Tag Archives: Peace

God’s People, part 220: Nicodemus

Read John 3:1-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“With him came Nicodemus, the man who had come to Jesus at night. He brought about seventy-five pounds of perfumed ointment made from myrrh and aloes.” (John 19:39, 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.

nicodemusJesusPart 220: Nicodemus. Nicodemus is a character well-known and beloved for his interactions with Jesus, especially in the fact that he, along with Joseph of Arimathea, was responsible for making sure that Jesus had a proper and honorable burial as opposed to being thrown into a fiery pit. The Romans were not usually known for such concessions when it came to traitors, which Jesus was convicted of being; however, Nicodemus was a member of the Sanhedrin and had political sway. No doubt, Pilate saw this request as a political win/win as he was able to rid himself of a rabble-rouser, all the while showing a small measure respect to the followers of Jesus and to the Jewish religious establishment.

Yet, Nicodemus was not always such a brave and audacious person when it came to showing respect for Jesus as a rabbi. While Christians have traditionally held that Nicodemus believed in Jesus and became among the first Christians; however, the Bible does not give us a clue as to the depth of Nicodemus’ belief in Jesus; however, he clearly did come to respect him enough to put his neck out there and request a proper burial.

In the beginning, Nicodemus was more of a curious observer of Jesus’ ministry. We are told in John 3:1 that Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a religious leader. In verse 2, we are told that Nicodemus came to Jesus one evening, in the cover of the darkness. This obviously means that he was not comfortable with his colleagues and other people seeing him associating with this itinerant rabbi. Nicodemus clearly did not yet endorse his teachings and, though curious, he was not about to be caught in the same company as Jesus if he could avoid it.

Yet, Nicodemus did have a cautious respect for this obscure rabbi too. He said in verse 2, “Rabbi, we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you.” Nicodemus was not making a statement of faith by saying that, he was simply observing Jesus in light of the Biblical Jewish standard for discerning if a prophet is of God or is false. Clearly, according to Nicodemus, there was something to Jesus and his ministry, because without God there was no way that Jesus could perform the signs he was performing. Again, as was expressed in the previous devotion, the signs point to God’s presence in Jesus.

For Nicodemus, however, Jesus was nothing more than a prophet whom God sent. He did not know Jesus’ true identity and, perhaps, that was exactly why he came to seek Jesus out under the cloak of the dark night. He wanted to find out more of who Jesus ACTUALLY was and, though Nicodemus was perplexed by Jesus answer to him, he got exactly what he was looking for.

In verses 16-21, Jesus proceeded to tell Nicodemus who he was. In fact, in the famous verses 16-17, Jesus gave Nicodemus something hadn’t given anyone up until this point: “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16-17, NLT). In other words, Jesus blatantly told Nicodemus that he was God’s only begotten son and God’s salvation plan for the world.

He also shared with Nicodemus the way in which one might be saved through him: being born again. Throughout the years, this phrase has been hijacked by some Christians to mean “Bible-believing fundamentalist who jams his/her faith down people’s throats.” Yet, that is NOT what Christ meant by born again. Rather, he explains to Nicodemus, one places their faith in God’s only Son, they are born again of the Holy Spirit and become a new creation as a result of that birth.

By the end of the whole exchange, one is left feeling like Nicodemus walked away confused and dejected, feeling as if the whole meeting was incomprehensible and uncertain. Yet, regardless of how Nicodemus may or may not have felt leaving Jesus that night, a seed was planted and something clearly changed within him. How do we know this? In John 7:51, while the Sanhedrin was plotting to arrest and kill Jesus, Nicodemus spoke up in the Nazarene’s defense, “Is it legal to convict a man before he is given a hearing” (NLT)? Also, in John 19:39, Nicodemus was with Joseph of Arimathea (another secret follower of Jesus’) when he buried Jesus in his own tomb. No doubt, Nicodemus (a man with religious and political influence) played a role in procuring Jesus’ body from Pilate.

All of this should remind us that one cannot judge a book by its cover. We never know how God is working in the lives of others. Change almost never happens overnight and one never knows when and how God will bring even the most stubborn person into salvation. Rather than judging people based of who we think they are based off of their status, vocation or any other external factor, we ought to refrain from judgment and just be willing to seed planters, trusting that God will nurture and nourish those seeds. In doing so, we will be following Jesus’ model of patient, compassionate, loving evangelism.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Patience is a good quality in a gardener; likewise, it is good quality in a Christian as well.

