Tag Archives: Jesus

A LOOK BACK: Two Probing Questions

Read Mark 8:27-30; Matthew 16:13-20; Luke 9:18-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6)

who_am_iAnyone who has ever had me as their teacher in confirmation class can attest to the fact that I take confirmation very seriously. I have developed a curriculum that goes beyond teaching the meaning of membership to a curriculum that instructs the students to engage in Christian History from Jesus to our current day and age. The curriculum has the students actively engage theology and doctrine (and the history behind the formation of the doctrines) as well as learn about the meaning of membership in the church.

One of the exercises I have the students do as a requirement for the class is to write a 3 page paper, or longer if they desire, answering two very simple, and very Biblical questions. In Mark 8:27-30, in Matthew 16:13-20, and in Luke 9:18-21, Jesus asks his disciples who people say that he is and, following their various answers, he asks them who they say that he is. So, likewise, I have the students answer those two questions.

It is amazing how challenging such an exercise is. Most of us can easily and quickly come up with a long list of the things that people say Jesus is; however, when it comes to who we say Jesus is, if we are going to take the exercise seriously, it becomes much more difficult to articulate. But each of my students have been through the exercise and each have come away saying that the experience of it was rewarding, leaving them with a richer sense of who Jesus is to them.

When God created humanity, God did not create robots. It was not God’s intention to have an android creation that just mindlessly, and robotically, did whatever God wanted them to do. Rather, God created a free-willed, free-spirited, and free-thinking people who had the ability to not only choose to be in a relationship with God and, in that relationship, seek to come to an understanding of God and of self in the context of that relationship. As human beings, we do not only define ourselves by our own thoughts of who we are, but rather we define ourselves by the relationships we have with ourselves and with others. Who am I without my mom, my sister, my friends, my wife, my children, and myself?

Thus, if we are Christians who claim to be in a relationship with God and with Jesus the Christ, then doesn’t it make sense that we would seek out who Jesus is? Doesn’t it make sense that we would not just settle for who people say Jesus is, but that we would find out who Christ is to us? Doesn’t it makes sense that we would want to get to “know” the person we claim to love and to follow?

Perhaps it wouldn’t hurt for you to write down Jesus’ two probing questions: “Who do people say that I am?” Who do you say that I am?” God is calling you to probe deep into your faith. It is never okay to just accept things at face value. God is calling you to move beyond what you’ve been taught into the realm of personal, experiential knowledge. Who is Christ for you? How have you experienced the power and the love of Christ in your life? How has Christ healed you, been present with you, changed you, and/or challenged you? Where does your story and the Gospel story intersect? God is calling you to truly discover who Jesus is and to deepen your faith in him. Such an invitation leads to transformation and conviction. Get to know your Lord and be convicted to bear his hope, healing and wholeness to world.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“The steady discipline of intimate friendship with Jesus results in [people] becoming like Him.” – Harry Emerson Fosdick

PRAYER

Lord, take me deeper in my faith that I may more intimately know you and grow more and more like you. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: Power-Up With Love <3

Read 1 Corinthians 13

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” (Matthew 19:30, NRSV).

Power-Up With Love <3Have you ever played the game Super Mario Brothers, or any of the subsequent Super Mario Brothers games?  I sat down with my daughters tonight for a little R&R, along with some Super Mario gaming.  We were playing New Super Mario Brothers on the Wii, and as soon as the game started any chance of “R&R” when right out of  the window.

If you have never played the game, let me explain what it is like playing it with three people.  If you remember the original Super Mario Brothers on the NES system, you could only play that with two people and only one player could play at a time.  My brother-in-law aptly said that Super Mario Brothers came from a time when people were accustomed to “taking turns”.

In the New Super Mario Brothers game, taking turns no longer exists!  Three people all fighting for the same prizes, trying to jump at the same time, and warring with each other to get to be the first to reach the flag adds a new stress-inducing dynamic to the already stressful game. As, we went further and further…rather, as we repeated the same round over and over again, the more the laughs turned to frustration. The girls started yelling at each other, I could feel my heart rate rising and, before I knew it, I was calling it quits for their benefit and for my sanity.

