Tag Archives: Gospel

Monsters

Read Luke 18:9-14

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

Continuing on with our horror theme for Halloween, another favorite out of 1980’s horror is the cult-hit film, Monster Squad. Released in 1987 and rated PG-13, this was a horror-comedy film that was geared to a teenage audience. It was a film that had a perfect balance of fun and scares in it and it captured the imaginations of its younger audiences.

The film centers on a group of misfit kids who belong to a secret monster club in Sean’s (the main character) treehouse. This club consisted of nothing more than these kids meeting to discuss their favorite Universal horror monsters and learning their strengths and weaknesses. Some kids like to play with dolls, others with GI Joes, this group of kids dug monsters.

As it turned out, Count Dracula and the Universal monsters are real and they show up in Sean’s town with a plan to take over the world. In order to pull this off, the Count Dracula recruits Frankenstein’s monster, Gil-Man (aka the Creature from the Black Lagoon), Wolf Man, and the Mummy and moves into an abandon house in town. While most of the adults are oblivious to the clear and present danger to their community and the world, the monster club kids become aware of what is going on.

As such, they recruit an extra team member who happens to be a misfit in school because he’s viewed as a tough “bad boy”. As it turns out, Rudy is not as bad as he appears and actually intervenes to stop one of the monster club members from being bullied. As such, and also because he was able to answer questions about monster movies, Rudy is accepted into the club and together they defeat the monsters under their new name, The Monster Squad.

And this brings me to an important segue. While there are Universal monsters threatening the town, they really were not the only monsters lurking in this sleepy town. Much can be gathered by the way the kids talk and the way the adults act. Sean’s parents are seeking couseling for their marriage and they are on the verge of divorce because his dad, who is a detective, puts his job before his family and before his relationship with his wife. Sean was no doubt affected by the dysfunction in his own household.

Society, as a whole, is pretty monstrous too. The 1980s and 1990s were not a time of political correctness, social sensitivity, or healthy school environments. Horace, who was one of the monster squad members, was bullied because of his weight. The kids in school call him “fat kid” and “faggot”. Even member of the monster squad use language like “homo” to make fun of gay people. They also pick on Sean’s younger sister and try to exclude her from the Monster Squad because she’s a girl, though she ends up being a godsend later on in the film.

The Monster Squad also shows their monstrous side in how they judge an old man who lived alone in a house on Sean’s street. They thought he was a German Nazi who was a mass murderer. Of course, they had no reason to think that, but that was the rumor circulating among the kids in school and they bought into that conspiracy theory.

Eventually, after finding a book written in German by the famed vampire hunter, Abraham Van Helsing, they worked up the courage to go to the old man to see if he could help them translate the book. The old man gladly helped and, eventually, he let them know that they were wrongly prejudging him, though he is quite forgiving of them. In this old man, they found a friend and an ally. Upon leaving his house, Sean said to him, “Wow, it seems you really are familiar with monsters”, or something to that effect. The man responded, “Yes, I suppose I am,” and then he closed the door. As he does so, you see numbers tattooed on his arm. He was a holocaust concentration camp survivor.

That was one of the most powerful scenes in the entire movie. Sure, the monsters are cool and the battle between the monsters and the Monster Squad is a lot of fun to watch; however, that scene was a piece of important moral and social commentary. Judging others is one of the most monstrous things we can do as humans because, when we do so, we place ourselves in the place of God who is the only one who is capable of judging. There are many monsters out in the world to fight and defeat in this world; however, we cannot do so if we are monsters ourselves.

The irony about The Monster Squad is that they were doing the same thing that the Nazi’s did. The Nazi’s judged that man and countless others as less than human and put him in a concentration camp as a result. He no doubt endured monstrous and inhuman treatment because of how he was judged. The Monster Squad, though to a lesser extent, were judging the old man because he was recluse and not well-known and German, and they judged him as a Nazi serial killer when, in fact, he was a victim of the Nazis.

