Tag Archives: God

God’s People, part 210: Unrepentant

Read Matthew 11:20-24

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
If any household or town refuses to welcome you or listen to your message, shake its dust from your feet as you leave. I tell you the truth, the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah will be better off than such a town on the judgment day.” (Matthew 10:14-15, 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.

hardened-heart2Part 210: Unrepentant. Today’s passage deals with people in the collective. In other words, we’re not dealing with individual people, but entire cities (more likely villages) of people. To be specific, Jesus is calling out the cities of Korazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. Before going further, let’s investigate those particular cities. Korazin was one the Eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee on the Plain of Korazin. According to the Babylonian Talmud it was known for its grain and may have been a region around Cana of Galilee and not just a single village.

Bethsaida was a city east of the Jordan River, where it emptied into the Sea of Galilee, located in an uncultivated area used for grazing. It believed that it might be the sight from which Jesus fed the 5,000 men (15,000 if you count the women and children present) with five loaves and two fish. Bethsaida was actually the hometown of Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John.

Capernaum was a fishing village on the Sea of Galilee and was the hometown of Matthew the Tax Collector. This was also the place from which Jesus operated his Galilean ministry out of. In fact, Mark 2:1 implies that Jesus called Capernaum his home during his active years in ministry. So, Jesus spent a lot of time in Capernaum and performed many miracles there, as he did in the previous two cities/villages mentioned.

Yet the villages themselves did not largely accept Jesus. In fact, he met quite a bit f of resistance from the religious leaders and from the people. That is not to say that everyone in those villages rejected Jesus. Clearly, there were people who supported him; however, most of the people were moved to repentance by Jesus, his ministry, and his miracles.

Thus, Jesus says that it will be better for Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom on the day of judgment than it will be for those villages. Harsh, right? Why would Jesus say that. Actually, Jesus answered that question for us: “For if the miracles I did in you had been done in wicked Tyre and Sidon, their people would have repented of their sins long ago, clothing themselves in burlap and throwing ashes on their heads to show their remorse…For if the miracles I did for you had been done in wicked Sodom, it would still be here today”  (Matthew 11:21, 23, NLT).

What Jesus was lamenting over was the fact that they were witnessing the very presence and power of God before them and still there hearts were hardened. Tyre, Sidon and Sodom were rough places with wicked people; however, they did not have the benefit of seeing God face-to-face. Had they, Jesus concluded, they would have gladly repented and turned back to God. The sin of Korazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum was their pride. They saw themselves as not needing a Savior, and they did not recognize God in Jesus because of their prideful, hardened hearts.

That should be a challenge to us. Where do we house the villages of Korazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum within us. What parts of us do we deem untouchable? What aspects of our lives are we NOT willing to repent and let go of? Do we bear a hardened heart toward God? Are we unrepentant? Let us be challenged to head toward the light so such parts of us might be exposed and eradicated for the Glory of God and the transformation of the world.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Sin leads to wickedness and to hearts that become hardened to things of the Spirit.” – Joseph B. Wirthlin

PRAYER
Lord, soften those parts of my heart that keep me from full repentance. Forgive me I pray. Amen.

God’s People, part 209: Messengers

Read Matthew 11:1-19

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’” (John 1:29, NLT)

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

Oberzell_Alte_Kirche_Decke_Johannes_im_KerkerPart 209: Messengers. Once again, we are talking about John the Baptists’ followers. While the Gospel of John has the Baptist completely recognizing who Jesus was, calling him the “Lamb of God” (John 1:26), and confessing that Christ “must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less” (John 3:30, NLT). While these words are poetic reflections of what did end up happening, it is not likely that John the Baptist necessarily understood that to be the truth.

The Synoptic Gospels indicate otherwise, actually. John must have held out hope that Jesus was the Messiah, there’s enough evidence for that; however, the passage in Matthew that you read for this devotion is evidence that John had doubts as to whether or not Jesus was the Messiah. Those doubts get clearly expressed through the Baptist’s messengers.