As I let the blood pressure drop and the heart rate slowed down, I began to think about how much stress we put ourselves through by trying to be the first, the best, the one who has the most stuff, and other types of things.  In a society that promotes “healthy competition”, we find ourselves more and more succumbing to the hazards that come along with such competition.  People are stressed out, burned out and on the verge of snapping all because they are seeking to be the best.

In a world that urges its inhabitants to fight for their “right” to be number one, in a world that teaches us that only the strong survive, in a world that teaches us to accept the “dog-eat-dog” mentality, Jesus calls us to see things in a whole new light.  Rather than the first being the winner, Jesus insists that the last are the ones who are truly first. Instead of survival of the fittest, Jesus insists that the fittest are the ones who realize how unfit they are.

Keeping this in mind, Paul also addressed the people within the church of Corinth.  To paraphrase, Paul told them that its not about how much you have, or how loud you talk or any other sort of thing. It comes down to if you have LOVE or not.  Without love, and the ability to love (which comes to us from God), we are only shadows of what we were meant to be.  We are noisy gongs and clanging cymbals without love, nothing more.

Instead of competing with each other over who is the best, the quickest, the cutest, or whatever other things we compete over, Christ is calling us to LOVE.  Rather than filling the void in our lives with the stress that this world offers us, Christ is calling us to have peace through LOVE.  You may be thinking that this sounds nice, but what does that mean? That means that if you live as Christ lived, and love as Christ loved, you are bound to be filled with the love and peace of God…you are bound to be filled with, and to fill others with God’s hope, healing and wholeness.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

What’s love got to do with it? EVERYTHING.

PRAYER

Lord, teach me to lay down my desire to be first and to pick up the desire to be love in the lives of those who cross my path. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: It’s the End of the World As We Know It

Read Mark 13; Revelation 22

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ (Matthew 10:7, NRSV)

It's the End of the World As We Know ItHave you ever heard the song by R.E.M., “The End of the World As We Know It”? I was just listening to that song today and reflecting on the message of it. In the song, Michael Stipe goes through a complete list of cliché things that people say are going to happen when the world comes to an end. Intermingled with that list is also some social commentary of how the world, typically thinks of itself. Stipe sings, “Save yourself, serve yourself. World serves its own needs, listen to your heart bleed.”

Then when the list has been had, Stipe sings that “It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.” Come again? You feel fine that the world is coming to an end? Some Christians make it their living to “warn” people of the impending doom that will befall the earth in the last days. Many people spend their lives speculating what the end will be like, when it will happen and the devastation that will be wrought. And now that we are in the year 2012, many people are worried that the Mayans might well have predicted the end.

Yet, Michael Stipe is singing that he feels fine about this? Now, I am not going to put words into Michael’s mouth; however, I was reflecting on the lyrics of this song and what they mean to me. When we watch television, or read the news online, we often see apocalyptic images spreading around the world like wild fire. Tensions are high, people are afraid, and soothsayers are ever active in predicting the end. Yet, as Christians, we ought to know that God does not wish destruction upon the earth.

Yes, an entire book of the Bible is devoted to talking about the end times and yes, Jesus talked about such times too; however the point was not to scare people as much as it was to give people hope. While the language is that of GOd reigning justice down, Revelation and other texts like it are more pointing to the destruction the earth has wrought on itself and the consequences of such destruction. Just look at the war riddled world and you can easily see images of Revelation.

So what is hopeful about this? The hope is that redemption is not only on its way; however, it is here. As we approach Advent, we often reenact the “coming” of Jesus and, in Revelation, we look forward to the “second coming” of Jesus. But, what we fail to realize, is that Jesus has already come again…in us! All four Gospels tell of Jesus talking about the gift of the Holy Spirit, given to those who believe. The Holy Spirit that dwells in us is ever working in changing the world around us. But, in case you didn’t get the memo directly, we are to be ACTIVE players in that.

Rather than pretending to be awaiting for the first coming and rather than anxiously awaiting the second coming, perhaps we Christians should be actively living the coming of Christ in us! If more Christians lived out their Christianity in ways that made a difference to those around them, and less worried about event that are completely out of our control, then perhaps we would usher in the end of the world as we know it. Perhaps, instead of a world of suffering, pain and chaos, we could usher in a world of hope, healing and wholeness. Perhaps instead of a broken world, we could help usher in a world of togetherness, of community, and of LOVE. And if that is what it means to usher in the end, how can we not feel fine about it? This is what it means to be Christian: to usher in the end of the world as we know it. It’s time to get to it!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

To be made in the image of God means that we are made in the image of love.