PRAYER
Lord, give me the patience and trust I need to know that you are working in the lives of those I have planted seeds. Amen.

God’s People, part 219: Bridegroom

Read John 2:1-12

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth, before Abraham was even born, I AM!’” (John 8:58, NLT)

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

water-wine-2Part 219: Bridegroom. When reading the Gospel of John, people tend to look at the miraculous signs of Jesus as mere miracles. This is partly because, in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), Jesus is shown performing many miracles such as healings, exorcisms, raising the dead, walking on water, and calming the seas. The whole of these miracles are a sign of the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy in Isaiah 61.

It is a mistake, however, to confuse the signs in the Gospel of John with ordinary miracles. In this particular Gospel, both signs, as opposed to miracles, are performed. What is the difference, one might ask? The difference is that miracles were commonplace and not exclusive to Jesus. They displayed the power of God, or the gods, through the person performing them; however, the person him/herself was no more than a mere human being. The signs of John, on the other hand, reveal God’s glory and identity in Jesus Christ. In other words, the signs point to WHO JESUS IS in relation to God: namely, God incarnate (aka God in the flesh).

John’s Gospel is a highly developed theology and it is laid out very liturgically, which is why it works so well with Good Friday tenebrae/stations of the cross services. It can be broken up into four different sections: Prologue (John 1:1-18), Book of Signs (1:19-12:50), Book of Glory (or Exaltation) (13:1-20:31), and Epilogue (chapter 21). The Gospel of John also contains a series of sevens. Seven signs (2:1-12; 4:46-54; 5:1-47; 6:1-4; 6:15-21; 9:1-41; 11:1-57), seven “I Am” statements (6:35; 8:12; 10:7, 9; 10:11, 14; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1, 5), seven “witnesses” (1:34; 1:49; 6:69; 10:30; 11:27; 20:28; 20:31), seven “word-images” of faith (1:12; 3:15-16; 4:14; 6:35-37; 7:37-38; 10:9; 10:16, 27), and seven “equalities” between Jesus and God the Father in John 5 (5:19-29).

The sign in the Scripture reading above is one of the most famous signs Jesus performed. We all know the story, Jesus was at a wedding with his family and disciples. Suddenly, the wine was gone as everyone had drank it up. Jesus’ mom approached him and “volun-told’ him to do something about the problem. Jesus didn’t really want to, but who can say no to their mother, so Jesus relented and told the servants to fill up the six empty jars of wine with water.

When I say jars, we are talking about stone vessels that could hold 20 to 30 gallons each. That’s a total of 120 to 180 gallons or nearly 1,000 bottles of wine. That’s an inordinate amount of wine for people who had already gone through the initial wine they had!

Once they had filled all vats to the brim, Jesus instructed them to take some out and give it to the master of ceremonies. Tasting that it was wine, he handed it to the bridegroom who was blown away by superior quality of the wine and exclaimed, “A host always serves the best wine first; then, when everyone has had a lot to drink, he brings out the less expensive wine. But you have kept the best until now!” (John 2:10, NLT)

This was the first sign revealing God’s glory in Jesus Christ. As a result, the disciples believed in him. In fact, that is the purpose of signs, to point to ultimate reality. Signs give us direction on which way we need to go. In the context of Jesus’ signs, they point us to the realization that there is nothing greater in the world than what we find in Jesus. This was the proclamation of the bridegroom who tasted the wine and it was this sign that led Jesus’ initial disciples of truly believe in him.

The question for us is this, have we seen the signs? Have we seen the signs that point us to God in Jesus Christ? Have we tasted his wine and have we experienced the pure goodness that comes from a life in him? Let us be challenged to search for God’s signs in order that we might see Jesus Christ for who he truly is: our resurrected and ascended Lord God, the only-begotten Son, fully human and fully divine, who is of the same substance, begotten not made, coequal with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it…So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.”  The Beloved Disciple, in John 1:1-5, 14, New Living Translation

PRAYER
Lord, help me to see the signs in which you are revealing yourself to me so that I may grow in my believe and in my faithful response to you. Amen.

God’s People, part 218: Zacchaeus

Read Luke 19:1-10

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with such scum?’”  (Matthew 9:11, 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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
By Niels Larsen Stevns – Own work (photo: Gunnar Bach Pedersen) (Randers Museum of Art, Randers, Denmark), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1428023

Part 218: Zacchaeus. This is one of those accounts in the Gospel of Luke that is very well known. Most people have heard of little Zacchaeus who climbed a tree in order to see Jesus over the crowd. In fact, he’s so well known that there is even a children’s song based on him entitled, Zacchaeus Was a Wee Little Man.

