Tag Archives: Peace

God’s People, part 165: Petros

Read Matthew 4:18-22

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)

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.

ApostlePeterPart 165: Petros. Petros’ birth name was Simon son of Jonah (Simon bar Jonah). Living in Bethsaida, a fishing town located at the place where the Jordan River enters into the Sea of Galilee,  Simon was a fisherman by trade and had at least a wife and ailing mother-in-law to feed and support. It is also likely that he had children and other extended family members to care for as well; however, the Bible only explicitly mentions his wife and mother-in-law.

Knowing Simon bar Jonah’s trade, we can actually ascertain quite a bit about him and his family. Simon would not have been very highly educated. His education would have been what was standard among the peasant population, which amounts to very little education at all. He would have been taught by his mother and by the Rabbi in his local synagogue the essentials of the Torah and what it meant to be a 1st Century Jew; however, that’s about it. In fact, the Acts of the Apostles reveals as much in 4:13: “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marveled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus”  (Acts 4:13, KJV).

The literacy rate in ancient Judaea was about 3%, with education reserved for the elite. Thus, folks like Simon would have been illiterate, unable to read or write. He would have grown up learning his religious and cultural duties by oral transmission. He more than likely became a fisherman because that was his father’s trade. Thus, Simon bar Jonah was not meant to ever amount to be more than what his father Jonah was: a fisherman.

Fishing itself was a part of the larger embedded agricultural economy of 1st Century Galilee. By embedded I mean that there was no free market that was separate and distinct from the other aspects of society. Fishing and agriculture (including production, processing, trade, etc.) were also linked to politics, religion, family and social life. There was no such thing as upward mobility. Most fishing families, Simon’s family being no exception, were poor and lived in survival mode. What’s more, in order to fish certain areas of the sea of Galilee, a fisherman needed to have a special license, which took away from the overall income of a fisherman and his family. They also needed to supply themselves with their own raw materials for their boats, nets and other tools.

This is the world that Simon bar Jonah was born into and was working in when Jesus of Nazareth came to him one day along the shore of the Sea of Galilee. He had spent the entire night fishing and hadn’t caught a single fish. Jesus invited him and his brother Andrew, along with John and James, sons of Zebedee to go back out and fish. Following that miraculous fishing expedition, Jesus provided them with the unlikeliest opportunity: to become a follower and, eventually, a leader in the Jesus movement.

To say that Peter was an unlikely candidate for such a role is an understatement. He was, again, illiterate and ignorant. He was rough around the edges, no doubt, and crude. He could be blunt and rash. What’s more, his ignorance led him to often times miss the bigger picture of what Jesus was teaching and doing. This led him into conflicts with Jesus and with other disciples. He was a VERY unlikely candidate for becoming a part of such a movement, let alone a chief leader of it.

Yet, Jesus saw potential in him that no one else would have. Jesus saw and drew it out of him. It was, after all, Peter who was first among the disciples to recognize that Jesus was “the Messiah, the son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). In response to Simon’s divinely inspired proclamation, Jesus proclaimed, “Blessed are you Simon bar Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are [Petros] (aka Peter or Cephas in Aramaic), and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades (aka the place of the dead) will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:17).

What Jesus started with Petros did not end there. He continued to assemble the most unlikely of students who would one day take over his entire movement when he was no longer around to carry it on. It is this vagabond group of misfits, starting with an ignorant fisherman from Galilee, that would go on, through the power of Christ, to transform the world.

The questions for us are these: do we see ourselves as being a part of the great Jesus movement that Jesus started with Peter? Do we see ourselves as underwhelming additions to this movement and, as a consequence, as to unworthy of being of any use to Christ? The challenge for us is to humble ourselves enough to realize that no one and nothing is beyond Christ’s reach and that Christ does not choose us because we are worthy; rather, we are worthy because Christ has chosen us. Let us be challenged by this and have faith that Christ is transforming the world in and through us.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Pray that, above all things, the gates of light may be opened to you; for these things cannot be perceived or understood by all, but only by the man to whom God and His Christ have imparted wisdom.” – Justin Martyr

PRAYER
Lord, help me to see you at work within me. I am willing to serve you and trust that you have made me able. Amen.

God’s People, part 164: 2nd Advent

Read Matthew 24:1-31

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“They said, “If you are the Messiah, tell us.” He replied, “If I tell you, you will not believe; and if I question you, you will not answer. But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God.””  (Luke 22:67-69, 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.

second-coming-814x610@2xPart 164: 2nd Advent. In 2011, megachurch pastor and author wrote a book that would spark a controversy before it was actually published and on the shelves. Rob Bell, the pastor in question, put out a promotional video for his book, which can be viewed by clicking here. In this promo, Rob Bell discusses how at an art gallery his church hosted there was an exhibit that was of Gandhi. During the course of the show someone saw to it to attach a note to the exhibit that read, “NEWS FLASH, he’s in hell.”

The promo then turns to Rob Bell raising a series of questions starting with, “Really? Gandhi is in hell? And someone is so sure of this that he or she felt compelled to tell us this?” From their the promo continues to ask questions around hell and around the character of God. He ends with saying that that what we believe about heaven and hell is incredibly important, and that what the Bible has to say is beautiful, profound and truly Good News.

