Tag Archives: Blessing

God’s People, part 130: God’s Curse

Read John 9:1-11

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“’You were born a total sinner!’ they answered. ‘Are you trying to teach us?’ And they threw him out of the synagogue.”  John 9:34 (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.

Shame_God's CursePart 130: God’s Curse. You may be wondering why all of the lead up to the New Testament? Why am I not just diving in and not hitting the major characters like I did with the Old Testament? Good questions. I did not lead up to the Old Testament because that Scripture is inherently Jewish which is the foundation for Christianity. No one assumes otherwise when reading it. The texts give the context of ancient Judaism without me really having to do any sort of lead up to it.

With that said, I am leading up to the New Testament because people typically read that as inherently Christian and NOT Jewish at all. That is a huge mistake, and so the lead up is hopefully providing the very Jewish context as a backdrop for the Gospels, Epistles and Apocalypse that make up the New Testament. Believe it or not, the New Testament is a collection of mostly Jewish writings. A few of the authors were actually Greek; however, the majority of it was written by Paul who was formerly Saul, a Jewish Pharisee. Others New Testament authors, such as the authors of Matthew, Mark, and John were members of the Jewish Diaspora.

So, here’s some more context of the world in which Jesus and the early Jesus movement lived and ministered in. Jesus, and eventually his apostles, were known for the healings they performed. In the modern imagination, we see all sorts of awesome images dancing through our heads. Cute little children being raised from the dead. Paralyzed people walking again. The blind being able to see. Those sick with contagious diseases being cured of their ailments. And we envision Jesus kicking demon butt galore as he exorcised them from helpless people.

In reality, people who were ailing from paralysis, blindness, contagious diseases, premature death, or demon possession were considered to be suffering due to being under God’s curse. What does that mean? That means that they had done something to really tick God off. After all, God would not curse a person who is faithful to God, right? If one is suffering it has to be because they did something to deserve the suffering.

If it was not due to something they did, it was also thought to be possible that they were paying the price for their parents sins, or perhaps the sins of their grandparents, or great-grandparents. You get the picture. God rewards the good and punishes the bad. In order for healing to take place, if it ever could, one would have to repent and get right with God. Then God, and GOD ALONE, would heal the person. The healing would be a sign of God’s forgiveness and favor falling upon the healed person.

While this is a bit simplistic of an explanation, I believe it is helpful enough in giving us the wider, broader context of what is happening in Jesus’ miracles. It also gives the broader context as to why Jesus’ opponents reacted to his healings in the way that they did. The challenge for us is to reflect on our own view of suffering. Do we believe that people who are suffering somehow deserve to be? Do we view their faith as not strong enough, their prayers not exhaustive enough, and their lives not holy enough to be blessed by God? Or do we abstain from judgment and seek out the Christ who says, “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins, this happened so the power of God could be seen in him.”  (John 9:3 NLT)

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Is it easier to say ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up and walk’?” – Jesus of Nazareth (Luke 5:23 NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, help me to not look with scorn or judgment at other people. Amen.

God’s People, part 29: Israel

Read Judges 2:1-15

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“My people bend their tongues like bows to shoot out lies. They refuse to stand up for the truth. They only go from bad to worse. They do not know Me,” says the LORD.” (Jeremiah 9:3)

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.

masadaPart 29: Israel. You may be scratching your head and thinking, “Wait a minute, Israel is the other name of Jacob. Didn’t we already talk about Israel?” If so, my answer to you is yes, we did. With that said, we still have yet to talk about people of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob or, rather, the people of Israel. While Israel, the person was a character, it should be clear to anyone who is familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures, that Israel (the collective people) is a character as well. In fact, Israel in the latter sense is featured far more than any other character in the entire Bible.

Israel was chosen by God to be set a part for God’s redemptive plan in the world. Right from the beginning of God’s covenant with Abraham, Israel’s purpose was to be a blessing to all the nation so of the earth (Genesis 22:18). Yet, the struggle to live up to their divine purpose was real. Just like their forefather Jacob was renamed Israel because he had spent his whole life wresting with God and with people, the Israelites were constantyl wrestling with God and with people. The struggle for Israel, just as it was for Jacob, was real.

In Judges 2, we see Israel at its outset. One would think that beginnings ought to be inspiring and lead people into the golden years, the opposite seems to be the case for Israel. Right from the get go, Israel choose to do their own thing, rather than doing what God instructed them to do. Case in point: God instructed Israel to take over the Promised Land and drive the inhabitants out. While Israel conquered the land, they failed to follow the “driving out” part of God’s instructions. Instead, they enslaved those they didn’t kill (Judges 1:28).

Slavery, of course, profitted Israel greatly as slaves work their tails off for free; however, God did not free the Hebrew slaves so that they could go and enslave others. What’s more, those slaves didn’t remain slaves forever and the land ended up filled with TONS of people who did not believe in God and who were most definitely enemies of Israel. The end result: Israel found itself in a constant state of sin and falling away from God as a result of competing ideologies, and Israel also Israel also found itself under constant threat of attack both from within and without their Kingdom.

