Tag Archives: Peace

A LOOK BACK: Beyond Our Ghosts

Read John 14:1-7

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in Me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NLT)

poltergeist

Following suit with the previous devotional, I just recently watched another horror movie that is actually a remake of an older, yet still popular film by the name of “Poltergeist”. While the original, written by Steven Spielberg and directed by Tobe Hooper, will always be the favorite of the two versions, it is safe to say that this new film definitely delivers. Besides, who doesn’t love a good ghost story, even if retold, to send chills up and down one’s spine.

In case you are unfamiliar with the film Poltergeist, I will give you the gist of the plot. I will be referring to the 2015 remake, since it is the one I have seen most recently. Though the characters have different names, the plot is basically the same. Poltergeist is a film that follows a family that is moving into a new home in a development somewhere out in suburbia. Following their arrival, things start to get weird. The youngest daughter, Madison, starts talking to “imaginary friends” and their son, Griff, hears the tree growling at him. All of the family members, in different ways, come across seemingly random static electricity in certain spots of the house.

While at first the weird occurances are kind of fun and intriguing, they start to become more and more vicious and scary. Little Madison, begins having nightly conversations with “the lost people” in the television set, and eventually gets lured into the closet by mysterious lights, only to disappear. Following her disappearances, her frantic family starts to hear her talking through the static-laden television set. As it turns out, she had been kidnapped by the poltergeists who are trapped in the house in a world that between this life and the next. They are desperate to find a way out of the hellish purgatory they are in, and Madison’s innocence draws them to her, thinking that she can lead them to the light (aka to rest in peace on the other side).

Without giving anymore details away, or spoiling the rest of the story, I think it is fair to say that this film is full of thrills and twists that keep you at the edge of your seat throughout. What I have noticed in this film, as well as all films about paranormal hauntings, is that while the families being affected seem to be normal, average, everyday families, there is always something dark lying under the surface.

Again, without giving away too much of the story, it becomes clear fairly early on that the Bowen family in Poltergeist is a family that is struggling to remain together. Mom is an aspiring author who cannot find the time or energy to write because of the responsibilities of motherhood. Dad is unemployed and desperately seeking employment. My guess is that they have moved to this location because they could no longer afford to live where they were. To make matters worse, dad tries to calm the stress by spending money on his kids and wife. But that only adds to the stress, because every dollar is precious.

Griff, their son, has a tremendous amount of anxiety that goes unexplained throughout the film. One can imagine that much of it is caused by the uncertainty of their family situation, but there could be more to it than that. And their eldest daughter, Kendra, is a rebellious teen who is resentful of the family situation and their move. What’s more, she is a bad influence on her younger sister, Madison, who imitates all of the things she does.

As I mentioned above, it seems that this is a prominent theme in many cases of paranormal activity, and especially in films about “hauntings”. As I sit here reflecting on that, I think that is true even beyond hauntings and other tales dealing with the world of the hereafter. We as people invite the kinds of things we project into this world. What I mean by that is this is that if we are constantly surrounding ourselves with negativity and constantly have a negative outlook, chances are we will be tormented, or “haunted” if you will, by that negative outlook. What’s more, if we allow our faith and our spiritual disicipline erode, we become even more susceptible to succumbing to hopelessness and despair.

Today’s challenge is to be a people of light, a people of joy, and a people of hope. While life in this broken world will present us its challenges, Christ has overcome the world and we can too if we rest our faith and our trust solely in Christ. If we do so, if we move from our fears, our anxieties, our trials, and the negativity we surround ourselves with to FAITH IN CHRIST, we will be set free and rise above the negativity that can seep into our lives. I pray that we all can make the move byond our ghosts to the hopeful light and love of Christ.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win.” – Stephen King

PRAYER
Lord, I cast all my fears upon you. I give to you the ghosts that haunt me. Fill me with your light so that you, and not my ghosts, will win. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: The Great Achilles

Read Joel 2:12-17

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

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Just last night, I decided to sit down and watch the three hour sixteen minute epic director’s cut of the film, “Troy”, starring Eric Bana as Hector, Orlando Bloom as Paris, Diane Kruger as Helen of Sparta/Troy, and Brad Pitt as the great warrior, Achilles. The film itself is a wonder to watch. It is epic in every sense of the word. The sets are amazing and huge in scale. One can’t help but feel like you are back in the 50’s watching a Cecille B. Demille flick, with far superior special effects and action sequences! If you haven’t seen it, check it out. I do recommend the Director’s Cut, which adds an extra half hour of footage on to the film.

