The expression “the new normal” spawned a television series in 2012 based upon a gay couple living in Los Angeles. Instead of promoting a traditional family with a husband and wife, Hollywood decided to redefine what a typical family should look like in the 21st century. Whether you agree with this premise or not, the progressive movement has redefined what is common, expected and typical within society today.
Well then, are we [Jews] superior and better off than they? No, not at all. We have already charged that all men, both Jews and Greeks (Gentiles), are under sin [held down by and subject to its power and control, Romans 3:9.
During the first century, the apostle Paul crossed paths with a community of believers who felt superior to other normal, ordinary citizens. This rubbed Paul the wrong way, inspiring a letter to confront this aloof, cocky and holier than thou complex. Within chapter 1 and 2 of Romans, Paul sets the stage to expose this flawed mentality. To drive home this point, Paul quotes an Old Testament prophet who once proclaimed, “there is no one righteous, not even one.”
As it is written, None is righteous, just and truthful and upright and conscientious, no, not one. 11 No one understands [no one intelligently discerns or comprehends]; no one seeks out God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have gone wrong and have become unprofitable and worthless; no one does right, not even one! – Romans 3:10-12.
Before these Roman Christians could interrupt Paul with the words, “but I’m different,” their argument is blown out of the water. The only thing normal about everyone who walks the face of the earth is that you are just as dysfunctional as your neighbor, Sure, some will be more godly and moral than others, but no one is perfect. Despite this fact, some still try to tear down others to make themselves feel better. In the end, whether you want to admit it or not, you are just as dysfunctional as the next person due to your own sinful nature. May the hope of forgiveness revive your soul by embracing the Messiah, the Savior of the World, Jesus Christ.
According to Colossians 4:14 and Philemon 1:24, a man named Demas appears to have been involved with Paul’s earthly ministry. Although the exact role served by this man is unclear, Demas devoted a portion of his life to serving God. Apparently, Demas’ passion for the mission field faded away, replaced by a love for pleasures of this world. Based upon the passage below, Demas may have been one of Paul’s converts from Thessalonica, returning home to pursue secular aspirations.
Make every effort to come to me soon; 10 for Demas, having loved [the pleasures of] this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica; Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia, 2 Timothy 4:9-10.
When I first read this passage, I began to wonder why spiritual faith disappears. To a certain extent, our culture is partially responsible, giving modern Christians who leave ministry positions permission to finally get paid a decent wage. My first year as a High School Bible teacher I made a salary of $19,000. A decade later, my final year of teaching earned me just over $30K, which included two coaching positions. You can’t put a price on the spiritual benefits of serving God, but when you are living just above the poverty line, it’s no wonder that more and more individuals leave churches to start a professional career.
But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 9 But those who [are not financially ethical and] crave to get rich [with a compulsive, greedy longing for wealth] fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction [leading to personal misery]. 10 For the love of money [that is, the greedy desire for it and the willingness to gain it unethically] is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves [through and through] with many sorrows, 1 Timothy 6:8-10.
In the passage above, Paul unveils the mindset which sets the stage for faith to disappear. Perhaps, Paul is referring to Demas or others believers Paul met while on the mission field. Paul suggests that money can trap those who once trusted in the Lord for daily bread to be led astray by a craving for more. As people develop a love for money, faith is often left behind. The apostle Paul wrote a letter to the church in Rome, Romans 8:5-8, eluding to two mindsets, one that focuses on God and the other on worldly desires. Whenever individuals taste forbidden fruit, reaching beyond the line where the grass appears greener sets the stage for faith to disappear. Yet, before your mind becomes hostile to God, think twice before you act so you don’t follow in the footsteps of Demas.
by Jay Mankus
According to Colossians 4:14 and Philemon 1:24, Demas assisted the apostle Paul in some capacity during his missionary journeys. While Demas isn’t considered a dear friend like Luke, this man is referred to as a fellow worker in fulfilling the great commission, Acts 1:8. Yet, as some point Demas had second thoughts of devoting his life to the ministry.
Make every effort to come to me soon; 10 for Demas, having loved [the pleasures of] this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica; Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. 11 Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very helpful to me for the ministry, 2 Timothy 4:9-11.
Paul shares this disappointing news in a letter to a teenage pastor. Demas wasn’t the first Christian to abandon Paul on the mission field. Luke describes how Barnabas’ cousin, John Mark departed in Acts 15:38. Biblical scholars blame Mark’s decision on an illness or simply becoming homesick. Whenever believers leave the church to pursue secular aspirations, levels of commitment, faith and maturity are exposed.
But godliness actually is a source of great gain when accompanied by contentment [that contentment which comes from a sense of inner confidence based on the sufficiency of God]. 7 For we have brought nothing into the world, so [it is clear that] we cannot take anything out of it, either. 8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content, 1 Timothy 6:6-8.