Had these boys not fought against their monstrous bias against this man, they would have never been able to defeat the actual monsters that were threatening them and their entire town. This should open our eyes and challenge us too. Are we going to prejudge people based off of how they look, where we think they’re from, how they dress, what accent they have or any other outward appearance? Or are we going to get to know someone for who they are as opposed to how we perceive them? Christ calls us to do the latter and reminds us that we are not the judges. Only God can judge. When we judge others, we become the monsters instead of righteous heroes. Remember, judge not and you will not be judged. Amen.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Judging is God’s role. When we judge, we set ourselves up as God. Judging is the result of self-idolatry.

PRAYER
Lord, help me refrain from judging. Amen.

The Power of Faith

Read Hebrews 11

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.”  (Matthew 17:20, NLT)

As you can see, I have been concentrating on horror movies throughout the month of October because that is Halloween month. For me, Halloween is not just a day, it’s an entire season. So, I spend at least October, if not parts of September and November watching horror films and listening to gothic and atmospheric music. This is a yearly ritual for me as Halloween is one of my favorite holidays…EVER.

One of my favorite vampire films from the 80s is one called, “Fright Night”, with William Ragsdale, Amanda Bearse, Roddy McDowall and Chris Sarandon (aka Susan Sarandon’s brother). I love the film because it brings back memories of being a kid in the 80s and watching that film and others during the Halloween season. There is something about horror films in the 80s, with their blend of camp and over the top special effects that just draw me right in.

Anyway, this film is about a boy named Charlie who notices strange goings on next door after it is purchased by a strange, enigmatic man. As it turns out, Charlie becomes aware that his neighbor is a vampire because he sees him biting a woman through the bedroom window. He also saw his neighbor and a helper carrying what looked like a coffin into the basement of the house.

At first he tries to tell his mom; however, she thinks he had a bad nightmare and doesn’t believe him. His friend and his girlfriend don’t believe him either and Charlie feels at wits end because the vampire made it clear that he knows Charlie is on to him. To make matters worse, the neighbor, whose name was Jerry Danridge, was invited over to his house by his mom, which means that Jerry could now enter the house anytime he wants and harm his family.

Out of desperation, Charlie sought out a movie actor who portrayed his favorite vampire slayer, Peter Vincent. Of course, Peter was not REALLY a vampire slayer, but just an actor; however, to make a long story short, Charlie did eventually convince Peter that his neighbor is a vampire and that he needed Peter’s help. There is one scene where Jerry approached Peter Vincent to attack him and he pulled out a cross to ward him off. To Peter and Charlie’s surprise, Jerry  laughed at them, grabbed the cross, and crumbled it in his hand. “You have to have faith,” the vampire mocked, “for this to work Mr. Vincent!”

As he bent down to bit Peter, Charlie, with a fire in his eyes, lifted his cross. You could see that HE DID BELIEVE and, as a result, Jerry hissed backwards and ran away. Charlie, because of his faith in the power of the cross…the power of Christ…was able to save his hero’s life. Charlie and Peter both learned a valuable lesson that day. There is great power in faith.

The Bible teaches us that “faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see” (Hebrews 11:1, NLT). Charlie had hoped that by raising the cross he would be able to stop the vampire from doing harm to Peter. He had no evidence that it would work, and he couldn’t physically see how a cross could stop such evil; however, he believed that if he raised that cross, it WOULD WORK. He had faith and, because of that, he was able to overcome the evil that was attacking him and Peter Vincent.

While we live in the real world, where vampired don’t exist, we still are called to stand up against evil and oppression. Yet, how can we do that? How can we, who are sinful human beings, ever resist the forces of sin, evil, oppression and death? Christ calls us to have faith, to believe in HIS power to overcome such things through us. It’s not we who have the power, but HE who lives within us who can stop evil in it’s tracks and make it cower before the GOOD NEWS of Jesus Christ as expressed both on the cross and in the empty tomb.