For those of you who may not be familiar with the story of the Trojan War, though that is honestly hard to imagine, I will briefly and loosely sum it up for you. The most famous of the accounts of this story is found Homer’s epic poem, “The Illiad”. Basically, the story is about a forbidden romance gone bad. In Sparta, a city in the kingdom of Mycenae, a land that was believed to be founded by the Perseus (of Medusa fame), Princes Hector and Paris of Troy were negotiating at peace deal between King Agamemnon and Troy.

Unfortunately, Paris (who was more of a lover boy than he was a diplomat) fell in love with Helen of Sparta who was married to the brother of the King. Once the peace agreement was made, Hector and Paris sailed away for Troy; however, little did Hector know that Paris kidnapped Helen to take her back to Troy with him. As you can imagine, that put a quick and bitter end to the fledgling peace agreement that had just been reached the day before. The result of Paris’ unscrupulous act was a ten year war that King Agamemnon waged against Troy to defend his brother’s honor (and, let’s be honest, to subject another city under his rule).

This is where Achilles comes in. Achilles was a warrior who had a tenuous relationship with King Agamemenon (at best) and who fought for the king on many occasions. His mother, prior to his deciding to go fight for the king against Troy, had warned Achilles that he would either live a safe life and die unknown, or he would fight and die young, but be remembered for all time. Without getting into the different mythologies of Achilles, he was known for being the greatest of warriors and was widely seen as having no vulnerabilities. Choosing noteriety over safety, the egotistical Achilles decided to fight against the Trojans. That proved to be a costly choice for the brave warrior.

While the Trojans did end up losing Troy in the end, Achilles lost his very life after being shot through the heel (in some accounts) by an arrow loosed by Paris. In the long war, Achilles defeated and killed Hector, he helped lead the Mycenaeans win the Trojan war; however, he also overestimated his own strength and invincibilites and paid with his life for it. Once shot in the heel, Paris was able to kill the immobilized warrior. The hero did die young and remembered for all time, just as his mother warned him.

The parallel for us is pretty obvious. We often see ourselves as above being destructable. We do things as we do them, and we don’t give it much thought. We think that the way we live our lives is perfectly fine because “it hasn’t hurt us yet”; however, if we take anything away from the great Achilles, is that we all have our vulnerabilities. When we sin, when we steer away from the path God put us on, we expose ourselves to the arrows of death awaiting to hit us in the most unexpected and painful of places.

Lent is a forty day period where we are called to reflect on our lives and on the areas in which we need to tear our hearts (Joel 2:3), do a U-Turn, and head back to God.  It is a time where we should be reflecting on our sinfulness and where we should be looking to God, as Jesus did, to help us overcome and rebuke our temptations. Rather than letting our egos get the best of us, as Achilles did, we should seek to be dependent on God and humble in accepting the changes God is calling us to make. I pray that, as you journey through Lent, that you will abandon the way that the great Achilles took. I pray that you will humble yourself before God and repent (do a U-Turn). Don’t let your pride best you, don’t let it expose your heel; rather, in humility, be led to the great fountain of life that is Jesus Christ in which all of you, including your vulnerabilities, may be washed clean!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes people as angels.” – Augustine of Hippo

PRAYER
Lord, help show me my Achilles’ heel so that I may discard of it, abandon my pride, and turn to you as my refuge and my strength. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: Bewitched

Read Galatians 3:1-5

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace.” (Romans 6:14, NLT)

TheWitch01

The lights darkened, the room silenced, and the discordant sound of stringed instruments filled the air in an unsettling and disturbing manner. The sounds of violin and cello cut through me like serrated steel as the theater screen faded in from black to the image of a teenager’s stone pale and frightened face. It was clear from the way that she was dressed that she was living in seventeenth century New England and that she was among a group of people known as the Puritans.

As it turns out, her father is standing trial for not adhereing to the laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, at the time a British colony, because he believes those laws to stand against the teachings of the Gospels. As such he and his family are banished and end up moving out of the village they were in and settling in the wilderness of New England on the edge of a think and dark wood (aka forest). While I will not give away anything, as I run a tight “no-spoiler” ship, this is where the 2016 film, “The Witch”, opens up and where the horror begins.