These messengers were disciples of John the Baptist and where caring for him while he was locked away in prison. They would bring messages to John and they would also deliver messages from him. In today’s passage, we see them doing just that; they’re delivering a message from their teacher to Jesus: “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?” (Matthew 11:3, NLT)

John the Baptist, the faithful prophet who preached the coming of the Messiah and repentance of sins in the Judaean wilderness, was doubting as to whether Jesus was the real deal. As a result, he sent messengers to carry those doubts to Jesus in order to see how he responded to them.

It is easy to read this negatively; however, I do not think that Matthew saw this as a negative thing. Doubt is a normal part of life and, if one considers John’s imprisonment, the Baptist was experiencing extreme persecution and hardship! He no doubt felt isolated, alone and confused. He sat in isolation in the depths of Herod’s dungeon, wondering if everything had been in vain.

So, how did Jesus respond? “Jesus told them, ‘Go back to John and tell him what you have heard and seen— the blind see, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor.’ And he added, ‘God blesses those who do not fall away because of me.’” (Matthew 11:4-6, NLT)

Jesus did not stop there, because his intent was not to scold John. Instead, he continued on by praising him. “I tell you the truth, of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John the Baptist. Yet even the least person in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he is” (Matthew 11:11, NLT)! The last sentence was not a slight toward John the Baptist, but a reminder of the economy of heaven. The least shall be greatest and the greatest shall be the least. In fact, in John’s current situation he was certainly the least of these and Jesus is reminding him and us that God prioritizes those who are “the least of these” and the distressed.

Friends, this is a message to us as well. It is easy for us to get caught up in our circumstances and to begin to question whether or not Jesus is who he says he is. It is natural, in such times, for us to begin to doubt God. The doubt, in and of itself, is not a bad thing, it’s how we respond to it that gives our doubt any value. The question for us is this, are we better off in our circumstances without Christ, or are we better in them with Christ.

Today, we are being challenged to place our faith back in Christ. There is no need to shame ourselves over our own doubt. If someone as strong in his faith as John the Baptist could find himself in doubt, then we will certainly have those moments too. The challenge is to recognize that and to remember that Jesus is who he says he is and he has the power to bring hope, healing and wholeness to us once more. In that hope, stand assured that you might grow in your faith and in your service of the One who has saved you!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“You know, my faith is one that admits some doubt.” – Barack Obama

PRAYER
Lord, I believe! Help me with my unbelief. Amen.

God’s People, part 208: Silenced

Read Matthew 9:32-34

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“But Jesus reprimanded him. ‘Be quiet! Come out of the man,’ he ordered.”  (Mark 1:25, 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.

JesusHealingDemonPossessedManPart 208: Silenced. In today’s passage, we have yet another encounter between Jesus and a demon. That particular demon, according to the account, had taken away the man’s ability to speak and communicate. Once he was brought before Jesus, the Lord cast out the demon and the man was instantly able to speak.

When it comes to passages such as this it is hard to not begin to think like a person living in the 21st century. We become suspicious of such accounts because of our scientific understanding. For instance, was this man TRULY possessed by a demon or was this a medical or psychological condition that kept him from being able to speak?

It is easy to get lost in such thoughts, but to do so would be to miss the entire point. Whether this was a medical condition or whether it was the resul of demonic-possession, the point is that once this man encountered Jesus he was healed. Jesus healed this man of what was plaguing him and he was able to speak. It’s is a miracle no matter how one looks at it.

We should be careful  to not see a demon behind every illness. Such theology is bad and can be deadly. With that said, that does not mean we should completely deny the existence of demons and evil spirits. It is very possible that this man was, in fact, afflicted by demons and that Jesus did exactly what the account says he did.

It is important to stress is that the devil seeks to silence us from expressing our love of God. Conversely, the devil seeks to silence the voice of God within us. Thus, Jesus’ healing this man tells us something about the power Jesus has over the devil. While the devil tries to silence us from communing with God, and while the devil tries to silence the voice of God within us, Jesus is on the side of the silenced and puts the devil back in his place.

The most important part of any relationship is communication. If communication is severed and/or cut off, relationships fail. This is true in human relationships and it is also true in our relationship with God. Satan wants nothing more than to destroy our relationship with God. We are silenced in our relationship to God through sin and seeking our own way over God’s. What’s more, God’s voice can silenced within us by all of the temptations that attempt to lead us astray.