Unfortunately, the end result also led Israelites later on to seek to purify their kingdom. They sought to isolate themselves from any multicultural experiences, and to isolate themselves from marrying anyone outside of their own religious identity. The more trouble Israel found itself in with competing kingdoms, the more Israel felt the need to be LESS engaged with the rest of the world. While the history is a long and complicated “back and forth” between the two extremes of embracing and shunning diversity, the ultimate reality is that Israel was failing to live up to its divine purpose of being a BLESSING to the nations.

Much later in this series, we’ll see how God still ultimately finds a way to make Israel the blessing it was intended to be; however, there is a challenge for us here today. Do you realize that God created you to be a blessing to the nations as well? Do you realize that God created you to reflect the love, the mercy, the grace, the hospitality and the inclusivity of God? Do you realize that God created you to be a blessing today and always?

Instead of looking for God’s blessing on us, which was given to us the minute life was breathed into our nostrils, we should be looking to fulfill that divine purpose God gave each of us. We have been equipped with gifts to bless others uniquely. All we need to do is to let God reveal those gifts to us and then use them as God intended us to do. While we all play the part of Israel in “wrestling with God and other people”, and that is quite natural, God does not want us getting so preoccupied with wrestling that we fail to do anything else. Stop wrestling and begin to bless others as God created you to, then you will know just how blessed you truly are.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“After the first blush of sin comes its indifference.” – Henry David Thoreau

PRAYER
Lord, you have created me to be a blessing. Turn me away from sin so that I may fulfill that divine purpose you have given me. Amen.

THE CHRISTIAN MANIFESTO, part 10: God’s Favor Revealed

Read Luke 4:14-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Remember me, LORD, when You show favor to Your people; come near and rescue me.” (Psalm 106:4 NLT)

The light in young woman hands in cupped shape. Concepts of shar

Recently, a fellow colleague and friend of mine got into a conversation about the scripture passage I was preaching on at the church that I serve. The passage is Luke 4:14-21 and is on Jesus’ first recorded visit to the synagogue in Nazareth following his baptism and wilderness experience. In that passage, Jesus is handed the scroll of Isaiah and he opens it up to the following passage: “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, for He has anointed Me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the LORD’s favor has come.” Inspired by the conversation, I have decided to devote a series of devotions on this particular passage, which has become known as “The Christian Manifesto”.

Part 10: God’s Favor Revealed. What does it mean to have God’s favor? Often times, we look at people who have everything going for them as though they have been favored and/or blessed by God. We look at the wealthy, the successful, the fashionable, the sociable, the famous, the strong, the powerful and others such as these as if they have been showered with God’s blessings. It goes without saying that, if God is showering blessings upon people that they must be favored by God.

What does it mean to need God’s favor? Often times, we look at the lowly, the poor, the destitute, the ignorant, the uneducated, the socially awkward, the loners, the timid, the weak, and the powerless as being those who are in major need of God’s favor. Of course, it goes without saying that those “living in their sin”, however we define that, are also in need of God’s favor. These are the people we look down upon, we pity, and we distinguish ourselves from.

In regard to the answers to both questions above, not much has changed in the 2,000 years since Jesus walked the earth. If you seemingly had everything going your way, you were considered to be under God’s blessing and, in essence, favored by God. If you’re existence was viewed as miserable and with pity, then you were considered to be under God’s curse and, in essence, IN NEED of God’s favor. In part, the book of Job tries to dispell this bad theology by showing that even those favored by God suffer and, conversely, those who are wicked sometimes triumph in their sin and evil. Despite the difficulty that aforementioned book presents to us theologically, there can be no doubt that the reality is that our discernment of who’s favored and who needs favor is skewed and injustly biased.

In the synagogue of Nazareth, Jesuths proclaimed the time of YAHWEH’s (aka the LORD) favor. In the context of the Jewish year of Jubilee, as well as in the context of the Isaiah passage Jesus is reading from, it is clear that those who need favor are the ones who are poor, imprisoned, blind and oppressed. As has been asked before, who are the poor, the imprisoned, the blind and the opressed? We always tend to think of these labels in terms of people who are financially poor, physically imprisoned, literally blind, and socially/economically/politically/physically oppressed.

The truth is that, while Jesus was proclaiming the year of the YAHWEH’s favor upon such people, he was not proclaiming that favor ONLY for them. The truth is we all need God’s favor…we all are in need of God’s salvation and the freedom that comes with it. People can be spiritually and relationally impoverished, as well as financially. They can be imprisoned in their hatred, in their short-sighted worldviews, and in virtually every other pitfall in their lives. They can be blind from seeing truth, from seeing their need for God’s grace, from seeing their neighbor through the lense of loving compassion and hospitality. The truth be told, we ALL are oppressed by our sins and our propensity to miss the mark when it comes to living in UNCONDITIONAL LOVE. The power of the Gospel is, that it is to such people…to all people…TO US…that they year of God’s favor has arrived and it is US that Christ chose to spread that favor.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“People who demand neutrality in any situation are usually not neutral but in favor of the status quo.” – Max Eastman

PRAYER
Lord, help me to realize my need for you and help me to realize your need for me to spread your Good News to all. Amen.