Tag Archives: Peace

A Look Back: What’s In A Name

Read John 10:14-18, 25-30

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“But now, O Jacob, listen to the LORD who created you. O Israel, the One who formed you says, “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are Mine.” (Isaiah 43:1 NLT)

Have you ever given much thought to your name? Just the other day I was in a conversation with someone who was talking about how her granddaughter just started to write her own name. Instantly, I was transferred back to when my daughters were first able to write their own names. I remember what a milestone it was to see them do that. What’s more, this conversation also caused me to reflect on my own name, and the moment I was first able to write it. Indeed, I am not sure I remember when I first was able to write my own name. I definitely remember learning to write, and then learning to write in cursive, but I am not sure I remember when I first wrote my own name: Todd.

Then I began thinking, “What is Todd? Who is Todd? What is it that a Todd is supposed to do? How is a Todd supposed to look? How is a Todd supposed to act? What makes a Todd a Todd? What makes me more a Todd than I am a Howie or a Jonathon or a Leonard?” Now this may sound silly to you and, indeed, it feels a little silly writing those questions down; however, have you ever stopped to think about how you got your name and what makes you fit that name, or what makes that name fit you?

The truth is, I am not sure I can fully answer that question. My name is Todd because my parents chose to name that. The name Todd actually comes from my dad’s side of the family. I was named after my grandma’s maiden name. Her name was Jeanette Elizabeth Todd before marrying my grandfather and becoming Jeanette Elizabeth Lattig. For the first few months, I had no self-awareness of any  name. Over time, I learned that those people who are always holding me and feeding me call me “Todd”. Eventually, at some point, I started answering to that name and claiming it to be my own. No doubt, if someone asked me when I was a Toddler (ironic…I know) what my name was, I would say, “My name is Todd.” And eventually, I began to write my name as a way of marking whatever I was writing it on as being “mine.”

So, here it is that I am, indeed, a Todd. But what does that say about me beyond what name I go by? In reality, we are so much more than our names; yet, truth be told, we invest all that we believe we know about ourselves into those names. And others do the same. If you were to ask one of my family members or friends who Todd is, they would no doubt shower you with all they thought that I am. But that would be who they believe this Todd to be…that would say nothing about every other Todd out there.

While we may identify ourselves by our name, and while we may associate our characteristics, strenghts, flaws, personalities and other things with that name, the truth is that our names do not really define us or who we are. Rather, God does define who we are and calls us according to that definition. So whoever you, the reader, are, you are so much more than the name and all the things that you attribute to that name. You are more than you could ever imagine. No matter how well you think you know yourself, and no matter how much others think they might know about you, God is the only one who knows EXACTLY who you are and all that you are capable of. God knows your possibilities and your full potential…and God is calling you, not only by NAME but according to WHO YOU ARE, to reach your full potential. All you need to do is TRUST IN GOD, and take the step forward to answer that call…knowing that God will guide you each step of the way.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.” – Jesus of Nazareth, John 14:1

PRAYER
Lord, reveal to me who I really am and guide me to what it is I am really called to do. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: The Beast Within

Read Luke 15:11-32

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32 NLT)

Just recently I sat down to watch the remake of the Wolfman. Of course, the original 1941 Wolfman starring Lon Chaney Jr., Claude Rains, Bela Legosi and Evelyn Ankers will always be one of my favorite monster movies ever; however, with that said, the 2010 remake of that film does pay homage to it, all the while adding its own twists and spins.The root of the story is the same. Larry Talbot returns home after his brother dies suddenly and horribly. Upon getting home Larry ends up getting bit by what he believes is a wolf, and when the moon shines full and bright in the sky, things begin to get a bit hairy for Larry (pun totally intended) as well as for the village. In the remake, which is where the film departs from the 1941 storyline, we learn that Larry and his father, who is cold and quite distant, had a falling out years earlier over the death of Larry’s mother (among other things). Since that time, Larry had distanced himself with his father and his family (including his brother), and did not wish to return…that is until he learns of  his brother’s death.

When he does finally return he is not welcomed warmly, as is the case in the story of the prodigal son; rather, his father greets him coldly and indifferently. Clearly both father and son have a resentment toward one another and the result is, in the end, catastrophic. In more than one way, the fact that Larry ends up turning into a werewolf serves as a metaphor the hatred, bitterness, anger and unresolved hostility that is caged up inside of him. That is all being said as a matter of observation, without affirming or denying the justification he had to be angry, bitter, and hateful of a father who, in many ways, failed him from his childhood onward.

