Tag Archives: Gospel

God’s People, part 167: Boanerges

Read Luke 9:51-56

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came over and spoke to him. ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘we want you to do us a favor…when you sit on your glorious throne, we want to sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.’”  (Mark 10:35, 37, 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.

SonsOfThunder-1024x537Part 167: Boanerges. So far, we’ve learned a little more about Simon Peter and his brother Andrew. We learned that Simon was an uneducated fisherman who had a loud mouth and a tendency to make rash decisions. He was close to getting who Jesus’ true identity; however, he never quite got to that ultimate understanding during Jesus’ lifetime. We also learn that his brother Andrew, also and uneducated fisherman, was passionate about bringing people to Jesus. With that said, he found it hard to put his faith fully in Jesus’ ability. He often let circumstances smother the passionate faith he had for Christ.

This bring us to Boanerges, which is a Greek phrase that translates to English as, “sons of thunder.” The Greek is a slight mistranslation from the Hebrew phrase, bənē reghesh, which translates in English as “sons of rage”. This was the nickname that Jesus gave to the brothers James and John, sons of Zebedee. Both James and John were called by Jesus to be disciples around the same time as Peter and Andrew. Both of them, like Peter and Andrew, were fisherman. In fact, we know that the sons of thunder were working in their father Zebedee’s fishing business.

We don’t know a whole lot about James; however, we do know that he was among the inner circle of disciples who were closest to Jesus. He witnessed the Transfiguration and he was in the Garden of Gethsemane with Jesus while prayed for God to spare his life. Wherever Jesus went, James was sure to follow.

The same is true about John who, like his brother, was among the inner circle of disciples. He has traditionally been identified as the beloved disciple that wrote the Gospel of John (so named because of this attribution). Most modern scholars do not believe John authored the fourth Gospel; however, his importance and influence in the early church cannot be disputed. In fact, John was named as one of the “pillars” of the Jerusalem Church mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles and referenced in Paul’s letter to the Galatians.

With all of that said, Jesus’ nicknamed James and John as the sons of rage or the sons of thunder. This is an an indication that these two where known for their fiery ambition and tempers. In Mark 10:35-45, the two brothers approached Jesus in order to petition for themselves to be in the places of honor (and power) next to Jesus when he assumed control of his kingdom. Thinking that he was the military messiah who would overthrow the Romans and restore Israel to her former glory, the Sons of Thunder were vying for power. This set them at odds with the rest of the disciples, who quickly grew angry and annoyed with the two.

Also, when Jesus and his disciples were not welcomed by Samaritan villagers, James and John both turned to Jesus and asked if him if he wanted them to “command fire to come down from heaven and consume [the villagers]”. In both cases, Jesus sternly rebuked the Sons of Thunder” for their scheming ambition and fiery tempers. These two, as passionate and devoted as they were, were far from being the perfect followers in Christ.

The same is true for us. Each and every one of us, just like the twelve disciples, come to Jesus with our strengths as well as our shortcomings. Perhaps anger and ambition are things that you struggle with or, perhaps, you are like the other disciples who grow short-tempered with those who are ambitious and short-tempered. On either end of that, Jesus rebukes the sin in us and calls us to deeper and more committed discipleship. The challenge for us is to heed Jesus’ call.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Great ambition is the passion of a great character. Those endowed with it may perform very good or very bad acts. All depends on the principles which direct them.” – Napoleon Bonaparte

PRAYER
Lord, help me to quell the part of me that seeks to derail the path you’ve set me on. Help me overcome my weaknesses and grow in my strengths. Amen.

God’s People, part 166: Andrew

Read John 6:1-15

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of these men who heard what John said and then followed Jesus. Andrew went to find his brother, Simon, and told him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which means ‘Christ’)”  (John 1:40-41, 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-feeds-the-5000-AndrewPart 166: Andrew. When it comes to the disciples there are a few we know without thinking hard about. Peter is the first to come to mind because he was not only the first called by Jesus, but he also was the one who Jesus renamed from Simon to Peter and said that he was the “rock” or “pebble” (depending on interpretation of the Greek) upon which Christ was going to build his church.  The next are a pair of disciples named James and John. John is the most known of those two; however, because James is so often paired with him they get notoriety together. They are the one’s Jesus humorously and affectionately nicknamed Boanerges, or Sons of Thunder. They must have been a fiery pair.

Another disciple who is forever etched in our memory is Matthew, the reformed tax collector, as well as Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus. Then, perhaps, we might remember Andrew, who was Peter’s brother, if we remember him at all. Of course, most who have read the gospels will remember him; however, outside of Biblical literacy, there is a less likely chance that someone would remember Andrew alongside the aforementioned disciples.

With all of that said, Andrew was actually among the core leadership with in the group of twelve disciples. Since his name was always mentioned after Peter’s, it can be safely presumed that Andrew was most likely Peter’s younger brother. While we cannot be sure why Andrew is less present when Jesus’ is alone with his “inner circle”, he was among the four disciples who were closest to Jesus.

Andrew has rightly become known as the disciple who brought people into a personal relationship with Christ. While Matthew, Mark, and Luke record the events a bit differently, in John 1:40-42, we find that Andrew was the one who brought his brother Simon to meet Jesus. In the Synoptic Gospels, it just states that Jesus saw Peter and Andrew fishing and called out to them. This could be simply away of just condensing the story.

