Tag Archives: Anger

A LOOK BACK: To Wrestle and Prevail

Read Genesis 32:22-32

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11 NRSV)

jacob13

Questioning is a huge part of what it means to be human. We as human beings have been given the ability to think for ourselves, to know good from evil, to create, to name, and to care for other things. We have been given the vision of what paradise is, of what it means to live in harmony with all of creation, and we have also been forced to recognize that reality is often times much different than our vision of utopia. It is in those moments that we find ourselves questioning ourselves, questioning humanity, questioning the created order and, most importantly, questioning our Creator.

This is especially true when we are going through our own trials. When we find that we are losing control over different aspects of our lives, or when we come to the realization that we were never in control to begin with, we find that we start to question God. When we lose our wealth, when we our loved ones, when we lose our health, when we lose our independence, when we suffer loss in any sense, we can’t help but cry out to God and question why these things are happening. What’s more, we often get angry at God and, in the process, begin to feel guilt over our anger, over our doubt, over our questioning.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, we read of a man named Jacob who had stolen his brother’s birthright many years earlier and he was on his way back home to try and make amends with his brother who wanted to kill him…literally. One night, while on his way back to his homeland to meet his angry brother, a man suddenly wrestles with Jacob. We aren’t told who this man was and one can assume that Jacob had no clue who he was either. The two wrestle each other all night long and, in the end, Jacob wins the wrestling match. Realizing that Jacob had won the other man strikes him on his hip, which leaves Jacob permanently injured. Still, Jacob did not let go of the man and refused to do so until the man blessed him.

Perhaps Jacob thought the man was his brother Esau, after all, it was dark and the man happened upon him suddenly.  Regardless, the man ends up relenting and giving Jacob his blessing. After that, Jacob lets the man go and he names the place Peniel, which means, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” For whatever reason, Jacob came to the realization that the man was God, and that he had wrestled with God. Upon this revelation, God renames Jacob Israel because he had wrestled with God and prevailed.

I tell this story for all who feel guilty for wrestling with God. For all who have questioned and for all who have found themselves angry with God, take heart! You are not alone. God has big shoulders and can take our questions. God knows our hearts and understands our anger. God blesses us when we wrestle with God, because that means we are in relationship with God. We weren’t created to be mindless drones; rather, we were created to be a relationally engaged people. Who doesn’t struggle in relationships? That’s the very nature of them.

Take heart, be confident, and know that God does love you and that God does give you the space to wrestle! God has blessed you with the ability to question, to think freely, and to wrestle with God when we don’t understand why things are as they are. In fact, it is in that relational wrestling match that we will find that God has richly blessed us with a renewed assurance of our identity in our Creator, and of our Creator’s identity in us. For all who have indeed wrestled with God, stand up tall and thank God for such an awesome opportunity.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing.” – Marcus Aurelius

PRAYER
Lord, you know my heart and you know that I have struggled and even wrestled with you. I thank you for having broad shoulders and for giving me the opportunity to wrestle and, more importantly, to be in relationship with you. Amen.

Holy Week 2021: Fulfilled: Holy Tuesday

Read Isaiah 49:1-7

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matthew 23:28 NLT)

When we read the Gospels, we get a sense that Jesus saw himself as a savior of his people. We can see how he he lived, how he taught, and how he ultimately took on the role of God’s suffering servant. We see that he claimed not only to be a teacher or a prophet, but that he was the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. What’s more, Jesus claimed to be one with, and the same as, God Almighty, the great I AM.

His disciples not only believed, but were transformed by their relationship with Jesus and, in turn they helped tranform the world. Jesus’ views were not only his own, but ones steeped in his Jewish beliefs and his understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures. Each day this week, let us look at the prophetic connection between Jesus and the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible.

AngryJesus

Holy Tuesday. On Palm Sunday, Jesus rode into Jerusalem being hailed as the King of the Jews. He went into the temple and upset the peace by overturning the tables of the money changers. No doubt, this act had both the Temple priests and the Roman leadership looking intently on this individual…this “prophet.” He was showing himself to be a trouble maker.

By Monday, Jesus he began antagonizing the Temple leadership, as well as the teachers of religious laws (known as the Pharisees). He taught in parables that called the leaderhsip out for their hypocrisy. He proclaimed that hey was the the stone that God declared to be the cornerstone and decried the priests and the teachers fo religious law for rejecting him. He certainly did not win many of the priests and Pharisees over on Holy Monday.