This should challenge us to grow in our faith and to grow in our relationship with Jesus Christ. Like Charlie, not everyone will believe us, nor will they believe in what we believe in. Some may even mock us and most will not join us in our effort to do what is right despite the overwhelming odds. None of that matters if we keep our focus and our faith in Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. It is him who will lead us to rise up against and resist evil and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Faith is not belief without proof, but trust without reservation.” – D. Elton Trueblood

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

The Sins of the Father

Read Exodus 34:5-7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vampire Hunters

Read Ephesians 6:11-18

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

I just watched a new Netflix Original film entitled, “Vampires vs. the Bronx”, which is a comedy horror film about Vampires moving into the Bronx in order to take over the community and feed on its people. With that said, these vampires aren’t doing so out in the open; rather, they are hiding behind a real estate company that is run by a “familiar”, a human being who is promised by the vampires to be given immortality if he faithfully serves them.

The story centers around a young teenager (maybe 14 or a little younger) named Miguel Martinez, who is also nicknamed Li’l Mayor because of his desire to community organize. In fact, we first see him and his friends passing out flyers to save a local bodega (convenience store/deli), which is suffering because of people “moving out” of the community due to being bought out by a real estate company named, “Murnau Properties.” If you are a vampire fan, you will recognize that the real estate is named after F. W. Murnau, who was the director of the 1922 film, Nosferatu.

As it turns out, these business and home owners were not moving out; rather, they were being “bought out”, sold out, and then killed by the vampires. Miguel and his friends discover this and set out to stop the vampires from taking over their community; however, they find themselves grossly underprepared. Why? Let me just say, it is not because they are kids. In fact, if anything that is their greatest strength because their innocence and imaginations aren’t destroyed by adulthood.

The reason they are underprepared is because they don’t have all the tools they need to hunt and fight these vampires. They aren’t just fighting human beings behaving badly. They cannot just call the police, because they won’t believe these kids of color in the ‘hood over an establised, white real estate business. These kids are fighting SPIRITUAL forces of evil and injustice and, community organizing isn’t enough in spiritual warfare.

These kids, then, realize that though they typically avoided church and religion, they had to turn to it in order to fight these vampires. They needed to go to church, they needed to understand the power of the Eucharist (Holy Communion), they needed to rely on the power of the Cross, and the power of FAITH in Jesus Christ to defeat these foes. Suddenly, the church they saw as a boring obligation became their hope, and the priest they thought was too tough on them became their ally.

These kids learned an invaluable lesson that it takes more than activism and community organize to fight the forces of sin and evil. Spiritual warfare needs to be fought spiritually. In one of my favorite scenes, a vampire is about to kill one of the kids who, suddenly, pulls out the host and places it in the vampire’s mouth after proclaiming, “The Body of Christ”. The vampire was, at that very instant, rendered to ash.

This should challenge us to remember the importance of faith. Activism and community organizing will only ever take us so far. Why? Because people are sinful by nature and, even with the best intentions, will fail in truly setting up sinless institutions and organizations of change. What’s more, we are fighting forces that are not merely human, but are spiritual and evil in nature. In order to conquer such forces, we need to turn to the ONE who conquered sin, evil and death on the cross! Only Jesus Christ can help us overcome such forces and usher in the Kingdom of God in this world. Let us look toward Miguel and his friends as our example of why religion, faith and Jesus Christ are VITAL to changing our world.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Do you rely on Jesus to resist sin, evil and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?

PRAYER
Lord, I place my full trust in you. Hold me to this and steer me on the path of righteousness. Amen.

The Masque of the Red Death

Read John 3:16-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“How long, you simpletons, will you insist on being simpleminded? How long will you mockers relish your mocking? How long will you fools hate knowledge? Come and listen to my counsel. I’ll share my heart with you and make you wise.”  (Proverbs 1:22-23, NLT)

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a huge fan of Gothic Horror, and especially a huge fan of Edgar Allan Poe. There are so many Poe stories and poems that have caught my fancy throughout my life. The Raven, Annabel Lee, The Fall of the House of Usher, The Tell-Tale Heart, The Cask of Amontillado, The Black Cat, The Pit and the Pendulum, The Facts in the Case of M. Vademar, are some of my favorites.