This film, as I see it, is a work of fine art and there is much for us Christians to pull from it. On the surface, the horror is centering on a potential witch that lives in the woods and is preying upon a New England family that is doing everything they can to remain godly and to stay together as a family. But as misfortune after misfortune happens, and as the family becomes more and more certain they are “witched”, the more and more it is that the real horror is revealed.

Right from the opening scene onward, we are made aware that this family is hypersensitive to their sin, to the sin of others, and to the soveriegnty of God. It is not wrong to be sensitive to those things in a healthy kind of way, but this family is overly sensitive, to the point that every conversation is filled with talk about their sinfulness, the wickedness of the world and the uncertainty of their own, let alone anyone else’s, salvation.

At every turn, the family is reminded that they are wicked and sinful and they start to have the feeling that they are “witched” because God is punishing them and handing them over to the devil as a result of their wickedness. Nowhere, and I mean nowhere, is God’s grace really at play here in this film and in the psyche of the family. Even when God’s mercy is mentioned, it is with the understanding that they are in need of mercy because of their wickedness, and their pleading for it betrays their theology that they worship a God who just might not show mercy to them.

It becomes clear to me, without giving anything away from the actual story line of “The Witch” itself, that the family is bewitched by their own stringent, and horrific, theology. While it is true that God is  sovereign and it is true that we fall short of God’s glorious standard, it is NOT true that God is out to get us for our fallenness. Their theology is so damning that they could never, ever experience the grace and mercy that was already there waiting for them. They were so busy worrying about the prowling devil in the woods that they could not see that they had all they needed to thrive in the wilderness: their family and their faith.

Today’s challenge is this: don’t let yourself get bewitched by a negative and graceless theology. Rather, at every turn, steer clear of the devil by choosing to see the grace of God throughout your life, in your family, and in your community. Community is not perfect, but God is working to perfect it through your presence as well as others. Remember, God saved you from slavery to sin and death, so why negate that by making those things the foundation of your faith? Jesus Christ is the grace of God. That, and that alone, should be your faith’s foundation.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
The devil’s work is division and separation from others.  God is the great uniter.

PRAYER
Lord, keep me from bewitching myself with bad theology. Remind me daily of your grace. Amen.

God’s People, part 287: Caesar’s Household

Read Philippians 4:21-23

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For everyone here, including the whole palace guard, knows that I am in chains because of Christ” (Php 1:13).

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 287: Caesar’s Household. For most people who have not been trained in Biblical literature and Church history, it is not necessarily understood what Paul means by greeting Caesar’s household. Is he referring to Caesar’s immediate family and/or extended family? Could it be that Caesar’s mother, brothers, sisters, aunts, and uncles all knew Paul and believed in the Gospel? That would be incredible if it were true.

Or does “Caesar’s Household” mean something else entirely. Is it possible that Caesar’s Household is not referring to Caesar’s family but to a different group of people entirely? What could Paul possibly mean when he says that those in Caesar’s Household sends the church in Philippi their greetings? Clearly, here are a few things that need to be unpacked if we are to understand the meaning of Paul’s words.

First, this wording is a clue as to where Paul was writing from. We know that Paul was imprisoned when he wrote this letter; however, there is scholarly debate as to where Paul was writing from. The two options that are most prominent is that Paul was either writing from Caesarea prior to being sent to Rome, or that Paul was writing this in Rome. Caesarea was a prominent city in the ancient Roman Province of Judaea. It was built in honor of Caesar Augustus and, in 6 AD, it was made the capital of Judaea. The Roman governors were stationed there and would travel to Jerusalem only when occasion called for it, such as huge events like Passover.

While it is possible that Caesarea was the location, I find it less compelling than Rome. In Rome, Paul would have been much closer to the current Caesar, where his household (whoever they were) would have been living. To me, Rome is the location that makes the most sense. Again, Caesarea is quite possible, but the arguments for Rome seem the most convincing to me.

So, then, if Rome was the location of Paul’s imprisonment, the epistle (or letter) to the Philippians would have been written sometime after 60 AD, which is the year that Paul arrived in Rome. It is likely that the letter was written sometime between 60 and 62 AD, with 62 AD being the likely year it was written. This would have been toward the end of his first imprisonment in Rome, where he was under house arrest and was unhindered in preaching and teaching those who visited him.

Before we continue, it is remarkable to realize that Paul’s appealing to Caesar, as he did at the end of Acts, resulted in him being cleared of all charges and released from house arrest in 62 AD. Of course, he did end up in prison again after than, under the great persecution of Nero, where he was eventually martyred. Still, his gamble in Caesarea paid off and, as a result, the Gospel was spread even further in Rome.

