Tag Archives: Witness

God’s People, part 163: Ascended

Read Acts 1:6-11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s People, part 162: Appeared

Read John 20

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him.”  (1 Corinthians 15:5-8, NLT)

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

The entrance to the tomb of St. Thomas in Chennai, India. Taken by Rev. Todd Lattig
The entrance to the tomb of St. Thomas in Chennai, India. Taken by Rev. Todd Lattig

Part 162: Appeared. People who have a hard time believing, or who flatly refuse to believe that Jesus resurrected, will often suggest that perhaps Jesus’ followers were hallucinating. Another suggestion out there is that the Twelve stole Jesus’ body and/or made a story in order to keep Jesus’ legacy going. Scientists such as Richard Dawkins, posit that Jesus is the result of a superstitious people who lived in an age where one did not have a choice but to believe in gods and religion. (For a full discourse on this, check out Special Episode 16a and 16b of Life-Giving Water Messages).

These possibilities are coming from people who pride themselves in their ability to “reason”. In fact, most people, myself included, would consider these people rational and intelligent human beings. There’s no doubt about that; however, when one weighs the facts, it becomes clear that the likeliness that the disciples were merely making up a lie, or were themselves hallucinating and believing in delusional mythological happenings is, to put it mildly, rather slim.

First, we have Saul of Tarsus, who was a Pharisee and a major opponent of the Jesus movement. He approved of and oversaw the stoning and martyrdom of Stephen, who was the first Christian executed for his faith in Jesus. He persecuted and arrested countless Christians before suddenly becoming a Christian himself. If the disciples had merely made up “seeing” Jesus, how would that translate to a highly educated, zealous Pharisee suddenly doing a 180 degree turn and following this resurrected Messiah? Paul, formerly Saul, of Tarsus wrote:

“You know what I was like when I followed the Jewish religion—how I violently persecuted God’s church. I did my best to destroy it. I was far ahead of my fellow Jews in my zeal for the traditions of my ancestors. But even before I was born, God chose me and called me by his marvelous grace. Then it pleased him to reveal his Son to me so that I would proclaim the Good News about Jesus to the Gentiles…” (Galatians 1:13-16a, NLT).

This same Pharisee, now known as Paul, ended up in the heart of the Roman Empire preaching the Good News of the same Messiah whose followers he once persecuted. He had endured traveling the known world at the time, had been persecuted and nearly killed, abandoned by many of his friends, and eventually sent to Rome under arrest, all for this Jesus’ sake. He eventually died for his new-found faith.

Add in the fact that all of the disciples, minus John, died for their faith after much laborious traveling and preaching. Thomas, the one who did not at first believe Jesus rose from the dead, ended up traveling to India and started preaching in Kerala (where one of the oldest Christian communities in the world exists) and zig-zagged across the kingdom-states in that land, all the way to the Chennai off of the Bay of Bengal, where he was martyred.

Why would these men, including a persecutor of early Christians as well as a skeptic, die for a myth? Even more incredulous, why would they die for an elaborate hoax? This hardly seems reasonable, let alone probable. The witness from Paul is that the risen Christ appeared first to Peter and the Twelve, and the Gospels let us know that, in fact, the resurrected Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene and the other women who first came to the tomb that Easter morning. After that, he was was seen by more than 500 believers. Then, finally, seen by Paul himself as he was on his way to arrest more Christians in Damascus.

The fact of the matter is that Jesus’s body did not just disappear from a tomb, but he physically appeared to many people who went on to form the earliest Christian communities. Those communities spread from Judaea through Asia, Africa, Europe and eventually throughout the entire world. All of this because JESUS APPEARED.

Actually, Jesus has never stopped appearing. I have witnessed him in my life and so have countless other Christians. The challenge for us is to open our hearts to Jesus and to allow him to appear to us. He will if you just open up to that experience. Read the Gospels. Read the account of the Acts of the Apostles. Read the letters of Paul and the earliest Apostles. There you will be introduced to our Lord and, if you are open to it, you will meet him in your own life too, face-to-face, and you will be transformed. This is not a hoax, but the Good News of Salvation through Jesus Christ.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Few people seem to realize that the resurrection of Jesus is the cornerstone to a worldview that provides the perspective to all of life.” – Josh McDowell

PRAYER
Lord, reveal yourself to me and transform me from who I am to who you created me to be. Amen.