Of course, God’s voice can never truly be silenced, but it can grow faint beneath the layers of temptations we face. We can choose to end the silence by opening our hearts to Jesus and reestablish our communication with Him. What’s more, if we reopen our hearts up to God, we can also end being silent on our love of God. We can witness to others who have been silenced by this world and the devil. We can bring them to Jesus so that they, too, can experience liberation from the silence and establish communication with God.

The devil certainly doesn’t want you to start witnessing about Jesus, and Satan will do whatever is in his power to keep you from doing that; however, Jesus is onto Satan’s modus operandi, and the devil is powerless against Jesus! In fact, Jesus liberates us and silences Satan. So, we are being challenged to open our hearts to Jesus and to put our trust in his power to conquer the evil forces in our lives and in this world. We, who are God’s people, can and will conquer evil and spread the joy and love of Christ if we but put our trust in Him.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“God is the Creator; Satan is the counterfeiter.” – Joyce Meyer

PRAYER
Lord, heal me from the things that silence my soul and muffle the sound of your voice within me so that I may serve and glorify you. Amen.

God’s People, part 207: Followers of John

Read Matthew 9:14-17

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“John the Baptist, who was in prison, heard about all the things the Messiah was doing. So he sent his disciples to ask Jesus, ‘Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?’”  (Matthew 11:2-3, 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.

John-the-Baptist-in-PrisonPart 207: Followers of John. When we think of John the Baptist, we think of the prophet who preceded Jesus, and prepared the way for the coming of Christ. We often think of a wire-haired, wild-eyed, long-bearded, fiery prophet eating honey-smothered locusts. We probably envision him shouting at the top of his raspy voice, “Make straight a path for the Lord”, all the while thousands come from around Judaea to see him and be baptized.

As for his followers, we probably envision people who were looking toward the coming of the Messiah. We envision them hanging on his every word, listening intently for some nugget of truth about when the Anointed One of God would come. We know that some may have thought he was the Messiah himself, but when they saw John baptize Jesus, we more than likely imagine all of John’s followers leaving him to follow that long-awaited Messiah.

In reality, however, that was not the case. Once Jesus began his ministry, many of John’s followers stayed with him. John continued his ministry for at least a shortwhile after Jesus’ arrival at the Jordan. The Bible is not explicit as to the timing of John’s arrest, but it is quite explicit to the fact that John’s disciples were still active and around. They carried messages back and forth to him and they delivered messages that he had for others.

For example, in Matthew 11:2-19, we’re told that John sent his disciples to Jesus to question him as to whether he was the Messiah, or if they should expect another to come. In other words, John, who was imprisoned, was experiencing doubt as to whether or not Jesus was the Messiah. Jesus’ response, in part, “Go back to John and tell him what you have heard and seen— the blind see, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor” (Matthew 11:4-5, NLT).

In today’s Scripture, we see John’s disciples challenging the way Jesus was doing things. They wanted to know why Jesus and his disciples were not fasting like they and the Pharisees were. Jesus’ responded by pointing to them to himself. “Do wedding guests mourn while celebrating with the groom? Of course not. But someday the groom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast” (Matthew 9:15, NLT).

Like John’s disciples, we tend to lose our focus on what really matters: JESUS CHRIST. We get caught up and rules and regulations. We get caught up styles of worships and interior decoration. We get caught up in politics. We get caught up in all sorts of things that seem important to us; however, they are not important compared to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

We are being challenged to place our focus back on Jesus, back on the Savior of humanity. Everything we do ought to come out of our deepest desire to serve Him and bring Him glory. Everything we do needs to be out of our desire to spread the Kingdom of God and the reign of Christ. Let us be a people who are eating, sleeping, and breathing Jesus Christ and his coming Kingdom!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Christ is Lord.

PRAYER
Jesus, help me to understand what it means for you to be my Lord. I wish for you to dwell within me and direct me in all that I do. Amen.

God’s People, part 206: Centurion

Read Matthew 8:5-13

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.”  (Matthew 16:25, 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.