In John, on the other hand, the account is more fleshed out with detail. For instance, we learn that Andrew and the beloved disciple (who may or may not have been John) were followers the Baptist, who pointed Jesus out to them as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”. From that point on, Andrew and the beloved disciple followed Jesus and Andrew brought Jesus to Simon, who was renamed Cephas (which is Aramaic for Peter).

Also, when Jesus was preaching to the multitude (over 5,000 men, women and children), Jesus asked the disciples to feed the people. They all begin to panic, for how could they possibly feed that many people. It was in this moment that Andrew spoke up and brought a little boy to Jesus, and pointed out that this boy had a basket with five loaves of bread and two fish. Here, again, Andrew was bringing someone into contact and relationship with the Lord.

Yet, Andrew was not necessarily a person with rock solid faith. In fact, as you will see, none of the disciples were. In the same breath that he pointed out the boy to Jesus, he anxiously marveled, “But what good are [these 5 loaves and 2 fish] with a crowd this size?” Even Andrew, who proclaimed to Simon Peter, “We have found the Messiah” (John 1:41), found himself lacking in faith in the midst of seemingly impossible circumstances. Yet, the Lord did not reject Andrew as a result of his faithlessness, rather he performed a miraculous sign out of the meager offering of the boy Andrew brought to him.

The question for us is this: do we find ourselves doubting even though we know that Jesus Christ is the King of kings and the Lord of lords? The challenge for us is to step out in faith even when the odds seem squarely against us. The challenge is to let Christ work IN SPITE of the circumstances. The challenge for us is also to trust that even when we fail and/or fall short, that Christ does not reject us, but works in spite of us and shows us that he truly is in control. Let us be a people who, like Andrew, eagerly bring people to the Lord even when we are not certain where we stand on the circumstances around us. Let us dare to bring people to the One who is not imprisoned by the fear that shackles us.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

PRAYER
Lord, thank you for loving me even when I fail to live into the faith you’ve called me. Give me an eagerness to share your love with others and bring them into a relationship with you. Amen.

God’s People, part 165: Petros

Read Matthew 4:18-22

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”  (Matthew 16:18, 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.

ApostlePeterPart 165: Petros. Petros’ birth name was Simon son of Jonah (Simon bar Jonah). Living in Bethsaida, a fishing town located at the place where the Jordan River enters into the Sea of Galilee,  Simon was a fisherman by trade and had at least a wife and ailing mother-in-law to feed and support. It is also likely that he had children and other extended family members to care for as well; however, the Bible only explicitly mentions his wife and mother-in-law.

Knowing Simon bar Jonah’s trade, we can actually ascertain quite a bit about him and his family. Simon would not have been very highly educated. His education would have been what was standard among the peasant population, which amounts to very little education at all. He would have been taught by his mother and by the Rabbi in his local synagogue the essentials of the Torah and what it meant to be a 1st Century Jew; however, that’s about it. In fact, the Acts of the Apostles reveals as much in 4:13: “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marveled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus”  (Acts 4:13, KJV).

The literacy rate in ancient Judaea was about 3%, with education reserved for the elite. Thus, folks like Simon would have been illiterate, unable to read or write. He would have grown up learning his religious and cultural duties by oral transmission. He more than likely became a fisherman because that was his father’s trade. Thus, Simon bar Jonah was not meant to ever amount to be more than what his father Jonah was: a fisherman.

Fishing itself was a part of the larger embedded agricultural economy of 1st Century Galilee. By embedded I mean that there was no free market that was separate and distinct from the other aspects of society. Fishing and agriculture (including production, processing, trade, etc.) were also linked to politics, religion, family and social life. There was no such thing as upward mobility. Most fishing families, Simon’s family being no exception, were poor and lived in survival mode. What’s more, in order to fish certain areas of the sea of Galilee, a fisherman needed to have a special license, which took away from the overall income of a fisherman and his family. They also needed to supply themselves with their own raw materials for their boats, nets and other tools.

This is the world that Simon bar Jonah was born into and was working in when Jesus of Nazareth came to him one day along the shore of the Sea of Galilee. He had spent the entire night fishing and hadn’t caught a single fish. Jesus invited him and his brother Andrew, along with John and James, sons of Zebedee to go back out and fish. Following that miraculous fishing expedition, Jesus provided them with the unlikeliest opportunity: to become a follower and, eventually, a leader in the Jesus movement.

To say that Peter was an unlikely candidate for such a role is an understatement. He was, again, illiterate and ignorant. He was rough around the edges, no doubt, and crude. He could be blunt and rash. What’s more, his ignorance led him to often times miss the bigger picture of what Jesus was teaching and doing. This led him into conflicts with Jesus and with other disciples. He was a VERY unlikely candidate for becoming a part of such a movement, let alone a chief leader of it.

Yet, Jesus saw potential in him that no one else would have. Jesus saw and drew it out of him. It was, after all, Peter who was first among the disciples to recognize that Jesus was “the Messiah, the son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). In response to Simon’s divinely inspired proclamation, Jesus proclaimed, “Blessed are you Simon bar Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are [Petros] (aka Peter or Cephas in Aramaic), and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades (aka the place of the dead) will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:17).