Another favorite not mentioned above is The Masque of the Red Death. This story has a special place in my heart because it speaks a truth that is timeless. Especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, where countless deaths could have been prevented, this story is one that is sure to hit home for just about everyone. There is no doubt that, while Poe’s story takes place in some medieval fiefdom, it is just as relevant and timely now as it was in his day.

Poe was a master storyteller and The Masque of the Red Death is a parable that teaches us this truth: Death is the great leveller. In death, truly all human beings are equal. All human beings, no matter whether they are rich or poor, healthy or sick, ruler or ruled…all human beings are equal in the monstrous jaws of death.

For some, this may be a morbid tale; however, for those who suffer injustice and oppression, this is a liberating tale. In it, Poe tells of the “Red Death” sweeping over the land and killing countless people. This plague would cause people to bleed from all orifices, including their poors. Alongside of the bleeding came sudden dizziness and sharp pains. Within a half-hour of contracting the plague, the victim was dead.

By the time this plague had ravaged the land, with 50% of the population dead, Prince Prospero decided to hold a huge ball in which he invited all of the rich and wealthy nobles to come to one of his palaces. Upon their arrival, he had the doors welded and hammered shut so that nothing could come in or out. He then held a great masquerade, celebrating their wealth, power and protection from the Red Death. The masquerade was lavish, opulent, and even disgusting in it’s gaudy and irreverent nature. It was an free-for-all in excess. While Poe doesn’t articlate this, the Roger Corman adaptation with Vincent Price rightly has Prince Prospero declaring one rule for the entirety of the masquerade: “Nobody is to wear red.”

Of course, upon the striking of midnight, a mysterious masquerader shows up to the scene. He’s someone that no one noticed until that very moment and, as if in mockery of the whole opulent masquerade, he is dressed in red. Upon closer examination, his clothes are spoted in blood and his mask/face is that of a dead corpse. Outraged, Prospero waves off the music, the festivities pause, and he charges at the red figure with a drawn dagger. At that moment, the figure turns at Prospero who stops dead, literally, in his tracks, cries out in horrid agony and drops dead face-first on the floor.

Then the attendants rush over to attack the figure in red and the seize him and tear away his cloak and mask only to find that there is no physical figure beneath it.  One by one, the revellers drop dead of the Red Death and all of the halls are sprinkled and speckled with blood. “And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.”

This parable should be a warning to us all, especially those of us who are more privileged than others. Just because we can does not mean we should. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic I have seen leaders, and those supported said leaders, defying common sense, precautionary measures, such as wearing masks and social distancing. Many selfish people have stomped their feet, crying foul over their “rights” being infringed. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of people have died as a result of this deadly virus.

Sadly, even government officials have proven to not be immune from COVID-19. From the president, to White House Staffers, to the Senate and House of Representative, to even political figures such as Herman Cain, have contracted this virus. Sadly, that cost Mr. Cain his life. But it didn’t stop there. CNN host Chris Cuomo caught it and suffers from Long Hauler Syndrome, as have other media personalities, Broadway and Hollywood actors, musicians, and virtually people from every elite place in society.

Poe’s parable reminds us that death is the great leveller. No human being can defy nor avoid death. It comes for us all at some point. Whether a virus, an infection, a heart attack, a stroke, or old age, death is something we all will experience and go through. There is no hope for escaping it.

That said, those who place their faith in Jesus Christ, who CONQUERED DEATH, will experience new and eternal life beyond death. The question for us is this: do we look to ourselves, our wealth, our status, and our arrogant pride to protect us from death, or do we look toward Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, to rescue us from the death we will inevitably experience? Prince Prospero, and those like him, made a mockery of Jesus Christ, sought their own means of salvation, and ultimately realized that approach was an EPIC FAIL. Let us not make the same mistake.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Pale Death beats equally at the poor man’s gate and at the palaces of kings.” – Horace

PRAYER
Lord, help me to abandon seeking my own salvation and, instead, to humbly turn to you for salvation. Amen.

