Tag Archives: Sin

The Face of Evil, part 1

By Rev. Todd R. Lattig

Read Romans 3:1-20

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.” (Romans 12:21)

One of my all-time favorite horror films is John Carpenter’s Halloween, which was inspired by another one of my favorite horror films, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. The two films have been monumentally impactful in the horror genre. What’s more, the two films are connected to each other because the two lead actresses are literally related to each other. That’s right, Janet Leigh, who starred in Psycho, is Halloween star, Jamie Lee Curtis’ mother. In fact, in 1998 for the 20th anniversary of Halloween, both Jamie Lee and Janet Leigh starred together in Halloween: H20.

Trivia aside, there’s a lot we can learn from Halloween; however, before we do, we need to look at it’s predecessor, Psycho. In that film, Anthony Perkins plays a seemingly kind but socially awkward motel owner who incidentally meets Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) as she stops for the night due to the rain being so bad. Seeing that the Bates Motel had vacancy, she pulls in and meets Norman (Anthony Perkins) who checks her in and offers her food.

What Norman doesn’t know is that Marion had stolen $40,000 from her employer’s client and was on the run. Her boyfriend didn’t know she was going to pull this off, nor did her sister. So, no one knows that Marion is at the Bates Motel, let alone where she might be. What Marion doesn’t know is that there’s more than meets the eye at the Bates motel and, as a matter of fact, we find out that not only is Norman a perverted peeping Tom, but his “mother” is super jealous of other women.

That last fact, sadly, cost Marion her life. While taking a shower, Norman’s “mother” came into the bathroom slowly and silently, ripped open the curtin and stabbed Marion to death with a large kitchen knife. The scene was more than memorable, it literally scarred some people enough that they refused to take a shower again. Of course, Hitchcock being the brilliant director he was, the scene was pulled off without ever showing the knife connect with the body and, in pure Hitchcock fashion, the blood shown going down the drain was actually Bosco Chocolate Syrup because Hitchcock discovered that it looked more red in the Black & White format. Even shooting in B&W was purposeful, as Technicolor was widely available at the time and Hitchcock chose not to shoot it that way.

Of course, I put the word “mother” in quotes because we learn that Norman’s mother is really dead. Norman was into taxidermy and, after poisoning her, he preserved her well and kept her in the basement. To compensate for the loss of his overbearing mother, Norman dressed up like her, imitated her voice and assumed her identity.

As it turned out, Norman was a very sick man who had Dissociative Identity (formerly known as Multiple Personality) Disorder. He was Norman some of the time, he was Mrs. Bates the rest of the time. As Norman, he was a frail, lonely, insecure, awkward boy in a man’s body. As Mrs. Bates, he was cold, demanding, cruel and, as we find out in the film, jealously murderous.

The beauty of this film is how forward thinking it was in terms of mental health. It’s shocking conclusion, with Norman completely gone and Mrs. Bates being completely the dominant personality, really forces the viewer to come face-to-face with mental illness. One cannot hate Norman at the end of the film. Sure, he horrifies you, but there is a level of pity you have for him. His victims should not have died, not even his cruel mom, but he is a victim in all of this too and he cannot help himself.

In our society, we often look at killers such as Norman Bates as being the “Face of Evil”, but Psycho challenges this. Was Norman evil? I mean, yes…what he did was evil, but was Norman Bates, the man, evil? Or was he a sick individual who slipped through the cracks only to turn up when it was brutally too late? Psycho was a very 1960s way of looking at what we call “evil” and trying to put the humanity back into it.

Overall, that is a great thing because, as easy as it would be to view Norman Bates as less than human or a monster, he really is not much different than you and I. The only difference is how his mind works and, truthfully, all of our minds work a bit differently. Norman Bates was a man who was created and loved by God. No, God did not wish for Norman’s life to go down the path it did; however, since when did that give us the permission to BE GOD and judge?

In fact, one of the many faces of evil is JUDGMENT. People who think they are God enough to pass judgment are putting on evil as their way of life. That does not make THEM evil, but their judgmental attitudes are evil for sure. So, before we start getting all self-righteous, we really do need to take a back seat to God. Let us remember that, no matter how awful a person may be acting, they are still a child of God and we are called to love everyone…not judge them.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Evil is as evil does.