So, who are among those in Caesar’s household? They were Caesar’s servants, some of his military officers and soldiers. In fact, his whole Praetorian guard, who where the equivalent to the U.S. President’s Secret Service, had heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ and, no doubt, some of them had converted to the Christian faith. How incredible that Paul was able to utilize his house imprisonment to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to as many as he could. Such bold faithfulness led him to witness that message spread to even those who were charged with protecting Caesar? It is also no wonder, then, that Caesar would end up seeing Paul, and Christianity, as such a threat.

This should definitely challenge us, as Christians today. How bold are we in our faithfulness? How true to Christ’s Great Commission are we? In the U.S., and the Western world overall, we have come to view our religious beliefs as a private and personal affair; however, that is the antithesis of the Gospel. That is why Christianity is declining in the West and miraculously booming in other parts of the world such as Africa and Asia. In fact, those places are now sending missionaries to America. I know, as I have met and befriended some of them.

We as the Church in the West need to learn the importance of evangelism. We need to stop hiding Christ’s Gospel and to start really sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ. We have to stop expecting people to come to us and start seeing the urgency of us going to them. It is then that we will begin to see the beginning of another Great Awakening of revival.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Oh, how great peace and quietness would he possess who should cut off all vain anxiety and place all his confidence in God.” – Thomas à Kempis

PRAYER
Lord, revive in me a passionate boldness in my faith. Amen.

God’s People, part 286: Sosthenes

Read 1 Corinthians 1:1-3

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“The crowd then grabbed Sosthenes, the leader of the synagogue, and beat him right there in the courtroom. But Gallio paid no attention.”  (Acts 18:17, 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 286: Sosthenes. There is a bit of a mystery who Sosthenes is. In 1 Corinthians 1:1, Paul introduces him as a co-writer of the letter as well as a brother in Christ. That’s it. In Acts, there is a mention of a Sosthenes who was the Chief Ruler of the Synagogue at Corinth. In that account of Acts 18:12-17, which was discussed in part 267 of this devotion series, “The Mob”, Gallio was being pressured by an angry mob of people to punish Paul. Being the Roman Governor, Gallio did not want to get involved in religious matters and so he dismissed the case.

The angry mob then turned on their Synagogue leader, beating him instead. They, no doubt, probably felt that Sosthenes was guilty for not pushing Gallio hard enough to see Paul’s punishment through. So, as angry mobs are wont to do, they turned on their leader and beat him. Of course, Gallio did not interfere in his beating, but paid no attention to it.

Traditionally, Church Father’s and church scholars believed that this Sosthenes was the same one as the Sosthenes mentioned in 1 Corinthians. It makes sense why, given that Sosthenes was from Corinth and new the community, and being that Sosthenes was beaten for seeming sympathetic to Paul. Still, not everyone in modern Scholarship believes that the Sosthenes in 1 Corinthians is the same as the one in Acts.

Some modern scholars believe that this Sosthenes was a young Gentile man who Paul taught, a man who looks up to Paul as a teacher. These scholars reject this man, who was serving under Paul, being the leader of a Synagogue. I have not seen evidence as much as I have seen speculation and, thus, all I can say is this is a mystery that we may never have a conclusive answer on.

I am typically skeptical of modern scholarship going against tradition on a modernist whim and so, I will write on Sosthenes as if he were the same person as the Synagogue leader. A wise teacher once taught me that if there is no solid evidence against an ancient tradition, the ancient tradition should be generally believed. If such evidence exists, I will gladly change my mind, but I have yet to come across it.

What we have in Sosthenes is more proof that not all Jews were against Paul or early Christianity. Sometimes it seems to be conveyed that way. As has been discussed before, general phrases such as “the Jews” found in books such as John were really pointing to Jewish opponents, mostly Jewish religious leaders. They did not refer to the Jewish people as a whole. In fact, the author and editors of the Gospel of John were Jewish.

We can presume that this Sosthenes was not willing to put another Jew to death, even if the Jew was a follower of Jesus; thus, the mob turned on Sosthenes for not complying with their will. This was a risk that the Synagogue leader was willing to make to do what is right and, as it turned out, he became a believer and co-worker of Paul’s. The power of God is to bring love and reconciliation to all and, in Sosthenes, we see that power played out!