PRAYER

Lord, I am your servant. Help me to usher in the end of the world as we know it through your love. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: A Time to Zip

Read John 17

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God. I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever.” (Psalms 52:8)

zip-liningWhile I was not a huge fan of high school while I was in it, there are some things that stand out in my mind that I look back on and cherish as valuable learning experiences. One of the things I remember was that our high school had this outdoors obstacle course that had all sorts of stuff set up in it, including an awesome and adrenaline pumping zip line. This was one of those things that people either loved or hated.

One of the teachers would climb up to the zip line first, and then invite students, one at a time, to climb up to where he was. Before climbing, a teacher at the bottom would place the student in a harness that had a cable attached to it. The one end of the cable was attached to the student, it then traveled up to a pulley and back down to the teacher on the ground who would act as the counter weight. This was to ensure that if the student fell she or he would dangle and slowly be lowered down to safety.

Both teachers would ensure the students that it was perfectly safe so long as they obeyed the safety rules. All the student had to do was trust the teacher, climb the pole. Once he/she got up to the platform, they would be harnessed into the zip line and off he or she could go. All that was required, both to climb up the pole and to zip down the line, was a little trust. one had to trust that the teacher was harnessing them up right and they had to trust that, should one slip and begin to fall, the teacher to whom one is harnessed would be able to counter the weight and lower the student safely back to the ground.

There were some students that didn’t blink an eye before putting their trust in the teachers. They were the ones who climbed up to the top and had the thrill of zipping down that line.  Others, myself included, were a little more cynical about the teacher’s ability to “save” me. Many of us never even made it up the pole at all; rather, we sat there looking up…only imagining who awesome that zip line might be. I, and others like me, simply could not get ourselves to trust.

This is a great metaphor for the church. Christ has called us to place our trust in him. What’s more, Christ has also asked us to place trust in each other. On the surface, that sounds easy enough, right? In reality, this is not an easy thing for most people. Most of us Christians find ourselves way too cynical to place our trust in each other. We can talk all day long about trusting Jesus, but we cannot bring ourselves to trust others in our church and/or fellowship.

In one sense, it is understandable that we have such a hard time in trusting each other. There is great risk associated. We may see our vision of the fading into the shape of someone else’s vision. We may place our trust in the wrong people, only to find out that we’ve been used and taken advantage of. There are lots of things that can go wrong with placing our trust in each other.

Yet, Jesus took that risk in his own life and calls us to do the same. We are to place our trust in God, to place our trust in God’s church (in and through whom the Holy Spirit works), and to be trustworthy to those who are trusting us.  Not one of us is perfect and sometimes our trust will be broken and/or we will break others trust; however, if we are ever to move forward, if we are ever to take the leap of faith and zip down the line, if we are ever to move beyond the paralysis of our cynicism and our fears, we will have to place our trust in God and in each other. Even when people fail us, God never will. So, what do you have to lose?

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Who trusts in God’s unchanging love, builds on the rock that naught can move.” – Georg Neumark

PRAYER

Lord, guide me to be more trusting of you and of your church. You have not just called me but have called others. Help me to work with them and to trust them so that your work may be done here in my community. Amen.

Sent to Siloam

Read John 9:1-11

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Then Jesus told him, ‘I entered this world to render judgment—to give sight to the blind and to show those who think they see that they are blind.’” (John 9:39)

siloam

At church I have been leading a summer Bible Study for those in our church that teach Children’s Sunday School during the year, so that they have time to be enriched as well as being an enrichment for others. The Study we have been doing is one called “Unusual Gospel” by Rev. Adam Thomas. In he covers the unusual Gospel of John and the unusual healings, the unusual people, and the unusual questions found throughout it. It is a very engaging and refreshing study.

One of the unusual healings is that of the man who was born blind. You may be wondering what is so unusual about that healing. Jesus healed many people, and he’s known to have healed the blind. The story of the man born blind is a very familiar one and is certainly one that many of us have heard if not have memorized. So what exactly is unusual about it?