PRAYER
Lord, lead me away from temptation and deliver me from evil. Amen.

God’s People, part 4: Noah

Read Genesis 6-9

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” (Romans 3:23 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 are like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

noaark

Part 4: Noah. The story of Noah is exciting, devastating, tedious, complex and even horrific. It is all of those things wrapped up in a four chapters. When the name Noah is heard, most people think of him as the guy who built the really large boat, boarded animals on it two-by-two, and went on a 40 day cruise to Mount Ararat. During the cruise he and his family sat around a lantern lit room, with the smells and sounds of animals joining in their family Christian camp song sing-a-long. Then add in the images of ravens, doves, an olive branch and, finally, dry ground.

Upon land, we remember that Noah was so stoked to be on ground again that he built an awesome altar, upon which he celebrated with his animal and fowl friends from the boat by slitting their throats, draining their blood down the altar and burning their flesh. This scent of burnt flesh and blood, of course, was to God what Calvin Klein’s Eternity for Men is to me: intoxicating. God loved it so much, that from that time forward God realized he had made an “oopsy”, and put a rainbow in the sky as a sign that he would never, ever flood the earth again.

Okay, so that was a bit tongue-in-cheek, but it does pretty accurately sum up the story of Noah as most people recall hearing it in Sunday School. Granted, the Sunday School version is missing all of the blood and sarcasm; however, that is the gist of the story as it is commonly remembered.  Yet, if you took the time to read Genesis 6-9, I am sure you came across elements you didn’t even know existed in there.

Focusing on Noah as a character, the Bible says that Noah found favor with God. God was so upset with how corrupt humanity had become that God was desiring to destroy all of Creation. The flood, in essence, are the tears of God pouring down over a people who are so wicked they could care less. What were the people’s sin? The only thing that is mentioned is their violence.

We can only guess why Noah was so favored by God as the Bible does not give us any clue. One thing is for sure, Noah was not favored by God for being perfect. In one of the more obscure passages in the Bible, we find out that Noah had a bit of a drinking problem and, when he passed out in a drunken stupor, one of his sons saw Noah’s nakedness.

There has been much scholarly debate as to what was meant by Ham “seeing his father’s nakedness.” The story is written in a way that leads one to take it literally, that Ham literally saw his father naked. But without getting into narrative, theological, or cultural debates, we can focus on Noah’s reaction to that instead.

When Noah finds out that Ham has seen him naked, he curses Ham’s son, Canaan. What an odd thing to do. Why would Noah curse his grandson over the fact that the boy’s father saw him naked? What’s more, whose fault is that anyway? Was it Ham who got his father drunk? Was it Ham who unclothed him and laid him spralled out naked on the ground? Not according to the story! Yet, Noah forces Ham to bear the guilt of his own shame!

Despite all of this, Noah is still remembered as being favored by God. No doubt, Noah was favored by God, even if he didn’t always live up to God’s standard. Then again, which one of us live up to God’s standard?  Which one of us always gets things right? If we are honest, we know that none of us do; yet, God favors us.

Let us learn from Noah. Let us learn what it means to be faithful, even when God seems to be asking for the outrageous and/or the impossible. Let us learn to be obedient and to do as God has asked us to do. Let us learn to take responsibility for our own sins and repent of them. Let us learn to hold ourselves accountable, rather than scapegoating others in order to sheepishly hide ourselves away from the blame. Let us, indeed, learn from Noah, who is but one person among God’s people.

THOUGHTS OF THE DAY
“Noah was a brave man to sail in a wooden boat with two termites.” – Unknown J
“It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark” – Howard Ruff

PRAYER
Lord, help me to not only read the Bible, but see myself in it. Help me to follow the examples of faith and learn from the examples of weakness and sin. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: God’s People, part 3: Cain and Abel

Read Genesis 4:1-16

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“It was by faith that Abel brought a more acceptable offering to God than Cain did. Abel’s offering gave evidence that he was a righteous man, and God showed His approval of his gifts. Although Abel is long dead, he still speaks to us by his example of faith.” (Hebrews 11:4 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 are like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

cain-and-abel

Part 3: Cain & Abel. I could not devote two devotions to Eve and Adam and not follow up with one on Cain and Able. In fact, a lot could be written about these two brothers, for there is more here than meets the eye. It would be easy for me to focus on how Abel was rigtheous and Cain was a murderer; however, I do not think the story is quite that simple. In fact, in Hebrew, there is definitely some nuance going on here.