What Jesus started with Petros did not end there. He continued to assemble the most unlikely of students who would one day take over his entire movement when he was no longer around to carry it on. It is this vagabond group of misfits, starting with an ignorant fisherman from Galilee, that would go on, through the power of Christ, to transform the world.

The questions for us are these: do we see ourselves as being a part of the great Jesus movement that Jesus started with Peter? Do we see ourselves as underwhelming additions to this movement and, as a consequence, as to unworthy of being of any use to Christ? The challenge for us is to humble ourselves enough to realize that no one and nothing is beyond Christ’s reach and that Christ does not choose us because we are worthy; rather, we are worthy because Christ has chosen us. Let us be challenged by this and have faith that Christ is transforming the world in and through us.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Pray that, above all things, the gates of light may be opened to you; for these things cannot be perceived or understood by all, but only by the man to whom God and His Christ have imparted wisdom.” – Justin Martyr

PRAYER
Lord, help me to see you at work within me. I am willing to serve you and trust that you have made me able. Amen.

God’s People, part 164: 2nd Advent

Read Matthew 24:1-31

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“They said, “If you are the Messiah, tell us.” He replied, “If I tell you, you will not believe; and if I question you, you will not answer. But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God.””  (Luke 22:67-69, 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.

second-coming-814x610@2xPart 164: 2nd Advent. In 2011, megachurch pastor and author wrote a book that would spark a controversy before it was actually published and on the shelves. Rob Bell, the pastor in question, put out a promotional video for his book, which can be viewed by clicking here. In this promo, Rob Bell discusses how at an art gallery his church hosted there was an exhibit that was of Gandhi. During the course of the show someone saw to it to attach a note to the exhibit that read, “NEWS FLASH, he’s in hell.”

The promo then turns to Rob Bell raising a series of questions starting with, “Really? Gandhi is in hell? And someone is so sure of this that he or she felt compelled to tell us this?” From their the promo continues to ask questions around hell and around the character of God. He ends with saying that that what we believe about heaven and hell is incredibly important, and that what the Bible has to say is beautiful, profound and truly Good News.

That promo sent people into a whirlwind of speculation before anyone could even read the book. Accusations flew, some (such as Franklin Graham) calling Rob Bell a heretic, and others accusing him of being a universalist. Of course, once people read the book, the charges of heresy diminished to charges of “heterodoxy”. Heterodoxical teachings are a set of teachings that “deviate from orthodox beliefs” but don’t necessarily cross into the territory of full-on heresy. It is questionable as to whether or not what Bell actually wrote was heterodoxy at all; however, with people already being committed to not liking the book, those charges stood in the minds of more conservative Christians.

The book itself, in good Rob Bell fashion, doesn’t take a position at all (other than that love wins, but rather it poses questions, as sell as defines and contextualizes words and concepts. In fairness to its critics, such open-ended questions could lead people to fall into universalism or other unorthodox views; however, I do not believe that was Bell’s intent. He was merely asking questions that many non and nominal Christians have with regard to heaven and hell, with the hope of drawing more people into a relationship with Christ. He was approaching the questions with the bleeding heart of a pastor, concerned for those who want nothing to do with the Church because they are hung up on such doctrines.

I will not spend the space I have in this devotion to discuss the merits or shortcomings of Bell’s Love Wins; however, it does point us to an important doctrine in the Christian faith. Christians traditionally believe that Christ not only came once, died, was buried and rose again. We also believe that Christ now sits at the right-hand side of God the Father, from where we he will come again to judge the living and the dead.

This may seem draconian and off-putting to people in a culture that is so loosey-goosey, and hellbent on “being good” on its own apart from God; however, the Christian witness is different than that. As Christians we hold to the doctrine of Original Sin, that while humanity was created “good”, it eventually chose knowledge and independence over maintaininga dependency on God. That choice led to separation from God, which consequently led to chosing to glorify ourselves rather than God. We are costantly putting ourselves (e.g. desires, family, friends, wealth, etc.) before God. This sinful state is unescapable without God’s preventing, justifying, and sanctifying grace.

As for Jesus’ 2nd Advent, we are all awaiting for that day when Jesus will come again and we will stand before him in TRUTH. None of us will have an excuse, nor will we be able to say, “Oh, sorry God. I didn’t know that I wasn’t meant to live that way.” Why is that? Because God’s grace has been working within us and convicting us to acknowledge and follow God. At our most basic level, we have an innate understanding of what is “right” and what is “wrong”, and we also know that we have an impossible time getting everything “right” and avoiding every sort of “wrong.”

The challenge for us is for us to acknowledge that reality, and to praise God for the grace TO ACKNOWLEDGE it. It takes humility to acknowledge that we are not AS GOOD as we’d like to think and to submit our lives to Christ through repentance and obedience. Let us turn to God and restore our relationship with the One who IS LOVE, the One died for us so that we might be purged of our sin and raised in to life! Amen.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”  (Mark 8:38, NRSV)

PRAYER
Jesus, I repent of my ways and submit to you as Lord. Fill me with your grace, your love and use me for your glory and for the kingdom that is to come on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

God’s People, part 163: Ascended

Read Acts 1:6-11

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Then Jesus led them to Bethany, and lifting his hands to heaven, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up to heaven. So they worshiped him and then returned to Jerusalem filled with great joy. And they spent all of their time in the Temple, praising God.”  (Luke 24:50-53, 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.