In the story, Jesus approaches the man born blind, spits on the ground, makes mud and rubs it on the man’s eyes. Yuck! Then he tells the man to go and wash his eyes in the pool of Siloam. The man, who now has Jesus saliva and dirt mixture smeared on his face, goes to the pool and washes his eyes. As he does so, he finds that he is healed. When he returned from the pool the people around him were astonished. In fact, they were more than astonished…they were confused. Something looked familiar about this man…but they just couldn’t place him.

“Isn’t this the man who used to sit and beg,” his neighbors and other witnesses asked each other? Some replied, “Nah…this isn’t that man, he just looks like him.” The beggar kept assuring “I am the same one…I am the same one!” No one seemed to listen or recognize him…and when they did recognize him, they were more concerned with who healed him than the fact that he had been healed. The irony is that this man at one point could not physically see; however, his healing had revealed who was truly blind.

The people were blind to the blind man. They never really saw him for who he was. They only ever saw his limitation. When they looked at the blind man, they only ever saw blindness. And notice what I, the writers of the Bible, Jesus’ disciples, and the Bible translators often do…we all tend to label this man as “The Blind Man” or “The Man Born Blind”, despite that he was healed and HIS BLINDNESS wasn’t who he really was!

Jesus revealed that to him and to the disciples. Through the healing, Jesus also revealed the blindness of the man’s neighbors. They didn’t know anything about this man, but that he was blind. That is how they identified him…as blind. And Jesus revealed their own blindness to them. Through this unusual healing, Jesus reveals our blindness to us as well. How often do we identify people by their limitations. How often do we name them after their limitations. The Blind Person, The Drunk Person, That Suicidal Person, those Old People, that Young person. How often do we only see the label, the supposed “limitation”, but are blind to the actual person…the actual child of God that is before us.

Like he did in this unusual healing, Jesus is showing us our blindness and he is offering us healing from that blindness. If we humbly recognize that we have mud of our own on our eyes, if we obediently wash that mud off, if we open our eyes to the people that we’ve been blind to, we will be healed from that blindness. God wants us to see people as they really are, not for what we’ve deemed them to be. God is sending you to Siloam. Be healed and transformed!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Hate and mistrust are the children of [spiritual] blindness.” – William Watson

PRAYER
Lord, open the eyes of my heart for I want to see you in the people around me. Break me free from the chains of my blindness and give me the ability to see through your eyes. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: An Indisputable Truth

Read Mark 3:20-35

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” (Matthew 6:24a).

thCA5AG0OROn June 16, 1858, then Republican senatorial candidate Abraham Lincoln gave a speech that would shake the foundations of the Illinois statehouse and, eventually, would test the moral fiber and endurance of a nation. Lincoln was advised by his law partner, William H. Herndon, not to read it; however, Lincoln insisted on reading it stating that “the proposition is indisputably true … and I will deliver it as written. I want to use some universally known figure, expressed in simple language as universally known, that it may strike home to the minds of men in order to rouse them to the peril of the times.”

Following the speech, many people called it inappropriate. They felt that it was not politically correct and felt it to be too bold a speech for someone who’s looking to be elected. In the end, Lincoln ended up losing the election to his opponent, Democrat Stephen A. Douglas. Leonard Swett, another lawyer, believed that it was the speech that caused Lincoln to lose the race.

So, what did Lincoln say that was so controversial? He quoted Jesus’ words, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” While Jesus was responding to his opponents accusation that he was in league with Satan, Lincoln was referring to the damning effects of slavery. He was saying that this nation could not carry on being half-free and half-slave; it would either have to become all of one or all of the other. Lincoln knew which end he wanted to see…the end of slavery!

When we look at the modern church, we can see a slavery of a different kind. In the church we become a slave to our own ways of doing things. We see our own theology as being the right theology. We see our own ideas as being the right ideas. We see our own cliques as being the best people in the church. Often times we become slaves to our own egos, forgetting that it is God, not us, that we are called to be serving.