 

807px-Centurion_2_Boulogne_Luc_Viatour
By I, Luc Viatour, CC BY-SA 3.0,  https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/ index.php?curid=2844461

Part 206: Centurion. How appropriate that we get to take a look at the account of the Roman centurion following what we considered regarding the poor widow. If you recall the last devotion, we discussed how poverty strike many different people in many different ways. When we hear poverty, our biases automatically cause us to think of the financially impoverished, the homeless, the hungry and disease-stricken. But rich people experience poverty as well. So, do religious people. When you think of it, there isn’t a label that can make anyone immune to poverty in one way, shape or form.

 

Before we go further, I will pause and provide a little insight on just what a centurion exactly is. The root of the word centurion is actually century. As is well known, a century is a grouping of a hundred. It is most commonly used as a measure of time, where a century is a grouping of 100 years. In the case of the Roman centurion, they were commanders of 100 soldiers called centuries. Thus, centurions was a commander of centuries. In fact, some centuries could have as many as 200 – 1000 legionaries or soldiers.

As a higher ranking commander, the centurion was payed double what the regular soldier would be. Actually, some centurions were paid up to 17 times as much as regular soldier. What’s more, veteran legionaries often worked as tenants of their former centurions. So, what we can see is that Centurions were pretty well off. They were a people of rank who were used to giving orders and having those orders carried out.

Here’s where the poverty comes in and, I can guarantee, it is not where one might think it to be. This Centurion was a Roman in a foreign land, one of the many commanders in the army of the empire occupying Israel. The distaste that the Jewish people had for Romans like this centurion was second to none. He may or may not have been from Rome itself. He could have been from Gaul, Spain, Northern Africa, Egypt, Syria, or any number of places, but none of that would have made a difference because what was clear was he was NOT Jewish and he was one of the occupiers.

Thus, many of the devout Jewish people would have avoided this centurion like the plague, both out of fear and out of disgust. Certainly Jesus going to this man’s household to heal his servant, which Jesus was ready to do, would have been outrageous and offensive to the people around him. Yet, when Jesus looked at this man he didn’t see a Roman centurion, he saw a human being who was humbly looking for help.

When Jesus offered to come to his house, the Centurion declined and said, knowing full well who and where he was, that he was not worthy and that he knew that Jesus only needed to command the servant to be healed and it would be done. “I know this because I am under the authority of my superior officers, and I have authority over my soldiers,” the Centurion continued. “I only need to say, ‘Go,’ and they go, or ‘Come,’ and they come. And if I say to my slaves, ‘Do this,’ they do it.” (Matthew 8:9, NLT)

While we don’t know who this servant was, but he must have been of great value to this Centurion. As such, he humbled himself before Jesus and put his full confidence in him. Jesus saw that, was moved by it and sad, “Go back home. Because you believed, it has happened.” And the young servant was healed that same hour.”  (Matthew 8:13, NLT)

Jesus did not choose to allow the anti-Roman sentiments of his culture sway him to see the humanity and the heart of this individual Roman. That is not to say that the sentiments were unfounded. In most cases, the people had a reason to fear and avoid Roman soldiers. Still, our fears and biases (no matter how founded and justifiable they might be) often lead us to a poverty of compassion and empathy. We grow cold, callous, and apathetic toward the plight of those we think are “dangerous”.

The account of the Roman centurion should remind us that all people, including our enemies, are created in the divine image of God. We are called to show love and empathy and compassion to all people, even if it means we risk danger. Christ’s example should challenge us all to see the humanity in others, and to treat others with compassion, love and empathy. That is certainly risky; however, “if you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.” (Matthew 16:25, NLT)

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?” – Jesus Christ in Matthew 16:26, NLT

PRAYER
Lord, help me to see people through your eyes, rather than through my fears. Amen.

God’s People, part 205: Poor Widow

Read Mark 12:41-44

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.”  (Matthew 5:3, 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.

widowsmitePart 205: Poor Widow. If there is one thing that is consistent about all accounts of Jesus in the Gospels, it is that he consistently showed favor and deference to those who were “the least of these.” We need to be careful in how we read/hear that. I am not saying that “the least of these” were always the poor, the homeless, the oppressed, etc. To read that into it would be to expose our own biases. Some of the richest people can be “the least of these”.