Let us start with Abel. The English word, “Abel”, is a transliteration of the Hebrew word, הֶבֶל, which is pronounced heh’-bel ( I bet you didn’t see that one coming). It is the same word as the Hebrew word, הֲבֵל, which means emptiness or vanity; something transistory or unsatisfactory, which is often used as an adverb. I am not entirely sure why Abel is given that name, in light of his character of faithfulness in the Bible; however, the ancients did nothing accidentally.

What I love about Abel is that there is room to speculate on him. Perhaps he was given that name because of his unsatisfactorily short life due to being murdered. Perhaps he was given that name because the author wants us to recognize a character flaw in him, which all the more heightens the mysterious grace of God who favors Abel for an act of faithfulness despite his flaws. Those are two possibilities, though I think there is one that is much more likely than those.

I believe it is the author’s way of showing how sin has crept in, even into the family structure. Cain was the first born and, thus, would have all the rights and inheritance afforded to him when his parents died. Abel would only get what was left over. The human system of Patriarchy had begun to take root, and the effects of that would ultimately kill Abel and harm many others like him, as well as women who were not considered to be equal to men.

That, then , leads us to Cain, who was the first born and oldest brother. Because of his privileged position as the eldest brother, Cain expected to be favored over Abel. He felt entitled to that. Cain quickly learned that God doesn’t play favorites off of human-made systems of  oppression. God favored the younger of the two brothers and, in essence, gave the blessing to Abel and not to Cain.

This, of course, enfuriated Cain and, as we all know very well, he plotted to murder Abel and carried it out in a field when no one was looking. Cain’s entitlement left him bitter toward Abel. What’s more, he was jealous of the fact that God favored Abel over him. That jealousy led to the murder of his own brother. Yet, God proved Cain’s jealousy to be unfounded, for God never rejected Cain at all. Even after Cain murdered Abel, God still chose to show mercy and grace. The story doesn’t exactly word it that way, but the grace is certainly there. Cain got to live a full life out, and was ultimately protected by God against anyone seeking vengeance over the death of Abel.

This story is very much relevant to us today. Most of us may not murder our siblings, but we do support and uphold oppressive human systems that bring harm to others. We often do so without even realzing it and, even if we did realize it, we feel justified because our social standards favor us instead of those who are being oppressed. Think of immigration laws, or welfare, or anything that most of us don’t have to deal with, all the while being very judgmental toward those who do. The story of Cain and Abel, should teach us that we are no more worthy of favor than anyone else. God created and loves us all. If we choose to be proud and entitled, we only do so to our own detriment. For God will show favor to the meek.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Those who stand tall have the furthest to fall.

PRAYER
Lord, humble me and teach me to be meek. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: God’s People, part 2: Adam

Read Genesis 2:4-25; 3:1-24

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Adam, the first man, was made from the dust of the earth, while Christ, the second Man, came from heaven.” (1 Corinthians 15:47 NLT)

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

AdamAndEve01

Part 2: Adam. As I think is evident from the last devotion, Adam tends to be more favorably viewed than Eve. The text is often read very sympathetically toward him; however, I do not believe that we are reading the text the way it was intended to be read. In fact, I believe we are reading more into it than is really there. Before I move forward, I want to make this point very clearly: Neither Adam nor Eve were greater or worse than the other. They both were the first humans, they both chose the way they did, and they both have something valuable to reveal in each of us regardless of what sex we were born.

We often to think of the first male human being’s name as, “Adam.” What many do not realize is that Adam is the English transliterated word for the Hebrew word, אָדָם, which is pronounced aw-dawm’. This Hebrew word literally means, humankind or human being. In this context, this human being happened to be a male; however, the meaning of the word adam is actually broader than that. So, when the Scripture says that “the LORD God formed man out of the dust of the ground, and breathed life into his nostrils”, the text is actually saying that the LORD God formed the human being out of the dust in the ground, and breathed life into his nostrils.”

