Tag Archives: Sin

God’s People, part 292: Opposed & Abandoned

Read 2 Timothy 4:9-18

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near.” (2 Timothy 4:6).

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 Prison Cell of the Apostle Paul

Part 292: Opposed & Abandoned. Before we discuss the Scripture passage at hand, I first want to address the two-ton elephant in the room. When it comes to the pastoral letters of 1 & 2 Timothy, most modern scholars do not consider them to be authentic Pauline letters. What that means is that most scholars do not believe Paul wrote them. The evidence they point to consist of different writing styles, missing theological themes such as the unity of Christians in Christ, and also the fact that the letters presume a more structured Church heirarchy than existed in Paul’s time.

Some scholars argue that 2 Timothy was authentic, while 1 Timothy and Titus are not. To be clear, inauthentic does men unauthoritative. It was common in the ancient world for students to take on the persona of their teacher, writing their teachings down for others to learn from. Of course, said students would also add to those teachings. Plato was the most famous student to do this, as he wrote under the persona of Socrates.

Still, the debate of authorship continues on. It must be stated that it wasn’t until the nineteenth century that serious doubt was cast on Pauline authorship. The early Church Fathers, dating back to the second century accepted Paul as the author. This doesn’t mean they were correct, but they were much closer to Paul’s world than we are. Regardless of the authorship debate, for the purpose of this devotion, I will be referring to the author is he refers to himself in the letter.

At the end of his letter to Timothy, Paul wrote about a number of troubling things that happened to him. I must be noted that Paul is writing what has been considered to be his last epistle before his death, which means that he was writing it (or having it written for him by his secretary) from within the Mamertine Prison in Rome. It is in this context that we need to place Paul in order to understand the deep pain he was feeling.

In verses 9-10, he was pleading for Timothy to come to him as quickly as possible. “Demas has deserted me,” Paul wrote, “because he loves the things of this life and has gone to Thessalonica.” In other words, Paul’s last remaining caretaker left him alone in prison abandoned. We cannot possible know what drew Demas to do so, or what Paul meant by saying that Demas loved the things of this life, but the implication is clear enough. Demas’ style was being cramped staying there and caring for Paul in prison and so he left.

Paul was literally abandoned, rotting within a prison cell, with no one to look after him. This was the same Paul who poured blood, sweat and tears into people like Demas. This was the same Paul who treated his disciples as if they were his own family. This was the same Paul who put his fullest trust in his followers. Yet, none of them could stay with him anymore. The loneliness, the spiritual and emotional pain, must have been unbearable. Christians should not abandon their sisters and brothers in Christ; yet, tragically, we often do.

The only person to stay with Paul was his beloved disciple, Luke. Luke, being a physician, knew the importance of caring for people; however, Paul knew what a burden it was on one person to take on all the responsibility of care and so he was asking for Timothy to come to him as well, asking him to bring Mark with him. Demas, Crescens, and Titus all abandoned Paul. That kind of hurt cuts deep and Paul also knew his expiration date was coming soon. That was the Roman way for prisoners, especially under Nero as Caesar.

To make matters worse, he was being opposed by someone referred to as Alexander the Coppersmith. We don’t know what kind of opposition it was or why Alexander was opposing Paul to begin with; however, Paul states that this coppersmith had done him much harm. It seems possible that this Alexander may be the reason Paul is imprisoned in Mamertine. He seemed to oppose what Paul was teaching and brough formal charges against him. Paul also stated that when he was brought before the judge, no one went with him. He had to stand trail by himself with no support from whoever was with him at the time. It seems clear that Luke had not been there. Whoever was with him abandoned him to his fate.

This kind of abandonment happens all the time. In the Church I have seen it happen to different groups of people. For instance, if a church member is alleged to have committed a crime, I have seen Christians look down their judgmental noses and distance themselves from that person. Given our Christian theology of sin, we know we are all sinners and we all do wrong, yet we commit the gravest sin by taking on the role of God and judge our sisters and brothers. Ironic, no?

I have also seen the church abandon people they call “shut-ins”. For those not familiar with churchese, “shut-ins” are people who cannot physically come to church do to health conditions. These are mostly elderly people, but they can be any age. How do church’s abandon “shut-ins”? Simple, they don’t call, they don’t write and they don’t visit people who are no longer able to attend. They sit back and expect the pastor to do all the visits as if the pastor is the church. If the pastor can’t visit as often as they they s/he should, they take issue with the pastor rather than offering up their help.