But, as Jesus proclaimed we cannot carry on serving God and serving ourselves. While Jesus was speaking of money, the truth carries over to anything we place before God. We cannot serve two gods, because one will always take precedence over the other. The church, the house and body of God, often stands divided against itself because of the lack of focus on Christ who is our center. And as Christ and Abraham Lincoln both said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

The truth of the matter is, we are either serving God or we are not serving God. There is no in-between when it comes to whom we serve. In order to serve God, we must be striving to live in the image of an imageless God. We must be living examples of God’s love and God’s light. We must be bearers of God’s grace and forgiveness. We must learn to love one another, for only then will we have any business loving the world. If we strive to live into the image of God, we will no longer be divided; rather, we will be united in the eternal love that saved us from ourselves.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

Rather than standing divided amongst ourselves, let us stand united in Christ and his mission.

PRAYER

Lord, help me to see the bigger picture and to do my part in standing united in harmony with the rest of your body. Amen.

God’s People, part 294: Jude

Read Jude

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
Then they scoffed, “He’s just the carpenter’s son, and we know Mary, his mother, and his brothers—James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas. All his sisters live right here among us”(Mt 13:55–56, 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 294: Jude. There has been much controversy and misunderstanding when it comes to the “Holy Family”. First, is what I will call the Roman Catholic/Protestant controversy, which is the controversy of whether Mary only had one child or if, after the virgin birth, she consummated her relationship with Jospeh and had other children. The Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians maintain that Mary remained a virgin and that James, Jude (aka Judas…but not to be confused with Judas Iscariot) and the other siblings were either Joseph’s from a previous marriage, or that the sibblings were actually cousins whose Mother, also named Mary, were kin to Joseph and taken in by the Holy Family.

Initially, Protestants didn’t argue against perpetual virginity because they were trying to walk the line of splitting from Rome but maintaining the essential doctrines of the Roman Catholic. Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and even Wesley upheld their views in the perpetual virginity of Mary. It didn’t take long after the establishment of Protestantism, however, for the notion of Sola Scriptura to cause Protestants to question and eventually drop belief in the perpetual virginity of Mary.

Why? Because sex was something God ordained and blessed within the covenant of marriage and Mary is not any less holy for consummating a marriage that God clearly blessed. Moreover, the Gospels explicity contradict the perpetual virginity doctrine. Beyond the fact that both Mark and Matthew explicitly name Jesus’ siblings (which they refer to them as siblings of Jesus), Matthew also wrote that Joseph “…did not have sexual relations with [Mary] until her son was born…” (Matthew 1:25).

That verse alone Scriptural proof that Joseph and Mary consummated their marriage and had more children following the birth of Jesus. There would be no need to write it otherwise. If Joseph and Mary never had sex, the author would have NEVER written that verse. He would have, instead, written that Joseph did not have sexual relations with Mary before or after her son was born; however, that is not what the Scripture verse says. Furthermore, Luke writes that Mary “…gave birth to her firstborn son” (Luke 2:7). If there was only ONE son, then it would have been said by Luke that she gave birth to her ONLY son; yet, that is not what Luke wrote.

As a Protestant, we have to put Scriptural evidence above the later teachings oof the church Father’s and church tradition. Jude, like James, was one of Jesus’ many siblings. He is also traditionally viewed as the author of the epistle of Jude, which is the second to the last “book” in the New Testament. At the outset of the letter, the author does introduce himself as Jude, the brother of James. Despite scholarly debate, I tend to give credence to tradition when there isn’t clear evidence against it. Thus, I tend to think of the author as being Jude.

The letter itself was written against Christian teachers and leaders who were living and and leading people to live lives of immorality. It is a letter that is short, but strong in it’s advocating in mainting a holy and moral life that reflects the Lordship of his brother Jesus. The irony there is that Jude, along with James and the other siblings, did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah or the Son of God before his resurrection and ascension.

In Mark 3:21, we learn from Mark that his family tried to take him away because they felt that he had lost his mind. Mark does not explicity say who in his family, so we have assume that they all were worried that Jesus was going to get himself killed if he kept going on the path he was on. In verse 31 of the same chapter, Mary and his brothers actually showed up to talk to Jesus while he was teaching his disciples and others. We can successfully presume that this in relation to what was said ten verses earlier. They were coming to “talk sense” into Jesus and take him back home.