The truth is that we all have the beast that lies within us beneath the surface, don’t we. For most of us, we are able to supress the beast, to keep it locked away, and to move our lives forward in a positive, constructive and meaningful manner. Yet, there are some who have truly been beaten up in life, or at least the feel as if they have, and it is very hard for them to move beyond what has happened to them. It’s not right, or wrong, it just is. The problem is that, when we are unable to move beyond our past, that past comes back to haunt us and that is when that inner beast comes out in full force.

Today’s challenge is for those of us who have a hard time moving beyond our past, beyond the hurts, the pain, the abuse, and/or the perceptions we have of those we feel have wronged us (whether they have or not). If you are a person who struggles with this, know that forgiveness is attainable. There is a God who has forgiven us of our past and that same God is calling us to forgive others as well. Forgiveness does not mean that we forget what has happened, or that we somehow pretend it didn’t. Nor does it mean what happened to us is okay, or we should somehow justify it. Forgiveness doesn’t mean we ignore when wrong is being done, nor does it remove the obligation we have to seek justice, as well as reconciliation.

It is also important to note that forgiveness is not just to the benefit of the ones we are forgiving, rather, it is a benefit for us…perhaps even more so than the ones we forgive. Forgiveness is our way of saying that no matter what others do to us, God still loves us and cares for us and we aren’t going to harbor anything against anyone. We are defined by God not them, and in that recognition comes a liberation that not only keeps the beast at bay, but eliminates it altogether. Remember that no one is without the need to be forgiven; therefore, no one is above forgiving others. Forgive and be set free!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

PRAYER
Lord, give me the strength to forgive, even as I seek to be forgiven, and move me beyond my hurts and pains to a life of joy and peace. Amen.

Still IN Remembrance

Read Deuteronomy 24:10-22

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18 NRSV)

Nineteen years ago from today was a day that I will never forget. I was an iron worker at the time and was working on the roof of a building in Bridgewater, NJ. We were all well into our work, tying rebar down in order to create a mat that would become the reinforcement for the concrete floor of the roof. It was then that our supervisor came running up. He told us that a plane had hit one of the towers of the World Trade Center. We were shocked, perhaps a little confused, and we tried making light (if not sense) of it by joking that it must have been a Laguardia mess up. I mean, how else do you explain it?

So, we all went back to work, each of us silently processing it on our own. Each of us were trying to put those words together, “A plane has flown into one of the twin towers.” In ten minutes time, our supervisor came up again screaming, “It happened again, another plain crashed into the other tower!” We were being attacked. There was no doubt what was happening at that point. Accidents happen but not simultaneously in pairs. At that point our supervisor sent us home, not knowing what else to do. We were all in shock.

In fact, I am not sure how I made it home that day. I was in shock. I went to the daycare to pick up my daughter and she wasn’t there. I tried to call my wife but couldn’t make it through…the lines were tied up and service was down. It turned out that my daughter wasn’t in daycare that day as my wife wasn’t working. I was so beside myself as I listened to the devastating news reports that I became disoriented.

The news kept rolling in with reports of the Pentagon being hit and a plane crashing somewhere out in Pennsylvania! Once I got home, I turned on the news to see two smoking infernos that were the Twin Towers (which had been a part of the NY Skyline for my entire life and then some) and images of bodies falling out of the windows as they tried to escape being burned alive. There were images of people covered in ash, soot and God only knows what, walking around like zombies…in total shock…just aimlessly walking with blank faces. Other people were screaming, crying, running and it was clear that New York was not the same place it had been just two hours earlier. In fact, America and the Western world as a whole seemed to change on that day.

I will never forget where I was that day, and I am sure no one who was alive during that time will. What’s even more important for us to realize is that many people live in that kind of a horrific reality everyday. In today’s world, the terror attacks seem like a distant memory in the past, like a piece of American history. There are now new adults who were not yet alive to witness that day. But 9/11 is a reminder that even we are not immune to the jaws of hatred, violence and horrific destruction! In fact, we are now in a new era of hatred, violence and horrific destruction when it comes to the brutality we inflict upon ourselves. We are now in the jaws of self-inflicted chaos and a raging pandemic.

Still, let us not forget the victims of 9/11. Let us always remember that day and the terrible devastation it brought, not to be bitter or hold grudges or retaliate, but so that we remain prayerful for those who are suffering whether they be in this country or around the world. Let us honor those who died on 9/11 by reconciling with those we’ve wronged and by being peacemakers in our community and in this world. Doing such will serve to witness to the resolve of love, even against the forceful presence of hate. Like Peter, if we are founded on the rock (aka God’s love), even the gates of death shall not prevail against us!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
It is a full time job being honest one moment at a time, remembering to love, to honor, to respect. It is a practice, a discipline, worthy of every moment.