On this day, Holy Tuesday, Jesus’ teachings took a sharp and dramatic turn. Instead of teaching in parables, he called the Sadducees and Pharisees out directlty. “The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach.” (Matthew 23:2-3 NLT). Calling them hypocrites, Jesus levied a series of seven accusations against the religious leadership. “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you cross land and sea to make one convert, and then you turn that person into twice the child of hell you yourselves are!” (Matthew 23:15 NLT)

Jesus called the leadership out on perverting the law for their own gain. He likened them to “whitewashed tombs”  that look pristine and beautiful on the outside, but are filled with bones and the dead on the inside. His words cut through them and caused their hatred of him to grow to an all-time high. They were already trying to find a way to eliminate him; however, after this display, they were even more determined.

Jesus did not stop there either. He went on to predict that the temple would be destroyed and began to share with his disciples that the world was going to experience a whole lot of darkness before it would see the light of God. Jesus lamented over Jerusalem, for its refusal to accept him and the message of God who had sent him. He lamented, “And now, look, your house is abandoned and desolate. For I tell you this, you will never see Me again until you say, ‘Blessings on the One who comes in the name of the LORD'” (Matthew 23:38-39 NLT)!

All of this a profound fulfillment of what was written in Isaiah 49:1-7. Jesus’ words were, indeed, “words of judgment as sharp as a sword.” On Holy Tuesday, Jesus was like a sharp arrow in God’s quiver. He was being loosed on the people who were supposed to be witnessing to the glory and love of God but were, instead, basking in their own status and glory to the detriment of God’s people.

Of course, it is easy for us to read this and point fingers at the religious leadership in Jesus’ time; however, Christians believe in the “priesthood” of all believers. That we are all called to bring people to a relationship with Jesus and represent God’s love in the world. The question is, are you doing that? Are you living into the call that God has placed on your life as a believer? Are you exonerated by Jesus, or his sharp words cutting through with convicting truth? I think we all can acknowledge that there is room for us to grow and transform. I pray that we all open our hearts and be transformed by Jesus’ words in fulfillment with what Isaiah prophesied, “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)

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Love does not always come in hugs and flowery words, but as words that cut like a sword through the aspects of ourselves that enslave us and bring us down.

PRAYER
Lord, thank you for loving me enough to tell me the truth. Continually guide me and lead me back to you and your Kingdom. Amen.

God’s People, part 195: Salome

Read Mark 14:1-12

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“The LORD is slow to anger and filled with unfailing love, forgiving every kind of sin and rebellion. But he does not excuse the guilty. He lays the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations.”  (Numbers 14:18, 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.

Salome_Baptist-HeadPart 195: Salome. In the Old Testament, there was a passage that I could never fully understand. In Exodus 20:5, in reference to idols God states, “You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me.”  (Exodus 20:5, NLT)

What does God mean when he says, “I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me”? That makes God sound like a harsh and cruel God. It seems to counter the “Jesus Loves Me” personality of God that I was taught in Sunday School and in church growing up. How can the unconditionally loving, all-good, God do that to people? I mean, I can understand why one would suffer consequences for THEIR sins, but why their children or their children’s children? That hardly seems fair.

These questions are valid questions; however, people such as Salome provide cases of what God means in Exodus 20:5. Salome was the daughter of Herodias and Herod II, and she was the step-daughter of her uncle Herod Antipas. As was covered in the last devotion, Herodias divorced Herod II and married his brother Antipas.

The last couple of devotions also highlighted the corruption, power-grabbing, greedy and murderous family that Herod the Great raised up. No one or thing was sacred or safe within it. This was the environment that Herod II, Antipas, and Herodias grew up in and, sadly, this is also the environment that Salome grew up in. As such, Herod the Great’s children followed suit with him and their children did the same as well.

Again, Herodias was power-hungry and divorced her first husband to marry his more powerful younger half-brother, Antipas. Likewise, her daughter Salome was also power-hungry and wanted to eliminate any threat to the legitimacy of her mother’s marriage to Antipas. Though they were rulers over God’s people, the Herodians lacked humility and did not place God above themselves.

Sure, Herodias knew it was against God’s law willy-nilly divorce Herod II to marry his half-brother, but she did it anyway. Sure, Herod Antipas knew it was wrong too. What’s more, he knew that God would not approve lusting after his step-daughter, but he did that anyway. Salome knew that seducing her step-father was not in line with God’s will for her, but she did it anyway. Certainly she knew that murdering one of God’s prophets was not something God willed, but she demanded that Antipas murder John the Baptist.

