Tag Archives: Word

God’s People, part 260: We

Read Acts 16:6-10

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Many people have set out to write accounts about the events that have been fulfilled among us. They used the eyewitness reports circulating among us from the early disciples.”  (Luke 1:1-2, 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.

Part 60: We. The people in the Bible we have been discussing as of late have been in Luke’s Acts of the Apostles, which is the second volume of a two volume account on the life, teachings, death and resurrection of the Christ and the workings of his earliest followers following his ascension into heaven. Up until this point, it was written in the third person, meaning that Luke telling of these acts of the apostles as though he was not there at the time that they happened.

With that said, something very intriguing and unique happens very subtly, and one could easily glaze right over it without even paying it any attention. But this detail is actually a rather important one and lends apostolic authority to Acts. Let’s take a look at what I am writing about. In Acts 16:6-9, let us look at how the author wrote:

“Next Paul and Silas traveled through the area of Phrygia and Galatia, because the Holy Spirit had prevented them from preaching the word in the province of Asia at that time. Then coming to the borders of Mysia, they headed north for the province of Bithynia, but again the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go there. So instead, they went on through Mysia to the seaport of Troas. That night Paul had a vision: A man from Macedonia in northern Greece was standing there, pleading with him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!””  (Acts 16:6-9, NLT)

Yet, in verse 10 Luke switches to the first person:

“So we decided to leave for Macedonia at once, having concluded that God was calling us to preach the Good News there.”  (Acts 16:10, NLT, emphasis added)

What this indicates is that at this point in the journey Luke, the author of Acts, is with Paul as one of his fellow companions and missionaries. That makes Acts, from chapter 16 onward, a first-hand account of the travels of Paul. This, combined with Paul’s letters, gives us a real insight into Paul and his missionary journeys. Anti-theists and others will often question the reliability of Scriptures; however, here in Acts we have a first-hand account written down 2,000 years ago about the last two remaining missionary journeys of Paul.

If the reliability of sources like Plato’s writings on Socrates don’t get questioned, there is no reason why we should question the reliability of Luke’s Acts of the Apostles, the letters of Paul, or any of New Testament. Why? Because most of these writings were penned within 40 to 60 years after Christ died. Paul’s letters were written by him in real time, and Luke/Acts came out a mere 15 years or so after Paul’s death.

That is incredibly close to the time of the events described in terms of ancient manuscripts. For instance, Homer’s Iliad took place 400 years before Homer penned his poem recounting the Trojan War. 400 years! The earliest manuscripts we have of Homer’s Iliad are dated to the 10th century AD, while homer wrote it in the late 8th or early 7th centuries BC!!! Yet, no one spends much time questioning Homer’s existence or authorship.

On the other hand, the earliest fragment we have of a text in the New Testament is from the Gospel of John, dated to the early 2nd century AD. A mere 10 – 30 years after John wrote his Gospel. The earliest completed copies of a New Testament book dates to 200 AD, a mere 160 or so years after Christ, and the earliest completed copy of the New Testament dates to the 4th century (300s). So, the reliability of the New Testament is far greater than that of Homer’s Iliad. All of this, to say that we can trust what the Bible conveys because it contains eye-witness accounts from Luke, Paul and others and where there are accounts written second-hand, the events were so close to the people writing that it is more unreasonable to doubt their veracity than it is to not.

Let this be a challenge for us then. As Christians we need to take the Bible seriously. It is authoritative in conveying to us the way of Salvation and Christian living. Surely, there are somethings in it that no longer apply to us (e.g. laws on diet, clothing, tattoos, piercings, etc.); however, the core of the Bible is our authority and points us to Christ who died that we might have abundant and everlasting life. Let be a people of THE BOOK so that we might grow even closer to the TRUE WORD OF GOD: JESUS CHRIST. Amen.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
The WORD of God is our Lord Jesus Christ.

PRAYER
Lord, make us thirsty for your word so that we may grow even closer and connected to your LIVING WORD, Jesus Christ.

Not an Excuse

Read Luke 13:1-9

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Jesus told him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through Me.’” (John 14:6 NLT)

mass-crucifixion-appian-way-2I am sure everyone who has been consistently reading these devotions knows that I am a huge fan of The Walking Dead. For those of us who watch the show faithfully, we know that the opening to Season 7 was a doozy. I am not going to give away any major spoilers; however, I am going to discuss this first episode in a way that I think will lend itself to this devotion. The season kicked off where the previous season left off, with Rick Grimes and the leaders from the Alexandria community grouped together in a circle bound up and on their knees.

