Tag Archives: Grace

A LOOK BACK: God’s People, part 149: 1 Baptism

Read John 3:22-36

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism,” (Ephesians 4:5, 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.

water-baptism

Part 149: 1 Baptism. As was mentioned in the last devotion, the Bible includes 4 perspectives on the Baptism of Jesus of Nazareth. To briefly sum it up, in Mark, Jesus was baptized by John, with no mention of any crowd. Upon coming out of the water Jesus saw the heavens open and the Holy Spirit descend upon him like a dove. Then he heard the voice of God tell him, “You are are my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

In Matthew, John reluctantly baptized Jesus after trying to talk him out of it. Following his baptism, Jesus saw the heavens open and the Holy Spirit descended upon him like a dove. Then the voice of God announced, presumably to all who were there to witness it, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

In Luke, Jesus is baptized by his cousin John during the same time that everyone else is getting baptized. Following his baptism, the heavens opened up and the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form as a dove and settled on Jesus. Then the voice of God proclaimed, “You are my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.

Finally, in John there is no mention of Jesus baptism at all; rather, John reveals that he saw the Holy Spirit descend like a dove upon Jesus and he proclaims that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. This has been assumed to have happened during Jesus’ baptism, even though it is not explicitly in the text.

With those perspectives summarized, it must be made clear that all four perspectives give us different ways of understanding one baptism. This may seem to be an unnecessary distinction to make; however, it is theologically and doctrinally important to make this distinction because by being baptized and commanding his disciples to baptize, he instituted it as a holy Sacrament.

In Matthew, Jesus stated to John that he was to be baptized because it was important that he fulfilled all that God required. What’s more, in the great commission, he commanded the following: “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20, NLT).

In Jesus’ baptism we have the model for all other baptisms in Jesus’ name. For Jesus, there was only one baptism, through which Jesus received the Holy Spirit and was sent out for preparation in the wilderness and, from there, sent into ministry. Thus, there is only ONE baptism. There was only one baptism for Jesus. Only one baptism for his disciples, and only one baptism for any person being brought into faith in Jesus Christ. Paul also acknowledged there being only one baptism (Ephesians 4:5).

The importance of acknowledging one baptism is that is acknowledges that what God does is final. Once baptized, God’s grace has been given to us and begins transforming us through the Sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. This transformation is a lifelong process in which we are being perfected in God’s love. There is no need to be “rebaptized” or baptized a second or third time, for our first baptism covers us sufficiently.

The challenge for us is to have faith that God is working within us through the Holy Spirit. We cannot control God or control outcomes by going through more than one baptism. If we were baptized at birth, we can remember our baptism and take the Christian faith upon ourselves through our confirmation of that baptism; however, there is only one baptism.

Likewise, if you have not been baptized but are feeling called to Jesus’ mission and ministry, then I would like to personally encourage you to get involved in a local church and begin to discuss baptism with your pastor. Baptism is necessary because it is a public profession of Jesus Christ as Lord, and it is a witness to the power of the Holy Spirit. For those of us who have been baptized, let us reflect on our baptism and our call to follow Jesus Christ. What does it mean that we’ve been baptized and have confirmed our faith in Jesus Christ as Lord. Let us be challenged to take our baptism seriously and open ourselves up to being ambassadors of God’s Kingdom as opposed to the kingdoms of this world.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“At Baptism, I received grace – that quality that makes me share in the very nature of God.” – Mother Angelica

PRAYER
Lord, as I remember my baptism, spark in me a renewed commitment to you as Lord. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: God’s People, part 148: 4 Views

Read Mark 1:9-11; Matthew 3:13-17; Luke 3:20-22; John 1:29-34

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“The following day John was again standing with two of his disciples. As Jesus walked by, John looked at him and declared, ‘Look! There is the Lamb of God!’”  (John 1:35-36, 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.

baptismofjesus

Part 148: 4 Views. Naturally, following a devotion on John the Baptist we will move into one of many parts on Jesus. Today’s focus will be on Jesus’ baptism. The great thing about the New Testament is that the most widely-read accounts of Jesus’ life, teachings, and ministry were all included in the canon. What I mean by that is that Mark, Matthew, Luke and John were all the most widely-read and most universally agreed upon in ancient Christianity. So, they were included even though there are differences between them.