The challenge here is to NOT view the Herodians as being different than us. They are no different. They were human beings who had dreams, hopes, ambitions, lusts, envy, and longed for control. So are we. We may not find ourselves on the same scale, but we struggle with those things too. All human beings do.

The challenge for us is to not be like Herod, Antipas, Herodias or Salome and to overlook God’s will for our life so that we can have what WE want; rather, we should be challenged to heed God’s will for us, as outlined in Scripture, and purge ourselves of the things that take us away from God. In other words, let’s humble ourselves and purge deceit, corruption, evil desires, jealousy, contempt for God’s way, lust, ambition, and the need for control from our lives. By God’s grace, through the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, this can and will be done if you so choose.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” — Viktor E. Frankl

PRAYER
Lord, guide me through the space between stimulus and response and lead me to respond to you instead of my desires. Help me to ONLY desire you and your will for me. Amen.

God’s People, part 167: Boanerges

Read Luke 9:51-56

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came over and spoke to him. ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘we want you to do us a favor…when you sit on your glorious throne, we want to sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.’”  (Mark 10:35, 37, 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.

SonsOfThunder-1024x537Part 167: Boanerges. So far, we’ve learned a little more about Simon Peter and his brother Andrew. We learned that Simon was an uneducated fisherman who had a loud mouth and a tendency to make rash decisions. He was close to getting who Jesus’ true identity; however, he never quite got to that ultimate understanding during Jesus’ lifetime. We also learn that his brother Andrew, also and uneducated fisherman, was passionate about bringing people to Jesus. With that said, he found it hard to put his faith fully in Jesus’ ability. He often let circumstances smother the passionate faith he had for Christ.

This bring us to Boanerges, which is a Greek phrase that translates to English as, “sons of thunder.” The Greek is a slight mistranslation from the Hebrew phrase, bənē reghesh, which translates in English as “sons of rage”. This was the nickname that Jesus gave to the brothers James and John, sons of Zebedee. Both James and John were called by Jesus to be disciples around the same time as Peter and Andrew. Both of them, like Peter and Andrew, were fisherman. In fact, we know that the sons of thunder were working in their father Zebedee’s fishing business.

We don’t know a whole lot about James; however, we do know that he was among the inner circle of disciples who were closest to Jesus. He witnessed the Transfiguration and he was in the Garden of Gethsemane with Jesus while prayed for God to spare his life. Wherever Jesus went, James was sure to follow.

The same is true about John who, like his brother, was among the inner circle of disciples. He has traditionally been identified as the beloved disciple that wrote the Gospel of John (so named because of this attribution). Most modern scholars do not believe John authored the fourth Gospel; however, his importance and influence in the early church cannot be disputed. In fact, John was named as one of the “pillars” of the Jerusalem Church mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles and referenced in Paul’s letter to the Galatians.

With all of that said, Jesus’ nicknamed James and John as the sons of rage or the sons of thunder. This is an an indication that these two where known for their fiery ambition and tempers. In Mark 10:35-45, the two brothers approached Jesus in order to petition for themselves to be in the places of honor (and power) next to Jesus when he assumed control of his kingdom. Thinking that he was the military messiah who would overthrow the Romans and restore Israel to her former glory, the Sons of Thunder were vying for power. This set them at odds with the rest of the disciples, who quickly grew angry and annoyed with the two.

Also, when Jesus and his disciples were not welcomed by Samaritan villagers, James and John both turned to Jesus and asked if him if he wanted them to “command fire to come down from heaven and consume [the villagers]”. In both cases, Jesus sternly rebuked the Sons of Thunder” for their scheming ambition and fiery tempers. These two, as passionate and devoted as they were, were far from being the perfect followers in Christ.

The same is true for us. Each and every one of us, just like the twelve disciples, come to Jesus with our strengths as well as our shortcomings. Perhaps anger and ambition are things that you struggle with or, perhaps, you are like the other disciples who grow short-tempered with those who are ambitious and short-tempered. On either end of that, Jesus rebukes the sin in us and calls us to deeper and more committed discipleship. The challenge for us is to heed Jesus’ call.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Great ambition is the passion of a great character. Those endowed with it may perform very good or very bad acts. All depends on the principles which direct them.” – Napoleon Bonaparte

PRAYER
Lord, help me to quell the part of me that seeks to derail the path you’ve set me on. Help me overcome my weaknesses and grow in my strengths. Amen.