We have already seen cases of that in our readings. In fact, it is safe to say that being rich can really be a place of spiritual and emotional poverty. Jesus recognized this and when that type of the “least of these” were humbled by that poverty and realized their need for God, Christ brought healing and wholeness into their lives as well. What we need to remember is that “the least of these” come in every shape and size; there is no “one size fits all”.

What’s more, in all cases it is humility that leads to healing and wholeness. Rich or poor, the proud always find themselves in a place of needing to be humbled, whereas those who are humble recognize their need for God. We certainly see this in the poor widow, whom Jesus observes giving the last bit of money she has in order to tithe. In reality, she does not tithe for a tithe is merely a tenth of what one possesses. This woman gave 100%, even though she needed it for her own sustenance.  Think about the kind of faith that she had to give the last money she had to God. That is why Jesus highlighted what she was doing and honored her gift with his words to his disciples.

But Jesus’ teaching to his disciples was not meant to just highlight the poor widow. It would be easy to prop her up as the “the least of these” and dismiss the other reason for pointing her out. In fact, while this woman was certainly the “least of these” in terms of her finances, she was actually the “greatest of these” spiritually speaking. Make no mistake, in terms of her faith and stewardship, this woman was embodying the kingdom of Heaven.

The REAL poverty was seen in those who have much but were only giving what was required. They were not giving out of their joy and gratitude toward God; rather, they were giving out of an obligatory duty that was required to them by the law. They wanted to maintain the appearance of being good, faithful people, but they were not fooling Jesus with the charade.

This should challenge us to learn from Jesus’ comparison between the “poor” widow and the obligatory tithers. It should challenge us to find be in a place of humility when we self-reflect in what ways we truly are “the least of these” in need of God’s hope, healing, and wholeness. Do we give of what we have out a sense of obligation or out of joy and gratitude toward what God has given us?

Everything we have is a gift from God. The poor widow understood that and gave all that she had back to God, trusting that God would not fail her nor forsake her.  We are being called to see everything we have as a gift from God, rather than looking at what we have as OURS to give. After all, what is truly ours when our very lives were given to us by the One who created us and has redeemed us through the immeasurable sacrifice of death on a cross? Let us be like the poor widow and celebrate our LORD through generous, joyful giving!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“There’s poverty in wealth. If a man is wealthy without good health, is he not poor? If a man is wealthy without children, is he not poor? If a man is wealthy without God, is he not poor? If a man is wealthy without giving alms, is he not poor? If a man is wealthy without wisdom, is he not poor? Then there’s a great lack in riches.” – Michael Bassey Johnson

PRAYER
Lord, help me rid myself of the ways in which I am impoverished. Help me to store up my treasures in you. Amen.

God’s People, part 204: Bartimaeus

Read Mark 10:46-52

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“After Jesus left the girl’s home, two blind men followed along behind him, shouting, “Son of David, have mercy on us!” (Matthew 9:27, 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.

Blind-Bartimaeus-topazPart 204: Bartimaeus. The account of Bartimaeus is another account that features a miraculous healing that is preceded by the surrounded people getting it wrong. We don’t know a whole lot about Bartimaeus other than a few simple facts. That very fact tells us everything that we need to know about him.

Mark tells us that Bartimaeus was blind. As has been written prior to this devotion, blindness was seen as a curse. If someone was blind, it meant that God allowed such a malady to befall that person. If someone was born blind it meant that the sins of that person’s parents or their grandparents had passed on to him or her. After all, God clearly stated in Exodus 34:7, “I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations. I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin. But I do not excuse the guilty. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children and grandchildren; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations.”

Mark also tells us that Bartimaeus is a beggar, which means that he had no one to take care of him. We are told that he is the “son of Timaeus”, so that gives us the clue that the people in Jericho knew this man and his family; however, his family is nowhere to be found in the account. There’s just the brief mention of Bartimaeus’s parentage.

Perhaps Bartimaeus’ family abandoned him to his fate on the streets. Perhaps they were impoverished and had him begging for extra money. Perhaps they had passed away and he resorted to begging because he had no one left to care for him. Whatever the case may be, Bartimaeus was there begging when Jesus passed by, just like he had done every day prior.