The difference between the first century and modern churches is the sense of urgency that existed. Many first century leaders lived their lives as if Jesus was going to return tomorrow. This mentality drove the apostle Paul to seize every opportunity to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah, offering the promise of eternal life to all who would listen, 1 John 5:13. While some modern congregations possess a similar mindset, apathy has caused my faith to slowly disappear.
But those who [are not financially ethical and] crave to get rich [with a compulsive, greedy longing for wealth] fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction [leading to personal misery]. 10 For the love of money [that is, the greedy desire for it and the willingness to gain it unethically] is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves [through and through] with many sorrows, 1 Timothy 6:9-10.
After spending fifteen years in churches, ten as a Bible teacher and five serving in local youth groups, I deserted the ministry. Living just above the poverty line for a decade was enough for me to pursue temporary pleasures as the apostle Paul suggests. The only trace of my remaining faith exists in this blog. While I am not proud of the person that I have become by living outside of the church, it is what it is for now. My only prayer is that I strive to become a modern day tentmaker, earning enough money to provide for my family while serving the Lord in some other capacity going forward.
A synagogue is the building or location where a Jewish assembly meets for religious worship and instruction. In biblical times, small towns and villages with less than ten men met out in the open, often along the banks of a river or sea. One of these places of worship was known as the Synagogue of the Freedmen. These individuals were of collection of freed Jewish slaves from Alexandria, Asia, Cilicia and Cyrene. Past experiences as slaves created an instant bond for these men.
However, some men from what was called the Synagogue of the Freedmen (freed Jewish slaves), both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and [the province of] Asia, rose up and questioned and argued with Stephen, Acts 6:9.
Based upon the passage above, the members of this synagogue felt threatened by Jesus. Perhaps this community of believers was afraid of change, especially to Jewish traditions that they embraced. Thus, their reaction to Jesus being the long awaited Messiah was similar to the chief priest and Pharisees who crucified Jesus. Subsequently, the Synagogue of the Freedmen began a smear campaign against Stephen. This newly appointed apostle was bombarded by a character assassination provoked and incited by the people.
“You stiff-necked and stubborn people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are always actively resisting the Holy Spirit. You are doing just as your fathers did. 52 Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who proclaimed beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; 53 you who received the law as ordained and delivered to you by angels, and yet you did not obey it!” – Acts 7:51-53
Stephen was put on trial, forced to give an account of the false accusations made against him. It’s unclear whether or not the Synagogue of the Freedmen were pawns urged by religious leaders or willing participants. Regardless of the motives, Stephen blames this behavior on resisting the Holy Spirit. Any type of change is difficult. However, when you make a decision to dedicate your life to Jesus, this means living by a new set of standards, the Bible. Stephen was stoned to death and other Christians were persecuted. As modern souls wrestle to make spiritual decisions today, the fear of change remains. For anyone still on the fence, may your hearts and minds embrace the Holy Spirit.
Function is the basis for an act, serving as the bridge to your ultimate purpose. Unfortunately, if you find yourself overwhelmed by a hectic schedule, many carry on with their daily routines without any meaningful reflection. Anyone who allows the busyness of life to consume their soul, you may end up as a prime example of form without function.
What is the benefit, my fellow believers, if someone claims to have faith but has no [good] works [as evidence]? Can that [kind of] faith save him? [No, a mere claim of faith is not sufficient—genuine faith produces good works, James 2:14.
At some point following his brother’s death, James began to re-evaluate his belief system. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus challenged his tradition view of Judaism. The concept of a Messiah was believed to be part of the end times. Yet, Jesus taught James that faith must be accompanied by good works inspired by love. Without any external change by displaying fruits of the Spirit, you are merely form without function.
If a brother or sister is without [adequate] clothing and lacks [enough] food for each day, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace [with my blessing], [keep] warm and feed yourselves,” but he does not give them the necessities for the body, what good does that do? 17 So too, faith, if it does not have works [to back it up], is by itself dead [inoperative and ineffective], James 2:15-17.
While observing religious practices for most of his life, it appears James was simply going through the motions, without a relationship with God, Romans 10:9-10. Jesus’ lifestyle slowly convicted James’ heart, making him realize that his faith was dead, inoperative. Following the commandments, praying and worshipping God is merely a to do list, a spiritual checklist. Seeing the error of his way, James writes to first century Christians to encourage believers to activate their faith. The love of Jesus is the form in which faith is meant to function. May this lesson revive and rejuvenate your soul.
In the context of the Bible, the offering up of a sacrifice is regarded as a divine institution. The book of Leviticus serves as a handbook for sacrifices. Essentially, God reveals to Moses the necessary steps to atone for any act of disobedience, error in judgment or mistake that is deemed a transgression against God. These laws have been passed down from generation to generation so that Jewish believers are able to draw near to God. When the promised Messiah, Jesus, arrives on the scene in the first century, the tradition of taking animals to the temple to be sacrificed was about to become extinct. Following his life, death and resurrection, Jesus became the first living sacrifice compared to a perfect lamb of God.