It is important to note that the man is not named throughout all of the second creation story found Genesis 2:4-25. This person is simply referred to as “the man”, or the human being. Thi human being clearly male in anatomy and in gender; however, he remains unnamed. This is truly ironic, being that this nameless man is the one who takes it upon himself to give everything else names. This man, as he was created, thought of other beings as precious enough to name. Naming something also denotes being in relationship with it. Here we have the first human being, seeking to be in relationship and putting the other (in this case God’s creation) first. Indeed, and it was good.

Again, it is far easier to look at the wrongdoings and shortcomings of Adam. It is easier for us to focus on the fact that he ate the forbidden fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, that he sheepishly blamed Eve when God was holding him accountable, and that his sin ultimately led to the first animal sacrifice, the switch from being one with Creation to dominating and destroying it, the switch from vegan to omnivore (where we kill and eat animals for food…compare Genesis 1:29-31; 2:16-17  to Genesis 9:1-4) and, of course, the first sibling rivalry, which in turn led to the first account of murder in human history.

Whether you are one who takes these accounts as literal, historical fact or not is beside the point, because either way, these stories are meant to convey a truth to the reader. Adam was created to be creative, to be loving, to be a partner, to be in relationship, and ot be the caretaker of all God’s creation. Adam was created to put others first, and to also take care of himself. It isn’t until Genesis 3, where the tragic sin occurs, that the man is given the name, “Adam” by the narrator.

What I think is important for us to realize, is that we, too, are adam. We are human beings and we were created to be exactly what Adam was created to be. We were created to create, to love, to partner and form commmunity, and to be the caretakers of each other as well as God’s creation. Yet, just like Adam, our sin gets in our way and, as a result, we fall from the ideal of what we were created to be.  Yet, God did not give up on human beings, and become one. God took on the very flesh given to adam and became adam. We of course, know the second adam to be Jesus the Christ, who showed us the way to be truly human according to God’s great redemptive plan! Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
We are all Adam’s children – it’s just the skin that makes all the difference.” – Navjot Singh Sidhu

PRAYER
Lord, help me beyond my human sin and lead me from the state of the first Adam, to the redemption and glory of the second. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: God’s People, part 1: Eve

Read Genesis 2:4-25; 3:1-24

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Then the man—Adam—named his wife Eve, because she would be the mother of all who live.” (Genesis 3:20 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 are like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

AdamAndEve01

Part 1: Eve. When we think of Eve, we tend to think in negative and sexual terms. That last one may make you uncomfortable to read, but it is true. Eve is commonly known as the mother of us all, but only because she chose to disobey God and lured Adam to do the same. Her sin, as it is commonly understood, led women into having labor pains and to the establishment of patriarchy (aka women being under the dominion of men). Sadly, our common way of understanding things does an injustice to Eve herself, and it has been damning for women throughout the millennia.

I also think that our tradition, in this regard, does an injustice to the Scriptures themselv es, as I think we tend to lay more blame on Eve than we do on Adam. My reading and interpretation of Scriptures leads me to a different place. By focusing on the sin of Eve, we also miss the beauty of her inherent goodness that is a reflection of the divine image of God. While the story has Eve coming from man, it is only because God realized that man was incomplete without woman. The story is kind of comical in how it is structred because God sets out to create a partner for Adam and has to give it a couple of attempts before getting it right.

The first time round God gave Adam animals, but ended up finding out that humans and animals don’t make a good match. Then God tries again and this time puts Adam asleep and forms woman from Adam’s rib. In other words, Eve was not a sheep or a donkey or a horse or any other animal. Eve was another human being like Adam, made from the same flesh and blood. The important thing to note is that Eve completed Adam.