Ascension-of-Jesus-GettyImages-182188871-5807a21e5f9b5805c2aba36fPart 163: Ascended. In today’s Scripture we have an account of Jesus’s ascension as provided by Luke. Both the main Scripture reading and the second Scripture reading come from texts that were written by Luke. In Acts, Luke elaborates a little more on the ascension and the disciples’ reaction to it, as the Acts of the Apostles was written to account for the ministry and struggles of the early church. The Gospel of Luke, on the other hand, just gives us a synopsis of the ascension as a brief conclusion of the Gospel. It is important to note that Luke wrote the Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles back to back as a two-volume collection.

To many people today, it may seem insignificant that Jesus ascended. In other words, people might wonder why it matters so much that he ascended into heaven. What gives if that was a literal event or if it was more metaphorical? The same people might wonder why it is such a big deal if Jesus physically rose from dead as well. “Perhaps”, they might think, “those things were metaphors that provided people with hope that there was hope in the midst of death on some sort of “spiritual” level. Perhaps, the ascension is also a metaphor as well. Does it really need to have historically happened for it to not be meaningful?

First, the answer to the last question is no, it does not have to have historically happened for it to have meaning. Stories such as the Lord of the Rings are deep with meaning even though they never historically happened. Fables such as the Tortoise and the Hare are not historical accounts, but are rich with meaning. So, it is true that something does not have to be historical to have profound meaning.

With that said, the disciples and the early church were not looking to convey deep, personal meaning to people. What I mean by that is that the earliest Christians were not writing the Gospels as some sort of meaningful fiction that the readers could walk away from feeling spiritually fed. Yes, they understood that reading the Gospels would nurture and feed, but not just for the sake of doing so.

Instead, these accounts were written as a witness to identity of a historical figure. Was Jesus merely another crucified Jewish traitor in a long, bloody history of crucified Jewish traitors? Was he merely a failed rabbi and revolutionary? Or was there more to this man that met the eye. The disciples who had spent three years in itinerant ministry with him…who traveled with him, who learned from him, who witnessed his sacrifice, who witnessed his physical resurrection, and his ascension…they were witnessing to the IDENTITY of Jesus.

He was not merely another man. Sure, he was human who lived in a specific time and place in history; however, he was so much more than that. He rose from the dead and, in doing so, conquered sin and death. How? Because the wages of sin are death. Jesus took on those wages on the cross, but he resurrected, appeared to his disciples and, when the time was right, ascended into heaven where he sits with God Almighty.

Jesus was no ordinary man. Though human, he was also fully divine. That is HIS IDENTITY and it is that identity that gives us the assurance that God will conquer sin and death in us too, through faith in Jesus Christ who died, rose and ascended before us. If that is just a “metaphor” Jesus is no more than Heracles/Hercules, Achilles, Perseus, etc.

The disciples who witnessed Jesus resurrect and ascend were adamant witnesses to the REALITY of Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension. What’s more, they went to their deaths proclaiming that REALITY. The question for us is this: Do we think ourselves to be so knowledgeable to be able to discount the mystery of IMMANUEL: God with us? The challenge for us is to humble ourselves and trust in the One who is the Son of God, the King of kings, the Lord of lords, and the Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world. Have faith and believe that Jesus who conquered sin and death on the cross, who rose to life and ascended to heaven, can be a conqueror, miracle worker, and Savior in your life as well. He is risen, and ascended, indeed!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“At His Ascension our Lord entered Heaven, and He keeps the door open for humanity to enter.” – Oswald Chambers

PRAYER
Lord, give me the strength to overcome the trappings of this world and to see you as you truly are, revealed to me by the faithful witness of Scripture and those who came before me. Amen.

God’s People, part 162: Appeared

Read John 20

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him.”  (1 Corinthians 15:5-8, NLT)

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

The entrance to the tomb of St. Thomas in Chennai, India. Taken by Rev. Todd Lattig
The entrance to the tomb of St. Thomas in Chennai, India. Taken by Rev. Todd Lattig

Part 162: Appeared. People who have a hard time believing, or who flatly refuse to believe that Jesus resurrected, will often suggest that perhaps Jesus’ followers were hallucinating. Another suggestion out there is that the Twelve stole Jesus’ body and/or made a story in order to keep Jesus’ legacy going. Scientists such as Richard Dawkins, posit that Jesus is the result of a superstitious people who lived in an age where one did not have a choice but to believe in gods and religion. (For a full discourse on this, check out Special Episode 16a and 16b of Life-Giving Water Messages).

These possibilities are coming from people who pride themselves in their ability to “reason”. In fact, most people, myself included, would consider these people rational and intelligent human beings. There’s no doubt about that; however, when one weighs the facts, it becomes clear that the likeliness that the disciples were merely making up a lie, or were themselves hallucinating and believing in delusional mythological happenings is, to put it mildly, rather slim.