Abandonment is a serious issue in the church. Friends, we should never abandon anyone. This is simply not Christian behavior. We see how Paul was abandoned to rot in jail until he was beheaded and we cannot fathom the pain that caused him. It must have been devastating. It is equally devastating to abandoned Christians today when we fail to value them equally due to their not living up to our expectations and/or not being able to be present in the church. Let us open our hearts to Christ and follow him as Luke and Timothy did. Let us be present for peple in need. Amen.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
While love sometimes lets go, love never abandons.

PRAYER
Lord, help me to be faithful and true. Steer me away from abandoning of others. Amen.

The Vineyard Revisited

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)

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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.

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.

A LOOK BACK: The Great Achilles

Read Joel 2:12-17

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Though the LORD is great, He cares for the humble, but He keeps His distance from the proud.” (Psalms 138:6 NLT)

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Just last night, I decided to sit down and watch the three hour sixteen minute epic director’s cut of the film, “Troy”, starring Eric Bana as Hector, Orlando Bloom as Paris, Diane Kruger as Helen of Sparta/Troy, and Brad Pitt as the great warrior, Achilles. The film itself is a wonder to watch. It is epic in every sense of the word. The sets are amazing and huge in scale. One can’t help but feel like you are back in the 50’s watching a Cecille B. Demille flick, with far superior special effects and action sequences! If you haven’t seen it, check it out. I do recommend the Director’s Cut, which adds an extra half hour of footage on to the film.

For those of you who may not be familiar with the story of the Trojan War, though that is honestly hard to imagine, I will briefly and loosely sum it up for you. The most famous of the accounts of this story is found Homer’s epic poem, “The Illiad”. Basically, the story is about a forbidden romance gone bad. In Sparta, a city in the kingdom of Mycenae, a land that was believed to be founded by the Perseus (of Medusa fame), Princes Hector and Paris of Troy were negotiating at peace deal between King Agamemnon and Troy.

Unfortunately, Paris (who was more of a lover boy than he was a diplomat) fell in love with Helen of Sparta who was married to the brother of the King. Once the peace agreement was made, Hector and Paris sailed away for Troy; however, little did Hector know that Paris kidnapped Helen to take her back to Troy with him. As you can imagine, that put a quick and bitter end to the fledgling peace agreement that had just been reached the day before. The result of Paris’ unscrupulous act was a ten year war that King Agamemnon waged against Troy to defend his brother’s honor (and, let’s be honest, to subject another city under his rule).

This is where Achilles comes in. Achilles was a warrior who had a tenuous relationship with King Agamemenon (at best) and who fought for the king on many occasions. His mother, prior to his deciding to go fight for the king against Troy, had warned Achilles that he would either live a safe life and die unknown, or he would fight and die young, but be remembered for all time. Without getting into the different mythologies of Achilles, he was known for being the greatest of warriors and was widely seen as having no vulnerabilities. Choosing noteriety over safety, the egotistical Achilles decided to fight against the Trojans. That proved to be a costly choice for the brave warrior.

While the Trojans did end up losing Troy in the end, Achilles lost his very life after being shot through the heel (in some accounts) by an arrow loosed by Paris. In the long war, Achilles defeated and killed Hector, he helped lead the Mycenaeans win the Trojan war; however, he also overestimated his own strength and invincibilites and paid with his life for it. Once shot in the heel, Paris was able to kill the immobilized warrior. The hero did die young and remembered for all time, just as his mother warned him.

The parallel for us is pretty obvious. We often see ourselves as above being destructable. We do things as we do them, and we don’t give it much thought. We think that the way we live our lives is perfectly fine because “it hasn’t hurt us yet”; however, if we take anything away from the great Achilles, is that we all have our vulnerabilities. When we sin, when we steer away from the path God put us on, we expose ourselves to the arrows of death awaiting to hit us in the most unexpected and painful of places.

