Tag Archives: healing

God’s People, part 202: Children

Read Mark 10:13-16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s People, part 201: Outsider

Read Mark 9:38-41

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Pride ends in humiliation, while humility brings honor.”  (Proverbs 29:23, 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-facepalmPart 201: Outsider. In the previous devotion, I cut the disciples some slack. After all, it was not necessarily their fault that they couldn’t cast out the evil spirit. What’s more, the disciples become such easy targets for criticism when it comes to how dense they can be. They seemingly never fully get what Jesus is teaching them. This is at least the case in the Gospel of Mark. The disciples never quite understand who Jesus is let alone what he’s teaching.

In this devotion, however, they will not be cut slack at all. In our Scripture today, the disciples come up to Jesus in a very boastful manner. They are proud of what they just did and they cannot wait to tell the Lord. John, who is the one who tells Jesus the news of their latest action, seems certain that the Master will be pleased with him and the others for what they had done.

“Teacher,” he said, “we saw someone using your name to cast out demons, but we told him to stop because he wasn’t in our group” (Mark 9:38, NLT). That’s right, John and the other disciples saw to it to stop someone from casting out demons in Christ’s name because that person was not a part of their group. In other words, the disciples believed that they were special because Jesus had chosen them and, therefore, NO ONE ELSE outside their group had the right to do ministry in Jesus’ name. They saw their discipleship as a popularity contest, as an exclusive social club, as a way to have status over others.

As can be easily imagined without even reading the rest of the account, Jesus is not happy with them at all. This is what I call a Jesus face palm moment. Jesus had been spending so much time with his disciples, teaching them that he had come to the “least of these”, to the poor, the sick, the marginalized and the lost. He had come for the sake of the OUTSIDERS and yet, in their own minds, the disciples thought that excluding an outsider was the right thing to do.

DENSE. The disciples were dense to say the least. Jesus, of course, scolded them. “Don’t stop him! No one who performs a miracle in my name will soon be able to speak evil of me. Anyone who is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:39-40, NLT). Jesus’ words, no doubt, must have knocked the disciples down from their proverbial high horses. Their action, according to Jesus, was not to be praised but to be denounced.

The Lord’s message to them is the same message to us now. Church congregations have largely become exclusive social clubs. Sure, we technically let outsiders; however, we don’t stop reminding them that they’re outsiders. Our orders of worship, our meeting structures, and even the way we greet them on Sundays are all reminders that they don’t quite belong.

The challenge for us is to change that exclusive social club culture we have in our congregations. Jesus was not pleased with his disciples when they quelled the spirit within the outsider, and he is not pleased when we do the same thing. Let us find ways of being as inclusive as we can be. Short of professing a false Christ, we should allow room for people to express Christ in their lives and give them a warm, inviting, and encouraging space to do so.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“But if it is from God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You may even find yourselves fighting against God!” – Gamaliel  (Acts 5:39, NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, help me to be open and welcoming to other people’s expression of you in their lives. Amen.

God’s People, part 200: Faithless

Read Mark 9:14-29

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Through Christ you have come to trust in God. And you have placed your faith and hope in God because he raised Christ from the dead and gave him great glory.”  (1 Peter 1:21, 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-heal-boy-1Part 200: Faithless. In today’s Scripture, we have a very interesting account where we get to see both the humanity and divinity at play within Jesus. When we picture Christ in our minds, we see this jovial, nice, guy with a smile on his face and a lamb over his shoulders. He’s surrounded by children as he sits on a rock for storytime. He’s calm and serene; sometimes, he’s even glowing (e.g. halo).

Yet, that is merely a two-dimensional view of Jesus, at best. In today’s passage, we see a wholly different side of the Lord. He heard a bunch of arguing and questioned what that was all about. It  was then that a man, whose son was possessed by an evil spirit, spoke up. He told Jesus that he asked the disciples to cast out the spirit and they simply couldn’t.

In that moment, we see a frustration in Jesus we have yet to really see before this point. Jesus vents out to them, “’You faithless people! How long must I be with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.’”  (Mark 9:19, NLT) This of course, caused the disciples to begin to worry if they Jesus was referring to them. Did the Lord actually view them as “faithless”? Thus, when they were alone, they later asked Jesus why they were unable to exorcise the demon. Jesus revealed that “this kind can be cast out only by prayer” (Mark 9:29, NLT).