First, we have Saul of Tarsus, who was a Pharisee and a major opponent of the Jesus movement. He approved of and oversaw the stoning and martyrdom of Stephen, who was the first Christian executed for his faith in Jesus. He persecuted and arrested countless Christians before suddenly becoming a Christian himself. If the disciples had merely made up “seeing” Jesus, how would that translate to a highly educated, zealous Pharisee suddenly doing a 180 degree turn and following this resurrected Messiah? Paul, formerly Saul, of Tarsus wrote:

“You know what I was like when I followed the Jewish religion—how I violently persecuted God’s church. I did my best to destroy it. I was far ahead of my fellow Jews in my zeal for the traditions of my ancestors. But even before I was born, God chose me and called me by his marvelous grace. Then it pleased him to reveal his Son to me so that I would proclaim the Good News about Jesus to the Gentiles…” (Galatians 1:13-16a, NLT).

This same Pharisee, now known as Paul, ended up in the heart of the Roman Empire preaching the Good News of the same Messiah whose followers he once persecuted. He had endured traveling the known world at the time, had been persecuted and nearly killed, abandoned by many of his friends, and eventually sent to Rome under arrest, all for this Jesus’ sake. He eventually died for his new-found faith.

Add in the fact that all of the disciples, minus John, died for their faith after much laborious traveling and preaching. Thomas, the one who did not at first believe Jesus rose from the dead, ended up traveling to India and started preaching in Kerala (where one of the oldest Christian communities in the world exists) and zig-zagged across the kingdom-states in that land, all the way to the Chennai off of the Bay of Bengal, where he was martyred.

Why would these men, including a persecutor of early Christians as well as a skeptic, die for a myth? Even more incredulous, why would they die for an elaborate hoax? This hardly seems reasonable, let alone probable. The witness from Paul is that the risen Christ appeared first to Peter and the Twelve, and the Gospels let us know that, in fact, the resurrected Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene and the other women who first came to the tomb that Easter morning. After that, he was was seen by more than 500 believers. Then, finally, seen by Paul himself as he was on his way to arrest more Christians in Damascus.

The fact of the matter is that Jesus’s body did not just disappear from a tomb, but he physically appeared to many people who went on to form the earliest Christian communities. Those communities spread from Judaea through Asia, Africa, Europe and eventually throughout the entire world. All of this because JESUS APPEARED.

Actually, Jesus has never stopped appearing. I have witnessed him in my life and so have countless other Christians. The challenge for us is to open our hearts to Jesus and to allow him to appear to us. He will if you just open up to that experience. Read the Gospels. Read the account of the Acts of the Apostles. Read the letters of Paul and the earliest Apostles. There you will be introduced to our Lord and, if you are open to it, you will meet him in your own life too, face-to-face, and you will be transformed. This is not a hoax, but the Good News of Salvation through Jesus Christ.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Few people seem to realize that the resurrection of Jesus is the cornerstone to a worldview that provides the perspective to all of life.” – Josh McDowell

PRAYER
Lord, reveal yourself to me and transform me from who I am to who you created me to be. Amen.

God’s People, part 161: Risen.

Read John 20

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“The women were terrified and bowed with their faces to the ground. Then the men asked, “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Remember what he told you back in Galilee,”  (Luke 24:5-6, 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.

Part 161: Risen.

I believe in God the Father Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord,
Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
Born of the Virgin Mary,
Suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to hell[i].
On the third day he rose again,
And sitteth at the right-hand side of the Father,
From whence He shall come
To judge the quick[ii] and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost[iii],
The holy catholic[iv] church,
The communion of saints,
The forgiveness of sins,
The resurrection of the body,
And the life everlasting. Amen.

Resurrection-Risen-HandThe above is the Apostles’ Creed, where the basic doctrines, the essentials if you will, are laid out for every believer to memorize, recite, and know. It is a measure, a rule, for all the faithful to know and to profess. This short creed helps the faithful, devoted believer to keep from straying off of the path of orthodoxy. It keeps people in line with the tradtional Christian faith as passed down from the Apostles onward.

Make no mistake, this creed was not written by the apostles; however, it bears witness to the apostolic faith. By apostolic faith, I mean the faith passed down from the apostles to all Christians throughout the millennia. Here are the core, essential tenets of the faith as outlined in this simple creed: Belief in God the Father, who created the heavens and the earth; Belief in Jesus Christ the Son, who was miraculously conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary; Jesus physically suffered under Pontius Pilate, He physically died, and was buried; during the two days he was dead he went to the place of the dead. His death was final. He was really dead.

On the third day, he was physically resurrected from the dead, and now sits at the right-hand side of God. This creed affirms the Holy Spirit, the holy universal church, the ongoing communion of all the believers (aka saints), the forgiveness of sins, the physical resurrection of the body that will happen when Jesus comes again, and the everlasting life that comes through a life of faith in Christ. What’s more, it affirms the Holy Trinity, a most sacred and holy doctrine, rooted in both Scripture and apostolic tradition, that is not to be trifled with nor dismissed.

I recapitulate the Apostles’ Creed because it affirms the topic of today’s devotion: Jesus’ bodily resurrection. As was mentioned in the last devotion, it is important to avoid falling into heresies of the past. One of the biggest ones was the denial of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection. There are other big ones too, however, this devotion (as did the previous one) deals with the the physicality of Jesus’ suffering, death, burial and resurrection. Why were the Apostles adamant about such physicality? Because it was getting denied at every front.

