Tag Archives: salvation

God’s People, part 171: Matthew

Read Matthew 9:9-13

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Later, Levi invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. (There were many people of this kind among Jesus’ followers.) But when the teachers of religious law who were Pharisees saw him eating with tax collectors and other sinners, they asked his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with such scum?’ When Jesus heard this, he told them, ‘Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.’”  (Mark 2:15-17, NLT)

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

jesus-matthewPart 171: Matthew. When we think of tax collectors today, we probably think nothing more about them than that they are a person doing their job. Granted, thinking about the tax collector is different than thinking about the taxes themselves. No one, throughout all of history, has ever enjoyed paying their taxes. With that said, most of us do not personally despise the person working behind the desk at town hall, taking checks and handing out receipts.

The same thing is true when I go to my accountant to claim my file my income taxes. Sure, I may not always be happy that I owe “x” amount of dollars to the state and federal government; however, I do not personally despise my accountant for giving me the news and setting up the payments. I am sure accountants have to deal with angry people when they find out said bad news; however, I would imagine few (if any) are wishing or plotting the deaths of their accountants. Nor are they doing that for the person at town hall.

In Jesus’ day, the tax collector WAS DESPISED. They were seen as absolute traitors to their country and to their people. Why, you might ask? Because, properly speaking, they were working for the Roman Empire. Before we even go there, let me state that again: they were JEWS working for the Roman Empire to collect the imperial tax that was owed Caesar. To understand this on a deeper level, we have to understand that Israel was NOT ROMAN.

The Jews built an alliance with the Romans when during their revolt against the Seleucid Dynasty. Once the Jews won freedom from the Seleucid Empire under the leadership of the Judas Maccabeus, they established the Hasmonean Dynasty which lasted for 128 years. Toward the end of that time, a civil war broke out between supporters of the Hasmonean Dynasty and those that felt there should be no king, but that the nation should be a theocracy ruled by a council of clergy. As such, those wishing for a theocracy turned to Rome for help against the Hasmonean King and his army.

Rome saw this invite as a golden opportunity to come in and seize control of the land, which was strategic for them and, in essence, gave them control of the entire Mediterranean Sea. The rest is a long, but brutal history of oppression by the Romans that started with TAXATION. They at first taxed the people for their support and then, as they conquered all of Judea, they seized control and imposed more taxes upon them. Rome was no longer an ally; rather, Rome was sovereign and Judea was its subject, a province in the expansive Empire.

So, Jews had much disdain for anyone who aligned themselves with the empire. Tax collectors were the worst of the worst when it came to that. Not only were they fellow Jews working to collect what was due Rome, but they were also robbing their own people blind and getting rich off of it. They would charge their own people more than what they owed and kept the difference for themselves. If anyone refused to pay, they had them arrested. They were traitors.

So, when Jesus approached Levi the Tax Collector, this is who he approached. He approached a person who was viewed by everyone as a traitor to his own people and, ultimately, a traitor to God. Yet, Jesus not only approached him, but he invited him to leave behind his life of sin and to follow him. What’s more, he wipes the slate clean and renames him Matthew. No longer is he Levi the tax collector. Now he is Matthew, the disciple of Christ. And that disciple went on to become an apostle and, by tradition, the author of one of the most beloved Gospels in the New Testament.

Matthew reminds us that, no matter how much we’ve sinned and how far from God we might find ourselves, that there is a life for us in Christ. There is no sin too great, and no sinner too wicked for Christ to invite into fellowship and followership. Conversely, it should also remind us who are Christians the same exact thing! There is no sin too great, and no sinner too wicked, for us to invite into the life of the Church. After all, we’ve all been invited in, haven’t we? If we, who are sinners, can be included, then anyone can be included. Let us, as the church not forget the unconditional, radical, transformative love of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Go [to God] as altogether ungodly, guilty, lost, destroyed, deserving and dropping into hell; and you shall then find favor in His sight and know that He justifies the ungodly.” – John Wesley in Justification by Faith

PRAYER
Lord, truly I am unworthy of the grace you have given me. Let your grace shine through me in a way that magnifies your glory to all the world. Amen.

God’s People, part 65: Kings of Judah

Read 1 Kings 15:1-24

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let Me.” (Matthew 23:37 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.

The_Burning_of_Jerusalem_by_Nebuchadnezzars_Army_by_Circle_of_Juan_de_la_CortePart 65: Kings of Judah. The Kingdom of Judah was established when the tribe of Judah hailed David as their King, following the death of Saul. Eventually, David was able to unite all of the twelve tribes together under his rule, which formed the United Kingdom of Israel; however, the unity was ultimately short-lived. Following the death of Solomon, Jeroboam led the ten tribes in revolt against Solomon’s son Rehoboam. That resulted in the split between those ten tribes that supported Jeroboam and the 2 tribes (Judah and Benjamin) that were loyal to Rehoboam and the Davidic line.

