myself so that I may make the changes necessary in order to live up to your Word of justice, mercy, compassion and equality. Holy God, may your Kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: Kingdom Building

Read Luke 16:1-13

“Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.” (Matthew 6:21)

throwing-away-moneyWe are a people who thrive on success, particularly financial success. After all, it is money that makes our world go ’round, right? We are taught, from young ages, what it means to make money and to save up. We are taught the importance of investing our money and, hopefully, growing our stock portfolio. Capitalism thrives on successfully making and investing money. Wall Street is an entire capitalistic empire based on making and investing money, and people have shown that they will go to all ends in order to see that success through.

While this is normal for our government and businesses, which exsit to make money and to secure the financial interests of our nation; however, what is sad is that this has become the mentality of our churches as well. Often times, it is all about the bottom dollar. In my conversations over the years, I have heard people share that so-and-so is really working to bring “the church” down, or that so-and-so’s really doing something that should not be and, yet, the church is too afraid to hold so-and-so accountable because he or she is one of the larger tithers in the church and they might get offended and take their money elsewhere. No joke, this type of stuff happens in the church.

Of course, this doesn’t just happen in churches…it happens in every part of society. Money talks. Yet, the church is not supposed to be like the rest of society. It is set apart. It is to be holy…to represent God and the Economy of God’s Kingdom…not the economy of the almighty dollar. Yet, t o many in the church my words are nothing more than impractical and idealistic. What’s more, many in the church would find my words here to be a threat, because if one chases out the biggest givers, then one is ultimately chasing out any chance of the church being able to stay open.

I certainly understand the fear and the sentiment. My question is this, are we called to worry about the consequences of our decision to follow God. Yes, there are consequences to following God. People might get offended by being held accountable, church buildings might be forced to close if there aren’t enough funds coming in to support the operating expenses, etc. Those things could come to pass. With that said, there are consequences to not following God and there is something that will SURELY pass if we choose to go down that road: WE WILL CEASE TO BE THE TRUE REPRESENTATIVES OF GOD’S KINGDOM.

In God’s Kingdom, the first are last and the last are first. In God’s Kingdom those can see will be shown to be blind, while the blind will be the ones who see. In God’s Kingdom, the rich will inherit spiritual poverty and emptiness, while the poor will inherit the riches (e.g. fulfillment, joy, peace, love, hope, patience, gentleness, generosity, and self-control) of the Kingdom of God. In the Kingdom of God the masters will serve the servants and the servants will lead in their humility. Everything is flipped on its head in God’s Kingdom.

When God’s Kingdom arrives, there will no longer be a world where the few and the elite get everything while everyone else gets nothing. There will no longer be a world where the rich and the powerful get catered to at the expense of everyone else. Christ came to bring an end to such injustice, to such segregation, to such oppression. This is not to say that God scoffs at success or spurns the successful. Not at all; rather, God invites them to see their success as a gift to bring about God’s Kingdom on earth! But God also calls us to not cater to those with money over and above those who don’t. There is no room in Christ for that kind of garbage. If people get offended by that, then they are offended by the Gospel of Jesus Christ and there is nothing that we, the church, can do about that. All we can do is pray and keep on doing the work of Kingdom building that that God has called us to do.

“And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but are yourself lost or destroyed?” – Jesus of Nazareth (Luke 9:25)

Lord, help me to avoid being lured away from your Kingdom by the “riches” of this world. Help me to use what I have in a way that serves others. Amen.