As with all well-known accounts, people easily gloss over the important details of the story. With Zacchaeus, there are number of layers to this account that help us understand what was really going on beyond the story of a short man climbing a tree to see Jesus. Within the first sentence of the passage, we learn the location of Zacchaeus and that location bears with it a whole socio-economic and religious context.

Jesus found Zacchaeus in the city of Jericho. Before we look at Jericho, let us first take a look at Zacchaeus. He was not only a tax collector, but he was the “chief tax collector for the entire region.” Tax collectors were Jews who worked for the Romans to collect taxes from their fellow Jews. To make a long story short, whatever the percentage was expected from the Romans, the tax collector would raise that price even higher so that they could make a profit. Thus, the tax collector was not only being paid for their job, but they were also taking a cut of the taxes the collected because they gouged the percentage that was owed. In essence, the tax collectors were robbing their own people blind and becoming rich off of their desperation. Zacchaeus was doing this very thing to the people of his region and thus, in a word, he was DESPISED by the Jewish people in and around Jericho.

The city of Jericho, itself, was one of the cities of the priests. It was 15.9 miles northeast of Jerusalem and it has been said that 12,000 priests and Levites lived there. Thus, this is a town where many temple elite were living; yet, Jesus does not seek an audience with any of them. Ancient Israel had a culture of honor built into it. For a teach or rabbi to visit the home of someone was a great honor. Instead of honoring one of the elite religious leaders in the city, jesus chose to honor wee little Zacchaeus.

To make matters worse, as was mentioned above, Zacchaeus was a “sinner” of the worst kind. He was in bed with the Romans and was robbing the people of what little money they had. So, when Jesus called Zacchaeus down and invited himself over the tax collector’s house, the people became indignant. How dare him! How could this rabbi associate with such a sinner, let alone honor him by going to his house?!?! This was a major insult to them.

Yet, Jesus paid them no mind. At the feast, while the priests were grumbling, Zacchaeus was so moved and honored by Jesus that he pledged to give half of his wealth to the poor. On top of that, he also promised to pay back 4 times the amount he took from those he cheated. Jesus then blessed his house and called Zacchaeus a true son of Abraham, reminding the people present that his mission was to come seek and save those who are lost.

This is a challenge for us as well. Do we view certain people as being outside the bounds of God’s grace? Do we view certain people as being to classless, or too inappropriate, or too secular, or too sinful to be worthy of God’s grace? Do you harbor any resentment toward those you think have cheated you or others? Remember, Christ came to seek and save those who are lost. In fact, we all were lost at one point and Christ has found and saved us. We should, with Christ, seek out the lost and include them in our fold with the love and blessing of Christ. After all, that is what Christ did and that is what he is calling us to do.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” – Jesus Christ in Matthew 9:13

PRAYER
Lord, forgive me, a sinner. Help me to see other people through your eyes, rather than my own. Amen.

God’s People, part 217: Ten Lepers

Read Luke 17:11-19

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“So Naaman went down to the Jordan River and dipped himself seven times, as the man of God had instructed him. And his skin became as healthy as the skin of a young child, and he was healed!” (2 Kings 5:14, NLT)

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

jesus_lepersPart 217: Ten Lepers. The account of Jesus’ healing the ten men with leprosy is a powerful one for sure, and it is also an account that has multiple layers to it. So often, we read these accounts like we would read a simplistic children’s account, word for word, line for line, without ever looking deeper in between the words and the lines on the page. This is, partly, not our fault as we are far removed from Jesus’ time and place and certainly the context is missing. Still, we often gloss over details that are quite revealing of the larger picture.

The first layer I would like to peel back is the location of the ten lepers. Luke tells us that Jesus was heading from Galilee toward Jerusalem. It is important to recall that there were only two ways from Galilee to Jerusalem. One way was a wilderness road that went around Galilee; however, that road, though well traveled, was treacherous because bandits would hide in the cliffs and rocks and ambush travelers. The other way was to go through Samaria; however, the Jews often avoided this because they believed the Samaritans to be wicked and believed that they would be defiled by them if they even so much as crossed paths.