This should challenge us in our time. Right now, we see far too many leaders, religious and political alike, unwilling to take the risk to do what is right. Far too often, these leaders play it safe in order to hold on to power. Sosthenes challenges us to NOT do that. It is clear in the Scripture that Sosthenes’ leadership lost the confidence of the mob because he chose to do what was right. He took that risk and was willing to pay the price for it…because it was the RIGHT thing to do. Let us reflect on that and, like Sosthenes, Paul and others, put what is right over what is convenient and self-beneficial.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
False power will NEVER lead one to Almighty God.

PRAYER
Lord, help me to realize that without you I am powerless and that, in times of trial, it is important to surrender to what is right, rather than surrendering to the pressures of the world. Amen.

God’s People, part 285: Holy Coalition

Read Romans 16:6, 8-23

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Now all glory to God, who is able to make you strong, just as my Good News says. This message about Jesus Christ has revealed his plan for you Gentiles, a plan kept secret from the beginning of time. But now as the prophets foretold and as the eternal God has commanded, this message is made known to all Gentiles everywhere, so that they too might believe and obey him. All glory to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, forever. Amen.”  (Romans 16:25-27, 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 285: Holy Coalition. In today’s Scripture, Paul continues asking the Roman church to greet the list of people he was sending. Here is the list of people that Paul sends his greetings to in Rome:

Priscilla and Aquila, Epenetus, Mary, Andronicus and Junia, Ampliatus, Urbanus, Stachys, Apelles, the believers in the household of Aristobulus, Herodion, the household of Narcissus, Tryphena and Tryphosa, Persis, Rufus and his mother, Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers and sisters who meet with them, Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and to Olympas and all the believers who meet with them.

On top of those believers, some of whom we have already discussed, Paul sent the letter with Deacon Phoebe and asked the church to treat her with the highest of honor. This list of names are each of the people Paul knows in Rome, all of whom had been partners in mission and ministry. These were the people who carried on Paul’s work in Rome and how Paul, though he had never been there, had a connection to the believers in that city.

That is quite an extrodinary network Paul had built up; however, Paul continued by also sending the greetings of others who were with him in Corinth, where he wrote the letter. Those people included: Timothy, Lucius, Jason, Sosipater, and Tertius. In fact, Tertius was the one who was pyhsically writing the letter as Paul dictated it to him. It is well established that Paul’s eyesight was bad and that he had people who would write down what he dictated to them. Sometimes, as we will see in future devotions, Paul would sign the letter in his own hand to prove to the receiving community that it was, indeed, him.

What we see at the end of Romans was an extensive network of people that Paul had worked with and befriended over his many years in ministry. Nay, this was more than a network, it was a Holy Coalition of believers, revolutionizing the pasgan Western world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. What an amazing legacy we see! What a lesson for us, as modern Christians, to learn.

This should remind all of us that we are a part of a Holy Coalition of believers! We are a Holy Coalition of ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ! You need not be ordained in order to be a minister; you merely need to follow Jesus and deliver the Good News of Jesus Christ to those who have not come to him as their Lord and Savior.

Who are in your Holy Coalition? Who are in your network of believers that you can join with in mission and ministry? We were not created to spread the Gospel by ourselves, but as a community of believers. It is in this Holy Coalition that we find the strength and the support to carry the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all people. Let us continue to build up that Holy Coalition so that more and more people come to know, love, and surrender to their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
It’s hard to survive alone on an island. This is especially true in our faith.

PRAYER
Lord, help me to see the value of spiritual networking, or coalition building, and of being a part of your community of believers, that I might be supported in my mission to serve you. Amen.

God’s People, part 284: Andronicus & Junia

Read Romans 16:7

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you.”  (Galatians 3:28-29, 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 284: Andronicus & Junia: In this single verse in Pauls epistle to the Romans, we find much modern controversy. The one thing that is not debated is that both Andronicus and Junia are Paul’s family. He is related to them and, as it worked out, they came to Christ before he did. Unfortunately, we don’t know the family dynamics back when Paul was persecuting Christians; however, we can imagine that they were not in Paul’s good graces at the time.

The first issue is this:  what was the statuses of Andronicus and Junia? Were they prominent apostles or were they well known to the apostles. The latter would mean that they did not have apostolic authority, but that they were highly regarded among the apostles. The first interpretation, however, would indicate that they were well-known and well-respected apostles.