The Jewish authorities, along with the Romans, were declaring that one of Jesus’ disciples took the body out of the tomb and hid it in order to claim that Jesus “rose from the dead”. Thomas, one of Jesus’ apostles, initially refused that Jesus ACTUALLY rose from the dead. The Gnostics and other such groups claimed that Jesus was merely spirit and thus was never on earth PHYSICALLY, let alone died and rose again. Time and time again, people have tried to dismiss the awesome, scandalous, and mystifying apostolic claims.

Today, we see nothing different. Today’s self-interested deniers of Christ’s physical resurrection do so for a variety of reasons. Some are atheists, often driven by modern scientific understandings of the natural world, who do NOT want to believe that God exists, much less Jesus Christ. Others may not be atheists, but are equally skeptical for modern scientific reasons. Others, more egregiously, are supposed believers in God and Jesus, but are afraid that the doctrines are antiquated and are caught up in the same scientific understandings found in this modern era.

There are a whole host of reasons why people deny Christ’s resurrection and, subsequently, the resurrection of the dead; however, there is ONE reason why they should not: the Apostles witnessed the resurrection with their own eyes and gave up their lives to proclaim it. I do not know people who would die for a hoax or a prank. The only reasonable explanation for their actions is that they REALLY believed what they saw.

That does not PROVE that the resurrection happened; however, it gives one a GOOD REASON to have faith and believe. But it does come down to faith. Will we believe in the Christ whom death could not conquer, or will we deny the Christian claim and, subsequently, the power of God in Jesus Christ? The challenge for us is to not be enslaved by modernity which will become ancient in its own due time; rather, let us hold true to the classic faith which has, and will continue to, stand the test of time.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Paul the apostle recounted that Jesus appeared to more than 500 of His followers at one time, the majority of whom were still alive and who could confirm what Paul wrote.” – Josh McDowell

PRAYER
Lord, help me to hold fast to my faith and to witness to the apostolic Christian faith in you with all of my heart. Amen.


[i] or the place of the dead, that is Hades, or Sheol. This does not mean the place of eternal torment and suffering known as hell.
[ii] or the living
[iii] or the Holy Spirit
[iv] universal

People of the Closed Door

Read Matthew 23:13-36

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you, desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'”  (Matthew 23:37-39, NRSV)

Hardened-HeartMy heart, brothers and sisters, is extremely heavy. As many of you already know, I am an ordained elder in full connection in the United Methodist Church. This is the church I was baptized into, the church who prayed for me when I was in critical condition in the hospital at age 3, the church my wife and I were married in, the church I returned to when I came back to my faith in the early 2000s, and the church I finally answered my call in.

When I first came back to Christianity, I tried one other denomination prior to settling in the United Methodist Church. When I walked in that fateful Sunday, I was greeted by people as one often is at church on Sundays. When I asked the usher at the door what the difference was between them and a different denomination with a similar name and background, the person responded to ask me what my view on homosexuality was. He then proceeded to tell me that they split from their “heathen” sister church because of their acceptance of gays and how the Bible said gays were all going to hell.

Friends, I walked right out of that church and never looked back because I knew that such a judgmental denomination was NOT for me. It is following that experience that I found my way back into the United Methodist Church. At the time I didn’t know the language that is currently in our Book of Discipline. What I did know was that I was welcomed by a loving community that accepted me for who I am and not what I came in believing or not believing. They welcomed, they encouraged me, they loved me and my family, and they supported me in answering my call.

That church didn’t just welcome me but welcomed all people. They were a home for the broken, the outsiders, the lost, and the needy. They openly accepted all people, no matter their sexual orientation, no matter socio-economic status, no matter their hurts and/or hangups, no matter what they were or weren’t addicted to. They accepted and LOVED EVERYONE! That witness to Christ’s love is what brought back to the United Methodist Church.

I found my place in the UMC while learning of John Wesley and his belief in radical, omnipresent grace, his push for a balance between social holiness and social justice, and his openness to new ideas that were grounded in the Biblical witness of God’s love and grace. I knew, by this point, that we as a church had a position on human sexuality that I disagreed with; however, there was hope that things would change over time. To be clear, I understood and respected the fact that social change takes time because it involves the changing of hearts and not just minds. I still understand and respect that.

What happened during the Special Session of General Conference (February 23-26, 2019), deeply saddens me as I know it deeply saddens many United Methodists. The decision to pass the Traditional Plan over and above the One Church Plan, means that the denomination has decided to double down on its unholy ban on LGTBQ marriage and service in the Church. It diminishes their sacred worth, and hangs that up over their sexual orientation.

While the United Methodist Church touts having “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors”, the People of the United Methodist Church have shown the world something completely different. We’ve become a people with closed hearts and closed minds. We’ve become a stick that is breaking because it refuses to bend. We’ve become a people of the closed door.

With all of that said, it is important to note that while the global church as a whole voted to adopt the Traditional Plan, it must be said that it only passed by a very, very small margin. There were more than 800 delegates from around the world who voted and if a mere 28 people had voted differently the Traditional Plan would have been defeated. In regard to the inclusive One Church Plan, if 26 people had voted differently it would have passed.