Fulfilled: Holy Tuesday

Read Isaiah 49:1-7

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matthew 23:28 NLT)

When we read the Gospels, we get a sense that Jesus saw himself as a savior of his people. We can see how he he lived, how he taught, and how he ultimately took on the role of God’s suffering servant. We see that he claimed not only to be a teacher or a prophet, but that he was the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. What’s more, Jesus claimed to be one with, and the same as, God Almighty, the great I AM.

His disciples not only believed, but were transformed by their relationship with Jesus and, in turn they helped tranform the world. Jesus’ views were not only his own, but ones steeped in his Jewish beliefs and his understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures. Each day this week, let us look at the prophetic connection between Jesus and the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible.

AngryJesusHoly Tuesday. On Palm Sunday, Jesus rode into Jerusalem being hailed as the King of the Jews. He went into the temple and upset the peace by overturning the tables of the money changers. No doubt, this act had both the Temple priests and the Roman leadership looking intently on this individual…this “prophet.” He was showing himself to be a trouble maker.

By Monday, Jesus he began antagonizing the Temple leadership, as well as the teachers of religious laws (known as the Pharisees). He taught in parables that called the leaderhsip out for their hypocrisy. He proclaimed that hey was the the stone that God declared to be the cornerstone and decried the priests and the teachers fo religious law for rejecting him. He certainly did not win many of the priests and Pharisees over on Holy Monday.

On this day, Holy Tuesday, Jesus’ teachings took a sharp and dramatic turn. Instead of teaching in parables, he called the Sadducees and Pharisees out directlty. “The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach.” (Matthew 23:2-3 NLT). Calling them hypocrites, Jesus levied a series of seven accusations against the religious leadership. “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you cross land and sea to make one convert, and then you turn that person into twice the child of hell you yourselves are!” (Matthew 23:15 NLT)

Jesus called the leadership out on perverting the law for their own gain. He likened them to “whitewashed tombs”  that look pristine and beautiful on the outside, but are filled with bones and the dead on the inside. His words cut through them and caused their hatred of him to grow to an all-time high. They were already trying to find a way to eliminate him; however, after this display, they were even more determined.

Jesus did not stop there either. He went on to predict that the temple would be destroyed and began to share with his disciples that the world was going to experience a whole lot of darkness before it would see the light of God. Jesus lamented over Jerusalem, for its refusal to accept him and the message of God who had sent him. He lamented, “And now, look, your house is abandoned and desolate. For I tell you this, you will never see Me again until you say, ‘Blessings on the One who comes in the name of the LORD'” (Matthew 23:38-39 NLT)!

All of this a profound fulfillment of what was written in Isaiah 49:1-7. Jesus’ words were, indeed, “words of judgment as sharp as a sword.” On Holy Tuesday, Jesus was like a sharp arrow in God’s quiver. He was being loosed on the people who were supposed to be witnessing to the glory and love of God but were, instead, basking in their own status and glory to the detriment of God’s people.

Of course, it is easy for us to read this and point fingers at the religious leadership in Jesus’ time; however, Christians believe in the “priesthood” of all believers. That we are all called to bring people to a relationship with Jesus and represent God’s love in the world. The question is, are you doing that? Are you living into the call that God has placed on your life as a believer? Are you exonerated by Jesus, or his sharp words cutting through with convicting truth? I think we all can acknowledge that there is room for us to grow and transform. I pray that we all open our hearts and be transformed by Jesus’ words in fulfillment with what Isaiah prophesied, “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)

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Love does not always come in hugs and flowery words, but as words that cut like a sword through the aspects of ourselves that enslave us and bring us down.

PRAYER
Lord, thank you for loving me enough to tell me the truth. Continually guide me and lead me back to you and your Kingdom. Amen.

God’s People, part 72: Elisha

Read 2 Kings 2:15-25

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“When the group of prophets from Jericho saw from a distance what happened, they exclaimed, “Elijah’s spirit rests upon Elisha!” And they went to meet him and bowed to the ground before him.” (2 Kings 2:15 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.

elishabearsPart 72: Elisha. On Mount Horeb, while hiding away from Ahab and Jezebel for fear of his life, Elijah was instructed to appoing a successor to him. The man he was to appoint was named Elisha, son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah, who was evidently a farmer. When Elijah found him, he was plowing in a field.