But as most blessings, there is a hidden curse there as well. Overtime, the four stories are read so much and become so familiar that they begin to blend together in the minds of the people reading them. This is not just regarding individual people, but entire communities and churches are guilty of doing this. One of the most common places this happens is in the Nativity Story. Also, the Passion Story has this sort of hodge-podge storytelling happen to it as well. Another area in the Gospels this happens is with regard to Jesus’ baptism.

What is certain is that all of the Gospels have Jesus’ baptism in it; however, each of the Gospels tells it slightly different. The best way to study the difference between the accounts is to read them all, side by side. I hope you have read the suggested Scriptures above. For the purpose of space, I will merely list out the differences here.

  • In Mark, the earliest Gospel we have: Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan.
    • As Jesus came out of the water HE saw the heavens splitting apart and the Holy Spirit descend upon him like a dove.
    • Then HE heard the voice God telling him that he is God’s son…and that God was pleased with him.
  • In Matthew: Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan, though John tried to talk him out of it.
    • Jesus told John he must do it to carry out all that God requires.
    • Following the baptism, Jesus saw the heavens open and Holy Spirit descending up on him like a dove.
    • Then God’s voice proclaimed, implicitly to the people witnessing this, “This is my Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
  • In Luke: When all the people gathered were being baptized, John also baptized Jesus.
    • In that moment, the heavens were opened (notice it does not state someone saw this…but that this HAPPENED) and the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in bodily form like a dove.
    • Then God’s voice proclaimed, “You are my son, with whom I am well pleased.”
  • In John: There is no mention of Jesus being baptized. Go ahead, take a look.
    • All that is mentioned is that John saw the Spirit descend upon him like a dove.
      • Most assume that this happened when John baptized Jesus; however, that is because people are reading the other three Gospels into it.
        • It may be a safe assumption, but it is still an assumption.

These are the 4 views of Jesus baptism. They are very similar; however there are some marked differences between them. One thing can be certain, Jesus was baptized and that baptism was like the shot heard around the world. In Jesus, a fire was stoked that not even the Roman Empire could put out. The challenge for us is to remember our own baptism and our own confirmation in the Christian faith. Do you remember the fire you once had, provided you had it, for Jesus? Do you still have that same passion and/or fire burning within you today? If not, why? What can you do to have it re-stoked within you? Today you are challenged to find your fire for Jesus Christ once again, for the harvest is plenty and the workers are few (Luke 10:2).

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
The Holy Spirit cannot be contained.

PRAYER
Lord, fill me with your holy, uncontainable, unquenchable Holy Spirit. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: What Really Matters

Read Amos 5:21-24

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied. God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” (Matthew 5:6-7, NLT)

Like a River

Today is Black Friday, a day when much of America is seemingly out shopping in preparation for the largest gift-giving season in the world. The day became known as “Black Friday” because businesses were said to go from being in the “red”, meaning they owed more than they brought in, to being in the “black”, which means that their revenue exceeded what they owed. It is no wonder then that Black Friday has become Big Business’s happy holiday as billions of shoppers spend their money on Christmas gifts.

In the wake of the violent riots that broke out this week in Ferguson, Missouri, however, there is no doubt that this year black Friday may be seeming a little more trivial than it normally does. Of course, it really always seems trivial to many people, and rightfully so; however, as smoldering smoke rises from chain stores and “mom and pop” shops alike in Ferguson, it is perhaps time for us to pause and reflect on the things that actually matter. No matter where we fall in our understanding surrounding the death of Michael Brown this past summer, the fact remains that this country is still suffering under the injustices of the past that keep resurfacing to haunt us.

It’s unfortunate that it takes the death of an eighteen year old, the ruination of the lives of a police officer and his family, and the destruction of an entire community for people to see that we aren’t out of the water yet when it comes to the racial tensions that divide us as a nation. We so often try to bury the past and busy ourselves with trivialities in order to go about our lives “unaware” of the injustice that surrounds us. Again, I say that without making a judgment call about the particular case in Ferguson.

As I sit here and write this, I am shedding tears and praying prayers for Michael Brown’s family who are so torn with grief over the loss of a son, a brother, a nephew, a cousin, and a grandchild. I am also shedding tears and praying prayersfor Darren Wilson and his family as they, too, are caught in all of this. I am shedding tears for the black communities, and minority communities, who have endured a system that is skewed against them because of their race. I am shedding tears and praying prayers for police officers and first responders who go to work, and put their lives on the line everyday, only to be put in situations where they have their decisions scrutinized by people who are not in harm’s way or forced to make those decisions. There are a lot of tears to go around.