In my reading of this, while the disciples sometimes displayed a lack of faith, Jesus was not frustrated with them. He knew they had no way of knowing how to specifically cast out the evil spirit. What’s more, they attempted to, which means that they were NOT lacking in faith. Instead, they were stepping out in it.

What this then reveals to us is that Jesus’ frustrations lay with the people who sought help from the disciples. It is there that we see the faithlessness that Jesus was upset about. The people came to the disciples looking for a service to be performed and, when they could not deliver, they came bickering and griping about it to Jesus.

It was that sentiment that frustrated Jesus. They wanted to see the result before they would believe and, when the final product was not delivered on time in they way they were anticipating, they grew angry. They approached the disciples and Jesus as if they were a means to an end, as if they were some sort of miracle producing side-show. They approached them in faithlessness rather than in faith. Of course, Jesus healed the child anyway, but not before making an example of those who came seeking the healing.

It is this that we are being challenged with today. Do we have a relationship with Jesus Christ? Do we place our faith solely in Him? Do we spend time getting to know him or do we merely seek him out when we need something. Do we see Christ as our ultimate and eternal end, or do we simply try to use Him as a means to some sort of self-gratifying end? Let us truly reflect on this and remember that Christ is LORD. Him, and Him alone, do we serve. Let us do so faithfully.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” – Anonymous (Hebrews 13:8, NLT)

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

God’s People, part 199: Blind Man

Read Mark 8:22-26

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“They couldn’t bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, so they dug a hole through the roof above his head. Then they lowered the man on his mat, right down in front of Jesus.”  (Mark 2:4, 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-heals-the-blind-manPart 199: Blind Man. Here we have yet another account of Jesus being bombarded by people seeking for him to be healed. In today’s passage, it is a blind man. In fact there are a number of blind people who Jesus heals. There’s the account we have today, which happened in Bethsaida. He also healed blind Bartimaeus later on in Mark. Matthew mentions him healing two blind people at the same time, one of whom may be the same unnamed person that is mentioned in our passage today.

In Luke, heals a blind person as he approached the city of Jericho. Finally, in John, Jesus heals an unnamed man who was born blind. In this account, Jesus does this very publicly in front of the religious leaders, which adds fuel to their fire. In this account, Jesus is not only healing the man for the sake of the man (though he does have compassion on him), but he is also performing the miracle to expose the Pharisees in their own “blindness”. We’ll revisit this account later on in the series.

In this passage, a blind man is brought to Jesus and the people who brought him begged Jesus to heal him of his blindness. Jesus took this man and led him out of the village. In other words, Jesus took the time to guide this man to a private, quiet place where he would not be a spectacle for others to gawk at. After spitting on the man’s eyes (gross…I know), the man told him that he could see, but things were blurry. Following laying his hands on the man, Jesus fully restored his sight and then sent him away, telling him not to go back into the village on his way home.

Minus the spitting, it is a beautiful, intimate, and touching scene between Jesus and this man who was in need. Out of that scene, though, a question arises: what if his friends didn’t take the time to bring him to Jesus and persistently beg for healing? Would that man have ever been healed of his sight? In fact, that question arises out of many of the healing accounts in the Gospel.

The truth is that the blind man and many of the people who were healed in the gospels would not have been healed had they no friends to persist and plead on their behalf. They would have, like countless other people, fallen through the cracks and left in their own suffering, misery and despair. Praise God for the people who decided to advocated for those people who had such desperate needs.

This should also cause us to pause and reflect on ourselves and the world around us. How many people do we know who are struggling and in need of hope, healing and wholeness? Who is pleading on their behalf? Who is advocating for them so that they might find the healing they need? Who is persistent in pleading for their wellness?

We all should be challenged to be like the friends of this blind man, who cared so much that they sought Jesus out and persistently begged for his healing. This should challenge us to be more aware of the needs around us and more inspired to DO SOMETHING to fill those needs. Let us be a people of empathy as opposed to apathy, for this is what pleases the Lord and this is what is desperately needed to counteract the evil and hopelessness of the world.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world.” – Joel A. Barker

PRAYER
Lord, help me be an advocate for those who are in need, so that they may not only receive healing, but that they might also realize they are not alone. Amen.

God’s People, part 198: Deaf Man

Read Mark 7:31-37

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“If you were blind, you wouldn’t be guilty,” Jesus replied. “But you remain guilty because you claim you can see.”  (John 9:41, 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.