For years following that calling, Elisha assisted Elijah in his work and learned from him. He was Elijah’s apprentice, as it were, and Elisha witnessed many of the great deeds of his mentor, and encountered many of the confrontations between Elijah and the wicked king and queen of Israel, Ahab and Jezebel.

When Elijah, according to Scripture, was taken up into heaven in a firey chariot, Elisha took over in Elijah’s place. Just prior to Elijah’s ascension into heaven, Elisha prayed to God to be given an double portion of Elijah’s spirit. While there is scholarly debate as to what Elijah meant by that prayer, for me it seems that Elisha was praying for even greater prophetic power than that of Elijah.

Indeed, Elisha was given great power and does many wonderful deeds. Elisha was considered to be a patriot because he lent his services to soldiers and kings. First and foremost, he was known as a wonder worker. He cleansed the infected waters of Jericho, and he multiplied oil for a widow who was being harrassed by a harsh creditor. Through petitions to God he was able to provide the birth of a son to a rich woman who had shown hospitality. He also later resurrected her son back to life after he had died.

Through God, Elisha cured the Syrian military commandar, Naaman, of his leprosy. He did these and performed many other mirculous signs. He was truly one of God’s people who, for the most part, remained faithful to God. Still, not everything that Elisha did seems to hold up to the God of love, mercy and grace.

For instance, in today’s scripture we come across the story of Elisha being mocked by a large group of children. Actually, the Hebrew word (נַעַר, pronounced na’ar) could mean children or it could mean people (young adult aged) who have no religion. Young adults who were, in essence, irreverent people. What were they mocking him over? Namely, they were making fun of the fact that he was bald. Yes, I feel his pain for sure; however, Elisha’s response to that seems hardly warranted. Indignant over their behavior, Elisha cursed them, which resulted in bears coming out of the forest and devouring each and everyone of them. Overkill much?

In that moment, Elisha let his pride and his anger take over and it caused him to do something that had horrific consequences. How many of us find ourselves cursing others out of anger? Perhaps when we are driving down the road, or when someone hurts our feelings, or when someone sins against us? How many of us curse people in those moments? When we do so, can we truly say we are behaving in a way that pleases God? Of course not! Let us learn from Elisha’s sin, repent of our own and, by the grace of God in Jesus Christ, learn to bless people (even if undeserving) rather than curse them.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“I say, if you are even angry with someone [without cause], you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.” – Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ (Matthew 5: 22 NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, allow me to find temperance when I am angry and give me the peace I need to respond to people who hurt me with blessings and not curses. Amen.

God’s People, part 23: Moses

Read Numbers 20:2-13

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
Then the LORD said to Moses, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have now allowed you to see it with your own eyes, but you will not enter the land.” (Deuteronomy 34:4 NLT)

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

charlton-heston-as-moses-in-the-ten-commandmentsPart 23: Moses. We all know Moses, right? Or, we all think we know Moses. He’s that guy who had a really tall stature, with a flowing white beard. He grew up a prince of Egypt until he murdered someone. Then, fearing for his life, Moses fled Egypt and settled out in Midian where he married Zipporah (if we even remember her name), the daughter of Jethro (aka Reuel), and tended to the sheep of his wife’s father.

It is there that he came “face to face” with God in a burning bush, went back to Egypt along with his brother Aaron, and demanded that Pharoah let God’s people go. After refusing to do so several times, God sent the angel of death to take all of the first born sons of Egypt, including Pharaoh’s son. Finally, the pharaoh relented and allowed the slaves to leave Egypt. But that only lasted so long, and Pharaoh ended up chasing the Hebrew slaves out to the red sea. Moses parted it and, as the Egyptians were giving them chase through the sea, Moses sent the waves crashing down on them when the Hebrews made it to the other side.

The rest is history right? The Hebrew slaves made it to Mount Sinai where Moses climbed up and received the two stone tablets carring the commandments of God. The Hebrews chose to make a golden calf as they were worried Moses had died up there, since he had been gone for so long. When Moses saw that, he threw the stone tablets at them and the earth swallowed the wicked people up. Then Moses went back up Mount Sinai to receive a new copy of the Ten Commandments, and all lived happily ever after or something to that effect.

While that summary probably feels very familiar to you, and probably feels very Biblical, it is only part of the story. Moses, as we all are, was a very flawed individual. Most of us think of his flaw being the fact that he murdered someone. The problem with that is that murder is the “unjust” killing of another human being, and Moses was very justified in killing the person he killed. He saw that individual crueling beating a Hebrew slave and he rushed in to stop that from happening. Of course, the Egyptians weren’t happy about that, but we’d be hard pressed to say that Moses was a cold-blooded murderer without just reasons for what he did.