In the previous season, the Alexandria community decided to help the Hilltop community in fighting against a common threat: The Saviors. These supposed “Saviors” were anything but. They were some pretty bad dudes who were forcing other communities to either work for them or, if the community refused, killing them in brutally awful ways. So the Alexandria community attacked the Saviors outpost and killed everyone there, only to find out that the outpost the attacked was merely one outpost among many. There were far more Saviors than Alexandria could handle, and the plan ultimately backfired. The Alexandria leaders were eventually captured and grouped together in the circle we see them in at the start of Season 7.

What happened following that can only be described as horrific,  brutal and extremely hard to watch. To sum it up and spare you the emotional trauma that TWD fans had to endure, unless you are already among them, a bloodbath ensues. Negan (pronounced Nee-gan), the leader of The Saviors, plays a twisted game of “eeny meeny miny moe”, where he selects the person who is going to die. When he arrives at the person, he brutally bludgeons him to death with a barb-wire wrapped bat that Negan has nicknamed “Lucille”. Trust me when I say this, it wasn’t pretty. It was graphic, numbing, scarring, and certainly painful to watch. But it was not pretty. What’s more, Negan didn’t stop with the first victim, but ended up choosing a second one to kill in the same fashion.

The point of my bringing this up is because we can very easily imagine such violence existing in our world. As much as we try to pretend it doesn’t exist, we know it does. Honestly, it doesn’t take a zombie apocalypse for that kind of stuff to happen. Yet, while such senseless, brutal violence exists in our world, it is also true that most of us (in Western Civilization anyway) have the choice to be sheltered from it. We can choose to not watch the news, to not open our eyes to the suffering of others around the world, and to live as disconnected from such violence as we choose to be. Yes, I realize that some suffer domestic violence and that not everyone has this choice, but most of us do.

With that said and out there, there are many in our world who think that we can excuse ourselves, as Christians, from following in Jesus’ footsteps. We think that Jesus’ teachings were good for his time because he didn’t live in the age of terrorism. We think that Jesus lived in a golden age that allowed for him to be all “tree-huggy” and “hipster” like. First, Jesus was no tree-hugger nor was he a hippie. Those things come from our world not his. Second, if we truly think that Jesus’ world was less dangerous and less violent than ours, it is time for us to head back to World History 101.

God’s honest truth is that while the actions of Negan shock us because we NEVER see anything like that on a regular basis, Jesus and the people in 1st century Palestine would not have been shocked in the slightest. Growing up, Jesus would vividly remember the forest of crosses, upon which thousands of Galilean men and women were crucified on because of their trying to revolt against King Herod. He drew a reference to, and clearly was aware of, Pontius Pilate slaughtering the mob of people he lured to the public square to “talk” to them about their grievances. It is true, Jesus’ world was not like ours. It was much, much worse.

So, the challenge for us today is to show both a bit of honesty and a lot of humility. Comparing the things we face in our world to that of Jesus’ is NOT AN EXCUSE for us not following the Christ. If we believe in Jesus, then it is clear what we ought to be doing. If we don’t believe, or we don’t think that Jesus’ teachings make sense for us today, then at least be honest and admit that you don’t follow Jesus. This is not meant to push anyone way, but to draw the line so that we can honestly evaluate ourselves. As Christians, everything we do, say and believe ought to be measured by THE ONE who is THE WAY in which we follow. I pray that we all have a heart-to-heart with Jesus during this Lenten journey and choose to follow The Way, The Truth and the Life.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“We must not reduce the bosom of the universal church to a nest protecting our mediocrity.” – Pope Francis I
PRAYER
Lord, help me face the truth and shed the excuses. I am yours. I follow you. Amen.

The Sermon, part 5: Higher Standard

Read Matthew 5:20

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For Christ is the [purpose] of the Law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” (Romans 10:4 NRSV)

Jesus had just told his disciples that he did not come to abolish the Torah or the Prophets; rather, Jesus had come to be the fulfillment of them. As was mentioned in the previous devotion, this does not mean that Jesus fulfillls the law by any sort of legalistic way. His teachings neither summarize the Law, nor do they offer a “new interpretation” of the it. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets because they point directly to him, the Messiah, and his coming to usher in God’s reign.