009-lumo-deaf-manPart 198: Deaf Man. When I had graduated high school, I had gotten a job as an aide on a special needs bus. To begin with, I had been put with special needs kids who had behavioral issues. There was one boy I specifically remember, who was a good kid but had a hard time sitting still on the bus. Of course, that can pose serious issues for the bus driver and the safety of everyone on board.

This child would get angry if you tried to enforce the rule that he stay seated. He would even get combative.  It was a challenge to work with him, but it was a blessing as well because in the end he and I bonded and I became one of the few people who could reach him and keep him calm.

The next year I ended up working on a bus with deaf kids and that experience taught me a lot about myself. I headed into that assignment thinking that I was dealing with “handicapped” people who were different than I or the other “normal” people I that I went to school with when I was back in elementary school. I didn’t consciously think those things, but they were underlying presumptions I made because I knew that these children were deaf and attending a special school for deaf folks.

Those presumptions couldn’t have been further from the truth. The kids I encountered on that bus were regular, “normal”, kids. The only differences they had from me as a child was that they could not “hear”, and they fluently spoke two languages, English and American Sign Language (ASL). In other words, these kids were actually brighter and more advanced than I was at there age. Wow. Humbling.

I have always been a quick learner with a fairly open heart and so, I learned quickly that I had been wrong in my presumptions and I opened myself up to learn from them. They taught me ASL, at least as much as I could learn on a bus ride and I learned to communicate with them so that we could understand each other. When they spoke in sign language, they also spoke verbally, though the formation of their words were not as clear, because they cannot properly hear themselves speak.

I am imagining that this is exactly what we have in this account of Jesus healing the deaf man with a speech impediment. The speech “impediment” was not that he couldn’t speak properly, but that he could not hear himself speak due to his deafness. When he was brought to Jesus, he led the man away from the crowd so that they could be alone.

Why alone? Probably because Jesus didn’t want a spectacle. This man, no doubt, had be the victim of everyone’s presumptions. To them he was a deaf man who sounded funny. To them, he had a problem and they were the “normal” people. They had written this man off as less than them, someone who needed fixing. No doubt, this was the case for many of the people Jesus healed; however, this time, Jesus led the man away from the crowd so that they could be alone, and he healed him.

What this account does is tell us about ourselves. We often see ourselves as “normal”, and others as “abnormal”. The truth is, while people without hearing would love to hear again, it was the “normal” people who need healing from the hardness of their hearts. We think that our lives are the pinnacle and anyone who has “less” than us should be pitied and prayed for.

The challenge for us is to be aware of that bias we place on our abilities and to become an agent for removing the stigmas associated with “disability”. In fact, many people choose not to even use that word because of the connotations of it. Remember that while Jesus healed the blind man, he told that Pharisees that they were the ones who were REALLY blind. And while Jesus healed the deaf man, we are the ones who really need to have our ears opened, along with our hearts, to Jesus Christ.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“My disability exists not because I use a wheelchair, but because the broader environment isn’t accessible.” – Stella Young

PRAYER
Lord, open doors of my heart so that I might view all people as children of God, no matter what differences I may perceive. Amen.

God’s People, part 197: Dog

Read Mark 7:24-30

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“But the voice spoke again: ‘Do not call something unclean if God has made it clean.’”  (Acts 10:15, NLT)

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

DogsPart 197: Dog. This is one of those moments when even the most unquestioning, unwavering Christian has to be wondering, “What gives?” In the Scripture reading for this devotion, we have an episode where Jesus seemingly dehumanized her and almost completely snubbed her. Of course, he did eventually acquiesced to her, so it was not a total snub, but still, “What gives?”

In this account, which is recorded in both Mark and Matthew, the woman was a Gentile. Mark describes her as a “Syrophoenician woman” and Matthew describes her as a Canaanite. While those two descriptions may seem different, they aren’t actually. Tyre, where Jesus found this woman, and Sidon were both cities that were built by the Canaanites and were a part of the land of Canaan. Thus, Syria and Phoenicia were actually Canaanite.

Thus, this woman was a non-Jew, and belonged to a country of people who were enemies of the Jews. She approached Jesus because her daughter was possessed and she was hoping he would heal her. Instead of healing the daughter, Jesus first dismissed the woman: “First I should feed the children—my own family, the Jews. It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs”  (Mark 7:27, NLT).

Sure, this woman was not a Jew and sure Jesus had come as the Jewish Messiah, but he was traveling in HER LAND. Why dismiss her like that. Worse yet, why call her a dog. How dehumanizing is that? I have heard a lot of people try to explain this away by saying, “Oh, Jesus was just testing her faith.” Sure, that is a possibility; however, couldn’t have done so in a less humiliating and degrading way than that?

