Christ the Enemy of Death

Scripture Focus: 1 Kings 17.18
18 She said to Elijah, “What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?”

Colossians 4.3
3 Pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ.

1 Corinthians 15.26
The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

From John: Two years ago, on the day this devotional was posted, I spoke at the funeral of a young man who grew up performing in theatre with me since he was about 10 years old. He had died suddenly one night at 23 of a previously undetected heart condition. This left many asking if this was “God’s plan.” I wrote this partly in response to that question. Scripture does not make a strong argument that God meticulously controls and determines every event. Christians aren’t fatalists. And when it comes to death, God’s clearly stated plan is to destroy death, not collaborate with him. We can be assured that death, though it can be used for good, is not part of his “plan.”

Reflection: Christ the Enemy of Death
By John Tillman

God’s plan may refer to the unchanging will of God that cannot, due to God’s sovereignty and purpose, be overturned. This is true of God’s eternal purpose for humans to live forever in peace with God. Eden was an expression of this plan, and the new earth to come, will be the completion of this unchangeable and inevitable sovereign plan of God. 

God’s plan can also refer to God’s direction for a specific situation. God’s direction to Elijah to stay with the Sidonian widow is an example of this. This granular and finite definition of “God’s plan” is not equivalent to God’s eternal, sovereign purposes.

Elijah assumes, and we often do as well, that God dictates every death as part of his plan. However, God consistently shows through scripture that he is death’s enemy, not death’s co-conspirator. 

God makes it clear—throughout scripture but most directly through the actions of Christ—that death itself is not part of his “plan.” 

Death is used in God’s plans in the same way God uses many evil and wicked things, diverting evil purposes for righteous purposes. God uses the death of wicked individuals in his working of justice. God uses suffering caused by death to conform us to the image of Christ. God tenderly cares for his people during the suffering of death, as a part of his loving-kindness. In many situations in the Old Testament and the New, God reverses death, resuscitating death’s victims in miraculous ways.

We can be comforted knowing God hates death. He hates the long, slow death of old age. He hates the crippling, painful death of cancer and other wasting diseases. He hates the sudden and tragic deaths of the young. He hates death that rides on the heels of war, conflict, violence, injustice, and abuses of power.  

Death is God’s enemy because it harms and hurts his children. Death is an evil attempt by Satan to violate God’s eternal plans and purposes. God is, from chapter three of Genesis, working his will against death, advancing his purpose to destroy death, and preparing his people to overcome death.  

Part of the mystery of Christ that Paul refers to is he confronts, on our behalf, our greatest enemies—sin and death. He has defeated them both on the cross and the Holy Spirit, our comforter today, is our guarantee that victory over sin and death will ultimately be ours.

Christ is the deadly enemy of death.


Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence

Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. — Psalm 86.4

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
1 Kings 17 (Listen – 3:14)
Colossians 4 (Listen – 2:21)

Read more about Make No Peace With Death
The Christian does not make peace with death. Death is the final enemy to be defeated.

Read more about The Gospel is an Uprising
Christ exiting the doors of Hell itself…is often depicted stepping upon Death…The Anastasis—the Uprising—is the great jailbreak of God.

Pie In The Sky and Strange Fruit

Scripture Focus: 1 Corinthians 15.19
If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

From John: We are moving into an extremely emotionally charged weekend during which we will remember those who died in attacks on the United States twenty years ago. Many will try to make political hay from the deaths of the victims. At times like this, it is good to remember the resurrection and its true meaning. We also reflect on what it means that we serve a God who chose to suffer with us and on our behalf. This reflection from 2019 refers specifically to racial terrorism, but all forms of injustices we suffer, whether from foreign threats, lynch mobs, politically-motivated violence, or home-grown terrorists, will ultimately be set right by a God who entered injustice to give us his righteousness. The resurrection will steal the sting of earthly death and suffering. Amen.

Reflection: Pie In The Sky and Strange Fruit 
By John Tillman

The hope of the resurrection is not just for some far-off “Day of the Lord.” It is also for the here and now.

The Corinthians struggled with false teachings regarding Heaven and resurrection. Prevailing Greek philosophy taught that bodies were evil and spirit was the ultimate existence. With this belief, bodily resurrection seemed like a punishment, rather than freedom. 

Confusion about the resurrection and about Heaven are nothing new. 

There have been times when those in power misused theology about the resurrection and Heaven. Preachers at times described Heaven as a pie-in-the-sky compensation for starving masses while they themselves sat with the powerful at supper, gorging on pie in the here and now. Some pastors partnered with the powerful, holding Heaven like a carrot in front of the mules, while cruel masters wielded a whip behind. 

This kind of pie-in-the-sky teaching relied on the same un-Christian philosophies about spirit and body that Paul worked to debunk. It told the oppressed that the suffering of their bodies was acceptable, even desirable so that their souls could be saved. This twists Paul’s words in order to theologically defend keeping people in bondage and ignoring cries for justice. 