As we reflect on Ferguson and the larger issues that are facing our country, let us see where we all fit into the picture. Let us realize that we too have a part to play in all of this. Will we be a part of the effort to sweep our past under the carpet, or will we be a part of the long, and often painful, process to work toward HOPE, HEALING, and WHOLENESS. God has called us to be a people who seek to live justly, who love mercy, and who walk humbly with God. The question is, for each of us, are we willing to answer God’s call?

My ultimate prayer is that justice and mercy will simultaneously flow like a river. That people will take the hard steps to work together in order that we may truly, one day, call each other brothers and sisters. I pray that God will use each of us as vessels that not only bear witness to the presence of God in our communities, but also that bring God’s hope, healing, and wholeness to them as well! The time has come for us to drop the trivial pursuits and start working toward what really matters: justice and mercy!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

PRAYER

Lord, allow both justice and mercy to flow like a river through us and into our communities. Amen.

Redeemable?

Read Romans 8:38-39

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I tell you the truth, all sin and blasphemy can be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. This is a sin with eternal consequences.” (Mark 3:28–29 NLT).

Jefferey Dean Morgan as Negan Smith on AMC’s The Walking Dead, Season 6, Episode 16: “The Last Day on Earth”.

As you are about to find out, this week is [un]officially The Walking Dead week here at Life-Giving Water Ministries. Why? Because Season 11 is soooo good so far and I am super stoked after this past week’s episode. Man, it is really, really good and so I have hereby declared this week, in 2021, The Walking Dead week. That has absolutely no bearing on anything, and probably will be forgotten about beyond this week, but today I bring to you another TWD-themed message.

My favorite character in The Walking Dead is a man by the name of Negan. For anyone who has watched the show and knows who Negan is, you might be wondering what on earth I drank or smoke prior to writing this. For those of you who are wondering how to even pronounce NEGAN (for your reference, Nee-gan) and have no clue who he is, let’s just say that his story on the show has a less than pleasant beginning.

!SPOILER ALERT! Let me warn you now, there will be some spoilers in this so if you have any interest watching the show someday, you might want to stop reading now and come back to this when you’re ready. We first meet Negan as the leader of the Saviors, a group who are 150,000% dedicated to their leader. In fact, this is so much the case that when anyone asks “who’s Negan”, they will rise up and each of them say, “I am Negan”, in order to protect him. Why? Because, though he’s harsh, he does offer them safety provided they abide by his rules. To fail to do so could cost someone far more than their life.

At the end of Season 6, Rick Grimes and his group of survivors are caught by Negan and the Saviors and they are all forced to kneel in a circle, facing Negan as he walks around addressing each of them. His left hand is dangling opened by his side, his right hand is clutched around the handle of an old-fashioned Lousiville Slugger that has barbed-wire wrapped around it. The bat itself is rested on his shoulder and he is clearly playing with his “enemies”. Of course, his enemies are our friends, so-to-speak, and so we are totally not a Negan fan in this scene.

We find out that at the end of the scene, Negan is going to repay Rick and his crew for attacking an outpost of theirs. Rick had done that to protect his family and friends from Negan’s increasingly aggressive and oppressive interactions with them. They felt they had no other option and they killed the people at the outpost. Well, Negan did not appreciate that gesture and so, to get revenge, he tells them that he’s going to kill one of them. Then the season ends. That’s it. They leave you hanging to the very end.

At the beginning of Season 7, episode 1, we pick back up there and we finally see that Negan has chosen to kill Abraham, who he beats to a pulp with his bat. Angered by that, Daryl curses at Negan and threatens him and so Negan randomly turns and beats in the head of Glenn Rhee, the loving husband of Maggie, who witnesses the gory horror unfold before her eyes. Adding to that, Maggie is pregnant with Glenn’s child.

From there, Rick and the group are forced to be subjegated under Negan and he get’s harsher and harsher with them, forcing them to rise up and fight. To make a very long story short, Negan is defeated eventually and becomes a prisoner of Alexandria, Rick’s community. From there, Rick begins to empathize with Negan and believe he’s redeemable. Rick has to believe that because if Negan is not redeemable, are any of them? Empathy, compassion, forgiveness, redemption, those were the things that made Alexandria different that the Saviors.