I don’t think that Jesus was testing her faith at all. Clearly, she had faith in him if, as a Canaanite woman, she sought him out to exorcise her daughter. That would have taken a tremendous amount of faith and humility, quite honestly. What’s more, Jesus didn’t apply that same standard to the Roman centurion or any other non-Jew he interacted with.

I have always seen something else here at play. The religious leaders had been challenging Jesus at every turn and he was being rejected by his own people. This is so true that Jesus often found himself traveling with his disciples outside of Jewish territories. In fact, right before the interaction with this woman, the religious leaders were questioning Jesus on ritual and dietary purity. Jesus chastised them and proceeded to say that food is not what defiles someone. Mark then added the following commentary, “By saying this, he declared that every kind of food is acceptable in God’s eyes.” (Mark 7:19, NLT)

This would have been a big deal and, what’s more, dietary laws were one of the ways that Jews were differentiated from Gentiles such as the Canaanites. Thus, I do not think Jesus’ initial response to the woman was actually intended to be a slight against her; rather, I think he was echoing the unclean thoughts that defiled his own people. He treated her, initially, in a way that the religious leaders and other Jews thought of her.

But the account did not end there, did it? The woman acknowledged Jesus’ words and then retorted, “That’s true, Lord, but even the dogs under the table are allowed to eat the scraps from the children’s plates” (Mark 7:28, NLT). At that point, Jesus lightened up, commended her answer, and sent her home with these words, “the demon has left your daughter.”

What Jesus did there was further expose the hypocrisy and impurity of those who saw themselves as pure. This Canaanite, Syrophoenician, non-Jewish woman who ate swine and was generally deemed to be impure was, in actuality, the one who had faith and was clean in God’s sight. This should actually be a lesson for all of us who see ourselves as clean, or pure, or “saved”. Christians are just as culpable as the Jewish religious leaders in seeing themselves as above those who are non-Christian and “unsaved”.

The challenge for us as Christians is to humble ourselves and remember God is the one who deems who is clean and/or unclean, not us. We are not some how more valuable that those we look at as “dogs.” Whether they be immigrants, the poor, criminals, the “unchurched”, or whatever label we use to define and describe the other, Jesus can be found among them. When we exclude others, we end up excluding Christ along with them. The challenge for us is to drop our perception and pick up Christ’s.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Let us remember that while we may be “saved”, that is only because we are sinners in need of saving.

PRAYER
Lord, help me to humble myself so that I can see the sinner that I am and work on removing my own logs, rather than other people’s specs. Amen.

God’s People, part 196: The Sick

Read Mark 6:53-56

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“When Jesus heard this, he said, ‘Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.’”  (Matthew 9:12, 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.

SickPart 196: The Sick. “Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head.”  Those words of Jesus’ ring true when we read today’s scripture passage. Anywhere and everywhere Jesus went, he was being bombarded by people who were seeking to get something out of him. Mark tells us that once people recognized who he was, “they ran about the whole area, carrying sick people on mats to wherever he was.”

Bombarded might actually be an understatement. Still, Jesus understood their needs and had compassion toward them. He healed as many of them as possible and continued to minister to those who were sick and healthy alike. No doubt all of this was draining, but the Spirit of God was upon Jesus and, as God’s Son, nothing was going to stop him from doing his Father’s work. Certainly not exhaustion.

With that said, who are the sick? This is one of those English words that doesn’t capture what is being conveyed in the original Greek. When we read the word sick in this and other passages of the Gospels, we have to understand that we are not dealing with people who have the common cold. “The sick” were were not people who had a cough and a fever and needed some rest to recover; rather, these were people who had been suffering terribly from a whole host of various maladies.

In Greek, the word for “sick” comes from the word astheneō (ἀσθενέω, pronounced as-then-eh’-o), which not only means weak or feeble, but can mean diseased. What’s more this word is also used to describe male impotence. With that in mind, “the sick” were those who were crippled, who were suffered from degenerative diseases, who suffered from other types of nasty diseases, men who were impotent, as well as people who fell ill or sick for other reasons.

In other words, “the sick” was a catch-all word that encompassed a whole host of different people with an enumerable variety of illnesses. Certainly, these people were experiencing social and spiritual isolation and rejection due to their illness. While most people would avoid contact with the sick, Jesus was doing the opposite of that. He was engaging them, laying hands on them, and healing them.