Jesus then takes that one step forward, just in case anyone may have thought that the Torah and the Prophets were now “history”. Such a willy-nilly approach to understanding Christ’s prophetic fulfillment of Scripture is even more unacceptable than that of the hypocrisy of some of the Pharisees. “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

An important historical side note needs to be entered here. It can be said with much certainty that there were Pharisees in Jesus’ day; however, they were not as prominent of a group as they were in the time that Matthew was writing his Gospel. It is quite probable that Jesus did face opposition from some Pharisees as he traveled town to town with his message of God’s Kingdom come; yet, there can be no doubt that Matthew’s community was the one truly facing opposition from the Pharisees.

The reason for noting this is because in Jesus’ day, the group that was really in power were the Sadducees who controlled and presided over the Temple. They were the ones that made up the majority of the Sanhedrin, at least at the time of Jesus, which was the ruling religious body of Judea. What’s more, the Sadducees and the Pharisees were opponents of each other. This can be seen in Paul’s craftily pitting the Pharisees against the Sadducees in Acts 23:6-8.

In Matthew’s day, however, the Temple was long destroyed and the Sadducees were not more. It was the Pharisees, at that point in history, who were working to redefine what it meant to be Jewish without a Temple to make sacrifices for the atonement of sins. Their answer was strict observance of the Law, with the understanding that if you strictly observe Torah, that equals an atoning sacrifice greater than the slaughter of animals. Matthew’s community, on the other hand, believed Jesus to be the answer to the question of how to be Jewish apart from the Temple. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection not only provided atonement for the believer, they were the ultimate fulfillment of God’s Law and the Prophets.

I note this because it is important that we don’t become false judges of the Pharisees as a group. I would imagine that most Pharisees were earnest, faithful people who were living out their call to follow God in the way that they understood that. Jesus’ teachings, while certainly calling out the hypocrisy of some of the religious leaders of his day, were pointed straight at the disciples. It was imperative to Jesus that his disciples realize that in order to be of the Kingdom of God, they have to exceed the “righteousness” being taught by the Pharisees. In other words, God has a higher standard.

As we will see in the next several devotions, Jesus lays out what he believes to be the true standard of God in the Law and the Prophets. In the meantime, let us reflect on the following warning that Jesus gives his disciples. What does it mean for us to exceed the Law and the Prophets?  What does it mean for us to live our lives in the same manner that Christ lived his, as a fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets? If Christ is within us, then that fulfillment should be evident. Let us reflect on these questions as we await what Christ has to teach us.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Being a Christian is more than just an instantaneous conversion – it is a daily process whereby you grow to be more and more like Christ.” – Billy Graham

PRAYER
Lord, teach me your way that I may, through you, represent your coming Kingdom. Amen.

Breath of God

Read Genesis 1

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1, 14)

15542680The Bible tells us that in the beginning, the earth was a formless void. All that existed was darkness which covered the face of the deep. Then something miraculous happened. God’s breath (Hebrew: rûach, pronounced roo-akh’; Greek: pneuma, pronounced pnyoo’-mah) wisped like a wind over the waters, which in the ancient world were seen as chaos, and God spoke: “Let there be light.” From that moment on nothing remained the same. From the chaos came order, from the darkness came light, from the void came wholeness, and from the formless came form. All of this from series of simple, yet powerful WORDS.

The creation story was written by priestly Jewish scribes during the Babylonian exile (ca 587 – 538 BCE) in a time when the people of Judah had nearly lost their entire identity. There land and titles were stripped from them, they were yanked from their homeland and forced to live in Babylon as subjects of King Nebuchadnezzar II, their temple was utterly destroyed and their identity as a people chosen by God nearly crushed! Yet, these scribes sat down and penned the creation story in order to impart this message of hope: “The same God who created order out of chaos, the same God that formed the formless, the same God that breathed life into the lifeless can certainly bring order to the chaos of our captivity.”

In the Gospel of John, written about 638 years after the end of the Babylonian exile, we see God’s Word bringing new hope and new creativity into the world. John tells us that this same Word of God that created the  universe and all that is in it, this same Word of God that brought order to the chaos, this same Word of God became flesh and walked among us in a man called Jesus of Nazareth. The living breath of God had come alive in another person and this particular person would bring the hope of God’s presence, as well as order, into a world plagued with chaos.