That promo sent people into a whirlwind of speculation before anyone could even read the book. Accusations flew, some (such as Franklin Graham) calling Rob Bell a heretic, and others accusing him of being a universalist. Of course, once people read the book, the charges of heresy diminished to charges of “heterodoxy”. Heterodoxical teachings are a set of teachings that “deviate from orthodox beliefs” but don’t necessarily cross into the territory of full-on heresy. It is questionable as to whether or not what Bell actually wrote was heterodoxy at all; however, with people already being committed to not liking the book, those charges stood in the minds of more conservative Christians.

The book itself, in good Rob Bell fashion, doesn’t take a position at all (other than that love wins, but rather it poses questions, as sell as defines and contextualizes words and concepts. In fairness to its critics, such open-ended questions could lead people to fall into universalism or other unorthodox views; however, I do not believe that was Bell’s intent. He was merely asking questions that many non and nominal Christians have with regard to heaven and hell, with the hope of drawing more people into a relationship with Christ. He was approaching the questions with the bleeding heart of a pastor, concerned for those who want nothing to do with the Church because they are hung up on such doctrines.

I will not spend the space I have in this devotion to discuss the merits or shortcomings of Bell’s Love Wins; however, it does point us to an important doctrine in the Christian faith. Christians traditionally believe that Christ not only came once, died, was buried and rose again. We also believe that Christ now sits at the right-hand side of God the Father, from where we he will come again to judge the living and the dead.

This may seem draconian and off-putting to people in a culture that is so loosey-goosey, and hellbent on “being good” on its own apart from God; however, the Christian witness is different than that. As Christians we hold to the doctrine of Original Sin, that while humanity was created “good”, it eventually chose knowledge and independence over maintaininga dependency on God. That choice led to separation from God, which consequently led to chosing to glorify ourselves rather than God. We are costantly putting ourselves (e.g. desires, family, friends, wealth, etc.) before God. This sinful state is unescapable without God’s preventing, justifying, and sanctifying grace.

As for Jesus’ 2nd Advent, we are all awaiting for that day when Jesus will come again and we will stand before him in TRUTH. None of us will have an excuse, nor will we be able to say, “Oh, sorry God. I didn’t know that I wasn’t meant to live that way.” Why is that? Because God’s grace has been working within us and convicting us to acknowledge and follow God. At our most basic level, we have an innate understanding of what is “right” and what is “wrong”, and we also know that we have an impossible time getting everything “right” and avoiding every sort of “wrong.”

The challenge for us is for us to acknowledge that reality, and to praise God for the grace TO ACKNOWLEDGE it. It takes humility to acknowledge that we are not AS GOOD as we’d like to think and to submit our lives to Christ through repentance and obedience. Let us turn to God and restore our relationship with the One who IS LOVE, the One died for us so that we might be purged of our sin and raised in to life! Amen.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”  (Mark 8:38, NRSV)

PRAYER
Jesus, I repent of my ways and submit to you as Lord. Fill me with your grace, your love and use me for your glory and for the kingdom that is to come on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

God’s People, part 163: Ascended

Read Acts 1:6-11

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Then Jesus led them to Bethany, and lifting his hands to heaven, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up to heaven. So they worshiped him and then returned to Jerusalem filled with great joy. And they spent all of their time in the Temple, praising God.”  (Luke 24:50-53, 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.

Ascension-of-Jesus-GettyImages-182188871-5807a21e5f9b5805c2aba36fPart 163: Ascended. In today’s Scripture we have an account of Jesus’s ascension as provided by Luke. Both the main Scripture reading and the second Scripture reading come from texts that were written by Luke. In Acts, Luke elaborates a little more on the ascension and the disciples’ reaction to it, as the Acts of the Apostles was written to account for the ministry and struggles of the early church. The Gospel of Luke, on the other hand, just gives us a synopsis of the ascension as a brief conclusion of the Gospel. It is important to note that Luke wrote the Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles back to back as a two-volume collection.

To many people today, it may seem insignificant that Jesus ascended. In other words, people might wonder why it matters so much that he ascended into heaven. What gives if that was a literal event or if it was more metaphorical? The same people might wonder why it is such a big deal if Jesus physically rose from dead as well. “Perhaps”, they might think, “those things were metaphors that provided people with hope that there was hope in the midst of death on some sort of “spiritual” level. Perhaps, the ascension is also a metaphor as well. Does it really need to have historically happened for it to not be meaningful?

First, the answer to the last question is no, it does not have to have historically happened for it to have meaning. Stories such as the Lord of the Rings are deep with meaning even though they never historically happened. Fables such as the Tortoise and the Hare are not historical accounts, but are rich with meaning. So, it is true that something does not have to be historical to have profound meaning.

With that said, the disciples and the early church were not looking to convey deep, personal meaning to people. What I mean by that is that the earliest Christians were not writing the Gospels as some sort of meaningful fiction that the readers could walk away from feeling spiritually fed. Yes, they understood that reading the Gospels would nurture and feed, but not just for the sake of doing so.