God’s People, part 266: Crispus

Read Acts 18:4-8

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius…” (1 Corinthians 1:14, 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 266: Crispus. It is at this point in Acts that we see Paul begin to change his focus from Jews and then Gentiles, to just Gentiles. Paul’s model, which he learned from Barnabas, was to go into the cities and immediately enter the synagogue. Why? Because he was trying to spread the Good News to his fellow Jews. Of course, there were Gentiles who met in the synagogue as well and many of them converted; however, this caused much resentment from the synagogue leaders for obvious reasons. It’s never kosher for a religious leader to go into another house of worship and poach members, so-to-speak.

Again, this approach was the approach of Barnabas mentored Paul to begin with; yet, it became clear that this approach was no longer working. All Paul was doing was causing more conflict than it was worth. His preaching about Jesus Christ at synagogue was enraging the synagogue leaders as much as it was bringing in Gentile converts. Thus Paul had an important decision to make: would he stay the course, or change his approach and focus in ministry.

As someone who saw himself as the Apostle to the Gentiles, Paul knew what the answer was. He needed to change his approach and focus on bringing the Good News the to the Gentiles, and that is exactly what he did. Luke wrote of his response polemically where, in vs. 6,  Paul said, “…Paul shook the dust from his clothes and said, ‘Your blood is upon your own heads—I am innocent. From now on I will go preach to the Gentiles” (Acts 18:6, NLT).

Perhaps, flabbergasted, Paul did put it this way; however, his choice was in direct obedience to the instructions Jesus gave his 72 disciples when he sent them to the towns around Galilee, “But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near’” (Luke 10:10-11).

In essence, that is what Paul did and it had a pretty surprising result. Once he made this decision he went to stay with a Gentile named, Titius Justus who, consequently, lived right next door to the Synagogue. As a result of investing himself in Titius, God was able to reach the leader of the synagogue, named Crispus. Crispus ended up believing in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior and his whole household was baptized into the faith. What’s more, Crispus ended up becoming the Bishop of Chalcedon before eventually being martyred.

This should give us pause as there is a lesson to learn here. Too often, we try to force our views on people who just are not ready, and maybe not willing, to listen. Yet, the Biblical approach is to show those people grace and move on to others who will. It is hard letting people go when you love and care for them; however, it is often the BEST EXPRESSION of love.

What’s more, when we give up control to God and move on to more receptive people, it is amazing how powerfully God can work in and through that. Paul could not convert Crispus, but God certainly could and did. So, let us remember that and always choose the path of grace. All we need do is plant seeds, God will take care of the rest.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
One must remember that the most common form of idolatry is self-idolatry. Humility has us know our place, step out of the way, and let God take control.

PRAYER
Lord, help me to show the kind of love that lets go so that you can work on the hearts of the unreceptive. Amen.

God’s People, part 265: Priscilla and Aquila

Read Acts 18:1-3

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae, so that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well.” (Romans 16:1-2, 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 265: Priscilla and Aquila. In our passage today, we are told that Paul became aquainted with a disapora Jew in Corinth, named Aquila, and his wife Priscilla. They were actually from Italy, but had moved to Corinth after the Emperor Claudius deported all Jews from Rome. This much debate as to why Claudius deported the Jews. The Ancient Roman historian Seutonius, as well as Acts 18:2, are two sources, independent of each other, that mention the event. Seutonius states that this was because of multiple disturbances caused by Jews in Rome at the instigation of Chrestus.

Scholars debate that Seutonius might have been mistaken in his hearing and spelling of Chrestus, as that word is awfully close to the word Christus, or Christ. In other words, Jews in Rome might have been angered by Christian missionaries claiming that Jesus was the Christ, and this caused a disturbance of the peace. We really cannot be sure exactly what happened; however, whatever caused Claudius to expel the Jews from Rome, it led Aquila and Pricilla to Corinth, where they met Paul.