Yes, Eve did sin, but it is important to realize that it was Adam who God told not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. That was a direct command from God to Adam before Eve was even created. Presumably, as the story never specifies, Adam told Eve; however, it’s no wonder that Eve was the vulnerable target for the shrewd and crafty serpent. She had less of an understanding  as to why they could not eat from that tree, and so the serpent lured her in. Despite that, Adam is still culpable because he was the one who truly knew better.

Yet, that still misses the ultimate point being made here. Eve did not let her sin weigh her down. She became the mother of all despite many painful and tragic circumstances. Also, while sin may have entered the world through the first people, so did true LOVE. Why, you might ask? Because, through Adam and Eve’s choice came God’s plan of redemption through Jesus Christ, who is the ultimate embodiment of God’s faithful, unconditional love. Christ is the clear choice God has given us in regard to away out of our sin and back into a relationship with our Creator.

We all make choices and those choices all bear consequences. But that does not make us any less God’s people. The story of Eve drives that point home. Eve did not let sin have the final word and, as such, she became a part of God’s redemption plan as God would choose to become one of her descendents and redeem the world. God does not want you mired by your choices or their consequences, but wants you to move forward from them, like Eve did, and allow God to guide you toward being who you were created to be.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Grace is a much more accurate word to use when dealing with the state of human existence. God gives us unmerited favor through Jesus Christ, and since Adam and Eve, our lives have depended on it.” – Monica Johnson

PRAYER
Lord, I acknowledge that I am a sinner. Still, despite my sin, give me the perseverance of Eve who moved beyond her sin, was fruitful and multiplied. Because of Eve’s faithful perseverance, your Son Jesus Christ came into the world and conquered sin and death. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: Evil Begotten

Read Romans 12:9-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)

Maleficent2

Boy do my wife and daughters know how to make me feel special. Several years ago, for Father’s day, following church and fellowship, they treated me out to see: Disney’s “Maleficent”, which stars Angelina Jolie in the title role. What a spectacular film to get to see and it actually exceeded my expectations, which were quite high, in ways I never foresaw.

While I am not going to ruin the film with spoilers, I will address a theme that is predominant in the film in a way that does not give away anymore of the plot than the trailers and/or previews give. The movie starts off with a young fairy named Maleficent, who was actually anything but Maleficent. She was kind-hearted, thoughtful and filled with the love of life. But all of that changes after her heart, her trust and her hope are broken because of the evil deeds of a greedy and vengeful king.

The evil that was perpetrated against her land, and the evil that was perpetrated against her and her kind, caused her to grow angry and resentful. It drove her to hate the king and all humans for what they had done toward her. It spiraled her downward into becoming a hellish, shadowing, and vengeful queen seeking to bring curses against the ones who sought to destroy her. Evil had begotten evil.

For those of you who have seen the original Walt Disney classic, Sleeping Beauty, you know what becomes of Maleficent and what the evil begotten above did to her. Evil never stays in one place and it found it’s way into the life of an innocent girl named Aurora, who was to be princess of the land. Because of Maleficent’s evil curse, this princess was doomed to be in a “sleep like death”, which could only be broken by “true love’s kiss.” What a sad and tragic story indeed. Where does the evil end?

Some of you might be screaming, “Time out! Why is it that this world wants you to sympathize with the villains? Who cares why Maleficent did what she did?!?! It was wrong and there is no excuse for it!” That is true, there is not excuse for the evil that Maleficent perpetrated on others; however, the world is not so black and white. It is easy when we look at the Maleficents of the world and point the finger, but not so easy when we are forced to look in the mirror at ourselves. How has evil affected you? How have you let the hurts you’ve endured and the challenges that you have faced to effect you? Have you ever lashed out at others because you yourself were hurt and/or vulnerable?

For each of us, the answer to these questions and others like them will be different. Each of us carries around our own set of baggage. Each of us have fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) and have been a participant in sin, and even evil, whether we realize it or not. The point of this is not to shame you or make you feel guilty, but to humbly liberate you from the judgmentalism we so often get trapped in.