The second modern controversy centers on Junia’s gender. As was mentioned in the previous devotion, for centuries, women’s role in serving the church have been reduced to a submissive and quiet role, silently serving in the background while men get all of the prominent positions. Thus, it is hard for those of that mindset to wrap their heads around Junia being a woman, for that would mean that she was either a well-regarded leader in the church or, worse yet, an apostle with apostolic authority. If the latter was the case, that would shatter their presumptions of Paul’s view on the role of women in the church.

Here’s the Greek:

“ασπασασθε ανδρονικον και ιουνιαν τους συγγενεις μου και συναιχμαλωτους μου οιτινες εισιν επισημοι εν τοις αποστολοις οι και προ εμου γεγονασιν εν χριστω” (Romans 16:7, Greek NT TR)

The first issue of whether or not Andronicus and Junia were Apostles, almost all translations interpret the Greek to say just that; however, there are scholars who use textual evidence elsewhere in the Bible to state that it could be that they were merely well-known to the apostles. Still, even the most scholarly conservative translations interpret the Greek in favor of Andronicus and Junia being prominent or outstanding among the Apostles, meaning that they were well-respected themselves.

Take the New American Standard Bible (NASB) for instance. It interprets the verse as such:

“Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners, who are outstanding among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me” (Romans 16:7, NASB).

While I am not scholar in Greek, I think it is safe to bank on the majority of Greek scholars’ interpretation of the text. It would seem that Andronicus and Junia held the position of Apostle and, as Paul himself is evidence of, there were more than just the twelve Apostles. What’s more, they were considered to be outstanding in the work they did as Apostles.

In terms of Junia’s gender, that too really should not be a controversy, as tradition and a large majority of scholarship supports Junia being a woman. First, for Junia or Junias to have be a masculine name, it needs to have the circumflex over the ultima. That probably sounds like Greek too you because, well, it is. Here’s what that would look like: ᾿Ιουνιν. Yet, in the earliest Greek manuscripts  in Pauls’ letter, that circumflex is non-existent: ιουνιαν. It only shows up in manuscripts dated to the ninth century (800s) and later.

What’s more, the earliest Christians referred to Junias as a woman. The church fathers almost universally referred to Junia as a woman, at least up until the 12th century (1100s). On top of that evidence, a study of the frequency of the name Junia(s) in non-Biblical ancient literature is helpful as well. In such writings, the name Junia is exclusively used as a feminine name; thus, the evidence points to Junia being a female and not a male.

I certainly understand if you might feel that your head is spinning a bit, as this is some scholarly, heady stuff; however, it is important for us to see how English translations are not always sufficient in understanding the meaning of what was written. In the age of information, all we need do is research it online and we have such information at our fingertips. Here’s good article that agrees with my take on Junia’s gender, but takes another opinion on the her and Adronicus’ status: https://bible.org/article/junia-among-apostles-double-identification-problem-romans-167

Here’s what we can take from today’s devotion. Andronicus & Junia were outstanding among the apostles, meaning that they were well-respected apostles, and that Junia was a woman. Even if we were to counter whether they were apostles or not, there can be little doubt that women were in leadership positions and were well-respected by Paul as such. In the 21st century, it feels that some churches and/or denominations have gone backwards in their views of women in leadership, following the dark side of patriarchy, rather than following Christ and his earliest apostles. Let us not fall into that trap, but let us follow Christ and accept all, regardless of gender, who are called by our Lord and Savior to lead God’s people.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
As seen throughout Scripture, God call all people, women and men alike, to serve him. There are no false divisions in God.

PRAYER
Lord, forgive me for my biases. Purify me of my prejudices with the fire of your Holy Spirit and rise me up out of the ashes of sin into your service. Amen.

God’s People, part 283: Epenetus

Read Romans 16:5

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.”  (Galatians 5:22-23, NRSV)

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

Part 283: Epenetus. There isn’t a whole lot to write about Epenetus, who is only mentioned in one verse in the entire Bible; however, it is important that we do mention him because of the distinction that Paul gives him in that verse. Paul wrote: “Greet my dear friend Epenetus. He was the first person from the province of Asia to become a follower of Christ” (Romans 16:5, NLT).

Thus, as can be seen from Paul’s own words, Epenetus was the first person to convert to Christianity in all of the Roman province of Asia, which includes modern day Turkey and Greece. Thus, in many ways, Epenetus was the beginning of Western Christianity. Prior to that, Christians were relegated to Judaea and Syria and the surrounding areas. There were, of course, Christians who spread the Gospel east into the continent of Asia; however, Paul was responsible for bringing the faith West through the Roman province of Asia to Rome.