Though Rick would end up disappearing, his son Carl would end up dying, and much time would pass, Rick’s legacy carried on in Negan who eventually went from begin a prisoner to a contributer to the community. Still, not everyone is convinced. Maggie, for instance, cannot let go of her hatred for Negan because of what he did to her husband and she cannot understand why Rick and the rest of the community didn’t get avenge her husband’s death.

So, here’s the question for you: is someone like Negan redeemable? Without getting into the difficulty that Maggie has in moving past her hurt, grief and righteous anger, is somene like Negan redeemable? If, by that question, you hear is Negan deserving of redemption? No! Of course not! There’s nothing he could do to earn redemption for what he did; however, that is not the question being posed. Is someone like Negan redeemable? In other words, can God save and transform someone like Negan. The show’s response is straight out of the Bible: YES!!! No one is “unredeemable”! No one is outside of the power of God’s saving grace! The story of Negan is the story of you and I. We’ve all done things that are shameful and destructive; however, this is NOTHING that can separate us from the love of our God through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Let us, therefore, rejoice and witness to the world of that good news…and let us avoid falling into the pitfall of casting judgment on others.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
To judge is to proclaim that you are God.

PRAYER
Lord, keep me from falling into judgment, but promote a spirit of forgiveness and grace within me. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: Truth Vs. Fact

Read John 14:6-10

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32, NLT)

Tropical big fish in a small fish bowl

One of the things that intrigues me most about the Bible is about how the Bible interacts with history. I love reading the stories about Esther and the Persian King Ahasuerus who, for good reason, is believed to be King Xerxes I of Persia. I love reading about archaeological finds that corroborate the stuff found in the Bible. One such example is the discovery of Caiaphas’s ossuary, which is a chest containing the bones of the high priest who found Jesus guilty of blasphemy and had him handed over to Pontius Pilate. It intrigues me when I learn that we have discovered Pontius Pilate’s name inscribed in stone. This kind of stuff makes me feel like a boy watching Indiana Jones and relishing in the history and the adventure.

As a person who gets excited about history, I find the links between the Bible and historical records to be simply stunning and thought-provoking. I also love studying, apart from the Bible, the times and contexts of the areas that the Bible is referring to. For instance, the Bible says that Abraham came from Ur. Where was Ur? What did it mean to be rooted in the culture of Ur. What sorts of religious, cultural and social practices existed in that land and in that time? Or, what was it like growing up in first century Palestine? What did it mean to be a Jew in that time, what sorts of things did the people of Jesus’ time have to deal/cope with. What did it mean to be poor, sick, lame, imprisoned, etc., in the time of Jesus?

With that said, our culture has become too reliant on history as a measure of truth. For instance, were Adam and Eve literal people? Was the world created in six literal days? Was there really a Noah and did God literally flood the earth, killing everything on it? Did Jonah really get swallowed up by a gigantic fish? Did Elijah really get carried off to heaven in a chariot of fire? For some, perhaps for many in today’s day and age, these questions and more become the focal point. And this focal point leads us to even more questions. If those things weren’t historically accurate, if they didn’t literally happen exactly as it was written (word for word) in the Bible, then should we just discount the Bible as being nothing more than a fanciful fairy-tale, full of lies and superstition?

In today’s time, people equate fact with truth. People tend to hold the following proposition: “if it isn’t factual, then it isn’t true.” Then they will take a story like Jonah and search for historical proof that Jonah existed, they’ll search for historical and scientific evidence that one can be swallowed up by a fish. If they cannot find said evidence, they end up with the following conclusion: “there is no historical evidence to prove that this really happened; therefore, its historicity is in question and we must conlcude the Jonah story is not true.

Yet, the proposition is what lacks in truth and it leads to such a false conclusion. It can be said that in order for something to be truly and/or wholly historical, in must be factual. It can also be said that if something is factual, it must be true.  Yet, while facts are dependent on truth, it does not follow that truth is dependent on fact. Just because something didn’t actually happen, does not mean it is not true! Take Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. Was there a Good Samaritan? Did such a Good Samaritan actually exist? Who knows?!?! It was a parable that Jesus told in order to convey the truth of what it means to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Whether, it was a parable drawn from a historical event, or whether it was spun up by Jesus’ masterful storytelling skills in the moment is completely irrelevant!