In Acts 1:14 we learn that Mary and Jesus’ brothers were among the believers who met to decide Judas’ replacement. By that point, Jude and James were believers and were going to become influential in carrying on the ministry of their half-brother. From there, we learn that James becomes the more prominent, leading the church of Jerusalem. Jude, though not as prominent as James the Just, still had influence and traveled with his family to bring the Good News to people. He also ended up writing a letter to correct Christians who were following false teachers.

The point of this is that we all come to Jesus in our unique ways. Jesus’ half-brothers were no different; however, when they saw their brother resurrect and they saw him ascend into heaven, there was no doubt that they were not only going to believe, but that their lives were forever transformed. The same is true for us. How have you encountered the Risen Lord? How have you come to know Jesus? Reflect on that and appreciate how the Lord reached out to you and established his Kingdom in your heart.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Look, these are my mother and brothers. Anyone who does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” – Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ (Mark 3:34b-35, NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, help me to appreciate my relationship with you and use me to introduce you to others. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: Every Step of the Way

Read Ecclesiastes 4:1-6; Mark 14:26-42

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1, NRSV)

Every Step of the Way

Have you watched the news lately? It seems like every time I watch the news I see politicians metaphorically throwing each other the bus, buildings around the world that are burning, families that are destroyed due to horrifying violence and other such atrocities. These stories are bombarding us every day, often bombarding us multiple times a day.

It’s to the point where I often find myself questioning what the meaning of all of this really is. Does God really exist out there and, if so, what does that say about God that the world is the way it is? Is life meaningless? Is there any point to all the chaos that people suffer day in and day out? These and so many more questions run through my head and I am sure that I am not alone in that?

As a pastor and a spiritual leader, some people might find it shocking to hear me confess moments of confusion, deep questioning and doubt. Some would say that it must mean that my faith isn’t strong, or that my doubts put into question my calling as a pastor. Many have this notion that in faith there can be no doubt; however, the Bible clearly shows that to be false.

For instance, have you read Ecclesiastes lately? If not, I must suggest that you do read it and that you read all of the twelve chapters that make up the book. It is a fascinating read. The author seriously questions the meaning of life, the point of existing in a world that is so needlessly cruel. What is the point in living out our seemingly trivial lives just to die in the end? To the author of Ecclesiastes, life seems utterly meaningless.

We can also turn to Jesus to find moments of doubt and intense spiritual questioning. The obvious place to look is in the garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus questions God’s will. He asks for God to remove his cup of suffering. While the Gospels make this account short and sweet, they do say he was in the garden for hours, praying to God…and the specific prayer that they point out is the one where he asks God to not have him go through with dying.

The fact of the matter is that it is perfectly human to have doubts, because as human beings we do not, in fact we cannot know everything. What is unknown to us gives us reason to doubt, but doubt is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it is false to assume that “in faith there can be no doubt.” Rather, it is quite the opposite. It is from the depths of doubt that arises faith. Faith is, in fact, made stronger as a result of, and certainly in spite of, our doubts.

The next time you have doubts, do not chase them away or harbor any kind of unnecessary guilt. Instead, embrace them and wrestle through them like the author of Ecclesiastes did and like Jesus in the garden did. Know that having doubts necessary to building faith and that many saints have had their share of doubts. From Paul to Thomas, from Joan of Arc to Mother Theresa, from Martin Luther to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., many Christians have faced their doubts only to find themselves riding the waves of faith that were produced by the surge of the storm of doubt. You are not alone in your doubts, and your faith will show you that you are not alone in surmounting them. God is with you every step of the way!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds.” – Alfred Lord Tennyson

PRAYER

Lord, I believe! Help me with my unbelief. Out of my doubt, build up a foundation of faith. Amen.

God’s People, part 112: Yeshua

Read Zechariah 3

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Then Jeshua son of Jehozadak joined his fellow priests and Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel with his family in rebuilding the altar of the God of Israel.” (Ezra 3:2a 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.

YeshuaPart 112: Yeshua. At the outset of writing the God’s People devotion series, which I started back on May 27, 2017, I have been eagerly awaiting reaching this point in the series. This is where we begin to see the Old Testament and the New Testament beginning to meet together. How so, you might wonder? I will attempt to answer that very question in this devotion.