Thus, Jeroboam’s kingdom kept the name “Israel”, while Rehoboam’s Kingdom reestablished itself as the Kingdom of Judah. As was discussed in an earlier devotion, Rehoboam ended up not being the ideal king. He was weak and he felt entitled. He increased the tax burden of his subjects and abused his authority as king. He doubled down on the harshness of his father and boasted about it. What’s more, he continued his father’s practice of idolatry.

His son, Abijah, succeeded him and, unfortunately followed in his father’s footsteps. Despite all of that, there was much more stability in the early years of the Judah’s reestablisment than there was in the Kingdom of Israel. That is mainly because of the power, money, and prominence the Kingdom of Judah had. The stronghold of Jerusalem, the Temple which drew countless people from around the world, and other factors helped to give Judah the advantage. Still, due to the corruption of its political and religious leaders, Judah was not able to stay in such privileged times for that long.

There were 20 kings following the reestablishment of the Kingdom of Judah, starting with Rehoboam. Out of those 20 kings, only 5 were deemed righteous in God’s sight, according to the Bible. Those kings were, King Asa (1 Kings 15:11; 2 Chronicles 14:2), King Jehoshaphat (2 Chornicles 17:3-4), King Jotham (2 King 15:34; 2 Chronicles 27:2), King Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:5; 2 Chronicles 29:2), and King Josiah (2 Kings 22:2; 2 Chronicles 34:2). That is it! Out of 20 kings, only ¼ of them were good and did what was pleasing in the sight of God. The rest were corrupt tyrants who cared little for the people they ruled and cared most for their own grip on power and wealth.

When we look around at the history of humanity we can see this trend with our own eyes. Most of our politicians and leaders, while they are not totally evil, compromise what’s right in order to attain what advantages them the most. The truth be told, this is not just a fault of our leaders but of people in general. Rather than loving the LORD our God with all of our hearts, and seeking God first in all that we do, we tend to seek out our own way and our own path.

This often leads us down paths that end up hurting us and others; yet, just as with the people of Judah and the Davidic line, God does not abandon us even when we abandon God. The truth be told that, despite all of our unfaithfulness, God remains faithful to us. Even when we face the wages of our sin, God is there trying to lead us out of the darkness and into the light.

Just as through a twisted lineage of broken, despotic kings God brought salvation into the world through Jesus Christ, so too can God work in, through and in spite of us even when we are not always in line with God. Let us reflect on that and stand in awe of a God who will not be trumped by our sin. Let us praise our God who does not give up on us, despite the fact that we often forget and/or give up on God. Let us praise God who, despite our brokenness, provides us The Way to salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Though the Davidic line ruled the Southern Kingdom of Jerusalem, Jesus the Messiah (who was of the Davidic line), was raised in Nazareth, a city in what was once the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Hence the response of Nathanael, who was from Bethsaida in Judah, “Nazareth? Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (John 1:46).

PRAYER
Lord, thank you for your undying faithfulness. Continue to lead me and have mercy on me, as sinner. Amen.

Identity

Read Colossians 3:1-17

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“See how very much our Father loves us, for He calls us His children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know Him.” (1 John 3:1 NLT)

identityIn today’s time, we have come to understand the importance of identity. We know that during our toddler years, we are modeling our identity off of our parents and immediate family. As school-aged children we are becoming socialized and beginning to identify ourselves by the people we socialize with and the subjects we we connect with. As teenagers we are trying desperately to find our own identity apart from our parents and family (which is what makes these years so challenging for parents and teens alike). As adults, we spend our working years establishing and maintaining our identity in what we do, in the families we create, the stuff we own, and the stuff that owns us (you know, those bills, bills, bills). Finally, in our later years we re-identify ourselves in our family legacies (as our kids have kids who then have kids, etc.).

Yet the above is really a gross, oversimplification of identity. There are other things that form our identity. First, we are human beings and identitfy as such. Beyond that we find our identity in a whole host of other things such as our sex, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, culture, the groups of people we associate with, and a whole host of other things. We easily find the validity of our own identity and who/what we identify with; however, we tend to look at conflicting identity’s as a threat to who we are and what we think, feel, hold dear, and believe.

What’s more, our identities are not just subjective (meaning that they only exist in our heads), but they are also objective and tied into our bank accounts, our stocks, our careers, and our debts. In fact, our objective identities (name, height, weight, eye color, hair color, birthmarks, tattoos, etc.) are placed onto identification cards and attached to numbers for our own social security, among other things. This reality causes much fear for many people, because there is always the chance that someone else could steal our objective identities and do anything with them.

We are so attached to our subjective and objective identities that we very often forget our TRUE identity, which transcends both the subjective and the objective realities that we get so mired in. That IDENTITY is in God our Creator. We were all created in the image of the Creator, meaning that we were created to be autonomous beings, free to choose to be in a loving relationship with our Creator and free to choose to live into God’s very image: LOVE.

