Tag Archives: salvation

God’s People, part 276: Typical Politicians

Read Acts 24:1-27; 25:1-29

“I am planning to go to Spain, and when I do, I will stop off in Rome. And after I have enjoyed your fellowship for a little while, you can provide for my journey.”  (Romans 15:24, 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 276: Typical Politicians. As was discussed in the last devotion, Paul was a Roman citizen and he used that fact to his advantage after being arrested in the Jerusalem Temple. Following his arrest, a Roman commander was going to have Paul whipped and beaten for being a “rabble rouser” but, prior to that happening, Paul questioned the legality of that being that he was a Roman Citizen by birth and had not received a fair trial.

The question was a successful move on Paul’s part and, as a result, was placed under protective custody while he awaited trial. In Acts 24, we see that Paul’s trial fell into the hands of Felix, who was the governor of Judaea at the time. Judaean Governors, lived in the city of Caesarea and rarely came to Jerusalem, except on high holy days and other events that could break into a successful rebellion due to the massive number of people gathering in the city. Thus, Paul was transported to a palace prison in Caesarea where he awaited trial.

Paul’s trial started twelve days after he was arrested, and he was accused of being a trouble maker and someone who desecrated the Temple, which he had not done but had been accused of. Thus, Felix turned to Paul to hear his side of things. Paul did so eloquently, and he explained why he was in Jerusalem, and that as a devout Jew he was at the Temple to observe the purification ritual. He did admit to being “a follower of The Way” (aka a follower of Jesus), which he also pointed out that the Jews accusing him saw “The Way” as a cult; however, he also pointed out his deep, devout Jewish convictions and his desire to follow the Law and the prophets.

When Felix heard that he was a follower of The Way, which he was familiar with, he decided to table the trial until the commander came. Paul was kept in prison, but was allowed to have some freedoms, such as regular visitors. The problem was that Felix’s wife was Jewish and he did not want to upset her or the Jewish people. Felix had to walk a fine line and he was hoping that Paul would get himself into trouble by trying to bribe him, or to find some other cause to nail Paul on.

Days turned into weeks, which turned into months, which turned into two long years. Yet, the trial ceased to continue. After two years in prison, another governor succeeded Felix. His name was Porcius Festus and, once he took over, he resumed Paul’s trial after pressure from the Jewish authorities. The initial trial took place in Ceasarea; however, not wanting to further upset the Jewish leaders, he asked Paul if he was willing to go to Jerusalem and stand trial there. Paul objected and appealed to the emperor.

Little did Paul know that King Herod Agrippa was also coming to hear Paul’s case. According to Agrippa, he would have let Paul go if he had not appealed to Caesar; however, this should be taken with a grain of salt as Agrippa, just like Festus and Felix, was typical politician. With no pressure on him, he could easily make such a claim now that it was out of his hands; however, would he really have just let Paul go? Also, couldn’t Agrippa arranged to let Paul go and not send the appeal.

The point is that Paul knew that Christ was calling him to Rome. In his very letter to the Romans, he said that he wanted to go to Rome on his way to Spain. While I am sure that Paul knew that a trial in Caesar’s court might not go his way in the end, he was also sure that he could continue to witness to Christ in Rome as he knew he was called to do.

As for Felix, Festus and Agrippa, they were men of power. They didn’t care about Paul as much as they did their own prestige and station in life. All they cared about was looking good and keeping the peace. Paul was nothing to them, just a number. They were, sad to say, typical politicians. In appealing to Caesar, Paul was not actually looking for Caesar, another typical politician, to save him, but was fully thrusting himself into Christ’s plan. It was an act of faith and faithfulness. Let us, like Paul, not put our trust and hope in people, let alone politicians. They will fail us; however, Christ will not fail us and if we remain faithful to his mission, not even death will be able to stop us from our true inheritance.

There is only one Savior, Jesus the Christ, and he is our only HOPE.

Lord, I look to you, and you alone, as my Lord and my Savior. In you alone I place my faith. Amen.

God’s People, part 226: Greeks

Read John 12:20-26

“Jesus replied, ‘Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem’” (John 4:21, NLT).