Clearly, Luke indicates that Jesus was perfectly fine traveling through Samaria and, actually, other Gospels such as John corroborate that fact. When Jesus reached the border of Galilee and Samaria, he came to a village and came across ten men with leprosy standing at a distance from him. We are not sure what “village” this was as Luke never names it; however, it is more than likely that it was a leper colony outside of a larger village on the border of Samaria.

The next layer is that when the men call out for mercy, they may or may not have been calling out for healing; rather, they may have been calling out for alms. In fact, when most people in Jesus’ day called out for mercy, they were looking for almsgiving. Still, it is possible, that they had heard of Jesus’ healing and that they were asking for Jesus to heal them. Whatever the case may be, Jesus saw them and responded, “‘Go show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were cleansed of their leprosy” (Luke 17:14, NLT). What I love about this layer is that it is quite possible that these men were looking for money and Jesus surprised them with something far greater than that!

That bring us to the next layer needing to be peeled. The point of this account is not actually about the healing, but about the response of the ten. Luke tells us that as the ten men with leprosy left to go to the priest, as Jesus had instructed them, they were cleansed of their leprosy. So, what we see here is that as soon as they obeyed Jesus command they were instantly healed. It did not happen once they arrived at the priest, but immediately as they responded in obedience to Jesus’ command. Nine of those men, seeing that they were healed, continued on to the priests, were investigated and deemed clean. Jesus never saw or heard from them again.

With that said, upon being healed, one of the men instantly turned around and ran back to Jesus. This is the final and most shocking of the layers. As he approached Jesus he began shouting, “Praise God!” What’s more, the man fell down a the feet of Jesus, thanking him for what he had done. More than thanking Jesus, he was worshiping (as the act of prostrating before someone or something indicates) the presence of God within Jesus.

With all of this before us, the real twist to the story is in the fact that this man was a Samaritan. The other nine, who never returned to praise God and thank Jesus, were Jews; however, this one who did return and recognize the presence of God in Jesus was a Samaritan. The Jews, including those other nine men, would look at this one man as a Godless Gentile, and yet it is this “Godless Gentile” who recognized the presence of God in Jesus, praised and worshiped him.

What this teaches us is to never, ever judge a book by its cover. Sadly, we often look at those who are different than us, who are outside of our culture, our religion, our politics and world views as being “less than us”; however, as this account points out, we may be the ones who are lacking in actually seeing the presence of God. Yes, we should hold fast to our beliefs of God and Jesus Christ; however, not at the cost of discounting or judging others, nor at the cost of dismissing God’s ability to reveal Godself to anyone at any time. This should humble and challenge us to open ourselves to being merciful, compassionate, understanding, welcoming and loving toward all people no matter how different we may perceive them.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.” – John Milton

PRAYER
Lord Jesus, help me to respond to you in humble and grateful ways. I am wholly yours. Amen.

God’s People, part 216: Daughter of Abraham

Read Luke 13:10-17

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“No, O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8, 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.

004-lumo-crippled-womanPart 216: Daughter of Abraham. I love this account because it reveals a couple of important things to us about God’s people. First it reveals to us something from the woman who was possessed by a crippling spirit. Second, it reveals something to us about the people who opposed Jesus healing her on the Sabbath. As is the case throughout the Gospels, we see the good, the desperate and the bad reflected to us in all of “God’s people”, and how God responds to each of them.

Let us look at the woman disabled by a “crippling spirit”. She was clearly a woman who would have been shunned. If you can picture her, she was no doubt doubled over in pain. We’ve all seen such people in our communities who are hunched over, twisted and can barely move from place to place. People with severe arthritis and other progressive, disabling diseases. In Jesus time, they had no way of knowing the cause of such a thing, so they assumed that whoever had such diseases must be under God’s curse for one reason or another.

Thus, such a person was seen as being possessed by evil spirits, which are the antithesis of God. What’s more, they were labeled and outcasted as such. In other words, this woman was shunned because she was being defined by her crippling illness. Society around her could not see beyond her illness to the person underneath. All they saw and focused on was the illness. Not so with Jesus, who saw the person whom the illness was afflicting. He saw her for what she was, a daughter of Abraham, one of God’s people. She didn’t even ask him to heal her; rather, he had compassion on her and called out to her and told her that she was healed.