The couple, like Paul, were tentmakers and carried that vocation out in Corinth. That is how Paul met them. In order to support himself and his mission, Paul worked as a tentmaker. In other words, Paul was a bi-vocational minister. He served Christ as the Apostle to the Gentiles, but he was only able to support that mission by working as a tentmaker. Working alongside of Paul in tentmaking, Pricilla and Aquila got to know him and join with him in Christian ministry.

There is also something else that is noteworthy about this couple and that is how Paul referred to them. In Acts they are first introduced as “Aquila, and his wife, Priscilla”. This was done because that was the social norm; however, Paul referred to them differently. In Romans 16:3, he wrote, “Give my greetings to Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in the ministry of Jesus Christ.” In 2 Timothy 4:19, Paul wrote, “Give my greetings to Priscilla and Aquila and those living in the household of Onesiphorus”  (2 Timothy 4:19, NLT).

Paul almost always put Priscilla’s name first, followed by her husband’s name and, truth be told, despite his intial introduction of the couple, Luke followed suit throughout the rest of Acts. This is no accident as name placement was a way of bestowing authority and honor. The fact of the matter is that Priscilla was an important minister and co-worker of Pauls, as was Aquilla. This is further evidence that Paul had a favorable view of women in ministry.

This should challenge us. For those who are opposed to women in ministry, a few select verses are always brought up to support that position; however, if we look at the totality of Paul’s ministry, we see that he worked alongside of women, even benefited from some of the, and he was quite comfortable to admit that. Women such as Priscilla was someone that other churches new and so Paul sent them her greetings as well. This is not a woman who was sitting quitely in the back of the church, but one on the frontlines of the mission of Jesus Christ among the Gentiles.

Let us, like Paul, not oppose people who desire to enter into ministry. Regardless of whether one is a male or a female, God created us and calls us all into ministry. Some of the best ministers/pastors/clergypeople I know are women. In fact, I am the pastor I am today because of the women who taught, mentored, and encouraged me. Let us be a people who encouarage all people to answer the call that God has placed on their lives. Amen.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Help me, Lord, to remember that religion is not to be confined to the church… nor exercised only in prayer and meditation, but that every where I am in Thy Presence.” – Susanna Wesley

PRAYER
Lord, help me to see value in all people answering the call you have placed on their lives. For who am I to deem unworthy whom you have deemed them worthy. Amen.

God’s People, part 264: Philosophers

Read Acts 17:16-34

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Though the LORD is great, he cares for the humble, but he keeps his distance from the proud.”  (Psalms 138:6, 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.

The view of the Acropolis from the Areopagus

Part 264: Philosophers. As a person who has his BA degree in Philosophy, this has always been one of my more favorite encounters in the New Testament. Paul visiting Athens, the western philosophy center of the ancient world, is an epic example of how brilliant Paul was as an evangelist. It shows that Paul had enough cultural intelligence and competency to know how to engage people in a way that drew their attention.

Sadly, when we think of evangelism today we think of tracts being handed at random to people, we think of signs saying, “turn or burn”, and we think of religious fanatics going door to door to tell people about their Lord and Savior Jeeezusah!, without whom they’ll go to hell. Yet, when we look at Paul’s approach, particularly here in Acts 17:16-34, we see that Paul did quite the opposite.

Instead, Paul enters into Athens and the Areopagus with a measure of humility and appreciation of the culture and religion of others. That is not to say that Paul subscribes to their religious beliefs or practices, but he respects them and treats the human beings at the Temple in Athens and the Areopagus as humans created in the image of God. This is absolutely a must, and it is the approach that we see Paul employ throughout his ministry. He didn’t try to change the culture or the cultural traditions; rather, he inserted Christ into them. He invited people to believe in Christ and accept Christ, who accepted them regardless of where they were from or what their culture was or was not.

One great example of this was when he went before the council at the Areopagus and addressed the the leaders and Philosophers as follows:

“Men of Athens, I notice that you are very religious in every way, for as I was walking along I saw your many shrines. And one of your altars had this inscription on it: ‘To an Unknown God.’ This God, whom you worship without knowing, is the one I’m telling you about” (Acts 17:22-23, NLT).