The crowd, of course, knew Bartimaeus and his loud cries for money. When Bartimaeus cried out, “Son of David, have mercy on me,” all they heard was “Give me money, give me money!” Yet, that is not what he had said. What’s more amazing is that this blind man knew exactly who Jesus was. He was the Messiah, the Son of David. Bartimaeus was not asking for money, he was asking for mercy. In other words, he was begging for forgiveness to the One who could grant it. This is not to say that he was blind because of his sin; however, Bartimaeus knew in his heart that Jesus was from God and that he needed his help.

The crowds tried to silence him, but he would not be silenced. “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus called him over and asked him what he wanted from Jesus, “I want to see,” he proclaimed and Jesus gave him his sight back. Why did his sight return? Jesus answered that when he said, “Go, for your faith has healed you.” In other words, this man recognized God in Jesus and he humbled himself before God. He had faith in Jesus and it was that faith through which the healing came.

The twist in all of this is that here is another situation where the blind man is the one who ACTUALLY sees, while the others are ACTUALLY blinded to who Christ really is. Bartimaeus may not have known Jesus’ identity as the Son of God properly speaking, he doesn’t quite acknowledge that; however, he does acknowledge Jesus as the Son of David, the one sent to Israel by God.

The challenge is for us to pray that we might have our eyes opened to see Jesus for who he actually is. We often approach him like the crowd, hoping he can serve us in some way or another. We should be approaching Christ the way Bartimaeus did, humbly crying out, “Jesus, Son of David, Son of God, have mercy on us”. We should be humbling ourselves before the One who has brought salvation to humanity through his death on the cross and resurrection from the grave! Let us approach Christ in humility and give our lives over to him.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Blindness comes in more forms than just physical.

PRAYER
Lord, have mercy on us. Restore our sight to us so that we might see your glory and share your love with all people. Amen.

Not Reliant

Read Mark 13:3-13

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“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.”  (Mark 13:22, NLT)

FacepalmJesusA friend and colleague of mine just recently shared with me a trailer for an upcoming “faith-based” film, called The Reliant. The film takes place in America following a collapse of the American economy, where people are in social disarray and are rioting and resorting to extreme violence due to their financial and social circumstances. It stars the likes of Kevin Sorbo (of Hercules and God’s Not Dead fame), Brian Bosworth, Eric Roberts, and others.

The premise itself is very realistic. Many of us have lived the economic collapse of 2008 and the devastating panic that such an event causes in society as a whole. When finances get tight, but the cost of living remains the same and people cannot make end’s meet, things can go southward very quickly. Add to that fact that we have, in recent years, seen a rise in militant white nationalists and “progressive” anti-fascists (aka Antifa) violently marching through streets at the cost of property damage and even the loss of lives; yes, the premise of The Reliant is quite believable.

The question is NOT about it’s believability; rather, the question is in what it places its reliance. After all, the very title of the film is The Reliant. When one watches the trailer it, on the one hand, is claiming to be a faith-based film. The words faith, God, family, and other things all appear on the screen. We can hear people say the words “God is good”. On the other hand, the film is about a man fighting to defend his faith and his family through gun violence.

You heard me right. This film is an action film about a man who uses his gun to shoot and, presumably kill, the Antifa-like protesters that are resorting to violence. Granted, he’s doing it to “protect” his family from violent protesters and people who have a beef with him and his faith. I am not quite sure how the faith aspect fits in; however, the film’s slogan is as follows: “Protect family and faith at all costs.”

The problem with this premise is that it ABSOLUTELY NOT faith based. The characters are supposedly reliant on God; however, all it seems they are reliant on are guns. Nowhere, in all of the Gospels, will you hear Jesus utter the words, “protect family and faith at all costs”. Quite the opposite. Jesus taught about not responding violently to violence. He taught to turn the other cheek, to love one’s enemies, to pray for those who persecute you, and he told Peter that, “those who live by the sword will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:52).

In Mark, Jesus went so far as to say, “A brother will betray his brother to death, a father will betray his own child, and children will rebel against their parents and cause them to be killed. And everyone will hate you because you are my followers. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Mark 13:12-13, NLT). The endurance that Jesus was speaking of was endurance in the faith and in living by his teachings. He is NOT saying those who endure to the end by blowing their enemies away will be saved.