On the flip-side, there was the leader of the synagogue who was indignant at the fact that Jesus healed this woman on the sabbath. He was so focused with the rules, regulations, and laws that he was ignoring the needy people right in front of him. He even began to scold the people coming for help, “’There are six days of the week for working,’ he said to the crowd. ‘Come on those days to be healed, not on the Sabbath’” (Luke 13:14, NLT).

Jesus scolded this man and called him and the other leaders hypocrites because these same men would untie their oxen and donkeys and lead them to the water so they can drink on the Sabbath, but they won’t do so for other human beings who are also made in the image of God and should be treated with compassion, justice, mercy, dignity and respect.

Friends, both of the people are people of God. The religious leader and the the woman disabled from a crippling disease. As such, we can learn from Jesus response to both of them. First, we are not defined by our sins, our diseases, or anything else that we have been afflicted and labeled by; rather, we are defined by Jesus Christ who loves us and has bought us our right to be called Children of God through this suffering, death and resurrection.

Second, people matter to God and, therefore, people ought to matter to us as well. We should never put shun people just because they’re presence is inconvenient or because we see them through the lens of the labels we attribute to them. Today’s challenge is for us to stop labeling others, including ourselves, and to stop allowing our circumstances, diseases, and/or other people from labeling us. The only label we have that is accurate is “child of God.” Christ loves us and calls us to accept that love and to share it with others.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“My feeling is that labels are for canned food… I am what I am – and I know what I am.” – Michael Stipe

PRAYER
Lord, help me to see past the labels into who people actually are. Amen.

God’s People, part 215: Woman

Read Luke 11:27-28

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Anyone who does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”  (Mark 3:35, 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.

MaryMotherofGodPart 215: Woman. Here we have another strange encounter between Jesus and someone who was in the crowd. He had actually just got done casting out a demon and had been accused by someone in the crowd of being possessed by the demon Beelzebub, which is a parodic name for Satan meaning, “dung god”. In Matthew, Jesus responded to this accuasation as a “blaspheming of the Holy Spirit”; however, in this instance, he simply  rebuts it by saying that Satan can’t possibly kick out Satan and that a kingdom divided by civil war is doomed.

From there, Jesus obscurely taught about the possibility of demons returning seven-fold, making the possessed person worse off than they were when there was only one demon within them. This seems to have been a warning that, just because one has been made clean from evil spirits, doesn’t mean they are out of the water and those spirits can’t return. I can only imagine that Jesus was intent on warning people of the need to remain close to him and, by virtue of that, close to God; however, whatever Jesus meant, it is here that the anonymous woman shouted out at him, “God bless your mother—the womb from which you came, and the breasts that nursed you” (Luke 11:27, NLT)!

This comment is so off topic that it is hard not reading it as someone awkwardly trying to divert the topic away from demons to something more agreeable; however, whatever the person’s intent was, it was put out there for all to hear. Jesus could have answered in any number of ways that could have been in agreement with this woman; instead, he chose to counter her in a way that did not dismiss her proposition, but rose the bar on it. He said, “But even more blessed are all who hear the word of God and put it into practice.” (Luke 11:28, NLT)

On the one hand, he does not dismiss what this woman said. Indeed, his mother was blessed to have given birth to him, nursed him, and raised him up into the man he was. All mothers are viewed as blessed in that regard; still, we also tend to confuse divine blessings with earthly blessings. Thus, Jesus elevated the conversation beyond the things of this earth to the things of God.  “But even more blessed are all who hear the word of God and put it into practice.”

This is a challenge for us too. So often we view our positive human experiences as blessings. Honestly, we should see those things as blessings. It is a blessing to be a parent. It is a blessing to have a roof over our heads. It is a blessing to watch my children grow up into responsible and kind young adults. With that said, my greatest blessing is to have been saved by Jesus Christ and given the opportunity to put Christ’s teachings into practice.

The challenge is for us to put our blessings in the right order. There is no other blessing that is greater than the Word of God, which is Jesus Christ. In Christ, we learn what it means to be a part of God’s family and we learn that Christ is calling us into faithful service. There is no greater blessing than hearing the Word of God, Jesus, and putting his teachings into practice in our lives. Be challenged by this, and be moved by the Holy Spirit to put Christ’s teachings into action in your life.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
There is no greater blessing than our relationship with Jesus Christ.

PRAYER
Lord, help me be a person who puts your teachings in action in my life. Amen.

God’s People, part 214: But First…

Read Luke 9:61-62

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“But Lot’s wife looked back as she was following behind him, and she turned into a pillar of salt.”  (Genesis 19:26, 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.