Lent is a forty day period where we are called to reflect on our lives and on the areas in which we need to tear our hearts (Joel 2:3), do a U-Turn, and head back to God.  It is a time where we should be reflecting on our sinfulness and where we should be looking to God, as Jesus did, to help us overcome and rebuke our temptations. Rather than letting our egos get the best of us, as Achilles did, we should seek to be dependent on God and humble in accepting the changes God is calling us to make. I pray that, as you journey through Lent, that you will abandon the way that the great Achilles took. I pray that you will humble yourself before God and repent (do a U-Turn). Don’t let your pride best you, don’t let it expose your heel; rather, in humility, be led to the great fountain of life that is Jesus Christ in which all of you, including your vulnerabilities, may be washed clean!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes people as angels.” – Augustine of Hippo

PRAYER
Lord, help show me my Achilles’ heel so that I may discard of it, abandon my pride, and turn to you as my refuge and my strength. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: Bewitched

Read Galatians 3:1-5

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace.” (Romans 6:14, NLT)

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The lights darkened, the room silenced, and the discordant sound of stringed instruments filled the air in an unsettling and disturbing manner. The sounds of violin and cello cut through me like serrated steel as the theater screen faded in from black to the image of a teenager’s stone pale and frightened face. It was clear from the way that she was dressed that she was living in seventeenth century New England and that she was among a group of people known as the Puritans.

As it turns out, her father is standing trial for not adhereing to the laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, at the time a British colony, because he believes those laws to stand against the teachings of the Gospels. As such he and his family are banished and end up moving out of the village they were in and settling in the wilderness of New England on the edge of a think and dark wood (aka forest). While I will not give away anything, as I run a tight “no-spoiler” ship, this is where the 2016 film, “The Witch”, opens up and where the horror begins.

This film, as I see it, is a work of fine art and there is much for us Christians to pull from it. On the surface, the horror is centering on a potential witch that lives in the woods and is preying upon a New England family that is doing everything they can to remain godly and to stay together as a family. But as misfortune after misfortune happens, and as the family becomes more and more certain they are “witched”, the more and more it is that the real horror is revealed.

Right from the opening scene onward, we are made aware that this family is hypersensitive to their sin, to the sin of others, and to the soveriegnty of God. It is not wrong to be sensitive to those things in a healthy kind of way, but this family is overly sensitive, to the point that every conversation is filled with talk about their sinfulness, the wickedness of the world and the uncertainty of their own, let alone anyone else’s, salvation.

At every turn, the family is reminded that they are wicked and sinful and they start to have the feeling that they are “witched” because God is punishing them and handing them over to the devil as a result of their wickedness. Nowhere, and I mean nowhere, is God’s grace really at play here in this film and in the psyche of the family. Even when God’s mercy is mentioned, it is with the understanding that they are in need of mercy because of their wickedness, and their pleading for it betrays their theology that they worship a God who just might not show mercy to them.

It becomes clear to me, without giving anything away from the actual story line of “The Witch” itself, that the family is bewitched by their own stringent, and horrific, theology. While it is true that God is  sovereign and it is true that we fall short of God’s glorious standard, it is NOT true that God is out to get us for our fallenness. Their theology is so damning that they could never, ever experience the grace and mercy that was already there waiting for them. They were so busy worrying about the prowling devil in the woods that they could not see that they had all they needed to thrive in the wilderness: their family and their faith.

Today’s challenge is this: don’t let yourself get bewitched by a negative and graceless theology. Rather, at every turn, steer clear of the devil by choosing to see the grace of God throughout your life, in your family, and in your community. Community is not perfect, but God is working to perfect it through your presence as well as others. Remember, God saved you from slavery to sin and death, so why negate that by making those things the foundation of your faith? Jesus Christ is the grace of God. That, and that alone, should be your faith’s foundation.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
The devil’s work is division and separation from others.  God is the great uniter.

PRAYER
Lord, keep me from bewitching myself with bad theology. Remind me daily of your grace. Amen.

The Sins of the Father

Read Exodus 34:5-7

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he makes sinners right in his sight when they believe in Jesus.”  (Romans 3:25-26, NLT)

One of my favorite films is The Wolf Man. Of course, the original 1941 film with Lon Chaney, Jr. is my absolute favorite; however, I also loved the flawed but still awesome 2010 remake with Benicio Del Toro. The unrated extended version is the one to watch if you are going to take my recommendation, as it takes more time to develop the characters and scenarios than the theatrical version did. The music by Danny Elfman is brilliant and the special effects by Rick Baker won a much deserved Academy Award for Best Special Effects.