The point of this is that, while we can get intrigued by the historicity of the Bible, we ought not get caught up in whether it is historical or not. The Bible was not written to be a history text book. Yes, it does include historical events in it. It also includes allegory, poetry, mythology, laws, songs, philosophy, and a whole host of other things. What the Bible was written for was to convey theology and spiritual truth. To stumble on our 21st understanding of history and whether or not the Bible holds up to it is to, quite frankly, foolishly and senselessly miss the point. Rather than seeking the historicity of the Bible, seek truth within its pages, for the Bible is spiritually authoritative and it is a profound part of the foundation of our faith, filled with the Truth.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“It’s like a finger pointing to the moon, don’t concentrate on the finger or you’ll miss all of that heavenly glory.” – Bruce Lee

PRAYER
Lord, rather than facts, fill me with your truth that I may be set free to live out that truth in my life. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: Amazing Grace

Read Luke 20:9-18

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Therefore, this is what the Sovereign LORD says: ‘Look! I am placing a foundation stone in Jerusalem, a firm and tested stone. It is a precious cornerstone that is safe to build on. Whoever believes need never be shaken.’” (Isaiah 28:16 NLT)

AmazingGrace

Again, I want to reevaluate the parable of the vineyard and the wicked tenants. In particular, I would like to have us focus on the wrathful ending to it. In the last devotion, we spent time discussing what the parable reveals to us about God’s plan of redemption. Being that this is the parable Jesus chose to teach just days before he was going to be betrayed and handed over to the Romans for capital punishment, it reveals to us exactly what Jesus thought his mission to be. Yet, as was also discussed, the redemption seems to get lost in translation and overshadowed by God’s wrath.

So, let us look at the rhetoric Jesus is using and try to understand this not as God’s wrath, but of God’s ultimate measure of grace. The reality is that when Jesus asks the question, “what do you suppose the owner of the vineyard will do to [those wicked tennants]?”, he is attemption to elicit a certain response. Yet, the religious leaders had come to be trap this pesky Galilean teacher, not to be trapped by him. So, these leaders remain silent rather than answering the question.

Of course, they surely knew what the answer was. They knew that any owner of such a vineyard, who had the right to claim his/her share of the crops, would definitely not sit by after having his servants killed by such wicked tenants. What’s more, the murder of his son would have driven this father (and any parent) over the proverbial edge. Yet, there the religious leaders stood, resolute in their silence.

Thus, Jesus answered for them, “I’ll tell you—he will come and kill those farmers and lease the vineyard to others” (Luke 20:16a NLT). This response elicited the exact response Jesus knew they would come up with. Instantly, the religious leaders scoffed, “how terrible that such a thing should ever happen.” In other words, these religious leaders were both saying that such a scenario is horrible and, on the same note, a rather far-fetched story that bore no relevance to them.

Yet, it absolutely bore relevance to them. Jesus, knowing their hearts were hardened, quoted scripture, “Then what does this Scripture mean? ‘The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.’ Everyone who stumbles over that stone will be broken to pieces, and it will crush anyone it falls on” (Luke 20:17-18 NLT).

First, I want to point out that Jesus’ answer on how the vineyard owner would respond does not exactly match the Scripture that Jesus quotes. The answer itself is the answer that Jesus knew lay in the hearts of the ones he was telling the story to. It is the answer that we as humans would wish that the owner, who’s own son was murdered, would do. Of course, the father is going to seek vengeance and retribution for the death of his son, right? What father wouldn’t?

Jesus then follows that up with something quite different from that answer. Jesus points out to the religious leaders that God had given them the stone upon which to build God’s kingdom. This was the very stone that stood before them: Jesus Christ. Yet these religious leaders, who were builders in the sense that they were supposed to be leading the people in building God’s kingdom, had rejected that stone and, in doing so, had turned away from God. Thus, they would end up stumbling over the stone and falling because of it.

Yet, that was not God’s wrathful vengeance, but their own hardened hearts that led them to trip up instead of build. That was the result of their own unwillingness to see what God was doing through Jesus. Sadly, the religious leaders realized that they were the “wicked tenants” in Jesus’ story and, instead of repenting and turning back to God, they fulfilled their part in the prophetic parable. Instead of reacting as humans would in that situation, God instead showed AMAZING GRACE. This grace is extended toward all humanity, even those who have rejected God. In fact, some of Jesus’ opponents did eventually come to follow Jesus (e.g. Nicodemus, Saul of Tarsus, etc.). Everyone can turn from their sins through faith in Jesus Christ, and become the Kingdom builders they were created to be. This is God’s challenge to us this Lent.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved. How precious did that grace appear, the hour I first believed.” – John Newton

PRAYER
Lord, you are the corner stone upon which I have been built. Thank you for your amazing grace. Amen.