In that discourse with the “men of Athens”, Paul did not denigrate them, nor did he attack them; rather, he saw the value in their religiosity and used that at as the basis from which he shared the Gospel with them. In other words, he took the time to understand them before he embarked on a campaign to share who he was with them. He saw that they humble enough of a people to recognize that they don’t know the fullness of God. As such, he commended them on their setting up an altar to the “Unknown God”, and then proceeded to tell them about the God they did not know.

Of course, Athens being full of philosophers, Paul’s speech led to a ton of philosophical, metaphysical, and theological questions. Paul, of course, entertained those; however they did come a point when he realized that many of those philosophers were merely looking to engage philosophically and were not interested in believing Paul’s teaching on who Jesus Christ was. Again, Paul understood his audience and, instead of further arguing with them in order to force them to see things as he did, he simply walked away and did not return to entertain further useless philosophical debate.

Regardless, there were some who came to believe who Christ was as a result of Paul’s witness, including a woman named Damaris. Praise God! How awesome that Paul was able to understand and respect the culture of other people in a way that invited them to hear about Jesus in non-threatening ways. That, of course, led them to accept him. Again, praise God.

This should challenge us to really consider how we witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ. Do we spread “God’s love” through the bully pulpit, through Bible thumping and through a “holier than thou” approach? Or do we get to know the people we are witnessing to and, instead of trying to change their culture or who they are, bring Christ to them in a way that works for them organically and naturally. Obviously, there are certain theological and doctrinal tenets we need to hold on to; however, the best witness to Christ is to accept people as they are unconditionally and guide them to who Christ truly is. I pray we all take on Paul’s model of evangelism.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“He who is not a good servant will not be a good master.” – Plato

PRAYER
Lord, help me to have the humility to see your image in all people regardless of their beliefs or culture. Amen.

God’s People, part 263: Jason

Read Acts 17:1-9

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Then they put their hands over their ears and began shouting. They rushed at him and dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. His accusers took off their coats and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul.”  (Acts 7:57-58, NLT)

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

Part 263: Jason. Now, if you are like me and really, really into the Halloween season and horror movies, you might be scratching your head and thinking, wait a minute, Jason Voorhees was in the New Testament of the Bible? Well, I am sorry to disappoint any Friday the 13th fans out there, but this is not about Jason Voorhees, but about a gentile Christian whose name happened to be Jason. To make up for not having Jason Voorhees as the subject of this devotion and, honestly, that would be are hard one to pull off (though don’t tempt me), I used Jason Voorhees’ image with a minor modification to remind you that it is NOT THAT JASON.

All jokes aside, I can imagine most people didn’t realize that Jason was a Biblical name, but it very much was. In Act 17, Paul and Silas found themselves in the Greek city of Thessalonica, which was where Paul wrote his letters to the Thessalonians to. As was his practice up to this point, Paul would go into the cities and immediately go to the synagogues in order to bring the Good News to diaspora Jewish communities.

This, of course, was met with mixed results. Some people found Paul to be very convincing and became believers in Messiah Jesus; however, others saw Paul to be problematic and stealing away people from their communities of believers. What’s more, they found the teachings about Jesus to be against what they understood the Messiah to be and so they believed that Paul and Silas were leading people astray.

Often times, as was the case in Thessalonica, the leaders of the synagogues and other devout Jews would take to the streets in order to hunt Paul and his companions down, have them beaten, arrested and/or expelled from their cities. That is exactly what happened in Acts 17:1-9. As anyone knows, when communities of people get angry, they form mobs and storm the streets.

That is what these leaders and people did. They went to the house of Jason, where they believed Paul and Silas were. As it turned out, they were not there. So, one might imagine that the mob went back out into the streets to search for Paul. Nope. Reason and mobs don’t go often go together. Instead, this angry mob siezed Jason and some other believers in his household and took them before the town council, after which they were thrown in Jail and made to post bail.