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

GreekFamilyPart 226, Greeks: Jesus was a Jewish rabbi who claimed some pretty astonishing things about himself, things that would have sent up all sorts of red flags for the Jewish establishment. He claimed that he was Lord of the Sabbath, that what one ate did not defile a person, that one could do work on the Sabbath, that he was God’s son, that he was the Son of Man, that he was the way, the truth and the life, the bread of heaven, the light of the world, the life-giving water, the vine, resurrection and the life, and the great I AM. Such claims would have been scandalous and would have set Jesus at odds with the Jewish religious and political leaders of his time.

His association with Gentiles would also have been frowned upon by the Pharisees, who were a group whose name literally meant separatist. The Pharisees believed that strict adherence to the Torah and separation from all Gentile cultures was the way to faithfully follow God. Gentile cultures worshiped a plethora of other gods and, as had happened so many other times in Jewish history, they had the tendency to lure the Jews into idolatry.

Jesus life is actually bookended by relations with the Gentile culture. A child who was no more than two years of age, he was visited by Zoroastrian astrologers from the East we know as the Wise Men. At the end of his life, he was sought out and approached by a group of Greeks. Both the Greeks and the Zoroastrians were Gentiles as they were both non-Jews.

But those weren’t the only relations with Gentiles. He healed a Roman centurion’s son, he healed a Syro-Phoenician woman from bleeding, and even conversed with and taught a Samaritan woman. This willingness to engage with a culture at odds with Judaism would not have sat well with his critics.

Yet, throughout his life and ministry, Jesus engaged with Gentiles and, according to John, it was one of the final things he did before his arrest. When the Greeks requested to meet with Jesus, he saw that as a sign that the time of his suffering and death had come. His ministry had mostly been to the Jews, but now his name was known to even these Greeks (who may have been from the Decapolis, ten cities in northern Israel, Jordan and Syria). This was as sign that his message of salvation and the imminent coming of God’s kingdom was about to go from being exclusively Jewish to a global message that included Gentiles as well.

That is why Jesus responded to their request in this way, “Now the time has come for the Son of Man to enter into his glory. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives” (John 12:23-24, NLT). Jesus was foretelling the impact his death and resurrection would have on the spreading of the Gospel to all the world.

Jesus went on to proclaim that “Anyone who wants to serve me must follow me, because my servants must be where I am. And the Father will honor anyone who serves me” (John 12:26, NLT). Jesus was not just including a specific group of people as God’s people, but was opening the doors to ANYONE and EVERYONE who followed him as the Way, the Truth, and the Life! What good news, right? That means you, that means me, that means anyone who loves and follows Jesus our Lord. The challenge for us is to be a part of spreading that GOOD NEWS to anyone who will open their ears and their hearts to that profound message of hope!

“The carnal nature of man is that he places his tribe above others, but the only basis for the power and unity of the church is that there is no Jew or Gentile.” – Yemi Osinbajo

Lord, help me to serve Christ in all that I do so that I may be a part of spreading the Good News of God’s coming Kingdom. Amen.

God’s People, part 203: Rich Young Man

Read Mark 10:17-31

“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  (Mark 10:45, 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.

treasurebathPart 203: Rich Young Man. The account of the rich young man is quite complex, with many layers. We all generally know the basic account. A rich young man asked Jesus how he can inherit the kingdom of heaven. Jesus, in turn, told him what the Law stated, to which the man stated that he had followed the Law his whole life. Then, seeing that the young man was wealthy, he upped the game and commanded him to sell everything he had, to give the proceeds to the poor, and to follow him. Dejected by Jesus’ answer, the rich young man walks away.

Within this basic framework, however, are a number of layers to peel back. First, the man approached Jesus and addressed him as, “good teacher”. In response, Jesus corrected him. “Why do you call me good?…Only God is truly good.”  (Mark 10:18). Of course, we know Jesus is the human incarnation of God; however, he had NOT revealed that to anyone but his disciples (during the Transfiguration), and even they didn’t fully get it.

So, Jesus is NOT denying his divinity here, nor is he stating that he is NOT truly good; rather, he is calling the man’s judgment into question. Who died and left this young man the judge of goodness. No human being is truly good. We have good aspects, but we also have bad ones. We are in a state of sin. Yet, this man was determining that Jesus was good and, following his first response to the requirement of the Law, we can see that he thought himself to be good as well.