Christ enters our sufferings with us. But our suffering is not salvific and our hope is not just for after this life.

It is by Christ’s stripes we are healed, not our own. It is by Christ’s lynching, being hung on a tree, that we are saved, not our own. Christ hung on the cross is “strange fruit” from which comes the seed of the gospel

Paul teaches us that the resurrection steals the sting of earthly death and suffering. Amen. All will ultimately be set right. Amen. Righteousness will flow like a mighty stream. Amen. The trees in the kingdom of God will bear fruit that heals the nation, redeeming the “strange fruit” of oppression and hate.

But the existence of ultimate justice does not allow us to ignore calls for justice now. In every community he visited and worked in, Paul encouraged the church to work for the good of their community and to spread the gospel. Nowhere did he counsel them to sit idly to wait on the heavenly city.

The power that raised Christ from the grave is available to us through the Holy Spirit. Seeking his guidance, may we act as representatives of God’s justice, and distribute the crop of healing for the nations.

*Strange Fruit – the story behind “The Song of the Century”, by The Salt Project and WFYI

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
You are the Lord, most high over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods. — Psalm 97.9

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Samuel 4-5 (Listen – 6:10) 
1 Corinthians 15 (Listen – 8:06)

This Weekend’s Readings
2 Samuel 6 (Listen – 3:34), 1 Corinthians 16 (Listen – 2:54)
2 Samuel 7 (Listen – 4:26),  2 Corinthians 1 (Listen -3:52)

Read more about Prayers of Woe and Weeping :: Guided Prayer
Weeping for our own hurts and harms is one thing. Weeping for what grieves God is a prophetic task and a work of faith.

Read more about Purpose
Lay down your life. Put others first. Don’t manipulate people. Swallow the tendency to whine when you aren’t the center of the universe.

Conflict’s Aftermath

Scripture Focus:  2 Samuel 2:26
Abner called out to Joab, “Must the sword devour forever? Don’t you realize that this will end in bitterness? How long before you order your men to stop pursuing their fellow Israelites?”

Reflection: Conflict’s Aftermath
By Erin Newton

Polarized. This word is the constant summary of our life lately. Every area seems to be weighted down in conflict.  When we reflect on the darker parts of our history, we like to think they are moments in time, isolated and spontaneous. There is a failure to see the slow progression of change from good to bad. And the even slower progress back to peace.

If Israel’s monarchy was portrayed on a TV episode, the death of Saul would be followed by a short commercial break and the reign of David would begin triumphantly. David was anointed in Hebron but his reign as the king of Israel was slow and filled with more turmoil. The conflict between Saul and David personally had ended but the ramifications continued. More hate, more blood. The house of David and the house of Saul were eager to carry out vengeance and retribution in the name of the lords they served. David was the rightful king and Saul was no longer a threat. The conflict should have ended.

Often there are rippling effects and continual consequences to mindsets that are hardened through a prolonged conflict. Racial discrimination, political rivalry, gender inequality, denominational intolerances, and the suspicion of public healthcare measures are areas that can fester conflict and hatred deep into a soul. Even when bridges are mended briefly, there are those who will continue to seek the destruction of perceived opponents. This can happen through what we say or what we encourage. It can be through our actions to cause pain or the turning of our eyes from someone in pain.

Still, some conflicts have found no lasting resolution. In these times, believers can look to the moment we shifted our allegiance from this world to Christ. This should alter how we function among those who are constantly at war. When did we forget he is the Prince of Peace? Let us ask God to replace the festering anger in our hearts with love. 

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
For one day in your courts is better than a thousand in my own room, and to stand at the threshold of the house of my God than to dwell in the tents of the wicked. — Psalm 84.9

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Samuel 2 (Listen – 5:07) 
1 Corinthians 13 (Listen – 2:23)

Read more about Blocking the Way of Wickedness
We don’t always have a choice about working with or living among wicked people, but we can choose how we respond.

Read more about The Best We Can Do
The best we can do—in our strength and wisdom—may not be God’s best for us.

Critique that Builds

Scripture Focus: 1 Corinthians 14.3, 26
But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort…What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.

Reflection: Critique that Builds Up
By John Tillman

As an actor, director, and teacher of theatre, I have a heightened appreciation for many aspects of theatre and a broader palette of theatrical taste than the average entertainment seeker. But in the wrong circumstances, I can turn into a cynical critic of performances, spotting errors that others don’t notice and cringing at choices that seem fine to the audience.

A similar thing can happen to those experienced in leading worship in any capacity. When they are not leading, those who are experienced leaders and designers of worship can be the most passionate participants, but can also be the most bitter of critics.