Moses’ flaw was not murder, but was his being such a wish-washy partner in what God was doing. He was literally hot and cold. Some days he was glowing in the radiance of God, other days he was cursing God and complaining about having to take care of God’s people. What’s more, his ego seemingly new no ends. In fact, his sister Miriam and Aaron complained to God about Moses’ claim that he was the ONLY prophet of God. Miriam, herself, had the prophetic voice before Moses even was able to walk and yet her brother seemingly wrote her prophetic gift completely off (Numbers 12:1-15).

Between Moses’ hot and cold leadership, his fiery temper, and his ego we have someone who looks a lot like most of us. When he was on, he was really on; however, when he was off, he was really off. Moses certainly led the Hebrews to freedom and paved their way to the Promised Land. What he did, in that regard, was nothing short of heroic; yet, he also allowed the people to get to him and he allowed his own ego to possess him. In doing so, we find a prophet who sometimes forgot who he was speaking for and why he was called.

It is for that reason, that the Scripture says that Moses was only permitted to see the Promised Land but was not allowed to enter it. While I don’t believe that God literally kept Moses from entering the land that God was delivering them to, it’s clear that his flaws certainly had. I also believe that Moses, in his own self-reflection, understood that it was not his own doing that got them to where they were and that it would not be his own doing that brought them to their final destination. The challenge for us is to, like Moses, be self-reflective enough to see where we have fallen short and how God has provided and come through despite our kicking and screaming along the way. If we can do that, we can at least behold the glory of God before we depart from this life and leave our legacy to those who follow us.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
The ultimate aim of the ego is not to see something, but to be something.

PRAYER
Lord, help me to silence my ego that I might see and allow you to be. Amen.

The Sermon, part 7: First Antithesis

Read Matthew 5:21-26

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE 
“These cities will be places of protection from a dead person’s relatives who want to avenge the death. The slayer must not be put to death before being tried by the community.” (Numbers 35:12 NLT)

  Jesus opens up his first antithesis by quoting a law as found in the decalogue (Ten Commandments). “You have heard to those who lived long ago, Don’t commit murder.” He then follows that up with, “and all who commit murder will in danger of judgment”. This last part cannot be found in the law, word for word, but it is a reference to passages such as Exodus 21:12, Levitcus 24:17, and Numbers 35:12.

First, it must be said, that most people misquote and misunderstand this scripture. The law states that “you shall not commit murder.” Many often misquote it, and it was mistranslated in the King James Version, as “Thou shalt not kill.” While no one likes to kill, killing is an inevitable necessity to life. Even the gentlest Buddhist, or the most conscientious vegan inevitably kills things.

I recently hosted a round table conversation regarding veganism and the Christian faith. One of the attendees brought up that the Judeo-Christian God, if “he was truly good, would have made it abundantly clear that one should be vegan and not kill animals.” While, as a vegan, I can appreciate the sentiment, this misunderstands a whole host of things. While I will not go into all of the areas that this statement is lacking in understanding, I will say that it is premised on equating killing with murder, and it is also hypocritical as it fails to humbly acknowledge that even vegans kill (plants, fruits, microscopic organisms, bugs while walking, etc.).

At face value, the law does not seem like it is lax or not to be taken seriously. It is a law that forbids the unjust killing of other human beings (aka murder) and it advocates that those who murder should face the same punishment as their crime. This goes against my sensibilities as someone who opposes the death penalty; however, it is pretty standard in terms of punishment for murderers. If you choose to murder someone, you shall be executed.

Yet, the law wasn’t as rigid as that either. Within the law are provisions to make sure that justice is truly done. It is not okay, for instance, for families to just go out and get revenge against the alleged murderer. In Numbers 35:12, the law states, “These cities will be places of protection from a dead person’s relatives who want to avenge the death. The slayer must not be put to death before being tried by the community.” In other words, before one can be executed for murder, there needs to be a trial proving the person murdered.

What’s more, in Numbers 35:30, “All murderers must be put to death, but only if evidence is presented by more than one witness. No one may be put to death on the testimony of only one witness.” As can be seen, the law is not about vengence, but about justice, and the law seeks to “prevent the death of innocent people”.