Yet, humanity had its identity stolen by SIN and, unfortunately, what followed was death. Perhaps that is a little vague, so let me add clarity to that last statement. People, out of free will, chose to identify itself by their sins, in place of their creator. They began to identify themselves by the things they desired to be. Such false, human-made identities, led them to be divided amongst themselves. They began to prefer to be with those they identified similarly with, and to reject, spurn, feud with, and even murder those they saw as different than them.

The true tragedy is that, as a result choosing to have their own identity, humans chose to identify themselves apart from God. They divided themselves away from God, for they viewed God as something other than what they were. Instead, they began to worship god(s) fashioned in their own identities and likenesses.

Yet, despite all of this, God did not give up. LOVE NEVER QUITS, IT NEVER GIVES UP. God decided to give up all of the things that “separated” God from humanity in order to become one of us. God, in essence, became Jesus the Christ. In Jesus, God showed us that it is possible to reclaim the divine image we were created in. It is possible to find our reconciliation with God, to give up the false identities we have taken upon ourselves, and to return to our TRUE identity as children of the Creator God! All we need do is place our faith in God through Jesus the Christ, who was, who is and who will come again.

If we do that we will begin to be tranformed into who we are into who we were Created to be. The Holy Spirit will enter into us and will guide us in becoming embodiments of God’s LOVE. We will no longer seek our own identities, our own ways, our own desires, our own fears. We will no longer seek to destroy, or to get vengeance, or to hate on others because we think they hate on us. We will no longer see things through human eyes, but through the eyes of the one who Created us all! If you would like that, if you find yourself trapped in your own humanity, if you find yourself desparate for an escape from hell this world and your false identity offers, then stop in your tracks, acknowledge your need for help, and turn to the one who LOVES YOU so much that not even death would get in the way of SAVING YOU! God lovingly awaits.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.” – Jesus the Christ (John 14:1 NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, save me from myself and restore to me the identity that is truly mine, for I am your beloved child. Amen.

Just Who Do You Think I Am?

Read Romans 7:7-25

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23 NLT)

CrossRedeemedIf you were to ask any of the students I have had over the years for confirmation class, they would tell you that one of the major projects I have them do is write a theological essay on who people say Jesus Christ is, and to also write about who they believe Jesus Christ to be. This essay is based off of the two questions Jesus asked his disciples, “Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is? Who do you say that I am’” (Matthew 16:13, 15b)?

There were no wrong answers, and it wasn’t anything they were graded on. The purpose of the required exercise was two-fold: 1) To help them develop the skill of critical theological thinking and the ability to articulate the Christian faith as they have been taught it. 2) To promote critical thinking around their own experiences with Jesus Christ, as well as to give them the opportunity to express those experiences and their own understanding of who Christ is in writing to themselves. Later in life, they can look back on those answers and see how their understanding has grown over the years.

Recently, while driving, I was listening to the Christian metal band Demon Hunter’s album, “Extremist.” The first song on that album is “Death”. This song, to me, is the opposite exercise. Unlike the exercise I have my confirmation students (aka confirmands) go through, this song is not asking the listener who they think Christ is, but rather it is asking that same question in regard to all of the other influences in their lives.

Actually, the song is a reflection, in part, on the tendency to idolize people like him, as if they are some sort of paragon of perfection. With that said, I also think that this song works beyond just Ryan Clark, but other people and/or influences in our lives that we turn to in order to be “saved” from ourselves and our circumstances. In the song, Ryan Clark screams, “I’m not your gateway. I’m not your prodigal son. I’m the vile lesser-than. Just who do you think I am? I’m not your standard. I’m not your vision divine. I am not sacrificial lamb. Just who do you think I am? I am death.”

Ryan is not stating that he is literally Death, as in the Grim Reaper. Nor is he stating that he is evil or that he has no part to play in helping others. That is not what he is saying at all; rather, he is stating that ONLY CHRIST is the savior. We all, including Ryan, are sinners and we are all in need of being saved. How do I know that’s what Ryan actually meant when writing the song? Here’s what Ryan has to say about it:

‘By our very nature, we are a sinful people. It doesn’t matter which side of the fence you stand on, that will always be the case. If you don’t see it, you’re not paying attention. There is no pretending to be impervious to it. The answer is revealed in the realization of its existence, and the understanding that you are in need of forgiveness. The wages of sin is death. Eternal death. My desire is to be an instrument for this revelation, but my words alone can only point the way. I am no savior.’

Amen. We are all in need of being saved and, for those who recognize that need, salvation rests in Jesus Christ who literally HELD NO BARS in ensuring that  salvation for us, should we desire and ask for it. Our way, apart from the eternal love that is GOD in Jesus Christ, leads to death. This need not merely be in some other-worldly sense either. Just look at the wisdom and “saving plans” of human beings running amok in the world. Look at the broken relationships, the drug addiction, the abject poverty, the abuse and oppression, the genocide and the governing for SELF-INTEREST. It is clear, we humans are not saviors, but lesser-than (to use the lyrics).