Yeshua, as I am sure you realize by this point if you have been reading the series as of late, was the person who was chosen by God to be the high priest of the people who returned back to Jerusalem from exile. There is little that is known about him but for a few short and obscure passages in Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai and Zechariah. With that said, his significance cannot, nor should not, be underwritten.

Here is what we do know. Yeshua was of a priestly lineage and served as high priest circa 515-490 BCE, which means he served for about 25 years upon his return from exile. Yeshua was also one of the catalysts, along with Haggai, that pushed for the rebuilding of the Jewish temple (Haggai 1:1, 14) after 16 years of the project having been delayed by endless negotiations and bickering between the Jews and “the people of the land” (aka the Samaritans).

As such, it seems that Zerubbabel, Yeshua, and Haggai upset the order and ruffled the feathers who were seeking to hold the project off even longer. Once Haggai delivered the message of God to Yeshua and Zerubbabel, they sprung into action with the people and began to rebuild the Temple. As such, a divisive conflict rose up against them.

Before I continue, there are two basic schools of thought on the timing of Yeshua in relation to Zechariah’s prophecy. The first being that Yeshua was alive at the time of his great-great-grandson’s marriage to a Gentile woman (see Nehemiah 13:28), and subsequent expulsion from his priestly duties and from Jerusalem. If that was the case, then Yeshua would have been 90 years old at that time and Zechariah’s prophecy (Zechariah 3) would have been directed toward Yeshua.

The second school of thought is that, perhaps, Yeshua was dead by that point and Zechariah’s prophecy was directed toward his grandson, Eliashib, who succeeded him as high priest, using Yeshua’s scenario with Satan as an allegory. While this is certainly possible, I am of the belief that Zechariah’s prophecy was directed toward Yeshua and that what we have in Zechariah’s prophecy is evidence of the tension that the high priest was dealing with.

In today’s Scripture, we see that Yeshua the High Priest is standing before the Lord and Satan, who is throwing accusations out at him. In other words, Satan is trying to convince God that Yeshua is not worthy. It is generally understood here that Satan is seen as the force behind the divisive opposition that rose up against Yeshua’s leadership as high priest during his push to rebuild the Temple. Zechariah went on to state that God rejected Satan’s accusations and proclaimed the following to Yeshua and the priests who were to follow him: “Listen to Me, O [Yeshua] the high priest, and all you other priests. You are symbols of things to come. Soon I am going to bring My servant, the Branch” (Zechariah 3:8).

This, in and of itself, is an amazing Testament to what was about to happen. Clearly, Zechariah was prophesying about the coming Messiah. Still, what’s more amazing, is the high priest’s name itself. Yeshua (often spelled in the Bible as Jeshua…but I spell it phonetically as it sounds) is the name יְהוֹשֻׁוּעַ, or Joshua, which means “The LORD saves”. The Greek equivalent for Joshua is Ἰησοῦς, or Jesus. That is right, Yeshua in Greek is Jesus. Thus, in Zechariah we have Jesus the High Priest, being deemed the symbol of the Messiah Jesus who was to come and bring salvation not only to the Jews but to all the world!

This Messiah Jesus to come would also establish himself, and all who believe in him, as the true temple where people worship God (regardless of where they are) in Spirit and in Truth (John 4:21-23). How amazing is it that? Seriously. Here we have explicit Biblical evidence, written at least 3 – 4  centuries before Christ, that God was clueing people into the fact that there was an overarching plan to redeem this world through the Messiah. What’s more, there is explicit Biblical evidence that God not only revealed the plan, but even hinted at the Messiah’s name!

The question for us is, do we trust God’s plan or do we get mired in our own. Don’t get me wrong, not everything happens for a reason. Sometimes the only reason that things happen is that they do. People are not raped, beaten, abused, hurt, impoverished, homeless and/or are suffering for any reasons other than the fact that we live in a broken world, mired in sin and less-than-ideal circumstances. With that said, God has an overarching plan, despite the sin and circumstances that beset us, to redeem all of the world, us included. Do we trust that? Do we trust enough to step out of the way and to join God’s ranks in transforming this world from what it is into the Kingdom of God? Let us reflect honestly and open ourselves to the convicting of the Holy Spirit.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
The Bible is very resonant. It has everything: creation, betrayal, lust, poetry, prophecy, sacrifice. All great things are in the Bible, and all great writers have drawn from it and more than people realise, whether Shakespeare, Herman Melville or Bob Dylan.” – Patti Smith

PRAYER
Lord, I place my trust in you and your Word. Amen.