These numbers only show that the vote is not reflective of the people called Methodists as a whole, and that gives me room for MUCH hope. My heart is heavy, my sadness deep; however, my HOPE is very much ALIVE. The church has always been in wrestling with Jesus’ call to be ambassadors of God’s inclusive, loving, and grace-filled Kingdom. We often fail at doing so; however, Christ still loves us and lifts us back up out of the mud we sink ourselves into. I have hope that the people called Methodists will find a way to move forward from the tragic steps backwards we just took.

Right now, Bishops, church leaders, pastors such as myself, and laity are working toward building a path forward to becoming a people of open hearts, open minds, and open doors once again. In fact, many of us never stopped being that in the first place! We will find a way forward to become a people of one church that accepts diversity in all of its richness, complexity, and sacred possibility. Please join with me in prayer for the people of the United Methodist Church and the people of all denominations as we seek to live out the Gospel commission of making disciples of ALL people (not just some), baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Inclusivity has always been a struggle in the church, as it has for all of humanity. Here’s the Apostle Paul recalling a confrontation in his fight for Gentile inclusion: “But when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him to his face, for what he did was very wrong. When he first arrived, he ate with the Gentile believers, who were not circumcised. But afterward, when some friends of James came, Peter wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore. He was afraid of criticism from these people who insisted on the necessity of circumcision. As a result, other Jewish believers followed Peter’s hypocrisy, and even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.” — Apostle Paul of Tarsus (Galatians 2:11-13, NLT).

PRAYER
Lord, help us to be a people who do not become closed doors seeking your loving embrace and help us to not become closed doors on people seeking to your call on their lives and serve you. Amen.

God’s People, part 160: The Tomb

Read Mark 6:1-8

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where Jesus’ body was laid.”  (Mark 15:47, 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.

SONY DSCPart 160: Tomb. The English word for heresy comes from the Greek word, αἵρεσις. In Greek, it originally meant “choice” or “thing chosen”, but eventually came to be also seen as the “the party or school of a person’s choice.” In Christianity, it came to have an added meaning, especially in the 2nd century. This can be seen in the writings of the Church Fathers such as, Tertullian and Irenaeus. During that time heresy came to mean a school of thought or teachings that was contrary to the teachings of Christ and the orthodox doctrines of the church. Anyone who follows such schools of thought or teachings were considered to be heretics, and those who were responsible for first espousing them were considered heresiarchs.

The word, unfortunately but for good reason, has gotten a bad wrap as a result of some of the historical responses the Church had toward heretics. Initially, excommunication and exile were common responses; however, as the churches grew in power under Constantine and subsequent emperors and popes, the responses became more and more vile and unChristian. I need not go into detail here. We all have heard of the Witch trials and burnings in Europe, the witch trials and hangings in America, the Inquisition and other such horrific and evil historical events.

What’s more, not all of the supposed “heretics” were actually heretics, especially during the time of the Inquisition and the European/American “Witch Craze”; rather, some were more or less scapegoats. With that said, the church needs to reclaim the language all the while guarding itself against graceless responses to it. The reason I say this is that the church is threatened by people who would like to succumb to modern understandings over and above ancient wisdom. While the church must find graceful, loving, ways of defending the faith, it is imperative that we do so.

To be sure, we need to consider what heresy is and what it is not. It is NOT a difference of opinion on non-doctrinal and non-essential doctrinal matters. For instance, Calvinists hold to the doctrine of double-predestination and Wesleyans hold to the doctrine of free will; however, neither could be seen as heretical because they are not essential to what it means to be a Christian. They maybe essential to their prospective schools of thought, but not to the universal Church. Also, many conservative Christians believe that we should have traditional views on human sexuality, and many progressive Christians view the need for a change toward inclusion of the LGTBQ community. Neither view can be viewed as heretical because neither view is essentially definitive of what it means to be Christian.

Areas that are DEFINITIVE, however, iare doctrines such as the death, burial, and physical resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. From the beginning, orthodox (or traditional) Christians have affirmed the physical death, burial, resurrection and bodily ascension of Christ. In the early church, groups like the gnostics tried to deny such physicality. They tried to say that Jesus was merely a spirit and that the person who died on the cross was not actually Christ, because Christ’s spirit transferred into Simon of Cyrene. Thus, to the gnostics and others, the body on the cross was that of Jesus…but the spirit was NOT that of the CHRIST’s. Others tried to deny that Jesus was ever crucified and buried at all and that he was taken up to heaven much in the same way that Elijah was.

Such views were considered heretical because they directly opposed the earliest Christian witness of the apostles and the Church Fathers who followed them. Today, we face similar views because people see such beliefs as being in conflict with our scientific understanding. There is a fear that holding such views will shout to the world that Christians are ignorant.

Friends, we as Christians need to uphold the traditional, orthodox doctrines of the church for they best express the faithful witness of those closest to Jesus and his apostles. To do otherwise is to separate oneself from Christian thought and the true power of the risen, resurrected Christ. Jesus did die, he was buried in the tomb and his physical death was real and final. By final I mean that he truly died in the physical sense, his life ceased, as it does under such terrible abuse and torture. He stayed dead for two full days before rising on the third day. His resurrection was the power of God, bringing life to his dead body. While the church ought to cherish the beauty of diversity, it must also make the boundaries firm so that we are faithful to the Christian witness.