We are, apart from Christ, death. Yet, as Ryan rightly points out, those of us who are saved are called to point the way to Christ, who is the revelation of God’s unconditional, saving love. We may not be the savior, but we intimately know the savior and can introduce people to our Lord and Savior. If you feel lost in your life, if you feel surrounded by dead ends and hopelessness, there is a way out of such despair. There is a way to abundant and joyful life. That way is Jesus Christ and I pray that you two get in touch. Find a pastor or someone grounded in faith who can support you in that. If you are a person of faith, be willing to be the vessel that points the least, the last and the lost to the One who LOVES and SAVES THEM beyond all measures!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“He that falls into sin is a [human]; that grieves at it, is a saint; that boasteth of it, is a devil.” – Thomas Fuller

PRAYER
Lord, have mercy on me a sinner. May I always point to your saving grace. Amen.

Thorns

Read Mark 4:1-9, 13-20

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32 NLT)

TheThornsFor those who may be reading one of my devotions for the first time, or for those who may need to be refreshed, one of my favorite bands is the Christian heavy metal band, Demon Hunter. On their album, Storm the Gates of Hell, there is a profoundly powerful song entitled, “Thorns”. The lyrics utilize the imagery of the thorns to both symbolize the brokenness of humanity and the salvific wholeness that comes through Jesus Christ.

The song came out of the Ryan Clark’s interaction with Demon Hunter fans. He had been hearing about how their music was giving hope to countless people. In each story they heard how the music and the lyrics had helped pull people from the depths of despair into the heights of hope. Many of these people talked about their struggles with cutting and/or harming themselves, which got Ryan thinking about cutting in general.

Here were people who were lost, people who were in so much psychological, emotional and spiritual pain that they would cut themselves to try and “take some of that pain away.” That may seem counter-intuitive; however, psychological, emotional and spiritual pain can be far greater than any physical pain that one can endure. The truth is that the adage, “sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me”, is actually the furthest thing from the truth.

Words do hurt, and they do far more damage than sticks and stones. What’s more, depressed minds, souls, and hearts suffer in a hell that seemingly one seemingly has NO EXIT from. On top of that, they are alone in their suffering because, while people can see and tend to physical injuries, they cannot see and often dismiss psyhcological and emotional injuries.

 

So, Ryan began to think about how people get so lost in their own hurt and pain that they try to cut their way out of it; however, the tragedy beyond their suffering is that Christ endured being cut (e.g. crown of thorns, whip, nails, and spear) so that we might find THE EXIT from the hells we find ourselves in. While SIN put Jesus on the cross, it could not keep him there. Christ’s resurrection was Christ conquering sin and death, and we can share in that resurrection and rise up out of the sin and death we find ourselves so lost in! There’s HOPE in that, for Christ is the EXIT from our hellish suffering that we so long for.

This song also makes me think of the “Parable of the Sower.” In that parable, Jesus likens God’s Word (both Scripture and Jesus. See John 1:1-4, 14) as seeds in that a farmer scatters on soil. One of the types of soil mentioned is soil that is filled with vines with thorns. Those seeds begin to grow as plants; however, the thorns quickly choke the life out of them. Jesus goes on to explain to his disciples that the thorns represent all of the things in this world that act as distractions and pull us away from the SOURCE OF LIFE (aka GOD).

We get crowded by worries, by the lure of wealth, the desire for more stuff, the need to be accepted by other people, our body image, the hurtful and injurious words of others, and a whole host of other things. Even if we know in our heads that Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), our hearts are choked by the other things that are possessing us. Whether it is self-inflicted, or inflicted on us by others, those things take root and choke the very life out of us.

Today’s challenge is for us to pause and reflect on what in our lives is choking the life out of us. Do you suffer from body image issues? Do you suffer from psychological, emotional and spiritual pain? Do you find yourself surrounded by abusive people who do not value you as a child of God? Do you long to be accepted by others, and find yourself doing whatever it takes to attain that acceptance? Do you suffer from the disease of wanting more? Are you lured by wealth? Are you constantly worried about EVERYTHING?

What is it that is choking the life out of you? What is it that is plunging you deep into the very pit of hell? Remember, you NEED NOT suffer! You need not accept the burden of your suffering as “your cross to bear”. For it is NOT YOURS TO BEAR. There is One who has born it for you! There is One who has carried that load, and who has “stormed the gates of hell” in order to FREE YOU from it! That One is Jesus Christ and he has conquered sin and death through his resurrection so that you can be resurrected with him. Place your faith in Christ and take the steps you need to be liberated from your suffering. Find a community of like-minded believers who will support you and help FREE YOU from the chains that this world has bound you in! You are profoundly loved, and you are FREE in Christ! Amen.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Don’t sever what you are for what you couldn’t be.” – Ryan Clark of Demon Hunter, taken from the song, “Thorns”.