Paul refers to Epenetus a dear friend, which makes sense given the amount of time he would have known him for by the writing of this epistle (letter). Epenetus would have first met Paul somewhere between 48 and 52 CE, either during Pauls’ first or second missionary journey. Traditionally, Epenetus was from Ephesus, though Paul does not specifically say that he was and, so, it is possible that he met Paul as early as 48 or 49 CE. By the time Paul wrote Romans, it was 57 CE and he had known Epenetus for many years.

Epenetus was among the group, led by Phoebe, bringing the letter of Paul to the Romans. Paul asks the church to greet him, stating that Epenetus was the FIRST to convert to the Christian faith in the province of Asia. This is important to Paul to mention because it meant that Epenetus was the first fruit of the mission to the Gentiles, a fruit that would not have been born had it not been for the receptiveness of Gentiles from the province of Asia, such as Epenetus.

There’s not much more to write about him, but it is clear that Paul was showing the Roman church the glory of God through Epenetus. We may start small, but God takes those small seeds and grows them into and untameable and luscious garden filled with the fruit of the Spirit. Apart from God, our efforts would be futile; however, with God, our efforts grow immeasurably.

This should challenge us. As Christians in the modern world, there are a host of challenges that might scare us from spreading the good news; however, do we trust that God can see us through those challenges and immeasurably grow our efforts. Let us be truthful, the challenges we have to day may be slightly different than the challenges in the first centuries of Christianity; however, that makes them no less challenging.

The question for us is this: will we persist in spreading the Good News to all people and communities we come across? If so, how will we spread it? Through personal witness, through acts of kindness, through generosity, through the way we conduct ourselves, or through other means? Our efforts may seem small and miniscule; however, through God, there is nothing that will be able to stand in the way of people coming to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Let us, then, accept this challenge openly and see it through, for Christ’s sake.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
There is no limit on Christ. Through Christ, all things are possible.

PRAYER
Lord, renew my faith in you so that I may take risks for your kingdom and bear witness to your miraculous work. Amen.

God’s People, part 282: Phoebe

Read Romans 16:1-2

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  (Galatians 3:28, 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 282: Phoebe. Throughout church history, women have often been seen as “less than” men when it comes to the titles, functions, and duties within the church. Utilizing verses from Ephesians, 1 & 2 Timothy, and a more-than-likely misplaced margin note accidentally inserted into 1 Corinthians, the church has told women that they are not to teach men, that they are to remain silent, and submissive to male authority. This, obviously, has hurt the church in more ways than one and, it has caused many modern women (and men) to leave the church.

Sadly, this ages old interpretation of Paul’s writing is inaccurate and has damaged the church’s witness to the world. Honestly, some of the most faithful and loyal witnesses of the faith have been women. It was Mary Magdalene who first preached the Good News to the disciples, making her the Apostle to the Apostles. In fact, Paul mentions numerous women serving in all sorts of capacities in his earliest of churches.

Take Phoebe for instance. In today’s Scripture reading, we see that Paul writes, “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a deacon in the church in Cenchrea” (Romans 16:1, NLT). Cenchrea was a village in the city of Corinth. Not only does he mention her at the top of his final greeting to the Roman church, which bears much significance, but he called her a deacon, which means that she was a leader in her church. If Paul were against women in leadership, this would certainly contradict his own mindset on the issue. The fact that Paul joyfully acknowledges Phoebe is proof that he never had such a mindset.

Let’s not stop there, though. Paul goes on to write, “Welcome her in the Lord as one who is worthy of honor among God’s people. Help her in whatever she needs, for she has been helpful to many, and especially to me”  (Romans 16:2, NLT). Paul mentioning her first in such a way indicates much to us. First, she was being sent as Paul’s emissary to the church in Rome, who clearly did not know Phoebe of Corinth.

Thus, he sends her with not only her name and leadership position (deacon), but he sends to them instructions on how she is to be treated as well. Deacon Phoebe was to be welcomed as one worthy of honor among God’s people. She was to be helped in whatever she needed or required, for she had been helpful to many, including Paul. There is no one else who Paul talks more highly of, in all of his letters, than Phoebe.