Sitting in the judgment seat of God (as Maleficent ended up doing), is not the way to stop evil in its tracks; rather, the best way to stop evil is to simply choose not to participate in it and to counter act it with our love and compassion. We have the choice to repent of our own participation in evil, to reject its pull on our lives, and to rise up out of it with the strong wings of God’s grace. Though we have all suffered, one way or the other, as a result of evil…we can choose not follow suit. So, say NO to evil and YES to the “true love” that God is willing to fill you with.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. – Jesus of Nazareth, Matthew 5:44-45

PRAYER

Lord, pull me away from temptation and deliver me from evil. Fill me with your forgiveness so that I may forgive. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: Just Who Do You Think I Am?

Read Romans 7:7-25

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

CrossRedeemed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A LOOK BACK: Better Than Eden

Read Genesis 2:4-25

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE 
“And I have given every green plant as food for all the wild animals, the birds in the sky, and the small animals that scurry along the ground—everything that has life.” And that is what happened.” (Genesis 1:30 NLT)

  Most people, by now, know that I am vegan. I am not shy about that fact, as it is a lifestyle change that not only transformed me into who I am today, but one that saved my very life. The first year of my being vegan was the roughest time for me, mostly because I had so much to come to terms with. I had to come to terms that I was no longer “fat”, not only in my own perception, but in other people’s pereception as well. I had to come to terms with the fact that I was disease free, that I no longer ate what anyone else in my circle of family, friends, and colleagues ate.

I had to come to terms with the fact that every meal would become a discussion about my lifestyle and that such discussions would cause others around the table to be angry at me, even if I wasn’t the one initiating the conversation, because they were “sick of hearing about it”. I also had to come to terms with the fact that some people would view my lifestyle as a threat to their own and attack me over it, especially on social media as I shared about my lifestyle, or shared recipes and/or things I learned on my Facebook wall.

Halfway through my first year, I had an idea about “Returning to Eden”. I thought it would make for a great book title, and I thought that I would be able to write about about my own journey of returning to eden. I got the idea of the name from a conversation I was having with a long-time friend about how the only life that existed in Eden as the vegan life. Adam, Eve, the animals, birds, bugs, lizards, and creepy crawlers were all created to eat and be sustained on vegetables (Genesis 1:29-31). God saw that as the ideal way of living, and so did the ancients evidentally.

The conversation was centered on how far humanity has fallen from that ideal, and how we could once again return to Eden. After all, I was on the way, wasn’t I? I had reversed my type-2 diabetes, lost over 75 lbs (at the time), eliminated my high blood pressure, and lowered my cholesterol to normal levels. Things were great and I was well on the returning to Eden.

Well, over time, reality hit. What has been lost can never be returned to. There was no going back to Eden. I believe that is why it says in Genesis, “After sending them out, the LORD God stationed mighty cherubim to the east of the Garden of Eden. And He placed a flaming sword that flashed back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.” (Genesis 3:24) It’s not that I take the account literally as if there were some Garden of Eden out there to be found, and if we found it we would see those Cherubim guarding it; rather, I believe the point of it is that Eden/Paradise/Creation as God intended it had been lost.

There was nothing that could be done to reclaim it. Certainly, eating from the Tree of Life would not have brought Eden back, or us back to Eden. Instead, it would have forever divided us from God in our sins. Eden could not be reclaimed, but God had something better than Eden planned. While sin and death were not God’s doing, God would conquer sin and death on the cross through Jesus the Christ. The empty tomb would be a sign forever opening up to the reality that human beings were God’s children, not by virtue of being Created by God, but by virtue of choosing to be in a loving relationship with God our Creator.

True LOVE is mutual LOVE. Love is not love by force nor can love exist without choice. LOVE is better than Eden and it is the Kingdom on Earth God has been building ever since humanity first chose their own independence over and above a mutual, loving, dependent relationship with our Creator. The days of Eden are over and the days of our bondage to sin are numbered. Behold, in Christ God has done something completely new and you are being invited to join in on that. God is inviting you to not only receive this true LOVE, but to extend it to the world and be a part of leading to a place far better than Eden.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

We can never head back to what has been lost, but we can change direction and head toward something far better if we so choose.

PRAYER

Lord, I thank you and praise you for your great intervention in my sinfulness. Lead me to lead others to a place far greater than Eden, to that heavenly Kingdom you have created for us all. Amen.

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)

The+Vineyard

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.