PRAYER
Lord, help me honor those who have been victims of hate, intolerance, war, famine, disease, poverty and all of the other things that people suffer, by being someone who stands up in opposition to such things. Found me in your love so that I may become a fortress of hope, healing and wholeness for those in my community who need it. Amen.

God’s People, part 261: Jailer

Read Acts 16:16-39

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,”  (Matthew 5:43-44, 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.

James Faulkner stars as Paul in a scene from in the film “Paul, Apostle of Christ.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. (CNS photo/Sony Pictures) See MOVIE-REVIEW-PAUL-APOSTLE-OF-CHRIST March 22, 2018.

Part 261: Jailer. We live in such a polemical time where we often being strongly encouraged to take one side or the other. For instance, in America, one is either a Republican or a Democrat. One is either for Black Lives Matter or All Lives Matter. One is either antiracist or racist. The list goes on and on and on. It would be easy for me to say that we are about as divided as I have ever seen in my lifetime; however, these are not the only, nor the most, divisive times in world history.

Paul lived in a very divisive time himself. The Roman Empire eventually crumbled because of political divisiveness and, truth be told, the there was much divisiveness in the church as well. Read 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philemon, 1 & 2 Timothy, 1, 2, & 3 John and other writings in the New Testament. In those epistles (aka letters) you will see that Paul, John and others were dealing with the polemics in the church as well.

Before I move forward with the jailer, I want to be clear that I am not making a moral judgment about any particular stance above. I am merely mentioning them because they have been the sharpest sides drawn as of the writing of this devotion. Nor am I saying that people should not stand up for what they truly believe in and are passionate about. The point of this piece is to show how the Gospel can and DOES change hearts and minds.

In our Scripture today, Paul and Silas find themselves in prison in Philippi, where they had spent time bringing the Good News to the gentiles in that city, nurturing and growing a nascent gentile church that they planted.  What happened was that Paul had cast out a demon out of a local slave girl who was being used by profiteers to make money. Due to her deliverance, she was not longer profitable for them and this caused them to grow enraged. They made legal complaints against both Paul and Silas, who were then locked up in prison.

While in prison, under the watch of a jailer, there was a great earthquake and the doors and bars were knocked a part and opened, leaving plenty of opportunitiy for Paul and Silas to escape. Instead, Paul and Silas urged all of the prisoners to stay put and not escape. This, action, may have you scratching your heads. Why not take the opportunity and get out of dodge? Well, it had the jailer scratching his head to and he was beyond thrilled that everyone was accounted for because, had they not been, he would have certainly been executed for a dereliction of duty.

We don’t know much about the jailer at all. He was most likely a local Philippian beholden to the local government there. More than likely he was a Greek gentile. No doubt, he could have cared less (initially) that Paul and Silas were in jail. They were rabble-rousing troublemakers and, besides, he had a single job to do: make sure they did not escape. Failure to do that job would have costed him his life.

By staying instead of fleeing, that caused Paul and Silas to penetrate the man’s heart. Who would do such a thing given such an opportunity. Who wouldn’t think of theselves first over a stranger, let alone an enemy. Clearly, these gentlemen thought of the jailer, valued the jailer’s life and were not the “lawless” men they had been accused of being.

Because of that, the jailer opened his heart up to the Good News of Jesus Christ that Paul and Silas shared with him. What GREAT news! They witnessed to this man and he and his whole family converted to being Christ-followers as a result! This man went from being a jailer to being a brother! This is the power of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.

Now, back to my preface above, this does not mean that people should not be standing up for what they believe in. I have marched and will continue to march for Black Lives, for equity, and for justice as long as I have legs and life to do so. I will stand up for the Good News of Jesus Christ, for the fact that we are all image bearers of God, and that for people to be treated equally with dignity, compassion, justice, mercy and respect. Paul and Silas were in jail for standing up for what they believe in despite the risks in doing so. That is what our Lord calls us to do as his followers.

With that said, we should also be careful that we are truly representing the Gospel when we do so. It is so easy to get sucked into the polemics, to get sucked into viewing the other as “evil” or “less than” and dehumanizing them. God is the judge of who is evil and who is not. We, on the other hand, are called to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ and hold each other accountable to it out of love.