Instead, these accounts were written as a witness to identity of a historical figure. Was Jesus merely another crucified Jewish traitor in a long, bloody history of crucified Jewish traitors? Was he merely a failed rabbi and revolutionary? Or was there more to this man that met the eye. The disciples who had spent three years in itinerant ministry with him…who traveled with him, who learned from him, who witnessed his sacrifice, who witnessed his physical resurrection, and his ascension…they were witnessing to the IDENTITY of Jesus.

He was not merely another man. Sure, he was human who lived in a specific time and place in history; however, he was so much more than that. He rose from the dead and, in doing so, conquered sin and death. How? Because the wages of sin are death. Jesus took on those wages on the cross, but he resurrected, appeared to his disciples and, when the time was right, ascended into heaven where he sits with God Almighty.

Jesus was no ordinary man. Though human, he was also fully divine. That is HIS IDENTITY and it is that identity that gives us the assurance that God will conquer sin and death in us too, through faith in Jesus Christ who died, rose and ascended before us. If that is just a “metaphor” Jesus is no more than Heracles/Hercules, Achilles, Perseus, etc.

The disciples who witnessed Jesus resurrect and ascend were adamant witnesses to the REALITY of Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension. What’s more, they went to their deaths proclaiming that REALITY. The question for us is this: Do we think ourselves to be so knowledgeable to be able to discount the mystery of IMMANUEL: God with us? The challenge for us is to humble ourselves and trust in the One who is the Son of God, the King of kings, the Lord of lords, and the Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world. Have faith and believe that Jesus who conquered sin and death on the cross, who rose to life and ascended to heaven, can be a conqueror, miracle worker, and Savior in your life as well. He is risen, and ascended, indeed!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“At His Ascension our Lord entered Heaven, and He keeps the door open for humanity to enter.” – Oswald Chambers

PRAYER
Lord, give me the strength to overcome the trappings of this world and to see you as you truly are, revealed to me by the faithful witness of Scripture and those who came before me. Amen.

God’s People, part 161: Risen

Read John 20

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“The women were terrified and bowed with their faces to the ground. Then the men asked, “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Remember what he told you back in Galilee,”  (Luke 24:5-6, 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 161: Risen.

I believe in God the Father Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord,
Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
Born of the Virgin Mary,
Suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to hell[i].
On the third day he rose again,
And sitteth at the right-hand side of the Father,
From whence He shall come
To judge the quick[ii] and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost[iii],
The holy catholic[iv] church,
The communion of saints,
The forgiveness of sins,
The resurrection of the body,
And the life everlasting. Amen.

Resurrection-Risen-HandThe above is the Apostles’ Creed, where the basic doctrines, the essentials if you will, are laid out for every believer to memorize, recite, and know. It is a measure, a rule, for all the faithful to know and to profess. This short creed helps the faithful, devoted believer to keep from straying off of the path of orthodoxy. It keeps people in line with the tradtional Christian faith as passed down from the Apostles onward.

Make no mistake, this creed was not written by the apostles; however, it bears witness to the apostolic faith. By apostolic faith, I mean the faith passed down from the apostles to all Christians throughout the millennia. Here are the core, essential tenets of the faith as outlined in this simple creed: Belief in God the Father, who created the heavens and the earth; Belief in Jesus Christ the Son, who was miraculously conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary; Jesus physically suffered under Pontius Pilate, He physically died, and was buried; during the two days he was dead he went to the place of the dead. His death was final. He was really dead.

On the third day, he was physically resurrected from the dead, and now sits at the right-hand side of God. This creed affirms the Holy Spirit, the holy universal church, the ongoing communion of all the believers (aka saints), the forgiveness of sins, the physical resurrection of the body that will happen when Jesus comes again, and the everlasting life that comes through a life of faith in Christ. What’s more, it affirms the Holy Trinity, a most sacred and holy doctrine, rooted in both Scripture and apostolic tradition, that is not to be trifled with nor dismissed.

I recapitulate the Apostles’ Creed because it affirms the topic of today’s devotion: Jesus’ bodily resurrection. As was mentioned in the last devotion, it is important to avoid falling into heresies of the past. One of the biggest ones was the denial of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection. There are other big ones too, however, this devotion (as did the previous one) deals with the the physicality of Jesus’ suffering, death, burial and resurrection. Why were the Apostles adamant about such physicality? Because it was getting denied at every front.

The Jewish authorities, along with the Romans, were declaring that one of Jesus’ disciples took the body out of the tomb and hid it in order to claim that Jesus “rose from the dead”. Thomas, one of Jesus’ apostles, initially refused that Jesus ACTUALLY rose from the dead. The Gnostics and other such groups claimed that Jesus was merely spirit and thus was never on earth PHYSICALLY, let alone died and rose again. Time and time again, people have tried to dismiss the awesome, scandalous, and mystifying apostolic claims.