PRAYER
Lord, reveal the truth of your love to me. Save me from the thorns that are choking me to death. Amen.

Amazing Grace

Read Luke 20:9-18

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Therefore, this is what the Sovereign LORD says: ‘Look! I am placing a foundation stone in Jerusalem, a firm and tested stone. It is a precious cornerstone that is safe to build on. Whoever believes need never be shaken.’” (Isaiah 28:16 NLT)

AmazingGraceAgain, I want to reevaluate the parable of the vineyard and the wicked tenants. In particular, I would like to have us focus on the wrathful ending to it. In the last devotion, we spent time discussing what the parable reveals to us about God’s plan of redemption. Being that this is the parable Jesus chose to teach just days before he was going to be betrayed and handed over to the Romans for capital punishment, it reveals to us exactly what Jesus thought his mission to be. Yet, as was also discussed, the redemption seems to get lost in translation and overshadowed by God’s wrath.

So, let us look at the rhetoric Jesus is using and try to understand this not as God’s wrath, but of God’s ultimate measure of grace. The reality is that when Jesus asks the question, “what do you suppose the owner of the vineyard will do to [those wicked tennants]?”, he is attemption to elicit a certain response. Yet, the religious leaders had come to be trap this pesky Galilean teacher, not to be trapped by him. So, these leaders remain silent rather than answering the question.

Of course, they surely knew what the answer was. They knew that any owner of such a vineyard, who had the right to claim his/her share of the crops, would definitely not sit by after having his servants killed by such wicked tenants. What’s more, the murder of his son would have driven this father (and any parent) over the proverbial edge. Yet, there the religious leaders stood, resolute in their silence.

Thus, Jesus answered for them, “I’ll tell you—he will come and kill those farmers and lease the vineyard to others” (Luke 20:16a NLT). This response elicited the exact response Jesus knew they would come up with. Instantly, the religious leaders scoffed, “how terrible that such a thing should ever happen.” In other words, these religious leaders were both saying that such a scenario is horrible and, on the same note, a rather far-fetched story that bore no relevance to them.

Yet, it absolutely bore relevance to them. Jesus, knowing their hearts were hardened, quoted scripture, “Then what does this Scripture mean? ‘The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.’ Everyone who stumbles over that stone will be broken to pieces, and it will crush anyone it falls on” (Luke 20:17-18 NLT).

First, I want to point out that Jesus’ answer on how the vineyard owner would respond does not exactly match the Scripture that Jesus quotes. The answer itself is the answer that Jesus knew lay in the hearts of the ones he was telling the story to. It is the answer that we as humans would wish that the owner, who’s own son was murdered, would do. Of course, the father is going to seek vengeance and retribution for the death of his son, right? What father wouldn’t?

Jesus then follows that up with something quite different from that answer. Jesus points out to the religious leaders that God had given them the stone upon which to build God’s kingdom. This was the very stone that stood before them: Jesus Christ. Yet these religious leaders, who were builders in the sense that they were supposed to be leading the people in building God’s kingdom, had rejected that stone and, in doing so, had turned away from God. Thus, they would end up stumbling over the stone and falling because of it.

Yet, that was not God’s wrathful vengeance, but their own hardened hearts that led them to trip up instead of build. That was the result of their own unwillingness to see what God was doing through Jesus. Sadly, the religious leaders realized that they were the “wicked tenants” in Jesus’ story and, instead of repenting and turning back to God, they fulfilled their part in the prophetic parable. Instead of reacting as humans would in that situation, God instead showed AMAZING GRACE. This grace is extended toward all humanity, even those who have rejected God. In fact, some of Jesus’ opponents did eventually come to follow Jesus (e.g. Nicodemus, Saul of Tarsus, etc.). Everyone can turn from their sins through faith in Jesus Christ, and become the Kingdom builders they were created to be. This is God’s challenge to us this Lent.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved. How precious did that grace appear, the hour I first believed.” – John Newton

PRAYER
Lord, you are the corner stone upon which I have been built. Thank you for your amazing grace. Amen.

The Vineyard

Read Mark 12:1-12

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I will test you with the measuring line of justice and the plumb line of righteousness. Since your refuge is made of lies, a hailstorm will knock it down. Since it is made of deception, a flood will sweep it away.” (Isaiah 28:17 NLT)

The+VineyardJesus had stirred up a hornets nest. Just the day prior, he had gone into the temple, violently overturning the tables, let the animals loose, and drove out anyone who was buying or selling goods for sacrifice, as well as anyone changing their currency into the currency accepted in the Temple or vice versa. The next day, he had also told the religious leaders that he didn’t need to answer their questions, since they were unwilling to answer his. Things were about to get pretty ugly, and Jesus knew it.