The point of this is that Israel had strict laws; however, we should not misconstrue the strictness to be unjust or unusually harsh. Jesus, in this antithesis, is not standing opposed to the law itself; however, he is pointing out the fact that those interpreting God’s law are not without culpability in breaking it. The very people calling for strict observance of the Torah are, themsleves, guilty of breaking it by God’s standard. In essence, Jesus affirms the Torah (those who murder are in danger of legal judgment), and then takes it to the eschatological (judgmeny day) extreme (those who are angry WILL BE in danger of divine judgment).

What can be said is this, while the Torah is announcing the penalty for physically murdering someone, Jesus is pronouncing the judgment to come upon people who harbor anger and resentment toward others. This judgment is not human judgment (as in the case of murder), but divine judgment. When you are angry at others, it is likened to murdering them in your heart. Every human, even the Pharisees, are guilty of that! What’s more, we harbor such anger in our hearts, even as we go before God in worship. In one word, HYPOCRISY. Jesus lets us know that a) just as we judge with the law, we are also judged by it. What’s more, b) love is not hostile, but seeks reconciliation with those anger has separated us from. Let us, as we reflect on this and the antitheses to come, prayerfully search our hearts for hypocrisy and humble ourselves before God. Let us remove hostility from our hearts, for love is not hostile!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“You will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished by your anger.” – Buddha

PRAYER

Lord, purge me of the hypocrisy of thinking that I am good enough to judge by the law without being judged by it. Amen.

The Beatitudes, part 4: The Meek

Read Matthew 5:5

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For the wicked shall be cut off, but those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land…But the meek shall inherit the land, and delight themselves in abundant prosperity.” (Psalms 37:9, 11 NRSV)

theteacherJust when one thought Jesus’ teaching couldn’t be anymore in left field then they already were, he took it up a notch. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” Most people today, when they read or hear that, have to be puzzled as Jesus’ message here. The meek will inherit the earth? Really…the meek? As in the gentle? As in the mild? As in the nonviolent? They will inherit the earth? Really?

Surely that is not our common experience is it? In an age where meglomania seems to be the key quality to be a world-dominating leader, in a time when groups are beheading and burning people in order to take over land, in a world where violence seems to be the only repsonse to everyone’s problems, it is very hard to picture the meek getting anywhere but six-feet under and long forgotten.

Yet, Jesus gave the multitude surrounding him the beatitude, or blessing, for the meek. Surely, this crowd must have thought Jesus to be completely outside of  his head. While there are many differences between Jesus’ world and ours, there is absolutely zero difference when it comes to the meek and what they inherit. The meek inherit subjugation and, if they’re lucky, death under oppressive and tyrannical rulers.

While it is true that this was the reality for the meek in Jesus’ day, just as it is in ours, Jesus’ audience had a contextual advantage to understanding Jesus’ message in a way that mostly eludes us. Any of Jesus’ Jewish audience would have automatically recognized that Jesus was not making this beatitude up out of thin air, but was turning what was a quote from the thirty-seventh Psalm into a blessing for the meek.

In order to understand what Jesus is saying here, we need to have a better understanding of what is being said in the Psalm 37. Though it is claimed as a Psalm of David, it was more likely written to people who were captive in Babylon, following the Babylonian exile. In verse one, the Psalmist tells his readers to not fret over the wicked. They may have won the battle, but not the war. The Psalmist’s advice to the reader is to trust in the Lord and do good. Those who do will inherit the land. What’s more, “refrain from anger, and forsake wrath. Do not fret—it only leads to evil” (Psalm 37:8 NRSV).

This of course leads us to the extra verses quoted in the “Also in Scripture” section above. Fretting leads to anger, which leads to wrath. Wrath is often violent and evil. The wicked (aka “evildoers”) shall be cut off from the land, but those who wait upon the Lord, those who are meek, will inherit the land. In this context, of course, the land is Judah. The people exiled in Babylon long to go back to it, but the Psalmist says that will only happen through trusting and waiting on God to deliver them.

Jesus, as mentioned above, is specifically quoting this Psalm; however, the “land” he is promising is no longer Judah, itself, but a renewed Earth that will come along with the Kingdom of God. The meek will inherit, in essence, the Kingdom of God. Of course, the word “meek” doesn’t just mean gentle, kind, soft-spoken, and peaceful. The word “meek” also implies humility and/or the knowing of one’s place in respect to God and neighbor. More importantly, “meek” implies a submission to God’s reign. It is through such humble submission that one will inherit the earth.