While there are many people who are jailers out there who may be on the wrong side of things, God still loves them and calls us to invite them into a relationship with Jesus Christ. Not all will accept that and we must stand our ground for Jesus regardless; however, we also might find discover Jesus Christ ACTUALLY has the power to transform hearts and minds and our faithfulness to HIM leads others such a place of transformation. In other words, while we stand against the oppressers of the world, let us still find room in our hearts to LOVE them like Christ does.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Hating an evil person is still hate and will lead us to evil; however, LOVE would have us oppose the evil of people and protect people from evil.

PRAYER
Lord, help me a bold and loving warrior for justice without losing myself to blind hate. Increase your love in my heart. Amen.

God’s People, part 260: We

Read Acts 16:6-10

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Many people have set out to write accounts about the events that have been fulfilled among us. They used the eyewitness reports circulating among us from the early disciples.”  (Luke 1:1-2, 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 60: We. The people in the Bible we have been discussing as of late have been in Luke’s Acts of the Apostles, which is the second volume of a two volume account on the life, teachings, death and resurrection of the Christ and the workings of his earliest followers following his ascension into heaven. Up until this point, it was written in the third person, meaning that Luke telling of these acts of the apostles as though he was not there at the time that they happened.

With that said, something very intriguing and unique happens very subtly, and one could easily glaze right over it without even paying it any attention. But this detail is actually a rather important one and lends apostolic authority to Acts. Let’s take a look at what I am writing about. In Acts 16:6-9, let us look at how the author wrote:

“Next Paul and Silas traveled through the area of Phrygia and Galatia, because the Holy Spirit had prevented them from preaching the word in the province of Asia at that time. Then coming to the borders of Mysia, they headed north for the province of Bithynia, but again the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go there. So instead, they went on through Mysia to the seaport of Troas. That night Paul had a vision: A man from Macedonia in northern Greece was standing there, pleading with him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!””  (Acts 16:6-9, NLT)

Yet, in verse 10 Luke switches to the first person:

“So we decided to leave for Macedonia at once, having concluded that God was calling us to preach the Good News there.”  (Acts 16:10, NLT, emphasis added)

What this indicates is that at this point in the journey Luke, the author of Acts, is with Paul as one of his fellow companions and missionaries. That makes Acts, from chapter 16 onward, a first-hand account of the travels of Paul. This, combined with Paul’s letters, gives us a real insight into Paul and his missionary journeys. Anti-theists and others will often question the reliability of Scriptures; however, here in Acts we have a first-hand account written down 2,000 years ago about the last two remaining missionary journeys of Paul.

If the reliability of sources like Plato’s writings on Socrates don’t get questioned, there is no reason why we should question the reliability of Luke’s Acts of the Apostles, the letters of Paul, or any of New Testament. Why? Because most of these writings were penned within 40 to 60 years after Christ died. Paul’s letters were written by him in real time, and Luke/Acts came out a mere 15 years or so after Paul’s death.

That is incredibly close to the time of the events described in terms of ancient manuscripts. For instance, Homer’s Iliad took place 400 years before Homer penned his poem recounting the Trojan War. 400 years! The earliest manuscripts we have of Homer’s Iliad are dated to the 10th century AD, while homer wrote it in the late 8th or early 7th centuries BC!!! Yet, no one spends much time questioning Homer’s existence or authorship.

On the other hand, the earliest fragment we have of a text in the New Testament is from the Gospel of John, dated to the early 2nd century AD. A mere 10 – 30 years after John wrote his Gospel. The earliest completed copies of a New Testament book dates to 200 AD, a mere 160 or so years after Christ, and the earliest completed copy of the New Testament dates to the 4th century (300s). So, the reliability of the New Testament is far greater than that of Homer’s Iliad. All of this, to say that we can trust what the Bible conveys because it contains eye-witness accounts from Luke, Paul and others and where there are accounts written second-hand, the events were so close to the people writing that it is more unreasonable to doubt their veracity than it is to not.

Let this be a challenge for us then. As Christians we need to take the Bible seriously. It is authoritative in conveying to us the way of Salvation and Christian living. Surely, there are somethings in it that no longer apply to us (e.g. laws on diet, clothing, tattoos, piercings, etc.); however, the core of the Bible is our authority and points us to Christ who died that we might have abundant and everlasting life. Let be a people of THE BOOK so that we might grow even closer to the TRUE WORD OF GOD: JESUS CHRIST. Amen.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
The WORD of God is our Lord Jesus Christ.