While this film might claim to be a “faith-based” film, the kind of faith it promotes is a faith in guns and their ability to protect us. That is counter to the teachings of Christ and the Gospel message. Do not hear me wrong. I AM NOT saying that people shouldn’t own guns or that they should be banned. So, don’t read that into this. The critique being made is not about guns, or violent movies, or  but about people who promote a false-Christian message. It is about people who are blasphemously using Christ’s name to call for faith in guns.

Let us not be deceived. Jesus warned that many would come in his name and claim this or that his him, but that we ought not to be deceived. When something comes in the name of Christ, but looks, sounds and acts nothing like Christ, we can be sure it is NOT Christ. I pray that you will not support this film as it we should not support something that sells the world a false Messiah or a false Gospel. While the characters and filmmakers are clearly not reliant in Jesus Christ, I pray you place your reliance in Him, sharing his love and grace to all people.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” – Jesus Christ in John 14:6, NLT

PRAYER
Lord, draw me close to you and help me to grow in my trust and reliance on you! Amen.

God’s People, part 203: Rich Young Man

Read Mark 10:17-31

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  (Mark 10:45, 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.

treasurebathPart 203: Rich Young Man. The account of the rich young man is quite complex, with many layers. We all generally know the basic account. A rich young man asked Jesus how he can inherit the kingdom of heaven. Jesus, in turn, told him what the Law stated, to which the man stated that he had followed the Law his whole life. Then, seeing that the young man was wealthy, he upped the game and commanded him to sell everything he had, to give the proceeds to the poor, and to follow him. Dejected by Jesus’ answer, the rich young man walks away.

Within this basic framework, however, are a number of layers to peel back. First, the man approached Jesus and addressed him as, “good teacher”. In response, Jesus corrected him. “Why do you call me good?…Only God is truly good.”  (Mark 10:18). Of course, we know Jesus is the human incarnation of God; however, he had NOT revealed that to anyone but his disciples (during the Transfiguration), and even they didn’t fully get it.

So, Jesus is NOT denying his divinity here, nor is he stating that he is NOT truly good; rather, he is calling the man’s judgment into question. Who died and left this young man the judge of goodness. No human being is truly good. We have good aspects, but we also have bad ones. We are in a state of sin. Yet, this man was determining that Jesus was good and, following his first response to the requirement of the Law, we can see that he thought himself to be good as well.

When Jesus told him what the Law requires for one to inherit the Kingdom God, the man responded, “Teacher, I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young” (Mark 10:20). Again, the young man thought himself to be good, perfect even. In his response to Jesus, he betrayed just how highly he thought of himself. He was claiming perfection when it came to following the Ten Commandments.

Seeing this, and seeing his profound wealth, Jesus looked at the man and Mark says that Jesus felt genuine love toward him.  “There is still one thing you haven’t done,” he told him. “Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Mark 10:21, NLT).

Jesus felt compassion for him because the man was not arrogant, but genuinely thought he had done everything required by the Law. He had a high opinion of himself, as many of us do; however, he was sincerely seeking to know the way to salvation. With that said, Jesus’ answer was too hard for him to swallow, and I am sure that Jesus knew it would be. The man had tons of wealth and he could not get himself to a place of letting it ALL go. The man left dejected because, though he wanted inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, he was enslaved by his possessions and it was the latter that won out in him, at least in that moment.

Also, the rich man looked at heaven as an inheritance, as something that could make him richer than he already was. His view of heaven was that of an acquisition, a transaction that could be made in order to acquire something of great value. As such, Jesus answered him in a way that reached him where he was at. He spoke in this man’s language and at his level.

The truth is that heaven cannot be acquired. It is God’s and God’s alone! When we inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, it is not because of what we have done, but because of God’s gracious love for us and Christ’s sacrifice for us so that we might be included in that Kingdom. Jesus gave that man acquisition terms that he knew that man could never accept.