SPOILER ALERT: I will be discussing in this devotion some major plot twists in the 2010 Wolfman film, so if you haven’t seen it and don’t want it spoiled, now is the time to stop reading and go watch the film first. In that film, Lawrence Talbot is an actor who is estranged from his father and brother. One evening, following a stage performance of Hamlet, his brother’s fiancee, Gwen Conliffe, visits Lawrence asking if he has seen or heard from his brother. Of course, he hadn’t and Gwen pleads with him to return to his father’s home to search for his brother.

To make a long story short, he does return home and his brother turns up dead, torn apart by what seems to have been a wild animal or beast. As you get further into the film you begin to quickly realize why Lawrence was estranged from his family: his father. There was something off about him and the audience quickly picks up on that. He’s distant, ice cold, and downright creepy. There’s a hollow blackness, an abyss, in his eyes and you just can’t help but feel he’s hiding a secret.

You also find out that at a young age Lawrence witnessed what we first are led to believe was the suicide of his mother. Later, however, we find out that her death was not a suicide, but accidental homocide by his father. You see, Sir John Talbot (Lawrence’s father), had been bitten on a hunting trip and, upon eventually turning into a werewolf, he attacked and killed his wife. Lawrence witnessed this, went into shock, and was subsequently sent to a mental institution to be treated for his “psychotic delusions”.  Over time, Lawrence repressed those memories; however, they surface once his father reveals the truth about his curse.

As it turns out, it was also his father who attacked and mauled his brother, because his brother was going to get married to Gwen, whom the father has a clear and creepy love interest in. As you can see, there’s A LOT wrong with the father in this story. Again, to keep this as short as possible, prior to knowing his father’s dark secret, he is bit by a werewolf (who happens to be his father) and is thus cursed to become a werewolf himself! The father’s sins are passed on to his son, who then passes it on to others as he terrorizes his village and even London as a werewolf.

This reminds me of our Scripture passage for today, where God warns that the sins of the parents will be passed down from generation to generation, causing calamity for many as a result of wickedness. While people aren’t cursed with lycanthropy in the physical/literal sense, it is clear that we are born into families that all have their levels of dysfunction. Each family is filled with human beings who are sinful by nature. Tragically, those sins are passed on to the children and so on and so forth.

Racism, oppression, injustice, inequity, poverty, hatred, bigotry, violence, and all of the sin and evil we see in the world are the result of this curse that is upon humanity. In Christianity, we call that the doctrine of Original Sin, which came up on the first humans and have passed on to each generation since. The good news is that, unlike Lawrence, we have an much better solution to this curse than a silver bullet. Our solution is Jesus Christ, who took the curse of our sins upon himself and died for us so that we might be free from sin and death and inherit eternal life! WOW! What good news, right?

All that is required is that we believe in the ONE who has saved us, turn our lives over to Him and allow him to change us from the heart outward. If we do that, though we will still fall short and sin, that sin will not hold sway over us and it will begin to break the chains of sin that affect the ones we love. This is the Gospel message. Today, I challenge you to reflect on your life and on the sins that affected you as well as your own sins that have affected others. Pray for forgivenness, open your heart to Jesus Christ, seek reconcilation with those you’ve wronged if possible, and begin to life for Christ who saved you!

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

PRAYER
Lord, help me fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but you so that I may joing you in hell shaking and kingdom making. Amen.

God’s People, part 261: Jailer

Read Acts 16:16-39

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s People, part 141 – Simon Magus

Read Acts 8:9-25

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.”  (Ephesians 2:8-9, NLT)

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

Capital: Fall of Simon the MagicianPart 141: Simon Magus. The account of Simon Magus (or Simon the Magician) is an interesting one and it has captivated the imaginations of many people throughout the past two millennia. For instance, in Irish lore, Simon Magus came to the aid of Druids who were fiercely denouncing Christianity and, in Ireland, he became known as Simon the Druids.