Following this, Jesus began to tell a parable. He told of a man who built a vineyard and leased it out as a cropshare to other tenants. When it was time for the harvest, this man sent his servant to collect his share of the crops; however, the tenants grabbed the servant, beat him up, and sent him back to the man empty handed. So he sent another, and another. Only, these times the servants were not only beaten but killed.

Finally, the man sends his son to show the tenants how sincere he was about getting his share of the crops. He figured the tenants would see his son, and see that the son came in his authority, and have a change of heart. He hoped they would finally give his share of the crops to his son to return back to the man. Instead, these wicked tenants took hold of the son, beat him and killed him with the intent of taking ownership of the entire estate.

Following the parable, Jesus asked the religious leaders what the man would do once he heard that his son had been killed. Instead of answering, they stood their quiet. They knew the answer, but could not bring themselves to answer it. So, Jesus answered it for them and said, “I’ll tell you—he will come and kill those farmers and lease the vineyard to others. Didn’t you ever read this in the Scriptures? ‘The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone. This is the LORD’s doing, and it is wonderful to see.'” (Mark 12:9-11 NLT)

Of the many parables that Jesus taught, this one seems to be one of the least understood. The end of the parable seems to overshadow people’s interpretation of the rest of it, meaning that God’s wrath seems to overshadow a parable that is otherwise filled with grace. Yet, despite the last couple of sentences, the whole verse gives us a clue as to Jesus’ mission on earth, which was ultimately a mission of God’s unconditional love and grace.

We often look at the cross as something Jesus had to go through in order for us to be saved from our sins. We view Jesus’ sacrifice as being substitutionary, that Jesus death was a substitute for our own. Those of us who understand Jesus’ sacrifice and death in this way, often view God as a just God, one who is angry at sin, and because of God’s absolute holiness, cannot allow for sin to go unpunished. Thus, God demands blood as a price for such sin and, knowing this, Jesus offered himself as the blameless, sinless lamb as an atonement for us.

Yet, when you look at this parable, I think it is clear that Jesus is pointing us to a different reality. That God’s plan was not to send Jesus to die; rather, God’s plan was to send Jesus to show us The Way back to God. Like the man in the parable, God’s son was sent to bring us who have sinned against God to a state of repentance. God’s son was sent to show us how wrong we have been in severing the relationship we used to have with God, and to call us back into a relationship. Yet, people were too sinful to care that God had sent God’s son and, instead of repenting, we doubled down in our sin and killed God’s son. Jesus did not die as a subsitution for our sins, but BECAUSE OF THEM.

The wrathful ending to the parable is a reflection that God’s plan of redemption cannot be thwarted by our sin. The very people who nailed Jesus to the cross had stumbled on the cornerstone and, no matter how much they thought they had won the day, they had totally lost the battle. While they further damaged their relationship with God and further corrupted their own souls in the process, God’s plan of redemption carried forward from the cross to the empty tomb. In other words, while sin put Jesus on the cross, God’s redemptive plan came to life again and walked right out of the tomb three days later. The challenge for us, as we journey through Lent, is this: will we humble ourselves, repent and be redeemed, or will we allow sin to further separate us from our loving Creator? In the end, it’s our choice.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“May the perfect grace and eternal love of Christ our Lord be our never-failing protection and help.” – St. Ignatius

PRAYER
Lord, lead me to repentance and save me from the power of sin in my life. Amen.

Our Existential Problem

Read Proverbs 3:5-18

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
For the LORD grants wisdom! From His mouth come knowledge and understanding. (Proverbs 2:6, NLT)

EyeKnowIn the Garden of Eden story we learn that humanity’s downfall was in it’s desire to have wisdom and the ability to judge what is right and what is wrong. Humanity, in its infancy, sought to become independent of God and doing things for itself. Those things, in and of themselves, are not necessarily bad; however, the desire to have something NOW, rather than trusting that God will provide those things at the right time, is where the downfall begins.

The author of the Garden narrative saw the attaining of widsom as the downfall of humanity because the “wise” know, and what they know obligates them. In other words, once humanity could discern good from evil, people were then obligated to choose to do good over evil. But that knowledge wasn’t they only knowledge the ended up acquiring; rather, they also attained self-knowledge.

The story recounts how, following eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve’s eyes were opened and they saw that they were naked. They became keenly aware of themselves and became self-aware and self-conscious. In the feeling of shame of their nakedness, Adam and Eve sewed fig leaves together in order to cover their private parts. Prior to them eating the forbidden fruit, of course, those parts were not private and there was no need to be ashamed of them.