The tomb reminds us of the finality of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and it also witnesses to the absolute sovereignty and power of God over the created order. We should not choose the wisdom gathered from the created order over that of the Creator. Rather than try to explain the mystery of the tomb, let us embrace it, feeling both its despair, its finality and, on the other side, the hope found in it being EMPTY. Let us avoid the heresies of the past and let us avoid falling into new ones. Let us be guided by the witness of the earliest Christian Church that came before us. Christ is risen and, if we acknowledge what God has done, we too can rise up from the tomb into the LIFE God has set before us!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Jesus miraculously turned the water into wine. Let us not mistakenly turn the wine back into water.

PRAYER
Lord, help me to hold fast to the orthodox, early Christian witness and help me profess it in all that I do. Amen.

God’s People, part 159: Crucifixion

Read John 19

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Then at three o’clock Jesus called out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means ‘My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?’…Then Jesus uttered another loud cry and breathed his last.” (Mark 15:34, 37 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.

fullsizeoutput_2d7Part 159: Crucifixion. I am a huge fan of and collect films portraying the life and teaching of Jesus Christ. I own the of the original black and white Cecil B. DeMille 1927 silent film, King of Kings. I own many of the films following that from the 60’s such as The Greatest Story Ever Told starring Max Von Sydow through the latest one, Son of God starring Diogo Morgado. In fact, I not only own and love it, but the very first Jesus film I can remember watching was the 1961 remake of the King of Kings starring Jeffrey Hunter on TV with my family on Easter Sunday.

Honestly, up until the late 90s and early 2000s, most of the films really toned down the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. I certainly understand why. Crucifixion is not a good way to have to die and with the heavy censorship of films and music that was in place prior to the late 90s, no one wanted to risk making the crucifixion more realistic. That and many producers knew that Christian audiences would not appreciate it either. They wanted wholesome films with little to no violence and sterile language. So, there was no way that they were going to gore up the crucifixion.

Rather, those films focused more on Jesus’ life and teachings, and they toned down and almost sterilized the passion and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. While these films are all great films in their own right, the unfortunate consequence of censoring the suffering and crucifixion of Christ is that it takes away from the real sacrifice that Christ made.

Thankfully, that began to change with the 1999 Jesus miniseries starring Jeremy Sisto. While that film did not lay it thick with the gore, when Jesus was crucified he can be heard screaming in agonizing pain and blood can be seen splattered on the cross and dripping from his wrists. Again, not too much…but enough for you to cringe at the thought of what was happening. Then, by 2004, Mel Gibson released his film The Passion of the Christ and went to town on showing Jesus’ suffering and crucifixion. The film was so hard to watch, and so powerful, that people left the theater with the same full bucket of popcorn they went in with. It was the film that brought me back to my faith in Jesus, because it made me truly and deeply reflect on why Jesus would go through with that.

Without belaboring this, crucifixion was a terrible way to die. First, before one ever made it to the cross, they victim of crucifixion would be punished for the crimes they had committed. They would we whipped and beaten. The Jews had a law that a person should be whipped no more than 40 times minus one. Whether the Romans adhered to that or not is unlcear, but by the time Jesus would have had to carry his cross, he would have been severely beaten, bruised, bloody, and his flesh torn from the shards of glass and rock that hung from the flagella at the end of the whip.

Then there was the crucifixion itself. The criminal would have had to carry the cross beam up to his/her place of crucifixion. He then would have been laid down and his arms would have been tied to the beam, followed by the hands/wrists being crucified. The cross beam would then be raised up, with the body intact, onto the vertical beam which is already erect. Once the cross beam was in place nails would have been driven through each of the ankle bones into the sides of the cross, and a sentence would be placed above the head of the crucified. In Jesus case, it read in Latin (Iēsus Nazarēnus, Rēx Iūdaeōrum), in Greek (βασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων), in Hebrew read right to left (יֵשׁוּעַ מִנַּצְּרַת, מתי כז 3‡מֶלֶךְ הַיְּהוּדִים), and in English (Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews).

The crucified would spend hours, if not days, lifting his/her body up to breathe out and lowering his/her body to breathe in. Eventually, due to exhaustion, the crucified’s own body weight would crush his/her lungs and they would suffocate to death. It was a slow, laborious death that no decent person would ever wish upon anyone. This is how Jesus died.

In the modern Western world, we have been privileged to not have to witness such executions. Even when we execute criminals, we do so in a way that is judged to be the most “humane” way possible. When reflecting on Jesus’ sacrifice and death, let us be challenged to NOT succumb to our privilege; rather, let us truly reflect on what he went through and let us come to the foot of the cross and lay our sins and shortcomings bare to the one who gave it all, and suffered the worst death imaginable, for our sake.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  Paul of Tarsus, the Apostle in Galatians 2:20 NLT

PRAYER
Lord, as we approach Lent, help me to have the strength to be honest with myself and you regarding my sin so that my sins may be once and for all crucified with Christ and I may be free of their burdensome weight. Redeem me, for I am yours Lord. Amen.