Another example is the church of Santa Francesca Romana in Rome. That church was supposedly built upon the spot where Simon Magus died following a confrontation with Peter and Paul. In Danilo Kiš’s collection of stories, The Encyclopedia of the Dead, the opening story retells the confrontation between Simon Magus and Peter the Apostle. In that story, he asks to be buried alive in order to, like Jesus, be resurrected from the dead in three days. That didn’t, in the story, turn out so well for him.

Of course, none of these stories are historical and none of them really find much relation to what the Scriptures have to say. One must also wonder why is Simon portrayed to be such a “bad guy” in these legends. Was he portrayed that way in Scripture. What do we know about Simon?

So, here’s what Scripture tells us about this Simon the Magician. First, he was a Samaritan magician and/or sorcerer. He was well known for his “signs” and spectacle and he proclaimed himself to be someone great. In fact, the Samaritans referred to him as “the Great One­­–the power of God”, that is until Philipp the Apostle came and converted the Samaritans to be followers of Christ.

Now, one could imagine such a person of ill repute might grow bitter and jealous of Philip and see him as a threat; however, Simon did the opposite of that: He CONVERTED to Christianity. So far, it’s really hard to see why Simon is considered such a weaslely character in the legends about him. Once we move on to the arrival of Peter and John in Samaria, then we begin to understand what the fuss is all about. Whether or not, it holds up to the hype is up in the air.

In Acts, we are told that Peter and John arrived in Samaria to check out the great work that Philip had done. We are also told that upon their arrival, they laid hands on the believers who were then filled by the Holy Spirit, which had not yet been sent to them. Once he saw this, Simon offered money to Peter in hopes that Peter would give him that power in exchange. This outraged Peter who scolded Simon, by saying, “May your money be destroyed with you for thinking God’s gift can be bought!” (Acts 8:20, NLT)

With that said, Peter did not just condemn Simon Magus. In fact, he did not condemn Simon at all; rather, he sharply scolded him and then challenged him to repent of his sins. According to Peter, Simon Magus was filled with bitter jealousy and was held captive by sin. That much I think is clear. Simon was someone who saw himself as a great and powerful person and, while he may have converted to following Jesus Christ, he still wanted to be seen as a great and powerful person. Hence why Simon offered to buy the power of gifting the Holy Spirit to people.

Certainly, his jealousy and sin led him to foolishly try and bribe Peter; however, the Scriptures never tell us what became of Simon. Was he completely written off by the Apostles after he refused to repent, learn, and change? Or did he repent and change afterward? We simply do not know. We do know that Simon responded to Peter’s call for him to repent by saying, “Pray to the Lord for me that these terrible things you’ve said won’t happen to me!””  (Acts 8:24, NLT)

So, what do we make of the account of Simon Magus and his confrontation with Peter? One thing is for sure, Peter did not confront him in Rome with Paul, nor did he seemingly have ANY connection to the Druids in Ireland, and he most definitely did not ask to be buried alive. These are all legends that further smear a man that, for all we know, might have repented and lived out his days serving the Lord. We ought to be cautious and allowing extra-Biblical legends to lure us down a path of sinful judgment.

But we ought to be challenged by what we do know of Simon Magus. We know that God will have no part in bribery! We cannot buy our way into heaven, nor can we buy God’s favor. As a pastor, I have seen people use money and status to hold the church hostage. I have seen people threaten to withdrawl their money and/or their presence in order extort the church into following their will. That kind of behavior is NOT of God and it is not Christian.

There are other ways in which we can fall into such traps as well. We can try to bribe God with our works, with our money, with our prayers and just about every other means. We need, as Christians, to make sure that we repent of the times we have done that and cease to employ such sinful methods. We cannot buy and own God. Period. Let us be challenged by the hard lesson that Simon Magus learned so that we can avoid following in his footsteps.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“For where God built a church, there the Devil would also build a chapel.” – Martin Luther

PRAYER
Lord, give me the wisdom and humility to know your grace is the reason I am saved and that there is nothing I can do to earn my way into your favor. Help me to trust in you fully! Amen.