Today, we see nothing different. Today’s self-interested deniers of Christ’s physical resurrection do so for a variety of reasons. Some are atheists, often driven by modern scientific understandings of the natural world, who do NOT want to believe that God exists, much less Jesus Christ. Others may not be atheists, but are equally skeptical for modern scientific reasons. Others, more egregiously, are supposed believers in God and Jesus, but are afraid that the doctrines are antiquated and are caught up in the same scientific understandings found in this modern era.

There are a whole host of reasons why people deny Christ’s resurrection and, subsequently, the resurrection of the dead; however, there is ONE reason why they should not: the Apostles witnessed the resurrection with their own eyes and gave up their lives to proclaim it. I do not know people who would die for a hoax or a prank. The only reasonable explanation for their actions is that they REALLY believed what they saw.

That does not PROVE that the resurrection happened; however, it gives one a GOOD REASON to have faith and believe. But it does come down to faith. Will we believe in the Christ whom death could not conquer, or will we deny the Christian claim and, subsequently, the power of God in Jesus Christ? The challenge for us is to not be enslaved by modernity which will become ancient in its own due time; rather, let us hold true to the classic faith which has, and will continue to, stand the test of time.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Paul the apostle recounted that Jesus appeared to more than 500 of His followers at one time, the majority of whom were still alive and who could confirm what Paul wrote.” – Josh McDowell

PRAYER
Lord, help me to hold fast to my faith and to witness to the apostolic Christian faith in you with all of my heart. Amen.


[i] or the place of the dead, that is Hades, or Sheol. This does not mean the place of eternal torment and suffering known as hell.
[ii] or the living
[iii] or the Holy Spirit
[iv] universal

People of the Closed Door

Read Matthew 23:13-36

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you, desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'”  (Matthew 23:37-39, NRSV)

Hardened-HeartMy heart, brothers and sisters, is extremely heavy. As many of you already know, I am an ordained elder in full connection in the United Methodist Church. This is the church I was baptized into, the church who prayed for me when I was in critical condition in the hospital at age 3, the church my wife and I were married in, the church I returned to when I came back to my faith in the early 2000s, and the church I finally answered my call in.

When I first came back to Christianity, I tried one other denomination prior to settling in the United Methodist Church. When I walked in that fateful Sunday, I was greeted by people as one often is at church on Sundays. When I asked the usher at the door what the difference was between them and a different denomination with a similar name and background, the person responded to ask me what my view on homosexuality was. He then proceeded to tell me that they split from their “heathen” sister church because of their acceptance of gays and how the Bible said gays were all going to hell.

Friends, I walked right out of that church and never looked back because I knew that such a judgmental denomination was NOT for me. It is following that experience that I found my way back into the United Methodist Church. At the time I didn’t know the language that is currently in our Book of Discipline. What I did know was that I was welcomed by a loving community that accepted me for who I am and not what I came in believing or not believing. They welcomed, they encouraged me, they loved me and my family, and they supported me in answering my call.

That church didn’t just welcome me but welcomed all people. They were a home for the broken, the outsiders, the lost, and the needy. They openly accepted all people, no matter their sexual orientation, no matter socio-economic status, no matter their hurts and/or hangups, no matter what they were or weren’t addicted to. They accepted and LOVED EVERYONE! That witness to Christ’s love is what brought back to the United Methodist Church.

I found my place in the UMC while learning of John Wesley and his belief in radical, omnipresent grace, his push for a balance between social holiness and social justice, and his openness to new ideas that were grounded in the Biblical witness of God’s love and grace. I knew, by this point, that we as a church had a position on human sexuality that I disagreed with; however, there was hope that things would change over time. To be clear, I understood and respected the fact that social change takes time because it involves the changing of hearts and not just minds. I still understand and respect that.

What happened during the Special Session of General Conference (February 23-26, 2019), deeply saddens me as I know it deeply saddens many United Methodists. The decision to pass the Traditional Plan over and above the One Church Plan, means that the denomination has decided to double down on its unholy ban on LGTBQ marriage and service in the Church. It diminishes their sacred worth, and hangs that up over their sexual orientation.

While the United Methodist Church touts having “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors”, the People of the United Methodist Church have shown the world something completely different. We’ve become a people with closed hearts and closed minds. We’ve become a stick that is breaking because it refuses to bend. We’ve become a people of the closed door.

With all of that said, it is important to note that while the global church as a whole voted to adopt the Traditional Plan, it must be said that it only passed by a very, very small margin. There were more than 800 delegates from around the world who voted and if a mere 28 people had voted differently the Traditional Plan would have been defeated. In regard to the inclusive One Church Plan, if 26 people had voted differently it would have passed.

These numbers only show that the vote is not reflective of the people called Methodists as a whole, and that gives me room for MUCH hope. My heart is heavy, my sadness deep; however, my HOPE is very much ALIVE. The church has always been in wrestling with Jesus’ call to be ambassadors of God’s inclusive, loving, and grace-filled Kingdom. We often fail at doing so; however, Christ still loves us and lifts us back up out of the mud we sink ourselves into. I have hope that the people called Methodists will find a way to move forward from the tragic steps backwards we just took.