What we can learn from “the sick” stems with our reaction to them. Who are the sick in our communities? Perhaps they are physically sick, ill, or people who are differently abled. Perhaps they, are emotionally or psychologically sick. Perhaps they suffer from substance dependence or addiction. What’s our reaction to those who are sick? Do we judge them? Do we try to avoid them? Do we reject them?

The challenge for us is to begin to move in the direction of Christ. We should never shun, reject, avoid, or judge; rather, we should show compassion, we should work against stigma, and be a healing presence in the lives of those who suffer. Let us be a people who model ourselves after Christ and reject the ways of the world. Let us work to bring hope, healing, and wholeness into the lives of those who need it.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Healing takes courage, and we all have courage, even if we have to dig a little to find it.” – Tori Amos

PRAYER
Lord, soften my heart and help me to grow in empathy toward others so that I might be used to bring your hope and healing to others. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: The Beatitudes, part 9: Persecuted

Volunteer handsWhile I am out volunteering in community this week, I figured it would be a great time for us to LOOK BACK to a previous devotion. I trust you will find this devotion to be as relevant today as it was when I first wrote it. Click here to time jump back to that devotion.

I would also challenge you to find time to volunteer and serve others in your community. Whether that be in a soup kitchen, a food pantry, at your local library, at a church, or any such place where people can be served through volunteerism, it is good to be a part of something larger than yourself. After all, Christ  taught:

“You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many”  (Matthew 20:25-28, NLT).

God’s People, part 195: Salome

Read Mark 14:1-12

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“The LORD is slow to anger and filled with unfailing love, forgiving every kind of sin and rebellion. But he does not excuse the guilty. He lays the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations.”  (Numbers 14:18, 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.

Salome_Baptist-HeadPart 195: Salome. In the Old Testament, there was a passage that I could never fully understand. In Exodus 20:5, in reference to idols God states, “You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me.”  (Exodus 20:5, NLT)

What does God mean when he says, “I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me”? That makes God sound like a harsh and cruel God. It seems to counter the “Jesus Loves Me” personality of God that I was taught in Sunday School and in church growing up. How can the unconditionally loving, all-good, God do that to people? I mean, I can understand why one would suffer consequences for THEIR sins, but why their children or their children’s children? That hardly seems fair.

These questions are valid questions; however, people such as Salome provide cases of what God means in Exodus 20:5. Salome was the daughter of Herodias and Herod II, and she was the step-daughter of her uncle Herod Antipas. As was covered in the last devotion, Herodias divorced Herod II and married his brother Antipas.

The last couple of devotions also highlighted the corruption, power-grabbing, greedy and murderous family that Herod the Great raised up. No one or thing was sacred or safe within it. This was the environment that Herod II, Antipas, and Herodias grew up in and, sadly, this is also the environment that Salome grew up in. As such, Herod the Great’s children followed suit with him and their children did the same as well.

Again, Herodias was power-hungry and divorced her first husband to marry his more powerful younger half-brother, Antipas. Likewise, her daughter Salome was also power-hungry and wanted to eliminate any threat to the legitimacy of her mother’s marriage to Antipas. Though they were rulers over God’s people, the Herodians lacked humility and did not place God above themselves.

Sure, Herodias knew it was against God’s law willy-nilly divorce Herod II to marry his half-brother, but she did it anyway. Sure, Herod Antipas knew it was wrong too. What’s more, he knew that God would not approve lusting after his step-daughter, but he did that anyway. Salome knew that seducing her step-father was not in line with God’s will for her, but she did it anyway. Certainly she knew that murdering one of God’s prophets was not something God willed, but she demanded that Antipas murder John the Baptist.

The challenge here is to NOT view the Herodians as being different than us. They are no different. They were human beings who had dreams, hopes, ambitions, lusts, envy, and longed for control. So are we. We may not find ourselves on the same scale, but we struggle with those things too. All human beings do.

The challenge for us is to not be like Herod, Antipas, Herodias or Salome and to overlook God’s will for our life so that we can have what WE want; rather, we should be challenged to heed God’s will for us, as outlined in Scripture, and purge ourselves of the things that take us away from God. In other words, let’s humble ourselves and purge deceit, corruption, evil desires, jealousy, contempt for God’s way, lust, ambition, and the need for control from our lives. By God’s grace, through the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, this can and will be done if you so choose.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” — Viktor E. Frankl

PRAYER
Lord, guide me through the space between stimulus and response and lead me to respond to you instead of my desires. Help me to ONLY desire you and your will for me. Amen.