PRAYER
Lord, make us thirsty for your word so that we may grow even closer and connected to your LIVING WORD, Jesus Christ.

God’s People, part 259: Timothy

Read Acts 16:1-5

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Timothy, please come as soon as you can.”  (2 Timothy 4:9, 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 259: Timothy. Timothy is one of the names that come up a lot when it comes to Paul. In fact, there are two letters in the New Testament that are addressed to him and, therefore, bear his name. He is known as a faithful companion and fellow missionary of Pauls, and someone Paul put a lot of trust in. Most who know of Timothy, probably never gave him or how he came to be with Paul much thought.

In Acts 16:1-5, we are told that Paul first met Timothy in Lystra, which is modern day Turkey. We are also told that Timothy’s mother was Jewish; however, his father was Greek. So, Timothy grew up in an interfaith household and he was never circumcised. He was well liked the believers in Lystra and Iconium (modern day Konya, Turkey).

Now, let me pause here for a moment. As has been previously written in this series, Paul fought for Gentile inclusion and he was adamant about not forcing Gentiles to get circumcised. An entire council was called on it in Jerusalem and the Apostles all eventually agreed with Paul, according to Luke in Acts. They even sent Paul, Barsabbas, and Silas to read a letter rebuking those who were opposing Paul and letting the churches know where they stood as Apostles.

Yet, here in Acts 16:1-5, we not only see that Timothy was uncircumcised, but that Paul had him circumcised out of deference to the Jews in the area. Why would Paul do this? This seems to be out of character for him, does it not? Why would Paul go against everything he just fought for and won.

It is here that we see something that is almost completely lost in modern Christianity. COMPROMISE. For Paul, everything came down to LOVE. That is obvious in 1 Corinthians 13 and here we get a glimpse of the application of Paul’s theology. In 1 Corinthians, Paul wrote:

“When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ. When I was with those who follow the Jewish law, I too lived under that law. Even though I am not subject to the law, I did this so I could bring to Christ those who are under the law. When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law, I too live apart from that law so I can bring them to Christ. But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ. When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some.” (1 Corinthians 9:20-22, NLT)

So, it becomes clear that Paul had Timothy circumcised so that the Jewish believers would accept Timothy as one of their own and would send him with Paul with a blessing. To Paul, it did not matter whether Timothy was circumcised or not, but it did matter to not cause others to stumble or to cause unnecessary division. If Timothy was serious about journeying with Paul, he would have to concede this as a compromise of LOVE.

Of course, we know that he did. Timothy had the maturity to not only understand Paul’s reasoning, but to see it through. Timothy proved to be a most faithful servant and Apostle. He was young, but filled with God’s wisdom and Paul advised him to never allow someone to question his authority because of his age. What’s more, Timothy is listed as the co-author of 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, and Philemon. Paul wrote about Timothy to the Philippians saying, “I have no one else like Timothy, who genuinely cares about your welfare”  (2:20, NLT).

So, what can we pull from Timothy’s life, ministry and example. In this age of extremes and proud stubborness, I think it is important that we not only acknowledge Timothy’s ability to find the balance between loving compromise and bold resoluteness in the Gospel message. Let us be challenged to do what we must to win whoever we can for Jesus Christ. If that means we need to make some sacrifices and compromises, than amen! So be it; however, let us, like Timothy, never compromise the Gospel message or our role in spreading it.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Virtue knows that it is impossible to get on without compromise, and tunes herself, as it were, a trifle sharp to allow for an inevitable fall in playing.” – Samuel Butler

PRAYER
Lord, keep me resolute in my faith; however, open my heart to holy and loving compromise so that I do not become a stumbling block to others seek you out. Amen.

God’s People, part 258: Silas

Read Acts 15:40-41

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For Jesus Christ, the Son of God, does not waver between ‘Yes’ and ‘No.’ He is the one whom Silas, Timothy, and I preached to you, and as God’s ultimate ‘Yes,’ he always does what he says.”  (2 Corinthians 1:19, 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 258: Silas. As with many of these people mentioned in Acts and in Paul’s epistles (letters), there is not a whole lot that is historically known about the life of Silas. We are not told who he was, where he came from, what his trade was, or anything apart from his association as being a fellow missionary with Paul. In fact, even Silas’ name is uncertain. In the book of the Acts of the Apostles, he is exclusively referred to by the Greek name, Silas. In Paul’s epistles, and in the first Epistle of Peter, he is named Sylvanus.