God’s People, part 160: The Tomb

Read Mark 6:1-8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thorns

Read Mark 4:1-9, 13-20

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Sermon, part 3: The Light and the City

Read Matthew 5:14-16

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“He says, ‘You will do more than restore the people of Israel to Me. I will make you a light to the Gentiles, and you will bring My salvation to the ends of the earth.’” (Isaiah 49:6 NLT)

r4x3-1600Have you ever been in hiking in the woods at night? I have been. For anyone who has been camping, you know that it is pitch black in the forest at night. When I was a teenager, I went on an all night excursion on the Appalachian Trail with a couple of my friends.  I can remember how our parents were not so happy with us for doing that because of the danger of walking around the woods, over rough terrain, in the pitch-black darkness. Thankfully, we did have a couple of flashlights, otherwise we may not have been so lucky as it was really dark in there.

Speaking of flashlights, that brings me to this devotion’s focus within the famed Sermon on the Mount. Jesus tells his disciples that they are the light of the world. What could Jesus possibly mean by saying that the disciples are the light of the world? What is the purpose of a light, such as a lit candle, a lantern, a light bulb, or a flashlight? Why would anyone turn on a light?

For those who are thinking in terms of a “spotlight”, I would caution them to pause and look at the context of the passage. Jesus calls his disciples the light of the world and then reminds them that the purpose of a light and/or a lamp is best served on a stand, as opposed to being hidden under a basket. Why is that? Because, a lamp on a stand gives off light to everyone in the house, allowing them to see their surroundings and find their way from room to room without stumbling.

In other words, the light Jesus is referring to is the kind of light that points the way. It is the light that illumines the area for all to see where they are going. The purpose of the light is not to draw attention to the lamp, but to “The Way.” The disciples, according to Jesus’ metaphor, are the lamps that shine the light out for the world. The light is not shining for the world to see them, but for the world to see “the Way”, which is Jesus Christ our Lord.

Along side of this metaphor Jesus puts forth another one, only that this one stands in contrast to the other. Jesus says, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.” This metaphor points us to an inherent truth of what it means to be Christ’s disciples, as well as what it means to be the bearer of the light. Though these two metaphors are in contrast with one another, they are so purposefully and the one cannot work without the other.

If you have ever gone to the city of San Francisco, it is a magnificent city to see. It rolls up and down hills and is impossible to miss as you approach it. Jerusalem was also a city on a hill and Jesus’ metaphor is also a warning. In Isaiah 2:2-5; 42:6; 49:6, we see that God refers to Israel, and Jerusalem, as being the light for the gentiles. God had planned for God’s people to be the city on the hill, for all to see. It was by the example of Israel, by their righteous (just) living, and by their visible relationships with neighbor, with each other, and with God that the world was to be redeemed. God had hoped that people would see Israel, as a younger sibling looks up to their older brother or sister, and follow their lead.

Unfortunately, time and time again that had failed to come to fruition. Israel split from Judah, Judah became as corrupt as the next kingdom, and the people had failed to truly witness to the world the hope, healing and wholeness that God was offering to the world. Jesus’ metaphor is reminding his disciples that Israel’s call is their call, that God is wanting them to live justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with their Lord. In doing so, the world would see them and follow their lead. Yet, as the light metaphor reminds us, it wouldn’t be them that the world would be actually seeing and following, rather it would be “The Way” to which they are pointing.

In order for people to see Christ through us, we have to be visible to them. We have to truly display Christ in our lives, in our attitudes, in our actions, and in everything we do. When our actions, words, thoughts, and examples are mirror reflections of the world around us, we fail to be the city on the hill, we fail to be the lamp on the stand, and we fail to be the light of the world. The question for us is, will we let the world get the best of us and fail in our mission. Will we be agents of division, politics, biterness, strife, enmity, and the things of this world, or will we be Christ’s lamp on a stand, like a city on a hill, visibly representing Christ and shining the light on “The Way” that is Jesus Christ? Now is the time to choose.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The lamp burns bright when the wick and oil are clean.” – Ovid

PRAYER
Lord, clean my wick and fill me with your holy oil that I may burn bright and shine the light on the way. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: Woken Up in a Dream

181817372While it is important to keep moving forward, sometimes it is also important to pause and look back at what we’ve learned from the past. With that in mind, let’s take a look at this post from December 2012. It is just as relevant now as it was then.

Click here to view today’s devotion.

Many blessings,

Pastor Todd