As can be seen in the Bible, Words are extremely powerful. Just like water which is shown to be a force of chaos and destruction as much as it is shown to be a force of life, Words can be both destructive as well as creative. How often, we as human beings use words in careless ways and with reckless abandon. How often we take our words for granted without giving them even a second thought. How often we have been hurt by words as well as uplifted by them. How often we have hurt others with our words as well as brought healing with them.

In creation, God chose those creative words carefully. God poured all of Godself into those words and as a result, we are filled with the living breath or spirit of God. In life, Jesus of Nazareth also chose his words carefully, using them to bring hope, healing and wholeness to those who need. He used words that destructively worked against systems of oppression, corruption, greed, and injustice.

As children of God, as followers of Jesus, we are being challenged to use our words wisely. We are being challenged to be a people who treat our words, and the breath that forms them, exactly as they are: SACRED. Our breath and our words (spoken, written or even thought) are gifts from God, not to be taken lightly or to be used thoughtlessly and/or with reckless abandon. We should be using our words to breathe life into people. We should be using our words, like Jesus, to bring God’s hope, healing and wholeness in the world. When need be we should use our words as a way to counteract systems of oppression and injustice. In the name of God, by the power of Christ, speak your words to those who need to hear them!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

Every time we breathe we are breathing in God’s breath of life.

PRAYER

Lord, put on my lips your words so that I may speak hope, healing and wholeness to all in need. Amen.

 

Billboards and Bumper Stickers

Read Jeremiah 31:31-34

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)

Read-the-InstructionsEvery once and  a while I will pass a billboard sign or see a bumper sticker that will just irk me a little bit. It is usually a pretentious saying word, “Co-Exist”, that is made up of all different religous symbols. I mean, on the one hand, I get that the bumper sticker is telling people to get along, hold hands, and skip along the yellow brick road with one another while practicing different religions. In essence, it is calling for acceptance of religious pluralism, the notion that all paths lead to God (a problematic notion to say the least). On the other hand, the problem in the world is that we ARE CO-EXISTING!!!  We often don’t co-exist peacefully, but we are definitely co-existing. Co-existence does not equal peace.

With that said, the other day I was driving down the road and I happened to see a billboard sign that read, “When all else fails, read the instructions.” Underneath those words was a large picture of the the Holy Bible. On the surface, those words seem to make sense. I am a Christian who actively reads the Bible and try to live by what I believe to be the core teachings within it. But the words on that billboard are overly simplistic, they imply that the Bible is a last resort, and they do not accurately depict what the Bible actually is.

If the Bible is a divine manual given to us so that we can follow its “instructions”, which instructions should we follow first? Perhaps, we should stone our children when they’ve dishonored us (Deuteronomy 21:18-21). Perhaps we men should remain unmarried and make ourselves eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom (Matthew 19:12). If we are going to follow the “instructions” then shouldn’t we get rid of our personal property and share it in common with the church (Acts 4:32-35) and shouldn’t women cover their heads (1 Corinthians 11:6) and remain submissively silent (1 Timothy 2:11-12)?

The fact of the matter is that what we have in the Bible is much more than a set of “instructions” for us to follow. While there are laws, rules and regulations, the Bible is also a collection of writings that reflect each author’s understanding of the human-divine relationship, as well as their commentary on the socio-economic and political situations of where they lived. The Bible is very much a living testament to the faith journeys of the ancient people who wrote and compiled it. The Bible is also a foundational text that we relate to and from which we spiritually grow.

While the Bible is certainly an important part of our Christian journey, and while I certainly encourage people to read and study it, I do believe that we Christians tend to get confused on what the Living Word of God really is. Is God’s Word a mere book, a mere set of rules and regulations on how to not upset the big daddy in the sky? Is the Word of God a book that has both a beginning and an end, a book that is finite and limited to words on a page? Is the Word of God bound in a book that can be used and misused?

If we are going to have a traditional Christian theological understanding of what the Living Word of God is, we might want to take a hint from the first chapter of the Gospel of John. The Living Word of God is not a bound collection of ancient books written by people who were inspired by God; rather, the Living WORD of God is the risen Jesus Christ.  That WORD cannot be bound nor contained. It knows no limits and it reaches different people in different ways. The WORD of God is not stagnant and typeset on flimsy paper, it is living and breathing through Christ who not only lives in us, but also through us.  When all else fails, know that the Word of God, which is living within you, does not!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Every creature is a word of God” – Meister Eckhart

PRAYER

Lord, I thank you for the Bible and for the inspired words within it. But my greatest praise is for your WORD, Christ Jesus. Amen.