There is little doubt among scholars that Sylvanus and Silas are the same person. It could be that Sylvanus was the Romanized version of the Greek name Silas. Or it could be that Silas was a Greek nickname for Sylvanus. Regardless of what name he actually went by, Silas was a Christian who, along with Judas Barsabbas, was considered highly as a leader and a prophet.

After Paul and Barnabas separated, Paul chose Silas to be his partner and fellow missionary. While Barnabas traveled to Cyprus with John Mark, Paul and Silase embarked on Paul’s second missionary journey, which started off by traveling and ministering to churches in Syria and Cilicia. The account in Acts says that they strengthened churches in those areas.

Of course, that was where their missionary journey began, not where it ended. Paul’s association with Silas begins in Acts 15 and continues through Acts 18. In those chapters, we learn of the successes they had as well as the trials and tribulations. It was on this missionary journey that they met and converted Lydia who housed them during their stay in Philippi. Because she was located in what is now considered Europe, she is often referred to as the first European convert. Whether she was the first or not, she certainly was the first documented European convert.

Of course, Paul and Silas were both imprisoned while in Philippi and Lydia offered them to stay at her house following they were released. While in jail, though, an earthquake broke their cell doors open; however, they did not try to escape. As such, they became a powerful witness to the jailer who also converted to Christianity. They traveled and were met with resistance in Thessalonica, they convereted many more people in the more receptive city of Berea, and they debated with philosophers in the Areopagus in Athens, Greece.

From there Silas traveled with Paul to Corinth. Corinth was not an easy place for Paul to win converts or to establish a church. As his two existing epistles to the Corinthians indicate, Paul was deeply troubled and perplexed by that church. Acts records that after a while of preaching in this city, Paul “kicked the dust off of his sandals” and left Corinth. It appears that Silas may have stayed behind to continue ministering to the Corinthians; however, this cannot be certain. What is certain is that after Acts 18:5, Silas is never mentioned again. I do not think there was a rift between him and Paul, but his staying behind may have been planned and intentional.

The acts of Silas, friend and fellow missionary with Paul, should inspire us all. Here was another person of God who was willing to lay aside his life and place in society, and follow Jesus Christ at great cost to himself. He was imprisoned, threatened, and nearly lynched; however, his faithfulness led him to, along with Paul, establish the beginnings of the church in what is now modern day Europe!  We too can be just like Silas. The challenge for us is to open our hearts to Christ and to follow him where he leads. Are you willing to do this?

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“By faithfulness we are collected and wound up into unity within ourselves, whereas we had been scattered abroad in multiplicity.” – St. Augustine of Hippo

PRAYER
Lord, Help me to remain faithful like Silas, even when it is hard to do so. Amen.

God’s People, part 257: Judas Barsabbas

Read Acts 15:22-35

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Yet we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law.”  (Galatians 2:16, NLT)

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

Part 257: Judas Barsabbas. There isn’t too much known about Judas (also known as Barsabbas), other than that he seen as a prophet and that was chosen along with Silas to accompany Paul on a trip to churches in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia to read a letter that came out of the Council of Jerusalem. Clearly, Judas must have been someone who was known and respected by the Council as well as churches, and so they chose him along with Silas to carry out this important mission.

Since there isn’t much known about Judas himself, let’s discuss the council first, and then it will be clear what Judas’ mission and role was. Up to this point, Paul had been preaching an unrestricted Gospel to the Gentiles. What does this mean? It means that Paul felt that the Gentiles should not be bound to or restricted by a Law that they were not born under.

Therefore, Paul reasoned, a Gentile could enter God’s covenant through faith in Christ. For him, the Law all pointed to being in right relationship with God; however, none of us, not even Jews, follow the Law perfectly. Christ is the only answer to that problem, for he did follow it perfectly and became the sacrificial Lamb of God for us all. Christ is the One who saves, not circumcision. Thus, while Paul was an observant Jew, he put aside such traditions when it came to the Gentiles. This became a MAJOR controversy among Jewish Christians, who felt Paul was abandoning the Torah and the very faith of Christ himself.

Some of these Jewish Christians took it upon themselves to oppose and counter Paul’s teachings in the communities he had established Gentile churches. They were telling the Gentiles that they HAD to get circumcised if they were to have any part in Christ. This enraged Paul and the controversy grew to the point that the Apostles and Elders of the church called together a Council to weigh in on the matter. In the end, according to Luke in Acts, the council agreed with Paul and wrote a letter to be read to the churches. This letter stated that the Apostles had no part in countering Paul’s ministry and that, officially, Gentiles DID NOT have to adhere to circumcision.