RECLAIM, Episode 1: “The Bible”

In this brand new video series, Pastor Todd of First United Methodist Church of Newton, NJ brings passionate awareness and helpful tips on various transformational Christian practices and theology. Each episode will inspire and motivate spiritual growth through time-tested practices and and wisdom.

This week’s episode invites you to RECLAIM the Bible as a means of grace for us in our daily lives. In this episode, Pastor Todd will discuss how to know which translation to pick, how to read the Bible and why it is important to make reading Scripture a part of our daily routine.

Continue reading RECLAIM, Episode 1: “The Bible”

A LOOK BACK:Monster Squad

Read Luke 9:49-55

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For the law was given through Moses, but God’s unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17, NLT)

monstersquad3

One of my all time favorite novels, as I have expressed in the past, is Bram Stoker’s Dracula. As a fan of the novel, one who has read it several times over the years, I am also a fan of Dracula films. Not one of the films ever does the novel justice, in my humble opinion, but I love them all the same. One of my favorites, is Francis Ford Coppola’s “Bram Stoker’s Dracula”, which tried to remain true to the novel, but also explored the sensual side of the story as well. In fact, my main beef with the film is that it went overkill on making it erotic, taking away the beauty of the subtle eroticism that is inherent in the novel. As a result, it felt more like a romance than it did a horror.

In this film Dracula becomes a sort of tragic antihero. The film opens with the historical Dracula who is defending Romania, and Christendom, against the Turkish Muslims who are invading his land. One of the Turks attached a note to an arrow and shot it through a window in Dracula’s Castle; the letter was subsequently read by Dracula’s wife. The note stated that Prince Vlad Dracula had been killed in battle. Bereaved and beside herself, the princess committed suicide by jumping out of the castle window and fell to her death into the river below. When Dracula returned home, he found his dead wife laid out on the chapel floor. Before he could begin to even process what had happened, the priests told him that his wife’s soul had been damned to hell for committing suicide.

This graceless and condemning pronouncement of his true love sent Dracula into a rage. He grabbed his sword and stabbed it into a stone cross, which immediately began to gush with blood. Dracula then grabbed the Eucharistic chalice and, after he filled it with the blood, drank from it. It is in this moment that man died and the monster was born. Honestly, though, Dracula became a monster as a result of another monster in the room: GRACELESS THEOLOGY. It was the theology of the priests, who are supposedly Christ’s representatives, that killed Dracula the man and created Dracula the monster. Dracula’s response to the priests is best summed up by the lyrics of the song “Dracula” by Iced Earth: “I am the Dragon of blood, the relentless prince of pain. Renouncing God off His throne, my blood is forever stained. For true love I shall avenge. I defy the creed that damned her.”

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am certainly not justifying with Dracula’s reaction, nor am I suggesting that Dracula was right to “defy God.” What I am saying is that there is no greater monster than graceless, bad theology. Some Christians have placed themselves as judge and jury against what they feel is sinful or immoral. Yet, has Christ called Christians to be judge or jury? Or has Christ called us to be representatives of and witnesses to the love and the grace of God? I think the answer is clear. And I think it becomes clear who the real villains were in this particular telling of Dracula. Monstrous theology makes monsters of those who believe in it, and it also ends up either destroying and/or damning its victims, sometimes creating monsters out them as well.

In the spirit of Halloween, let us become the “Monster Squad.” Let us hunt down and eradicate the demons, the ghouls and the monsters that lurk in our theology. Let us be thoughtful and prayerful about what we believe and how express that. Let us be humble in our faith and recognize that ONLY GOD IS THE JUDGE and that we are not called to take the place of God. Let us remember that Christ has called us to be representatives of the Kingdom of God, to be witnesses of God’s grace, to to be bearers of God’s profoundly unconditional, limitless, and enduring love. Let our theology be the kind that points to the sacred worth in all people; and let us lay to rest any theology that sets out to destroy.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“One of the main tasks of theology is to find words that do not divide but unite, that do not create conflict but unity, that do not hurt but heal.” – Henri Nouwen

PRAYER
Lord, help me to be humble and to be faithful in representing your grace and love to all people. 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.