When Jesus told him what the Law requires for one to inherit the Kingdom God, the man responded, “Teacher, I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young” (Mark 10:20). Again, the young man thought himself to be good, perfect even. In his response to Jesus, he betrayed just how highly he thought of himself. He was claiming perfection when it came to following the Ten Commandments.

Seeing this, and seeing his profound wealth, Jesus looked at the man and Mark says that Jesus felt genuine love toward him.  “There is still one thing you haven’t done,” he told him. “Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Mark 10:21, NLT).

Jesus felt compassion for him because the man was not arrogant, but genuinely thought he had done everything required by the Law. He had a high opinion of himself, as many of us do; however, he was sincerely seeking to know the way to salvation. With that said, Jesus’ answer was too hard for him to swallow, and I am sure that Jesus knew it would be. The man had tons of wealth and he could not get himself to a place of letting it ALL go. The man left dejected because, though he wanted inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, he was enslaved by his possessions and it was the latter that won out in him, at least in that moment.

Also, the rich man looked at heaven as an inheritance, as something that could make him richer than he already was. His view of heaven was that of an acquisition, a transaction that could be made in order to acquire something of great value. As such, Jesus answered him in a way that reached him where he was at. He spoke in this man’s language and at his level.

The truth is that heaven cannot be acquired. It is God’s and God’s alone! When we inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, it is not because of what we have done, but because of God’s gracious love for us and Christ’s sacrifice for us so that we might be included in that Kingdom. Jesus gave that man acquisition terms that he knew that man could never accept.

We can see this in the disciples’ response to his teaching on how hard it is for a rich man to get into heaven, “Then who in the world can be saved” (Mark 10:27)? Jesus’ reply sets fort the truth that heaven cannot be acquired, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But not with God. Everything is possible with God” (Mark 10:27, NLT). In other words, just because that man walked away does not mean that man was never saved and is now rotting in hell. That reading would be an even worse judgment than the rich young man’s judgment of Jesus. What it means is that all people, including that man, cannot be saved by their own efforts. They can only find salvation through God, and through putting one’s trust in him. Clearly, the rich young man was struggling with that, but so do we all.

The challenge for us is two-fold. First, we ought to refrain from judgment, which is reserved for God alone. Second, we must remember that heaven is not something we can acquire. There is no amount of “good-doing”, no amount of charity, no amount social justice seeking, and certainly no amount of wealth or status that will “get us in” to the Kingdom of Heaven. The only way we inherit the Kingdom is through Jesus Christ our Lord, and through Him alone! Let us place our faith in Christ our Lord.

Heaven cannot be bought, but no worries! Through his death on the cross, Christ paid a ransom for you. Place your faith in Him, who died and rose again for your sake!

Lord, I place my faith in you. Keep me from straying off of your straight and narrow path. Amen.

God’s People, part 171: Matthew

Read Matthew 9:9-13

“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.

“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

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

“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.

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).

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


Read Colossians 3:1-17

“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.

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

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

“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!

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

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


Read Mark 4:1-9, 13-20

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.

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

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

“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.

“’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

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

“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)


Jesus 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 and Jesus’ sacrifice on it as being substitutionary, meaning 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 subtly different way of understanding this parable. The cross wasn’t necessary because God is wrathful, vindictive and needed blood to atone for sin. Besides, how is sending an innocent person to his/her death, for the benefit of the guilty, justice? Instead, the cross was necessary because it was the ONLY thing that could shock us enough to SEE our sin for what it is. The horror of the cross reflects the horror of human sin and evil.

In the parable, the landowner who sends his son represents God, for sure, and the landowner’s wrath is a reminder to us that God is ANGRY, and should be angry, at our sin. Yet, the parable is not conveying to us the whole of God’s plan. The parable is meant to teach us that God has tried and tried and tried to bring us to repentance and redemption. God has sent us messengers and messages throughout the millennia to reach us, but our sin kept us from hearing and seeing. What the parable does not tell us is that God not only sent his son, but was the Son. That God took on human flesh and became one of us, knowing that it would lead to his own death. Unlike the landowner, God didn’t destroy us, but brought redemption to us through self-sacrificial LOVE on the cross. God transformed a device of human torture and death into a profound symbol of forgiveness, salvation, and LIFE!

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 human 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.

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

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

Revised on Tuesday, March 9, 2021 at 12:35 p.m.