God’s People, part 194: Herodias

Read Mark 6:14-29

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Do not have sexual relations with your brother’s wife, for this would violate your brother.”  (Leviticus 18:16, 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.

1024px-Herodias_with_the_Head_of_St._John_the_Baptist_-_Paul_Delaroche_-_Wallraf-Richartz_Museum_-_Cologne_-_Germany_2017Part 194: Herodias. Herodias was a princess. She was the daughter of King Herod’s son, Aristobulus IV who was the heir of King Herod’s kingdom. In fact, Aristobulus IV grew up in Rome and was educated in the household of Caesar Augustus. When he became an adult and returned to Jerusalem with his brother Alexander, the crowds greeted them exuberantly.

Unfortunately for them, their older half-brother, Antipater II, was jealous of them and started informing the king of rumors that the two brothers were plotting against him. After failed attempts of reconciliation with his sons, Aristobulus IV and Alexander, he had them strangled on charges of treason and promoted Antipater II as his co-regent and heir.

Still, Aristobulus’ daughter, Herodias, found favor in her grandfather’s eyes. Herodias was a princess; however, she was no Disney princess. She grew up in a home that only knew conflict. She grew up in a home where no one could trust anyone else. She grew up in a divisive, politically charged home where everyone was vying for control and power.

Following the deaths of her father and her Uncle Alexander, she was engaged and married to her half-uncle Herod II; however, this was opposed by Antipater II. As such, in order to maintain peace, Herod demoted Herod II to second in line. Herod II was eventually dropped out of King Herod’s will altogether because his mother never attempted to stop a plot to poison the king, even though she knew the plot was in action. Fun family, right? This would make for a great reality television show or daytime soap opera.

Herod II and Herodias’ marriage produced a child, named Salome. With that said, the marriage seemed to have produced little more than that. For some reason or another, Herodias eventually divorced Herod II and married his brother, Herod Antipas. One could imagine that Herod II was a dead end with no upward mobility in sight; whereas, Antipas was ruling as the tetrarch of Galilee and Perea. Given the power-grabbing nature of the Herodian family, it isn’t hard to imagine that is why Herodias divorced Herod II and married Herod Antipas. It was a political move.

Political or not, that move came with some consequences. It certainly would have rubbed devout Jewish people the wrong way. In fact, the Old Testament has some pretty sharp things to say against such marriages. In Leviticus 18:16, the law is written, “Do not have sexual relations with your brother’s wife, for this would violate your brother.” The fact that Herodias divorced her husband for no apparent reason would have been scandalous enough in the Jewish world; however, the fact that she subsequently married her ex-husband’s brother would have been seen as adultery and in complete defiance of Jewish religious and social law.

With that said, who is going to stand up to the Tetrarch and call him and his wife lecherous adulterers? John the Baptist, that’s who. And boy did he, so much so that Herodias was filled with hatred toward him. While most of the blame seems to be thrust on Herodias in the Gospel accounts, there can be little doubt that Herod Antipas was none the pleased by this prophet’s outbursts. Thus, Antipas had him arrested.

The rest is history. Antipas at some point held a party and hosted some distinguished guests. Herodias knew her husband lusted after his step-daughter, Salome, and she used that knowledge to her own advantage. She talked her daughter into dancing seductively for Antipas in front of all his guests at the party. Again, great family! When it came time for the tetrarch to fulfill his promise to her for dancing, Salome demanded exactly what her mom wanted, the head of John the Baptist on a silver platter.

Herodias is a prime example of what happens when we solely view the world as political theater. In that mindset, everyone is a pawn to be used in order to achieve particular ends. Thus, Herodias used her first husband, second husband and even her own daughter to get what she wanted. In our world today, we see more and more of this. Not just at the highest levels, but throughout all social and economic classes.

The challenge for us is to not view the world solely through our political leanings and/or stances. We should not approach our neighbors as a Republican or a Democrat. We should not label ourselves or others as “conservative” or “liberal” or “progressives”. We should view each person as children of God, beloved of God, created in God’s image. No one should be a means to an end, but the end unto themselves. This is what truly honors God, that we treat all of God’s creation with dignity and respect. Let us not fall into the trap that Herodias did, otherwise we might find ourselves perpetuating similar types of evil.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
People should never be used as a means to an end, but should be seen as the end unto themselves.

PRAYER
Lord, help me to see all people through your eyes and treat people the way I would like them to treat me. Amen.