KingJesusPart 214: But First…: One has to wonder if the man in today’s Scripture reading was actually paying attention to the first two that attempted to follow Jesus. To recap, the first man was someone who was caught up in what Jesus had been saying and doing. In an emotional response, he called out to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go” (Luke 9:57, NLT). To which Jesus responded, “Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head”  (Luke 9:58, NLT).

The second gentleman was some one Jesus had called to follow him; however, he was a dutiful son who did not want to leave his father; therefore, he said he would follow, but requested that Jesus allow him to wait until he buried his father. That request was denied, and Jesus certainly conveyed the urgency and the importance of his mission in doing so.

Now, we get to this third man and we have to wonder if he was simply not paying attention. That is one possibility or, the other is that it is possible that, while these three instance are back-to-back in Scripture, they didn’t happen at the same time. Either way, this man called out to Jesus and said, “Yes, Lord, I will follow you. But first let me say good-bye to my family.” If I could insert a Jesus face-palm picture in here, I would. Clearly, if Jesus wouldn’t grant a person the opportunity to wait and bury his father, why would he grant that concession to this man? Then again, the man saying good-bye would take far less time than a man returning home to wait for his father to die. Maybe this man was not “face-palm” worthy after all.

Still Jesus answered as, by now, you probably would expect: “Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.””  (Luke 9:62, NLT). Again, Jesus was making it clear what that his gospel mission was of the utmost importance. It could not, would not, take 2nd place to any other purpose. When Jesus call his disciples, he does not do it at their convenience? His calling does not come on their time or the way that would be most comfortable for them; rather, his call comes on his time and with urgency.

This, my friends, should challenge us all. In what ways have we been negligent in answering Christ’s call? When reading this passage, I cannot help but think of Lot’s wife in Genesis. When God’s angels told Lot and his family to leave Sodom, they also warned them not to look back at the city. Sadly, Lot’s wife could not avoid looking back and, as a result, she turned into a pillar of salt.

In what ways are we Lot’s wife? In what ways are we this man who wants to look back to his family before committing to follow Jesus? This man could have simply said yes without condition and I am sure he would have found a moment or two to say goodbye to his family; however, he put saying goodbye as a condition to his following Jesus. In what ways do we put conditions on our commitment?

Today, be challenged to remove all conditions to following Christ. Remember, Christ Jesus is Lord of all and one day, “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father”  (Philippians 2:10-11, NLT). Be committed to Christ and put him first in all that you say and do.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The more we make our lives about us, then the more we waste our time. When we get older, we devote our lives to ourselves, and then we wasted it. If we want to devote our lives to something significant, something that matters, then we should devote our lives to the Lord Jesus.” – Trip Lee

PRAYER
“Great and glorious God, and Thou Lord Jesus, I pray you shed abroad your light in the darkness of my mind. Be found of me, Lord, so that in all things I may act only in accordance with Thy holy will. Amen” – Francis of Assisi

God’s People, part 213: Dutiful Son

Read Luke 9:59-60

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Jesus replied, “My mother and my brothers are all those who hear God’s word and obey it.””  (Luke 8:21, NLT)

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

JesusLightOfTheWorldPart 213: Dutiful Son. This is one of those instances where Jesus does something that just seems inexplicable to us. Anyone who reads this and takes it seriously must be left scratching her or his head. What a callous and cold thing for Jesus to say. Jesus called to a man, asking him to become a follower, and the man expressed a desire to do so; however, his father had died and he wanted to bury him first before leaving his home behind to follow the Lord.

Jesus’ reply, at first look, is mind-boggling. “Let the spiritually dead bury their own dead! Your duty is to go and preach about the Kingdom of God” (Luke 9:60, NLT). For a devout Jew, this teaching is beyond harsh. It goes against the fifth commandment, “Honor your father and mother. Then you will live a long, full life in the land the LORD your God is giving you.”  (Exodus 20:12, NLT)

Culturally speaking, caring for and burying one’s father was the greatest honor a devout Jewish son could have. But before we get up into a tizzy over Jesus’ words, there is something to consider. It is not clear that this man’s father had died already. If he had, why would this man be with Jesus instead of with his father? It is more likely that this man’s father was still alive and, if that was the case, this man was actually saying, “I will Lord, someday. As soon as I can.” In other words, this man was saying that he would follow Jesus once he was done caring for and burying his father, whenever that time would occur.