God’s People, part 25: Joshua

Read Joshua 1

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Now if Joshua had succeeded in giving them this rest, God would not have spoken about another day of rest still to come.” (Hebrews 4:8 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.

JoshuaPart 25: Joshua. Joshua is a very strong character in Bible, in fact, he may be one of the strongest. Sure, there is Samson; however, Joshua is displayed with little to no weaknesses, whereas Samson is filled with weaknesses a plenty. But we’ll discuss Samson at a later time. Joshua was the protégé of Moses. He was the son of Nun, born a slave in Egypt before the time of the Exodus.

Almost immediately following their escape from Egypt, selected Joshua to be the leader of a militia group and was put in charge of fighting and defeating the Amalekites in Rephidim (Exodus 17:8-16). Quickly, Joshua became Moses’ right-hand man. It was Joshua, and Joshua alone, who ascended Mount Sinai with Moses to accompany him as he communed with God “face to face” and received God’s vision for the Israelites in the land of Caanan, as well as received The Ten Commandments.

He ended up becoming the leader who took over for Moses, the one who led them to enter into Canaan and conquer the lands from the native peoples inhabiting it. He led with an iron fist, so to speak. He was a general, a warrior, and a conqueror and he had much blood on his hands.

While Joshua was most definitely a person of strong faith, and one who was faithful to God, he also was someone who saw things only in black and white. You were either for him or against him. You were either Hebrew or not Hebrew, which also translated to you were either allowed to live and flourish in the Promised Land, or you were slaughtered and killed. Even when one looks at the story of Rahab, she proved to be for Joshua and the Israelites and so she was spared.

Upon one’s theology and understanding of God rests how one interprets Joshua’s leadership. Joshua believed that he had been appointed by God to take over from Moses, and he was instructed by God to not turn to the right or to the left from Moses’ teachings (Joshua 1:7). What followed was a campaign to ethnically cleasnse all of Canaan and to build a Kingdom of Israel. This involved the raiding of cities, towns and the countryside and resulted the deaths of countless men, women and children.

I am not writing this to debate, one way or the other, as to the reason or the justification for what Joshua and his army did. We live in different times and, no doubt, the Israelites were not going to be able to just knock on the doors of Jericho, expecting a welcoming embrace and gracious hospitality. Joshua was made leader and, in his leadership, he turned his band of nomadic desert wanderers to a unified army that conquered the land it had in its sights. From that land rose judges, kings, queens, prophets and, ultimately, the Messiah.

What I also know is that Jesus is the english transliteration of the Greek word name for Yehoshua, which is the name Joshua in English. In other words, Jesus (which is Greek) really was named Joshua. That is why the author of Hebrews compares Jesus to Joshua…or rather, the two Joshuas. Joshua, son of Nun, brought them into the land of Canaan where they could rest from their wandering in the wilderness, Joshua (aka Jesus) the Christ, brings us into the Kingdom of God.

Unlike Joshua, Jesus didn’t do this by military conquest, but through unconditional love, compassionate grace, and merciful forgiveness. Rather than slaying his enemies, Christ sacrificed himself and was slain by his enemies. Rather than conquering by the sword, Christ conquered THE ENEMY, by loving those who persecuted them even to the point of forgiveness and he conquered death by resurrecting from the dead into true life. One Joshua led to the other, no matter how imperfectly.

To play upon Joshua’s own advice, we need to choose this day whom we serve. Will we serve a black and white mentality? Will we serve the imperfect Joshua who conquered by the sword? Or will we serve the Joshua who died because he loved instead of hated, who rose so that we might rise to life in him, and who calls us to conquer evil through unconditional love and divine grace? Choose this day whom you serve.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The glory of Christianity is to conquer by forgiveness.” – William Blake

PRAYER
Lord, remind me daily that I am a servant of love. Let love be my ultimate campaign. Amen.