Right now, Bishops, church leaders, pastors such as myself, and laity are working toward building a path forward to becoming a people of open hearts, open minds, and open doors once again. In fact, many of us never stopped being that in the first place! We will find a way forward to become a people of one church that accepts diversity in all of its richness, complexity, and sacred possibility. Please join with me in prayer for the people of the United Methodist Church and the people of all denominations as we seek to live out the Gospel commission of making disciples of ALL people (not just some), baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Inclusivity has always been a struggle in the church, as it has for all of humanity. Here’s the Apostle Paul recalling a confrontation in his fight for Gentile inclusion: “But when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him to his face, for what he did was very wrong. When he first arrived, he ate with the Gentile believers, who were not circumcised. But afterward, when some friends of James came, Peter wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore. He was afraid of criticism from these people who insisted on the necessity of circumcision. As a result, other Jewish believers followed Peter’s hypocrisy, and even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.” — Apostle Paul of Tarsus (Galatians 2:11-13, NLT).

PRAYER
Lord, help us to be a people who do not become closed doors seeking your loving embrace and help us to not become closed doors on people seeking to your call on their lives and serve you. Amen.

God’s People, part 160: The Tomb

Read Mark 6:1-8

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where Jesus’ body was laid.”  (Mark 15:47, 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.

SONY DSCPart 160: Tomb. The English word for heresy comes from the Greek word, αἵρεσις. In Greek, it originally meant “choice” or “thing chosen”, but eventually came to be also seen as the “the party or school of a person’s choice.” In Christianity, it came to have an added meaning, especially in the 2nd century. This can be seen in the writings of the Church Fathers such as, Tertullian and Irenaeus. During that time heresy came to mean a school of thought or teachings that was contrary to the teachings of Christ and the orthodox doctrines of the church. Anyone who follows such schools of thought or teachings were considered to be heretics, and those who were responsible for first espousing them were considered heresiarchs.

The word, unfortunately but for good reason, has gotten a bad wrap as a result of some of the historical responses the Church had toward heretics. Initially, excommunication and exile were common responses; however, as the churches grew in power under Constantine and subsequent emperors and popes, the responses became more and more vile and unChristian. I need not go into detail here. We all have heard of the Witch trials and burnings in Europe, the witch trials and hangings in America, the Inquisition and other such horrific and evil historical events.

What’s more, not all of the supposed “heretics” were actually heretics, especially during the time of the Inquisition and the European/American “Witch Craze”; rather, some were more or less scapegoats. With that said, the church needs to reclaim the language all the while guarding itself against graceless responses to it. The reason I say this is that the church is threatened by people who would like to succumb to modern understandings over and above ancient wisdom. While the church must find graceful, loving, ways of defending the faith, it is imperative that we do so.

To be sure, we need to consider what heresy is and what it is not. It is NOT a difference of opinion on non-doctrinal and non-essential doctrinal matters. For instance, Calvinists hold to the doctrine of double-predestination and Wesleyans hold to the doctrine of free will; however, neither could be seen as heretical because they are not essential to what it means to be a Christian. They maybe essential to their prospective schools of thought, but not to the universal Church. Also, many conservative Christians believe that we should have traditional views on human sexuality, and many progressive Christians view the need for a change toward inclusion of the LGTBQ community. Neither view can be viewed as heretical because neither view is essentially definitive of what it means to be Christian.

Areas that are DEFINITIVE, however, iare doctrines such as the death, burial, and physical resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. From the beginning, orthodox (or traditional) Christians have affirmed the physical death, burial, resurrection and bodily ascension of Christ. In the early church, groups like the gnostics tried to deny such physicality. They tried to say that Jesus was merely a spirit and that the person who died on the cross was not actually Christ, because Christ’s spirit transferred into Simon of Cyrene. Thus, to the gnostics and others, the body on the cross was that of Jesus…but the spirit was NOT that of the CHRIST’s. Others tried to deny that Jesus was ever crucified and buried at all and that he was taken up to heaven much in the same way that Elijah was.

Such views were considered heretical because they directly opposed the earliest Christian witness of the apostles and the Church Fathers who followed them. Today, we face similar views because people see such beliefs as being in conflict with our scientific understanding. There is a fear that holding such views will shout to the world that Christians are ignorant.

Friends, we as Christians need to uphold the traditional, orthodox doctrines of the church for they best express the faithful witness of those closest to Jesus and his apostles. To do otherwise is to separate oneself from Christian thought and the true power of the risen, resurrected Christ. Jesus did die, he was buried in the tomb and his physical death was real and final. By final I mean that he truly died in the physical sense, his life ceased, as it does under such terrible abuse and torture. He stayed dead for two full days before rising on the third day. His resurrection was the power of God, bringing life to his dead body. While the church ought to cherish the beauty of diversity, it must also make the boundaries firm so that we are faithful to the Christian witness.