This was a MAJOR win for Paul who had been advocating for this from the beginning. Judas and Silas were to accompany him to read this letter to the churches. As for Judas, he was also known as a prophet. In other words, he was someone who was known to have been gifted with the ability to prophesy by the Holy Spirit. His being one of the ones to deliver the message would only lend credibility that this decision was not just that of the Council, but of Christ.

As we can see, the earliest Church was not always a cohesive group. They had quarrels, disagreements, cliques, and even backstabbers. We often look back to “old time religion” as if they were on a higher pedastal than where we find ourselves today; however, that is not the case. The only real difference between then and now is that they TRULY looked to God to guide them in their decisions and, when push came to shove, they humbled themselves and opened up to the possibility of change. We should be challenged to model ourselves after that approach to the Christian witness. Holy compromise and the middle way (via media) are essential in the Body of Christ.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences.” – Rev. John Wesley

PRAYER
Lord, though we be of different mind on different issues, help us to be of one heart and to live in LOVE with our sisters and our brothers. Amen.

God’s People, part 256: Missionaries and Friends

Read Acts 13:14-52; 14:1-28; 15:1-41

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“As a result, other Jewish believers followed Peter’s hypocrisy, and even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.”  (Galatians 2:13, 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.

Part 256: Missionaries and Friends: Barnabas and Paul are two names that should be known; however, people who are not Biblically literate have most definitely heard of Paul, but may not have heard of Barnabas. This is because, truthfully, Paul wrote almost half of the New Testament and Barnabas did not. Paul’s name is synonymous with early Christian theology, almost as much so as Jesus’.

Obviously, the entire New Testament is centered on Jesus and, rightfully so, that makes him the MOST known and certainly Christianity comes from his title, the Christ. With that said, Paul is the second most known person. Sure there’s Peter, James, John, Andrew, Mark, and Luke; however, it is Paul who is second most known in the New Testament. Even if people don’t know his name, you can bet that they will choose his passages for celebration of life services and for weddings. It is Paul who is quoted (whose quoting Jesus) when we celebrate Eucharist (aka Holy Communion).

Barnabas, on the other hand, is less known on the broad scale. If people have heard of him, they more than likely know him as Paul’s trusty sidekick; however, that is only slightly true at best. In fact, as has been mentioned before, Barnabas started off as Paul’s mentor. Paul was his trusty sidekick. That did change over time; however, the majority of time that Barnabas is seen with Paul, he was leading Paul and not the other way around.

With that said, these two were also very close and became more than just missionary partners. They were friends; they were brothers in Christ. This can be seen in Paul’s horror, expressed in Galatians, when he finds out that Barnabas was choosing James and Peter’s side on the issue of Gentile inclusion. He wrote, “even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.” It’s as if Paul is crying out, “not Barnabas too!”

It is there that we see the first sign of a split between the two. Clearly, Barnabas disagreed with how far Paul was willing to take his mission to the Gentiles. Sure, they could become followers of Christ; however, could we really eat and drink with them if they were breaking Jewish kosher rules? Wouldn’t that be to forsake the Law given to Moses by God for the Jews to follow? While Acts says the split was over John Mark, and I have no doubt that was the final straw for Barnabas, this rift over Gentile inclusion clearly went unanswered and Paul presents no winning conclusion to it in Galatians.

What is sad is that Barnabas and Paul had been inseparable partners and friends for years and, because of theological and personal differences, they ended up going separate ways. As such, Barnabas falls out of the pages of Acts and all we learn about is Paul and ministry to the Gentiles. What did Barnabas do? What miracles did he perform, how many did he bring to Christ? All of that is lost beyond his association with Paul. We can be assured he continued to be a missionary and, he no doubt continued to nurture his cousin John Mark; however, we know no details.

This should challenge us because we have a sort of hindsight that Paul and Barnabas did not. We can see the real tragedy in the separation of these two faithful apostles, missionaries and friends. I am not saying they should or should not have parted ways. Perhaps it was for the best. I am also not saying that Christians today shouldn’t part ways when there are severe disagreements; however, we should be challenged to have enough humility to see the tragedy in that, for such severe separation has consequences beyond our control.

We can still express Christian love through it and, Paul and Barnabas did so. Paul never besmirched his former partner. He went his separate way and so did Barnabas. Still, we as Christians need to be cautious in how we approach one another and, if separation is inevitable and necessary, we need to still show a love for the other that witnesses to the power of Christ in both parties’ lives. Let us, consider all of this and begin to grow in Christ’s grace and love.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
They will know we are Christians by our love.