“I say to you, whoever declares openly and confesses Me before men [speaking freely of Me as his Lord], the Son of Man also will declare openly and confess him [as one of His own] before the angels of God.9 But he who denies Me before men will be denied in the presence of the angels of God, Luke 12:8-9.
The apostle Paul refers to this concept in a letter to the church at Rome. Instead of dying on a cross, Paul urges first century followers of Christ to present their bodies as a living sacrifice. The Amplified Version of the Bible provides some clues to what exactly this means. In quotations, Paul uses the expression “all of yourself.” This includes your heart, mind and soul. If you want to do a brief self-evaluation, what actions, behavior and words are setting you apart from the world? Do people see the love of Jesus within you or have you succumb to peer pressure by conforming to the world? This is give an overview, a blueprint to start your life long journey as a servant of Christ.
Therefore I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies [dedicating all of yourselves, set apart] as a living sacrifice, holy and well-pleasing to God, which is your rational (logical, intelligent) act of worship. 2 And do not be conformed to this world [any longer with its superficial values and customs], but be transformed and progressively changed [as you mature spiritually] by the renewing of your mind [focusing on godly values and ethical attitudes], so that you may prove [for yourselves] what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect [in His plan and purpose for you], Romans 12:1-2.
Before He was betrayed by Judas during Passover, Jesus identifies an important trait for those who want to become a living sacrifice. According to Jesus, you must be proud of your relationship with God. While you still have to walk the walk as a light for Christ, Jesus expects believers to openly declare their faith. This may be difficult for the shy or timid, but there are ways to share your faith naturally. Some may do this through diets, fasting and random acts of kindness. Others will find creative means via social media to express what they believe. The key to becoming a living sacrifice is making Jesus your Savior and Lord. May this blog inspire you to emulate this biblical practice.
You can’t discuss forgiveness without bringing up Jesus’ name. In the passage below, Jesus is placed on a cross between two criminals sentenced to death. When Pilate, the governor, gave Jesus a chance to defend himself against trumped up accusations, he remained silent, accepting the fate and plan God set forth. While all this was happening, Jesus emulated the love of God by forgiving those who didn’t deserve it.
Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed.33 When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left, Luke 23:32-33.
Captain George Kendall was the first person to executed in America. Influenced by leaders in Great Britain, Kendall was hung in 1608 at the Jamestown colony in Virginia. Today, 31 states have the death penalty as a punishment for those individuals who have taken another life. This principle is based upon Jewish law, part of the Torah that Moses passed down for future generations, “life for life, death for death.” However, the New Testament conveys a new message, Romans 6:23, the gift of God, Jesus Christ who paid the price for all past, present and future transgressions.
Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”[And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. 35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One,” Luke 23:34-35.
Unfortunately, if you listen to the media and political pundits, forgiveness is a lonely word. Instead, condemnation, demonizing and judging individuals is a daily ritual. This relentless attack is void of grace and mercy. If Jesus can forgive the people who beat, crucified and mocked him, there must be room in our hearts to forgive those who hurt us. Remember, forgiveness is conditional based upon how you forgive others, Matthew 6:14-15. Despite whatever rationale you may have devised, the golden rule still remains the standard to live by, treating others as you want to be treated. Therefore, bear with one another, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. This is the benchmark which enabled Jesus to forgive those who didn’t deserve it.
Due to prejudices that exist, accomplishments of certain individuals are brushed aside, ignored or neglected. During Black History Month in America, its important to recall how God can use less than perfect places to further His will on earth. In the Old Testament, God sends Abraham to Gerar during a time of famine. Oddly enough, when translated into English, Gerar means to drag off roughly. Infested with Philistines, a land of giants eager to display their dominance over others is the city that God chose as a place of refuge for the founding father of Israel. Sometimes trusting God requires extreme faith, overlooking clear and present dangers for hidden treasures revealed in the future.
Now there was a famine in the land, besides the former famine that was in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went to Gerar to Abimelech king of the Philistines, Genesis 26:1.
In the early first century, certain towns had become a haven for criminals. Nazareth developed a reputation for being a tough place to live, with rampant crime. These reports poisoned the mind of Nathanael, doubting if any good could ever come out of this place. Despite the evidence leading to Jesus as the promised Messiah of the Old Testament, many were skeptical. Instead of listening to rumors, Philip encourages his friend to just come and see, to find out for yourself. Unfortunately, stereotypes stifle people from different backgrounds from really getting to know each other. Perhaps, the enemy, the Devil uses this strategy to prevent intimate friendships from developing on earth, keeping atheists from taking a leap of faith to trust Jesus as Savior and Lord.
Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46 “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip, John 1:45-46.
I have spent the majority of my life on earth living in or near Wilmington, Delaware. I spent three years at an inner city school, Harlan Elementary, using sports as a way to connect with African Americans and Hispanics. When I was on the basketball court at recess, I wasn’t a cracker or honkey. I was a normal kid trying to fit in by doing what he loved. Today, Wilmington is often in the news for the wrong reasons, ranking in the top ten for murder rates for its size and number one in teenage pregnancy. Sure, for those teens trapped in this hopeless environment, the percentages for success isn’t high. Yet, if God can use places like Gerar and Nazareth, then anything is possible for those who believe, Matthew 21:22.
According to the book of Genesis, the first family on earth felt compelled to make offerings to the Lord. It’s unclear if God first communicated the concept of a tithe to Adam while living in the Garden of Eden or later on in life. Nonetheless, sons of Adam, Cain and Abel began to practice what is referred to as first fruits. As a farmer, Cain brought forth crops during the harvest. Meanwhile, little brother Abel was a shepherd, not withholding any expense, presenting the Lord with some of his finest sheep. These offerings often reveal who trusts God completely from those whom are still trying to control the steering wheel.
In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord, Genesis 4:3.
Like buying Christmas gifts, some individuals have the means to purchase anything they want. Meanwhile, the majority have to set spending limits to avoid going into debt. This limitation can create animosity between family members or friends over the holidays. If you expect a certain amount of gifts in your mind, any type of high expectations can lead to disappointment. From God’s perspective, He is the Creator of life, a spiritual father to all. Unfortunately, human nature breeds selfishness, causing many to forget about God the Father, like the wayward child in the parable of the prodigal son.
And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, Genesis 4:4.
The prophet Isaiah uses the term Emmanuel to refer to the coming Messiah, Jesus. When translated into English, Emmanuel means God with us. Perhaps, this inspired three Magi to each bring gifts from their lands. One brought gold, another frankincense and the last myrrh. If there is a lesson people can learn from these three wise men it’s that tithes and lives go together. Giving tithes and transforming lives go hand in hand. As Christmas Day approaches, may the Holy Spirit inspire you to give back to God through tithes and a rededicated life to Jesus.
If you watched the 2017 World Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Houston Astros, you were not disappointed unless your team lost. Nonetheless, winning this title in baseball is the pinnacle for major league ball players. However, for one member of the winning Houston Astros, this wasn’t enough. Similar to the final scene of the 1999 film For the Love of the Game, sometimes relationships are more important. Thus, getting down on a knee, Carlos Correa proposed to his girl friend during the postgame festivities. In his mind, the timing was right.
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” – Matthew 16:15
During the first century, Jesus arrived in Caesarea Philippi with his disciples. Led by the Holy Spirit, Jesus felt it was time to have a serious conversation with his ministry team. After discussing what others believed about him, Jesus wanted to know, “what about you?” This question set the stage for Passion Week, Jesus’ final week on earth before his crucifixion. Following Peter’s confession that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah, Jesus tried to prepare his disciples for the events of the future. This information didn’t sit too well with Peter, who was unable to grasp the fact that Jesus was a heavenly king, not the earthly king of the Jews.
From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life, Matthew 16:21.
In life, the future is like a blank tapestry waiting to be painted. Yet, some times you don’t have the materials necessary to start. On other occasions, you have the tools, but you lack the vision necessary to complete this portrait. As for me, I was attending a retreat in southern Indiana. I had recently resigned from my youth ministry position and was unsure of what to do next. Following a moving presentation, God impressed upon the need to ask my girl friend Leanne to marry me. The next day, I drove to Chicago, took a twist tie that she gave me as part of a care package and proposed. When the timing is right, step out in faith while you have the opportunity to act. By doing this, you fulfill the words of Galatians 5:25.
Whether you are an employee, novice or student, there is a hesitancy that exists within human beings. This fear of the unknown inspires the question, “Am I on the right track?” Until you receive confirmation, subtle doubts will linger. This anxiety causes many to wonder, “should I be expecting someone else?”
Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor, Matthew 11:4-5.
Before John the Baptist is murdered in the first century, he was imprisoned. Something within him sensed death was near. Thus, in his last days on earth John sought the truth, hoping to receive assurance to his assumptions. John sent some of his own disciples to Jesus to confirm if Jesus was indeed the Messiah spoken by the Old Testament prophets. The passage above is Jesus’ response to John’s question.
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me, John 14:6.
A few years later, Jesus’ disciples developed a similar concern, not sure who their leader really was. This uncertainty led to chatter between disciples, wondering if there was a connection between Jesus and God. As Passion Week began, Jesus’ last week on earth prior to his crucifixion, he silences any remaining doubt with the passage above. Surely, upon hearing the news that Jesus was the only way to God the Father resolved this life long question. The answer is no!