The tomb reminds us of the finality of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and it also witnesses to the absolute sovereignty and power of God over the created order. We should not choose the wisdom gathered from the created order over that of the Creator. Rather than try to explain the mystery of the tomb, let us embrace it, feeling both its despair, its finality and, on the other side, the hope found in it being EMPTY. Let us avoid the heresies of the past and let us avoid falling into new ones. Let us be guided by the witness of the earliest Christian Church that came before us. Christ is risen and, if we acknowledge what God has done, we too can rise up from the tomb into the LIFE God has set before us!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Jesus miraculously turned the water into wine. Let us not mistakenly turn the wine back into water.

PRAYER
Lord, help me to hold fast to the orthodox, early Christian witness and help me profess it in all that I do. Amen.

God’s People, part 159: Crucifixion

Read John 19

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Then at three o’clock Jesus called out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means ‘My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?’…Then Jesus uttered another loud cry and breathed his last.” (Mark 15:34, 37 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.

fullsizeoutput_2d7Part 159: Crucifixion. I am a huge fan of and collect films portraying the life and teaching of Jesus Christ. I own the of the original black and white Cecil B. DeMille 1927 silent film, King of Kings. I own many of the films following that from the 60’s such as The Greatest Story Ever Told starring Max Von Sydow through the latest one, Son of God starring Diogo Morgado. In fact, I not only own and love it, but the very first Jesus film I can remember watching was the 1961 remake of the King of Kings starring Jeffrey Hunter on TV with my family on Easter Sunday.

Honestly, up until the late 90s and early 2000s, most of the films really toned down the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. I certainly understand why. Crucifixion is not a good way to have to die and with the heavy censorship of films and music that was in place prior to the late 90s, no one wanted to risk making the crucifixion more realistic. That and many producers knew that Christian audiences would not appreciate it either. They wanted wholesome films with little to no violence and sterile language. So, there was no way that they were going to gore up the crucifixion.

Rather, those films focused more on Jesus’ life and teachings, and they toned down and almost sterilized the passion and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. While these films are all great films in their own right, the unfortunate consequence of censoring the suffering and crucifixion of Christ is that it takes away from the real sacrifice that Christ made.

Thankfully, that began to change with the 1999 Jesus miniseries starring Jeremy Sisto. While that film did not lay it thick with the gore, when Jesus was crucified he can be heard screaming in agonizing pain and blood can be seen splattered on the cross and dripping from his wrists. Again, not too much…but enough for you to cringe at the thought of what was happening. Then, by 2004, Mel Gibson released his film The Passion of the Christ and went to town on showing Jesus’ suffering and crucifixion. The film was so hard to watch, and so powerful, that people left the theater with the same full bucket of popcorn they went in with. It was the film that brought me back to my faith in Jesus, because it made me truly and deeply reflect on why Jesus would go through with that.

Without belaboring this, crucifixion was a terrible way to die. First, before one ever made it to the cross, they victim of crucifixion would be punished for the crimes they had committed. They would we whipped and beaten. The Jews had a law that a person should be whipped no more than 40 times minus one. Whether the Romans adhered to that or not is unlcear, but by the time Jesus would have had to carry his cross, he would have been severely beaten, bruised, bloody, and his flesh torn from the shards of glass and rock that hung from the flagella at the end of the whip.

Then there was the crucifixion itself. The criminal would have had to carry the cross beam up to his/her place of crucifixion. He then would have been laid down and his arms would have been tied to the beam, followed by the hands/wrists being crucified. The cross beam would then be raised up, with the body intact, onto the vertical beam which is already erect. Once the cross beam was in place nails would have been driven through each of the ankle bones into the sides of the cross, and a sentence would be placed above the head of the crucified. In Jesus case, it read in Latin (Iēsus Nazarēnus, Rēx Iūdaeōrum), in Greek (βασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων), in Hebrew read right to left (יֵשׁוּעַ מִנַּצְּרַת, מתי כז 3‡מֶלֶךְ הַיְּהוּדִים), and in English (Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews).

The crucified would spend hours, if not days, lifting his/her body up to breathe out and lowering his/her body to breathe in. Eventually, due to exhaustion, the crucified’s own body weight would crush his/her lungs and they would suffocate to death. It was a slow, laborious death that no decent person would ever wish upon anyone. This is how Jesus died.

In the modern Western world, we have been privileged to not have to witness such executions. Even when we execute criminals, we do so in a way that is judged to be the most “humane” way possible. When reflecting on Jesus’ sacrifice and death, let us be challenged to NOT succumb to our privilege; rather, let us truly reflect on what he went through and let us come to the foot of the cross and lay our sins and shortcomings bare to the one who gave it all, and suffered the worst death imaginable, for our sake.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  Paul of Tarsus, the Apostle in Galatians 2:20 NLT

PRAYER
Lord, as we approach Lent, help me to have the strength to be honest with myself and you regarding my sin so that my sins may be once and for all crucified with Christ and I may be free of their burdensome weight. Redeem me, for I am yours Lord. Amen.

God’s People, part 158: Passion

Read John 18-19

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God.”  (1 Corinthians 1:18, NLT)

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

pg-18-passion-of-christ-apPart 158: Passion. I seems like yesterday that the film, The Passion of the Christ, came out in the movie theaters. With that said, it was not yesterday. The film was released on February 25, 2014 amid a ton of controversy over its content. It was, as is often the case when it comes to portrayals of Jesus Christ, being blamed for antisemitism and being way to violent. Critics wrote that the film felt like abuse, that it was a snuff film, where the spiritual/metaphysical aspect and the redemptive quality of Jesus was denied for the physical torture of the body.