That context makes a world of a difference when it comes to understanding Jesus’ response. It may still seem cold and callous, and it certainly still seems to fly in the face of fifth commandment; however, Jesus’ words also become a little less shocking and easier for us to digest in order that we might come to an understanding of what Jesus was teaching this man and the others who were around him.

Yes, it is important to take care of one’s parents and, yes, it is important to uphold the ten commandments; however, which is MORE important, honoring your earthly father, or honoring your Father in heaven. Jesus had come from the Father that all might find Salvation in him. The Good News was urgent and Jesus knew his time on earth was short. He was calling this man into discipleship, a call that would lead to establishing his body on earth once he resurrected and ascended. The body of Christ, also known as the Church, would go on to be builders of the Kingdom of God, on earth as it is in heaven.

So, when Jesus calls this man, there is divine urgency; however, the man wants to put off the call until another time when it is more convenient. He his putting his familial and social responsibilities ahead of his duty to follow the Lord our God. The message from Christ is clear, follow now. There is no time to wait, and God will not be put on the back burner. Follow now, or God will move on from you to others who will.

This, then, should be alarming and challenging to all of us. Do we serve Jesus and put him first in ALL things? Do we spread the Gospel faithfully with urgency? Or do we put him on the back burner while we tend to other things first? Of course, we struggle with that and, of course, there’s grace in all of us; however, the message couldn’t be clearer, NOW IS THE TIME TO FOLLOW AND SERVE OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST. I pray our hearts, and eventually our actions, fully align with Jesus through the grace and guidance of the Holy Spirit.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“May nothing entice me till I happily make my way to Jesus Christ! Fire, cross, struggles with wild beasts, wrenching of bones, mangling of limbs – let them come to me, provided only I make my way to Jesus Christ.” – Ignatius of Antioch

PRAYER
Lord, help me to sense the urgency in spreading your good news and give me the courage to spread it. Amen.

God’s People, part 212: Eager Follower

Read Luke 9:57-58

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“But don’t begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it?”  (Luke 14:28, 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.

Creation_Candle_LightPart 212: Eager Follower. It is so easy to get enraptured by something, to get caught up in the moment, and to respond emotionally to the stimuli around us. I can remember going to Creation Festival Northeast in Pennsylvania years ago. For those of you who have never heard of that festival, it is like Woodstock for Christians. They have multiple stages, tons of bands, breakout sessions, etc., and the festival lasts a good four days. What that means is you have people camping out all over the place. It is huge. The average attendance is anywhere between 50,000 to 100,000 people annually if you can picture it.

At that festival, I remember on the closing night, they held a communion candlelight service. If you can picture 50,000 to 100,000 flames flickering in the darkness and the same number of people taking communion and singing hymns together, then you are probably getting goosebumps right now. It was breathtakingly powerful and, I left that service feeling high on the Holy Spirit. People had been invited to accept Jesus into their hearts, and now new and veteran Christians alike, we were sharing in the most sacred and mysterious meal of all-time. How could I not be enraptured.

But then reality hit. The festival ended, we all took the three or so hour trip home, and life continued to revolve. Eventually that spiritual high left, and the lows of life (stress, anxiety, fatigue, etc.) took over. I co-lead a spiritual retreat for youth and young adult every year and those kids get enraptured in a similar way. By the end of the retreat they have had a very personal encounter with Jesus and they leave with a spiritual high. However, after they return to their lives in the world, they soon find themselves with all of the same challenges that they had before coming on the retreat. Hopefully, they then lean on Christ as their Lord and Savior during their trials, but that does not keep the trials and struggles from happening.

In today’s Scripture, we see a man who is caught up in such an emotional moment. He’s someone who has had a personal encounter with Jesus and is on a spiritual high. In that moment, he is eager to become a follower of Jesus. “I will follow you wherever you go,” the man exclaims. What becomes puzzling is Jesus’ response to him. “Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head” (Luke 9:58, NLT). It’s not that Jesus said no to this man, but he didn’t exactly say yes to him either. What could he possibly have meant.

I think what Jesus was doing was letting this man know what following him wherever he goes actually meant. It meant a life of wandering around from place to place. It meant sacrificing time with family, time with friends, work time, and leisure time. It meant stepping out of one’s comfort zone and making oneself vulnerable in a cruel, hostile and evil world. It is one thing to say that you will follow Jesus wherever he goes, it is a completely different thing to ACTUALLY do that.