Dissatisfaction with forms of worship is not new. (Jesus clearing the Temple comes to mind.)
In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul seemed especially concerned for Christian worship to develop an ordered, discernable form. He desired a form with functions both of edification of believers and evangelization of non-believers and outsiders. He wanted believers not to simply be emotionally entertained, but intellectually informed. He wanted believers not to display mere intellectual prowess, but to faithfully demonstrate the power of God.

Paul speaks in the manner of a director giving notes, or a stage manager calling the cues:
“Two or three should speak. No more. Don’t pull focus. Don’t improvise things that are over the audience’s head. If they can’t understand it, they won’t come back. Stop talking over other people’s lines!”

One of the most valuable things that a healthy experience in theatre can teach, is to give and take criticism. You learn to “take the note.” This means owning the mistake, as well as the responsibility for correcting it. In theatre, when you get a note, you are being called out for an error. Healthy notes are given in love—love for participants, for the source material, and for the audience.

As critical as Paul is, he never loses his love for what is happening. He doesn’t allow critique to turn bitter and cynical. Paul’s relationship with the Corinthian church is tumultuous and passionate. In the messiness of this scandal-filled church, we see a mirror held up to our modern institutions of worship.

May we seek the passion of Paul for worship done well, without losing his love for worshipers even when they do everything wrong.

May our critiques be loving and build others up—never cynical call-outs and tear-downs.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm
Hear, O my people, and I will admonish you: O Israel, if you would but listen to me!
There shall be no strange god among you; you shall not worship a foreign god.
I am the Lord you God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and said, “open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.” — Psalm 81.8-10

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Samuel 3 (Listen – 6:35) 
1 Corinthians 14 (Listen – 5:40)

Read more from Lewis on Liturgiology — Part 1
Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore.

Read more about Rumors or Repentance
When someone critiques you and calls you to repent, what will you do?

The Church’s One Foundation — Lenten Hymns

Scripture Focus: John 5:24-27
24 “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. 25 Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.

1 Corinthians 3:11
For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.

Reflection: The Church’s One Foundation — Lenten Hymns
By Jon Polk

Controversy! Accusations! Divisive leaders!

No, not a reference to today’s headlines, but to a schism in the Church of England in the 1860s. Popular Bishop John William Colenso of Natal, South Africa raised the ire of many of his colleagues with controversial theological stances.

Colenso faced criticism shortly after his appointment, when he allowed polygamists to be baptized by the church without requiring them to divorce their multiple wives. Later, his writings and views on the authorship and historicity of some Old Testament books elicited protest from his more orthodox contemporaries.

The most vocal opposition came from another South African Bishop, Robert Gray of Cape Town. Gray went so far as to appeal to have Colenso removed from his post and even excommunicated. Colenso was removed but later reinstated by a judicial committee, which lead to a split in the South African church.

Meanwhile, in Oxford, England, Samuel John Stone was a young minister serving in a poor parish. Concerned by the division in the church in South Africa, Stone also recognized that his own congregants did not possess a full understanding of the basic tenets of their faith.

Inspired by a desire to bring clarity and unity, Stone wrote Lyra Fidelium: Twelve Hymns on the Twelve Articles of the Apostles’ Creed. Included in this collection was the hymn, “The Church’s One Foundation,” which references the church in South Africa.

Though with a scornful wonder
Men see her sore oppressed,
By schisms rent asunder,
By heresies distressed.

“The Church’s One Foundation” is Stone’s attempt to expound upon article nine of the Apostle’s Creed, “I believe in the Holy Catholic (i.e. universal) Church, the communion of saints.” 

As the hymn proclaims, the Church is founded upon Jesus Christ and him alone. The Church was inaugurated by the blood sacrifice and ultimate resurrection of Jesus. The Church is of Christ, for Christ, and belongs to Christ.

The season of Lent is an opportunity for the Church and for all Christians to examine our allegiances. To whom do we owe our existence? To whom do we give our loyalty?

The Church’s witness has been compromised by our misguided devotion to personalities, politics, and pariahs. To be a faithful voice of truth and love in the world, we must recover our singular dedication to Jesus Christ. We must return to our one true foundation.

The church’s one Foundation
Is Jesus Christ her Lord.
She is His new creation,
By water and the Word.
From heaven He came and sought her
To be His holy bride.
With His own blood He bought her,
And for her life He died.


Music: The Church’s One Foundation by Indelible Grace Music
Lyrics: “The Church’s One Foundation” lyrics from Hymnary.org

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Love the Lord, all you who worship him; the Lord protects the faithful, but repays to the full those who act haughtily. — Psalm 31.23

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Exodus 26 (Listen – 4:18)
John 5 (Listen – 5:42)

Read more about Solus Christus
For nothing can ever replace Jesus, nothing can ever exceed Jesus, and nothing is ever needed in addition to Jesus.

Read more about There is a Fountain Filled with Blood
The dying thief rejoiced to see
That fountain in his day;
And there may I, though as vile as he,
Wash all my sins away.

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