This is where I believe the real fall took place. Prior to the deception of the serpent on the tree, Eve and Adam saw each other as one. They did not look at the other as an entity unto themselves. They did not see each other as being separate, distinct, unique or individual. Instead, they saw one another as complimentary parts of the same whole. Hence Adam’s reaction at the creation of Eve, “ “At last! This one is bone from my bone, and flesh from my flesh! She will be called ‘woman,’ because she was taken from ‘man.'” (Genesis 3:23 NLT)

Yet, when the forbidden fruit was eaten, man became separated from woman, and woman became separated from man. They hid their bodies away from each other, and then hid themselves away from God. This is important to note because, in this we see what was common understanding in the ancient world: God created us to be in community, to be one with each other, and when we fail to do so we not only separate ourselves from each other but from God as well.

What compouds this reality even more is the fact that humans, even though they had been separated from each other down gender lines (and many more lines that followed that), they still believed they had knowledge of each other. What’s more, humanity grew in confidence in its ability to discern right from wrong, except that it was no longer utilizing that discernment in self-reflective ways, but in ways of judgement against other human beings.

Whether we take this story literally or not is really beside the point. Humans were created to be subjects, in that we are under the dominion of our own personal thoughts,  and are subjective by nature. While we think we know, and we think we have the ability to grow in our knowldedge, the truth is that we are limited in our knowledge, if we know anything at all.

Thus, our discernment is really based more off of what we think as opposed to what we, strictly speaking, know. The best we can say is that we think we know, which betrays the fact that our knowledge is dependent on our thoughts which are processed through our own subjectivity. Confused? What should be pulled from is this, humans have the ability to discern what is right and wrong; however, as subjective human beings, we cloud our judgment of right and wrong with our own personal feelings and justifications. We do so to our advantage and often to the detriment of others.

We should NOT rely soley on our own ability to discern right from wrong, but we should rely on God’s. What that means is that we will envelope ourselves in communities of service and loving accountability (aka churches), we will study the Bible (and its historical contexts), we will model ourselves off of the life and teachings of Jesus, and we will begin to live in a way that truly reflects our TOTAL TRUST in God. Acknowledge your subjectivity, refrain from judgment, embrace humility, and allow God to guide you in your discernment.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
When the Bible says to seek and cherish Wisdom, it is pointing us to Jesus Christ who is God’s Wisdom personified.

PRAYER
Lord, fill me NOT with my understanding, but with your wisdom. Amen.

THE CHRISTIAN MANIFESTO, part 10: God’s Favor Revealed

Read Luke 4:14-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Remember me, LORD, when You show favor to Your people; come near and rescue me.” (Psalm 106:4 NLT)

The light in young woman hands in cupped shape. Concepts of shar

Recently, a fellow colleague and friend of mine got into a conversation about the scripture passage I was preaching on at the church that I serve. The passage is Luke 4:14-21 and is on Jesus’ first recorded visit to the synagogue in Nazareth following his baptism and wilderness experience. In that passage, Jesus is handed the scroll of Isaiah and he opens it up to the following passage: “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, for He has anointed Me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the LORD’s favor has come.” Inspired by the conversation, I have decided to devote a series of devotions on this particular passage, which has become known as “The Christian Manifesto”.

Part 10: God’s Favor Revealed. What does it mean to have God’s favor? Often times, we look at people who have everything going for them as though they have been favored and/or blessed by God. We look at the wealthy, the successful, the fashionable, the sociable, the famous, the strong, the powerful and others such as these as if they have been showered with God’s blessings. It goes without saying that, if God is showering blessings upon people that they must be favored by God.

What does it mean to need God’s favor? Often times, we look at the lowly, the poor, the destitute, the ignorant, the uneducated, the socially awkward, the loners, the timid, the weak, and the powerless as being those who are in major need of God’s favor. Of course, it goes without saying that those “living in their sin”, however we define that, are also in need of God’s favor. These are the people we look down upon, we pity, and we distinguish ourselves from.

In regard to the answers to both questions above, not much has changed in the 2,000 years since Jesus walked the earth. If you seemingly had everything going your way, you were considered to be under God’s blessing and, in essence, favored by God. If you’re existence was viewed as miserable and with pity, then you were considered to be under God’s curse and, in essence, IN NEED of God’s favor. In part, the book of Job tries to dispell this bad theology by showing that even those favored by God suffer and, conversely, those who are wicked sometimes triumph in their sin and evil. Despite the difficulty that aforementioned book presents to us theologically, there can be no doubt that the reality is that our discernment of who’s favored and who needs favor is skewed and injustly biased.

In the synagogue of Nazareth, Jesuths proclaimed the time of YAHWEH’s (aka the LORD) favor. In the context of the Jewish year of Jubilee, as well as in the context of the Isaiah passage Jesus is reading from, it is clear that those who need favor are the ones who are poor, imprisoned, blind and oppressed. As has been asked before, who are the poor, the imprisoned, the blind and the opressed? We always tend to think of these labels in terms of people who are financially poor, physically imprisoned, literally blind, and socially/economically/politically/physically oppressed.