Friends, the grace of God in redemptive work of Jesus Christ is a free gift for all, but that does not mean it is without cost. In answering the call of Christ, I have endured insults, mean comments, loss of friendships, long hours of service, and many other things. Paul put the life of discipleship best when he wrote,

“I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm.”  (2 Corinthians 11:26-27, NLT)

The challenge for us is understanding that the Christian life is about accepting Christ’s reign over our lives and following him wherever he leads us. That means prioritizing Christ and his mission above everything else. This life is the true life because it is the way of Christ which leads to eternal life. It is an infectious life that spreads to and transforms others. It isn’t easy, but it is eternally rewarding. Are you ready for such a life? I certainly pray you are.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“You always have two choices: your commitment versus your fear.” – Sammy Davis, Jr.

PRAYER
Lord, I commit my life to you. Continue to strengthen me to grow in that commitment. Amen.

God’s People, part 211: Jerusalem

Read Matthew 23:37-39

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth, before Abraham was even born, I AM!’”  (John 8:58, 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.

Jerusalem-2013-Aerial-Temple_Mount-(south_exposure)Part 211: Jerusalem. When I look at the United States of America, the country from which I am from, I find myself in lament nowadays. Don’t get me wrong, I take great pride in being an American and I love my country dearly. I really, really do. My father served this country in the Army over in Vietnam and is paying the price for his service. Yet, he would never take back his service. While, I did not serve in the military, I come from a family where mostly everyone did.

So, I come from a family that is deeply rooted in this country and I grew up being proud of it. I have a deep respect for America and for those who have sacrifice so much to serve it and to make it a place of freedom and opportunity. In fact, it is out of this love for my country that my lament comes. When I look around today and see the deep, ever intensifying division, my heart sinks. There is social discord on just about every level imaginable.

Looking at all of this, I have thought to myself that this is not the America I grew up in. Yet, the more I reflect on that statement, I am beginning to realize that it is untrue. This is the America I grew up in, we just did a better job at hiding it. These divisions we see now are not divisions that sprouted up over night; rather, they are divisions that have been brewing behind the scenes and now, following a few significant triggers, they are now exploding all over the place. So, I find myself in lament.

To lament is to passionately express grief or sorrow. In our Scripture reading for today, we see Jesus lamenting over Jerusalem. Like how I feel about my country, Jesus had a love for Jerusalem, like any good Jew would have. This was the city of his ancestor David and was the center of Jewish worship. This was a city with much history and glory, a city to which people from all around the world came to visit.

Yet, the leadership in Jerusalem were corrupt and their hearts were hardened. They didn’t care about those suffering underneath them. They didn’t care about those affected by their rigid laws and their calloused attitudes to those in a much weaker and vulnerable state than they were in. All that they really cared about was maintaining the status quo so that they could keep ahold of the power they had acquired.

Even if that mean consorting with the Romans, they were willing to do what it took to keep themselves at the top. Of course, they claimed that they were looking out for the safety of their people, and they no doubt fooled themselves into believing that; however, Jesus saw their hearts and the hearts of those who came before them. This was the same city that through Jeremiah into a cistern, the same city from with the wicked kings of Judah’s past had allowed idolatrous temples to be built for the worship of foreign gods, and the same city that had put countless prophets and people of God to death. What’s more, they were about to do it again in putting Jesus, the Son of God, to death.

Friends, it is out of a love of one’s country that one laments the evil found within it. We often think that patriotic loyalty means a blind acceptance of one’s nation without any questioning of the powers that be. This, however, is not patriotic loyalty, it is merely a toxic form of nationalism that put one’s nation over and above God and all that is good and right.

Let us be challenged by Jesus lament over Jerusalem and let us look with Christ’s eyes at our own countries. No matter where you are from, you live in a country that sometimes gets it right, and other times gets it wrong? In what ways, and over what things, should you be lamenting. More importantly, what are you willing to do about it? Jesus’ marched into Jerusalem and offered himself up as a sacrifice for the world’s sins. While we can never do what Christ did, we can offer ourselves up for Christ and for the Christian witness in our world. I pray we all have the strength and courage to do so.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not whether they be clergymen or laymen, they alone will shake the gates of Hell and set up the kingdom of Heaven upon Earth.” – John Wesley

PRAYER
Lord, help me to see things clear enough to lament the wrong I see, and give me the courage to stand against such things in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.