While the world dictates that violent, brute force is the only way to inherit the Earth; Jesus taught that, in fact, that only secures one’s demise in the end. The only way to inherit the earth is to submit to God’s reign and be transformed by the Kingdom of God within. Once one submits to God’s reign over one’s own life, they have inherited the Kingdom of God within them and will live there lives as embodiments of the Kingdom of God in the world. Eventually that Kingdom of God will triumph over the evil, and the evildoers, and the meek will truly inherit that renewed and heavenly Earth. The question for us all is this: are you meek? Do you submit to God’s rule over your life, or do you submit to the rule and the ways of the world? I pray for God’s guidance for all of us as we begin to truly examine ourselves in spirit and in truth.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
God has two dwellings; one in heaven, and the other in a meek and thankful heart.” – Izaak Walton
PRAYER
Lord, I submit to your reign in my life. In my meekness, I seek your ways and not the worlds. Amen.

Wrath of God, part 2

Read Genesis 4:1-16

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“So the LORD was sorry He had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke His heart.” (Genesis 6:6 NLT)

broken-heartIn the Beginning, God desired to create a world in which God could raise and nurture all of creation. So God set about in that Creation and saw all that was created as divinely good. Finally, God decided to make a creature that would be fashioned in the very image of God. In God’s image (imago Dei), human beings were created and set apart from the rest of Creation.

Now, humans were not set apart so that they could feel superior to God’s creation, for God loved all of Creation; however, God hoped to have a special relationship with humans, a mutual relationship that would be founded on the love of which God created them. God gave them everything they could ever need, and God made sure that they were cared for and nurtured.

Created in God’s image, humans had sharp intelligence and were filled with the creativity of their Creator. They were filled with compassion and a profound sense of their connection with the rest of Creation, so much so that they first people began name the creatures God created and began to be there caretakers, just as God was the care takers of them. Thus, they were living into that very image in which they were Created. To God, everything seemed perfect.

Unfortunately, humans quickly grew to resent their dependence on God and they became bored and complacent in their relationship. Like young adults seeking their independence from their loving parents, they first people chose to do things their own way and to make their own way in the world. They sought out their own wisdom and disregarded the wisdom God had already given to them. They ignored the warnings of God and, as a result, humanity fell into a state of sin. Whether this was a good thing or a bad thing is up for debate. Perhaps this was the final step of Creation, where humans could “fully mature” and could now choose for themselves to have a loving and mutual relationship with God. Perhaps, this was more of a fall than a blessing as humans began making poorer and poorer choices. Or, as I have come to understand it, it was a little of both.

Regardless, overtime humans when from being in a loving, mutual relationship with God to being in a tenuous, and often dysfunctional relationship with God. This was sadly reflected in the dysfunctional relationships that began to plague the relationships humans had with each other. Patriarchy started to develop, where men saw themselves as better, superior, and in control of women. Brothers rose up against their other siblings out of competition and jealousy, murdering their siblings in cold and sadistic blood.

All of God’s creation began to suffer as a result of this terrible imbalance in the world God had created. People started owning animals, owning land, owning other people, ruling those they conquered, and killing all who stood in their way to attain absolute power. The green fields, the deserts, the streams, ponds and oceans went from pure to running red with the blood of the destruction humanity was reigning upon the earth!

God, seeing the terrible turn that creation had taken, began to grieve so deeply that God began to question why God even created anything at all! God’s grief moved from questioning to remorse and that remorse grew into anger. God was angry that Creation had fallen into such a state of disrepair. God was angry that humans were killing humans, that they were denying their divine connection to Creation, and that they were denying their divine connection to and relationship with their Creation. In that deep anger, God also found compassion, and set out to redeem this Creation that had become so tragically broken!

This is, obviously, just the beginning of the narrative of God we find in the Bible. This is just the Genesis, if you will. I fully admit that lots of theological questions pop up in regard to how a perfect God could create a world that went so tragically wrong. I also fully admit that there is no answer out there that fully satisfies those types of questions. But this narrative shows us that God’s reaction to the evil in the world is not unlike ours and that our righteous anger over the brokenness of this world comes from that divine image of God within us. Let us reflect on that for today, and in the days ahead, just as surely we will reflect on the evil that is currently and consistently plaguing this world.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.” – William Blake

PRAYER
Lord, help me to see the world, in its brokenness, through your eyes. In my anger, help me to discover the compassion from which it stems and allow it to fuel me to be even more compassionate. Amen.