There’s an important lesson here for us to learn. I am sure, individually, the members of this mob were decent people who loved God and were trying to safe-keep their faith. Gatekeepers are important when it comes to religious integrity, to a degree; however, mobs and mob mentality are NEVER godly things and they often lead to people getting persecuted, hurt and even destroyed. What’s more, decent people turn into abhorrent monsters when in a mob.

Let us be the anti-mob. It is very easy for Christians to get into the mob mentality. I have seen it happen in churches, were a large group of people suddenly and angrily turn on a pastor or other leaders. I have seen it on Twitter, Facebook and Social Media, where a group of Christians berate and belittle other believers for holding different beliefs than them. Mob mentality, whether in person or virtual, is not godly and we, as Christians, are called to be the anti-mob, where we view all people, whether we like them or not, as beloved children of God created in His image. Let us be challenged by this and continue to grow into who God has created us to be.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“There is nothing more foolish, nothing more given to outrage than a useless mob.” – Herodotus

PRAYER
Lord, help me to live my life and approach differences, even conflict, with your wisdom, discernment and love. Amen.

A Look Back: What’s In A Name

Read John 10:14-18, 25-30

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“But now, O Jacob, listen to the LORD who created you. O Israel, the One who formed you says, “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are Mine.” (Isaiah 43:1 NLT)

Have you ever given much thought to your name? Just the other day I was in a conversation with someone who was talking about how her granddaughter just started to write her own name. Instantly, I was transferred back to when my daughters were first able to write their own names. I remember what a milestone it was to see them do that. What’s more, this conversation also caused me to reflect on my own name, and the moment I was first able to write it. Indeed, I am not sure I remember when I first was able to write my own name. I definitely remember learning to write, and then learning to write in cursive, but I am not sure I remember when I first wrote my own name: Todd.

Then I began thinking, “What is Todd? Who is Todd? What is it that a Todd is supposed to do? How is a Todd supposed to look? How is a Todd supposed to act? What makes a Todd a Todd? What makes me more a Todd than I am a Howie or a Jonathon or a Leonard?” Now this may sound silly to you and, indeed, it feels a little silly writing those questions down; however, have you ever stopped to think about how you got your name and what makes you fit that name, or what makes that name fit you?

The truth is, I am not sure I can fully answer that question. My name is Todd because my parents chose to name that. The name Todd actually comes from my dad’s side of the family. I was named after my grandma’s maiden name. Her name was Jeanette Elizabeth Todd before marrying my grandfather and becoming Jeanette Elizabeth Lattig. For the first few months, I had no self-awareness of any  name. Over time, I learned that those people who are always holding me and feeding me call me “Todd”. Eventually, at some point, I started answering to that name and claiming it to be my own. No doubt, if someone asked me when I was a Toddler (ironic…I know) what my name was, I would say, “My name is Todd.” And eventually, I began to write my name as a way of marking whatever I was writing it on as being “mine.”

So, here it is that I am, indeed, a Todd. But what does that say about me beyond what name I go by? In reality, we are so much more than our names; yet, truth be told, we invest all that we believe we know about ourselves into those names. And others do the same. If you were to ask one of my family members or friends who Todd is, they would no doubt shower you with all they thought that I am. But that would be who they believe this Todd to be…that would say nothing about every other Todd out there.

While we may identify ourselves by our name, and while we may associate our characteristics, strenghts, flaws, personalities and other things with that name, the truth is that our names do not really define us or who we are. Rather, God does define who we are and calls us according to that definition. So whoever you, the reader, are, you are so much more than the name and all the things that you attribute to that name. You are more than you could ever imagine. No matter how well you think you know yourself, and no matter how much others think they might know about you, God is the only one who knows EXACTLY who you are and all that you are capable of. God knows your possibilities and your full potential…and God is calling you, not only by NAME but according to WHO YOU ARE, to reach your full potential. All you need to do is TRUST IN GOD, and take the step forward to answer that call…knowing that God will guide you each step of the way.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.” – Jesus of Nazareth, John 14:1

PRAYER
Lord, reveal to me who I really am and guide me to what it is I am really called to do. Amen.