PRAYER
Lord, help me be a great witness of your love and your grace. Amen.

God’s People, part 255: John Mark

Read Acts 13:13; 15:37-39

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“When you make a promise to God, don’t delay in following through, for God takes no pleasure in fools. Keep all the promises you make to him. It is better to say nothing than to make a promise and not keep it. Don’t let your mouth make you sin. And don’t defend yourself by telling the Temple messenger that the promise you made was a mistake. That would make God angry, and he might wipe out everything you have achieved.”  (Ecclesiastes 5:4-6, NLT)

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

Part 255: John Mark. Traditionally, John Mark has often attributed as the “Mark” who wrote the New Testament, also known as Mark the Evangelist. He was first introduced in Acts 12:12 as being the son of a woman named Mary. He was introduces as “John who was also known as Mark.” In that time period, it was not uncommon for Jews to have their birth name and also have a Hellenistic name as well. John was a Jewish name and Mark was a Greek name. So, this person’s name was actually John and Mark was not his surname, but another name he went by.

Still, he is known to us as John Mark to distinguish him from other Johns in named in the New Testament. John Mark was the cousin of Paul’s mentor, partner and friend Barnabas. In Acts 12:25, we find out that he returned to Jerusalem with Barnabas and Paul (Saul at the time), an indication that he was now working with them as a missionary.

In Acts 13:13, something inexplicable happened. We are told that, on one their missionary journeys, John Mark abruptly left the company and returned home to Jerusalem. We cannot be sure why he left as Luke never elaborated on that; however, you can feel the abruptness in the way Luke writes about it: “Paul and his companions then left Paphos by ship for Pamphylia, landing at the port town of Perga. There John Mark left them and returned to Jerusalem.” From there Luke carries on with Paul and Barnabas and John Mark falls out of the account for two chapters.

He’s next mentioned in Acts 15:37-39. In that passage, Paul invites Barnabas to go with him to visit the cities they’ve visited in the past to check on the believers there. Barnabas agreed to go with Paul, but he wanted to bring John Mark along. Paul strongly objected to this. It says in verse 38, “But Paul disagreed strongly, since John Mark had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in their work.”

It is here where we get to see into the event back in chapter 13. We still don’t know why, but it becomes clear that John Mark’s abrupt exit from their missionary journey was viewed by Paul, if not Barnabas and his other companions, as a desertion. Paul felt he abandoned them and he would not have such an unreliable person joining them, for obvious reasons.

While we cannot be sure what Barnabas felt at the time that John Mark abandoned them, John was still his cousin and wanted to include him in their journey. In fact, he not only wanted to, but was sharply insistent on it. As a result, Paul and Barnabas could not come to a compromise and ended up ending their partnership. They chose to separate. We cannot really judge either one of them because, again, we don’t know the details and why Paul felt this was an unacceptable desertion; however, both felt so strongly in their opposing viewpoints that they could no longer work together. This was tragic turn of events for sure.

Still, what we, as Christians, should pull from this is the importance of being reliable and faithful to our local church community. When we commit to something, we should remain committed. We should not desert our fellow sisters and brothers in Christ and put others in the position of having to defend or oppose our involvement, as sometimes can happen.

This is not an uncommon thing in our time. Many people abandon their church family for lots of frivilous reasons. Disagreements or a disliking of the pastor, sports or other child/teen activities, wanting to sleep in, and other various things can cause people and their families to drift away from their commitment to the Church and it’s mission. People vow to serve the Christ’s church when they become members, but don’t really view that vow as binding or important. As a pastor, I have seen the hurt that causes relationally, and I have seen it also cause division in the church. What’s more, it can cause the church to fall into despair over a perceived and real decline in church family members. It is a loss the church can’t help but sincerely grieve.

Friends, this should challenge us. Why do we, as Christians, feel that our faith vows are secondary at best to the other things the world is offering? Shouldn’t that be reversed? Shouldn’t our vows to God and each other hold far more weight than personality differences, sports, laziness, and other things? Let us be challenged to return to our vows and uphold them. Let us put Christ and His church first in our lives, so that we can once again instill a foundation of faith in our children, and further the work of bringin heaven, and the reign of God, on earth.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“But most of all, my brothers and sisters, never take an oath, by heaven or earth or anything else. Just say a simple yes or no, so that you will not sin and be condemned.” – James the Just (James 5:12, NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, keep me and my family on the path that leads to the fulfillment of my vows to you. Amen.