Sadly, many critics (and even some mainstream theologians) missed the point entirely on the importance and significance of The Passion of the Christ. Now there may be some people scratching their head at this usage of the word “passion”, because when they think of passion they think of romance. Like all things, the modern English understanding of the word has somewhat lost its etymological or linguistic origins. “Passion” comes from the Latin word passionem, meaning suffering or enduring.

The passion of the Christ, is literally the suffering of Jesus Christ during the last week of his life. That week included the conspiracy of the Sanhedrin against Jesus, his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and his cleansing of the Temple. It includes, Jesus’ anointing by the woman, his sharing in the Last Supper with his disciples, his journey to and prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, his being arrested and put on trial in the high priests house, Peter’s denial of Jesus out in the courtyard, his being tried before Pilate, then Herod, then Pilate again, and his being violently scourged as preliminary punishment.

Finally, Christ’s passion  includes the crowds shouting for him to be crucified, the release of the prisoner Barabbas in exchange for Jesus, his slow painful journey to Golgotha, his crucifixion, death, and burial in the tomb. All of this encapsulates the passion of Jesus Christ and his endurance of such suffering is vital to the Gospel, to the Good News. In fact, there is NO GOOD NEWS without it.

This was evident to the author of Mark, who chose to show how the cross, how Jesus’ passion, revealed his true identity to the world. Matthew showed how his passion and crucifixion were the fulfillment of ancient prophecy on how the suffering servant Messiah would die for the sins of the world. Luke showed how the least of these and the outsiders were included into God’s covenant through Jesus’ passion. Finally, John’s Jesus exemplified how Christ willingly died on the cross and how the redemptive quality of his passion would carry on through the passion of his disciples who were to be given an advocate, the Holy Spirit, to help them carry out his mission.

The critics of Mel Gibson’s film failed to realize that Christ’ passion is vital to the story of the world’s redemption. In that, I believe, was a spiritual component. The world is blinded to the redemptive work of the passion…of the cross. In fact, Paul told us that the cross is actually foolishness to those who believe. The lost, the people who are still in the darkness, don’t want to be confronted with their sins and how those sins have woefully played out in this world. They don’t want to be confronted with the fact that Christ’s death is a reflection of the reality of sin and evil that we, as humans, all participate in.

Yet, it is the acknowledgment of that participation, and the humbling of oneself it takes to acknowledge it, that leads us to the foot of the cross with great joy and thanksgiving. It is the kneeling down before the foot our crucified Lord that cleanses us of our sins and opens our hearts to sanctifying power of Christ’s resurrection. It is only in acknowledgment of what Christ has done for us, and why it is so desperately needed, that we are able to find our true salvation and submit to Jesus Christ as Lord. Be challenged by this. As you begin to prepare for Lent, come face-to-face with your sins and, through Holy Week, journey with Christ to the foot of the cross. Don’t shy away from the passion, but embrace it and be embraced by your Lord, who was crucified, who died, and rose again for your sake.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Without Holy Week, without Christ’s passion, there would be no Easter or redemption.

PRAYER
Lord, prepare my heart for your passion that, through your suffering, I may come to everlasting salvation, joy, peace, and service. Amen.

God’s People, part 157: The Word

Read John 1:1-14

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.

lamb-of-godPart 157: The Word. When you think of the Word of God, what do you think of? My guess is that most of you think about the Holy Bible, made up of 66 books (39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament). When we read Scripture in our churches, many of us end with the following, “The word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God for this word.” The Bible is most often called the Word of God because in it are the words that teach us about the nature of God, human nature, and the way we receive God’s salvation through Jesus Christ. As John Wesley once put it in his Popery Calmly Considered, “The Scripture, therefore, being delivered by men divinely inspired, is a rule sufficient to itself: So it neither needs, nor is capable of, any farther addition.”

But according to Scripture, in the Gospel of John to be exact, the Word of God is NOT the Holy Bible. Sure, it is Scripture and is God-breathed (or divinely inspired); however, it was written by people. The ancients understood that and never said otherwise. For early Christians, the Word of God was not the written words etched on papyrus scrolls; rather, it was Jesus Christ, which was God’s Word made flesh. That Word existed long before people wrote words down onto paper, and it is through that Word that all that exists was created.

The Greek word used in John is actually logos, which was the divine creative force of the cosmos. John tied this Greek philosophical and metaphysical concept to the Genesis narrative where God spoke creation into existance:

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”  (Genesis 1:1-3, NLT)

John, playing off of Genesis 1, opens his Gospel with a poetic prologue, which echoes the first creation account in Genesis:

“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.”  (John 1:1-3, NLT)

The Greek concept of logos was used by John to show different groups who opposed the Jesus movement the true revelation of Christ. To the Rabbis who claimed that the Torah was pre-existent, John shows them that it is rather the logos (the Word), not the Torah (the Law), that was preexistent to creation. To the Gnostics who denied Jesus came in the flesh, John shows in the prologue that, indeed, the logos became flesh and made his dwelling place among us. To the followers who stopped with John the Baptist, John shows that the logos was the light of the world. The Baptist merely proclaimed and paved the way for the logos.