We can see this in the disciples’ response to his teaching on how hard it is for a rich man to get into heaven, “Then who in the world can be saved” (Mark 10:27)? Jesus’ reply sets fort the truth that heaven cannot be acquired, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But not with God. Everything is possible with God” (Mark 10:27, NLT). In other words, just because that man walked away does not mean that man was never saved and is now rotting in hell. That reading would be an even worse judgment than the rich young man’s judgment of Jesus. What it means is that all people, including that man, cannot be saved by their own efforts. They can only find salvation through God, and through putting one’s trust in him. Clearly, the rich young man was struggling with that, but so do we all.

The challenge for us is two-fold. First, we ought to refrain from judgment, which is reserved for God alone. Second, we must remember that heaven is not something we can acquire. There is no amount of “good-doing”, no amount of charity, no amount social justice seeking, and certainly no amount of wealth or status that will “get us in” to the Kingdom of Heaven. The only way we inherit the Kingdom is through Jesus Christ our Lord, and through Him alone! Let us place our faith in Christ our Lord.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Heaven cannot be bought, but no worries! Through his death on the cross, Christ paid a ransom for you. Place your faith in Him, who died and rose again for your sake!

PRAYER
Lord, I place my faith in you. Keep me from straying off of your straight and narrow path. Amen.

God’s People, part 202: Children

Read Mark 10:13-16

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.”  (Proverbs 22:6, 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.

jesus-and-the-little-childrenPart 202: Children. This is one of those texts in which context is key. Most people read this with their 21st century lenses on, doting on the imaginary children they envision rushing up to a tenderhearted, bright smiling Jesus waiting to embrace them and play “patty cakes” with them on his lap. We, in Western Civilization just love children. In fact, we more than love them; we idolize them.

We can see this in the way we parent nowadays. Where the kids are we go. Parents no longer tell their children that they have to go to church and put God first. They no longer structure their children’s lives; rather, they allow their children to structure their lives. This, of course, has not only led to an increasingly godless society but, in some cases, it has created self-centered monsters out of our children.

This was not the case in Jesus’ day and age. Before describing children in the ancient world, I need to be clear that I am not saying that the ancient world’s way of rearing children is the perfect, most blessed way either. I think both eras have their highlights and their shady points in parenting. Any parent knows there is no manual that comes with their children and, often, parenting is learned through societal norms as much as it is passed down from our own parents.

In Jesus day, the place for children was in the household. They were to be seen and not heard. It was expected that they would help around the house. As soon as boys were old enough, they would go to work with their father’s, learning whatever trade or vocation they held. We see that this was the case of Jesus, who was a apprentice in carpentry under his father Joseph. As an adult, Jesus carried on his father’s work until he left that behind to become an itinerant preacher and rabbi.

The girls would help their mothers around the house until the age that their father could find a suitable husband. That usually happened as soon as the girl was able to bear children. Thus, many women were arranged a marriage around the age of 14. Up until then, the girl’s place was in the home with mom, taking care of housekeeping, cooking, and teaching the younger kids stories from the Hebrew Bible.

This was a radically different world of parenting from ours. It was a society built on honor. It was not considered honorable or right for the children to be out in society bothering other adults. Thus, for those parents to be bringing their children to Jesus to be touched and blessed was completely inappropriate in that society. There was a pecking order and children were at the bottom of the totem pole until they grew old enough to contribute to the household. Even then, their place was not with the adults until they became an adult.

“These children are not ill. They have nothing wrong with them. Why, then, would these thoughtless parents bring them, disrupting our master when he was so busy with important matters.” That is, no doubt, what the disciples where thinking when they scolded the parents for bringing their children. According to the societal and religious culture in the ancient Middle East, the disciples were in the right to put those parents, along with their children, back in their places.

Yet, Jesus did not think so; rather, he turned to his disciples and scolded them. “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” (Mark 10:14-15, NLT) In that moment, he taught his disciples that “the least of these”, including innocent children, are as valuable to God as anyone else. Jesus also taught them that their pecking order was NOT GOD’S.

Let us be challenged by this. Let us not seek status in the world, but let us humble ourselves before God. Let us approach God and others with the innocence of a child. That does not mean we should be naïve, but that we should be as eager and open to embracing God as a child is. If we approach God and others with that openness, then truly the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to us.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth.” – Jesus Christ (Matthew 5:5, NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, give me the openness, eagerness, and humility of a child. Amen.