God’s People, part 224: Adulterer

Read John 7:53; 8:1-11

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Soon afterward Jesus began a tour of the nearby towns and villages, preaching and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom of God. He took his twelve disciples with him, along with some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases. Among them were Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons;”  (Luke 8:1-2, NLT)

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

Jesus_Woman-AdultererPart 224: Adulterer. We all are familiar with the account of the adulterer in John 8. This scene has been played out in virtually every movie ever made on Jesus’ life, teachings, death and resurrection. Most likely, it is remembered in the following way:

A crowd of people come storming into the village square, stones in hand as they chase down a woman who is in a ragged undergarment. Her makeup is smeared across her face, and her dark, exotic eyeliner, eye shadow, and mascara are streaking down her face with streams of tears. Jesus sees the angry crowd and also notices one of the religious leaders approaching him.

“Teacher,” the man called out snidely in order to trap Jesus, “this woman was caught in adultery. The law of Moses says we must stone her to death. What do you say?”

Jesus bends down quietly and draws in the sand a fish symbol. Though Jesus doesn’t answer the man, he calls out again and demands an answer. “All right,” Jesus responded, “But let the one who is without sin cast the first stone.

Each person knowing that they aren’t without sin, they begin to drop their stones on the ground and leave dejected. Jesus approaches the woman and asks, “Woman, who here condemns you.

“No one, master,” she replied. Then Jesus said to her, “Then, neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.

Of course, this memory of the Scripture is mostly right, though some of the details are off. First, the crowd was not necessarily holding stones; rather, the account tells us that they brought the woman before Jesus in order to trap him. When Jesus said his famous line, “let the one who is without sin cast the first stone”, there is no mention that the people dropped their stones, but that they just left.

Also, we don’t know what Jesus actually wrote in the sand. Films often have Jesus draw a fish, which was the ancient symbol for Christ followers; however, there is no actual evidence that Jesus drew that symbol, let alone anything else. Most importantly, this woman often gets conflated with Mary Magdalene. In fact, this identity has become so strongly linked to the adulterous woman, that even when we read the text, in which the woman is given no name, we see Mary Magdalene as that woman.

The truth is, Mary was never linked to being an adulterer, nor does the Bible say that Mary Magdalene was ever a prostitute. In fact, the only mention of Mary in her life prior to following Jesus, was that she had been possessed by seven demons and that Jesus had performed an exorcism on her, casting them out. Thus, this woman caught in adultery was NOT Mary Magdalene, but an unnamed, anonymous woman.

Many Christians will read into this lots of different things, none worse than the idea that this passage promotes the common, hideous, phrase of “hate the sin, but love the sinner.” People will use this woman as an example that, while Jesus forgives, he does so on the condition that you go and “sin no more.” There is some truth to that; however, it is a half truth at best and it is often used to justify one’s own judgmentalism.

Yes, Jesus forgives us and, it is true, that Jesus does ask us to go and sin no more. With that said, the forgiveness is not conditioned on anything. It is give to those who believe in Christ and call on his name for forgiveness. Honestly, Christ’s forgiveness is given to all humanity; however, if they do not see their need for forgiveness and do not accept Christ and the forgiveness he offers, they can never receive it. That is not because Christ doesn’t want them to, but because they are unwilling to.

The woman was not told to go and sin no more and, upon accepting that condition was forgiven. It was quite the opposite of that. Jesus forgave her and then gave her the opportunity to go and sin no more. No doubt, she probably did sin again at some point. She’s a human being; however, due to her acceptance of Jesus in that moment, she had been freed from living in her sins. As a result, any time she slipped into sin, she could remember the forgiveness given her, repent, and change course toward righteousness by the power of the Holy Spirit.

That is the same for all of us. None of us are in a place to “hate the sin, but love the sinner”, for we are all sinners who sin. That doesn’t mean we should like our sins. No, far from it. We should not like our sins, but instead of being the judge of sin in others, we should be turning to God to help us remove our own sins. Instead of judging sins in others, we should support people who are sinning and extend the kind of graceful guidance that Christ would want us to extend. It is then, that we move from judgment to graceful accountability. “Love the sinner and journey with them as we all move away from our sins toward Christ.” Let us make that our motto.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.” – Jesus of Nazareth in Matthew 7:5

PRAYER
Lord, help me to focus on my own sins, rather than being so quick to see, and judge, the sin in others. I look to you for my salvation and I point others to you out of love. Amen.

God’s People, part 211: Jerusalem

Read Matthew 23:37-39

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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