The truth is that, while Jesus was proclaiming the year of the YAHWEH’s favor upon such people, he was not proclaiming that favor ONLY for them. The truth is we all need God’s favor…we all are in need of God’s salvation and the freedom that comes with it. People can be spiritually and relationally impoverished, as well as financially. They can be imprisoned in their hatred, in their short-sighted worldviews, and in virtually every other pitfall in their lives. They can be blind from seeing truth, from seeing their need for God’s grace, from seeing their neighbor through the lense of loving compassion and hospitality. The truth be told, we ALL are oppressed by our sins and our propensity to miss the mark when it comes to living in UNCONDITIONAL LOVE. The power of the Gospel is, that it is to such people…to all people…TO US…that they year of God’s favor has arrived and it is US that Christ chose to spread that favor.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“People who demand neutrality in any situation are usually not neutral but in favor of the status quo.” – Max Eastman

PRAYER
Lord, help me to realize my need for you and help me to realize your need for me to spread your Good News to all. Amen.

The Gospel Truth

Read Luke 20:9-19

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
He replied, ‘My mother and brothers are those who listen to God’s word and do it.’” (Matthew Luke 20:9-19 CEB)

copy-of-jesus-faceIf I were to walk into any given church, or up to any random person, and ask them what the heart of the Gospel message is, I would more than like receive something like the following: “The Gospel message is that God sent his one and only Son, Jesus Christ, into the world so that he could be the perfect sacrifice for our sins. Because Jesus was perfect and without sin, he became the spotless lamb led to the slaughter in order that he may die the death we deserve in order that those who believe in him might be atoned to God and saved.” This is the, in essence, the modern, popular Christian understanding of the heart of the Christian Gospel. Jesus came to die so that we might live.

Yet,  when you read the Gospels themselves, we find that Jesus dying as a sacrifice for our sins is just a part of the Gospel story. It is not the whole of it. Yes, Jesus’ death and resurrection are vitally important to Christian theology, Christology, and the Gospel message; however, only so when it is told in the context of the other components that we find in the Gospel. When those components are missing, what we end up is with a skewed, inaccurate portrait of the purpose of Jesus of Nazareth, as well as a skewed and inaccurate portrait of God’s purpose for sending Jesus, the Christ.

While it is certainly true that Jesus’ death and resurrection has brought about salvific and transformative atonement from our sins, to only tell that part of the story does an injustice to the life and the teachings of the Christ. In fact, it not only does a disservice, but it completely ignores Jesus’ life and teachings altogether, as if they are simply secondary and/or non-important. Yet, was Jesus’ life and teachings trivial? Was his life and teachings secondary, just a necessary back-story to his ultimate death and resurrection? If that is the case, if Jesus’ teachings are trivial and secondary to the work of salvation in the world, then why go down the route of teaching and preaching at all. The Gospel writers could have simply just had Jesus proclaim that his the messiah and the son of God, have people reject that, have him crucified, died, buried, resurrected and be done with it.

But that is not what the Gospel writers did. Rather, they included the whole of Jesus’ life and they dedicated most of their time on Jesus’ teachings. For them, the person of Jesus of Nazareth and his teachings were both as integral to God’s salvation plan as his death and resurrection were. Jesus came, not to die, but to bring TRUE LIFE into the world. To show them what God means by LOVING GOD and NEIGHBOR. Jesus came to set the example and to personally deliver the beginnings of God’s reign in the world. But, like Jesus’ own parable of the wicked tenants suggests, some of those in the world to whom the father sent the son (e.g. the Romans, the politicians, some of the religious leaders, etc.), rejected his identity, as well as his authority, and tried to eliminate him.

That plot, though, ultimately failed; rather, what happened was that God made the greatest good EVER come out of both the life and the death of Jesus. Instead of remaining dead, Jesus resurrected and now sits in power and authority in a complete union with God. Those who believe in him have found the power of redemption, as well as the transformative presence of the Holy Spirit and the perfecting grace of God in their lives. They are not saved, but are transformed and are living out their FAITH in real and tangible ways.

The challenge for us is this, don’t be misled by a lopsided and misguided Gospel. Jesus wasn’t born merely to die. What kind of God would scheme up that kind of plan? Rather, Jesus was born so the he might LIVE in the world and that through him we might attain TRUE LIFE. Even in the face of evil, and even when finding himself in the valley of the shadow of death, Jesus perservered and triumphed over death because in him was a presence greater than death…the very presence of GOD. Through our belief in Christ, through our following his example as detailed in the Gospel, and through his death and resurrection, we have found REDEMPTION and have been placed on the narrow path that leads to life. Let’s start walking it.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“We cannot have the fruits of the gospel without its roots.” – Joseph B. Wirthlin

PRAYER
Lord, I open my heart to the truth of your Gospel. Perfect me in it and set me a part a witness to its power. Amen.