The logos, according to John, “was God” but was also distinguishable from God the Father, for “the logos” was also “with God.” Thus, in Jesus we have the living incarnation of the logos who is both God and human, and is also a distinuishable person from God the Father. The logos is God the Son and came to be Immanuel, God’s presence with us. In John, we learn that Jesus (the logos) is not just the Word, but is also the Light of the World, the Bread of Life, the Good Shepherd, The Door of the Sheep, the Resurrection and the Life, the Way, the Truth, and the life, The Vine, the One who preexisted Abraham and all of Creation.

That’s a lot to process right? The challenge for us is not not only process this with our heads. Much heady commentary has been written about Jesus’ I AM statements in John and that certainly has its place in theological discourse; however, the challenge for us is to process this with our hearts. Have you come into the presence of the Great I AM?

Have you experienced the Word made flesh, the Light of the World, the Bread of Life, the Good Shepherd, The Door of the Sheep, the Resurrection and the Life , the Way, the Truth and the Life, and the Vine? Have you met the One who preexisted all there is and has ever been? Have you met the Word who came, lived, died, and resurrected for your sake? If not, my prayer is that you will open your heart to the One who is seeking you out this very minute. My prayer is that you will let him in so that he may become your Lord and Savior.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Jesus told him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.’” – Jesus Christ (John 14:6, NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, reveal yourself to me. You are my Lord and Savior and I wish to serve only you. Amen.

God’s People, part 156: 2nd Adam.

Read Luke 3:23-38

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“They were glorious to see. And they were speaking about his exodus from this world, which was about to be fulfilled in Jerusalem.”  (Luke 9:31, 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.

Glory_of_the_New_born_Christ_-_Annakirche_ViennaPart 156: 2nd Adam. If you recall, in Matthew the focus was on explaining to Matthew’s Jewish Christian community that Jesus was not only the fulfillment of all the Torah (aka the Jewish Law), but that he was also the greater prophet that Moses prophesied would come after him some day down the line (see Deuteronomy 18:15). There were, in fact, many parallels between Moses and Jesus, and Matthew pointed them out to show that Jesus was the fulfillment, not only of the Torah but of that specific prophecy.

In Luke, the scope is much larger than the fulfillment of Jewish laws and prophesies, for Jesus was the Savior of the whole world. He did not just come for the insiders but, as in the Gospel of Mark, salvation came for the outsiders as well. In fact, Luke spends much of his book highlighting Jesus’ teachings on the poor, the widows, the orphans, the lepers and the social outcasts of society. In fact, Jesus’ first act (of which he near fatally upsets the Jewish crowd) is to preach a sermon on how God has often favored the Gentiles over his own people because, while the Jewish people know God and yet reject him, the Gentiles who are initially ignorant of God accept him with open hearts (Luke 4:18-30).

Right before that in Luke 3, Luke highlights Jesus’ baptism and then goes directly through his geneology in order to show how Jesus is not only a descendant of Abraham, as all Jews were, but that he was also a descendant of Adam. Luke, a student and colleague of the Apostle Paul’s, goes further than his teacher who felt it sufficient to show the promise of God to Abraham that his descendants will bless the nations (see Genesis 22:18).

Instead, Luke shows how Jesus was not just a descendant of Adam, but was a 2nd Adam. Unlike the 1st Adam who was duped by his own selfish desire to know more and be like God, Jesus selflessly stripped himself of his divine glory to be like a human and, in the process fulfilled God’s law. What’s more, while Adam chose mortal over eternal life, Jesus gave up his mortal life for eternal life.  Through the 1st Adam, we were given over to sin; however, through faith in the 2nd Adam, we are delivered from death in our sins to eternal life.

While the 1st Adam brought separation from God and eternal death to all of humanity, Jesus reunited us with God. He established a new Israel through his 12 disciples, and through them he began the process of ushering in a new Eden, which is heaven on Earth. This Kingdom will not just be for the prominent and wealthy. In fact, many who are wealthy will never find the kingdom of Heaven because they are so fixated on their worldly possessions; rather, this kingdom will be open to all who are humble and seek God over and above their worldly status.

This is why the poor are featured so prominently in Luke’s Gospel. Their poverty has already humbled them and they are receptive to God. Their hearts rejoice at the Gospel, which IS GOOD NEWS to them. The challenge for us is to allow our selves to be humbled enough by God to see that, due to our sins, we are impoverished and in need of God. We are no better or worse than anyone else in God’s eyes. God sees our sins and knows our hearts and only God, through Jesus Christ, can save us. Do you believe this? Search your heart and discover Christ who is waiting for you to let him in.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Jesus Christ alone is Lord of all Creation.

PRAYER
Lord, I humble myself before you. Purge my sins and cleanse my heart. Purify me and save me from myself and my sins. Amen.