Phoebe was sent to deliver Paul’s letter to Rome and, with her, Paul sent an entire delegation to help her. Paul expected the men…and the women…to treat Phoebe as if it were Paul they were welcoming in. This, my friends, is more than enough evidence for us to recognize that Paul had a fairly egalitarian view when it came to serving Christ. While the majority of Pauls companions and co-workers were men, as was too be expected of the time he lived in, Paul mentions a number of women who were instrumental in leadership and in witnessing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

This should challenge us. There are many Christians today that hold a “Complimentary View” of leadership. “Complimentary” is a nice word for a tired interpretation of the Bible. It simply means that God created men for leadership, and women to be subservient to men. People will try to smooth that fact over, but that is the truth of the Complimentarianism.

We as Christians need to see that Paul was, in fact, much more egalitarian in his view of leadership. I am sure Paul did not think of it like we do, and probably would not have used those terms; however, if someone showed themselves to be a leader, filled with the Holy Spirit, Paul did not restrict them or stand in their way because of their gender. As such, neither should we. Let us all work together, women and men alike, for in Jesus Christ we are one.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Let no one deem unworthy whom God has deemed worthy.

PRAYER
Lord, help me to see all through your eyes and give me the humility to treat all of your servants, women and men alike, with equality, equity and dignity. Amen.

God’s People, part 181: Rome

Read Acts 28:17-31

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13, 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.

281: Rome. As was mentioned in the previous devotion, there was a church already established in the city of Rome. We know that this church was not established by Paul himself; however, word of the church and their faith had reached Paul and he very much wanted to visit them. We know this from his own writings to the church in his epistle to the Romans. In that letter, he wrote:

My ambition has always been to preach the Good News where the name of Christ has never been heard, rather than where a church has already been started by someone else…In fact, my visit to you has been delayed so long because I have been preaching in these places. But now I have finished my work in these regions, and after all these long years of waiting, I am eager to visit you. I am planning to go to Spain, and when I do, I will stop off in Rome. And after I have enjoyed your fellowship for a little while, you can provide for my journey.”  (Romans 15:20, 22-24, NLT)

Paul’s own words tell us that he had never been to Rome before and that someone else was responsible for bringing the Good News of Jesus Christ to them, founding them as a church. By church, it is not meant that they had a physical location to worship at that we now commonly know as a “church”; rather, the church is the group of Christian believers that are gathered in a geographical location, who probably worshiped at multiple different houses throughout the city.

To the earliest Christians, the Church or ekklesia (Greek ἐκκλησία, pronounced eh-ck-lee-sia) means an assembly or gathering of people. It matters not where they gather, but what they are gathering for. In the Christian context, the church is a gathering of Christ followers. Thus, Paul was writing his letters to the body of Christians in the specific cities he addressed them to. In the case of Romans, Paul was addressing the body of Christ followers in the city of Rome, regardless of where they met and worshiped.

While we do not know who established the church in Rome, it is safe to believe that it was someone who may have known, or at least known of Paul. Paul writes his letter to a people he presumes will know who he is. Whether it was a close associate of Paul or some other Christian who spread the Good News there, it makes perfect sense that the Christian faith would spread quickly to the heart of the empire. After all, there was a large Jewish community within Rome and, no doubt, Christians would have traveled to, and been present in, the Jewish community in the imperial city.

Paul did eventually make his way to the believers. In our Scripture today, we see that Acts concludes with Paul under house arrest in Rome awaiting trial and, of course, spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ to people while he waited. Paul was in the lion’s den, as it were, and yet he boldly proclaimed the Gospel despite his impending trial.

While Acts ends the story at Paul’s arrival, the truth is that the Gospel message would eventually cost Paul his life. More than likely, he was beheaded during Nero’s persecution of Christians. The reason was that Nero scapegoated Christians for a large fire that got out of control and burned half of Rome down. Historians contemporary to the time speculated that Nero started the fire himself; however, Christians received the blame and were put to death in the most horrific of ways, making Paul’s death look like a walk in the park.

Prior to his death, Paul was visited and cared for by friends and by other Christians in the Roman community. He was loved and cared for by his fellow sisters and brothers in Christ. This should challenge us to remember that the church is just that: a community of believers who are charged with visiting and caring for each other. The church is a community of believers called to live out their love for on another, despite differences that would otherwise separate and divide them. Let us, as Christians today, remember that the mission of the church is no different now than it was then. Let us visit each other, care for each other, and love each other just as the Christians in Rome did for Paul.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Love wins. Let us be on the winning side.

PRAYER
Lord, teach me to be like Paul and the earliest Christians. By your grace, help me to love and to care for my fellow sisters and brothers in Christ, living into Christ’s new commandment for those who follow him. Amen.