Tag Archives: Compassion

God’s People, part 216: Daughter of Abraham

Read Luke 13:10-17

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“No, O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8, 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.

004-lumo-crippled-womanPart 216: Daughter of Abraham. I love this account because it reveals a couple of important things to us about God’s people. First it reveals to us something from the woman who was possessed by a crippling spirit. Second, it reveals something to us about the people who opposed Jesus healing her on the Sabbath. As is the case throughout the Gospels, we see the good, the desperate and the bad reflected to us in all of “God’s people”, and how God responds to each of them.

Let us look at the woman disabled by a “crippling spirit”. She was clearly a woman who would have been shunned. If you can picture her, she was no doubt doubled over in pain. We’ve all seen such people in our communities who are hunched over, twisted and can barely move from place to place. People with severe arthritis and other progressive, disabling diseases. In Jesus time, they had no way of knowing the cause of such a thing, so they assumed that whoever had such diseases must be under God’s curse for one reason or another.

Thus, such a person was seen as being possessed by evil spirits, which are the antithesis of God. What’s more, they were labeled and outcasted as such. In other words, this woman was shunned because she was being defined by her crippling illness. Society around her could not see beyond her illness to the person underneath. All they saw and focused on was the illness. Not so with Jesus, who saw the person whom the illness was afflicting. He saw her for what she was, a daughter of Abraham, one of God’s people. She didn’t even ask him to heal her; rather, he had compassion on her and called out to her and told her that she was healed.

On the flip-side, there was the leader of the synagogue who was indignant at the fact that Jesus healed this woman on the sabbath. He was so focused with the rules, regulations, and laws that he was ignoring the needy people right in front of him. He even began to scold the people coming for help, “’There are six days of the week for working,’ he said to the crowd. ‘Come on those days to be healed, not on the Sabbath’” (Luke 13:14, NLT).

Jesus scolded this man and called him and the other leaders hypocrites because these same men would untie their oxen and donkeys and lead them to the water so they can drink on the Sabbath, but they won’t do so for other human beings who are also made in the image of God and should be treated with compassion, justice, mercy, dignity and respect.

Friends, both of the people are people of God. The religious leader and the the woman disabled from a crippling disease. As such, we can learn from Jesus response to both of them. First, we are not defined by our sins, our diseases, or anything else that we have been afflicted and labeled by; rather, we are defined by Jesus Christ who loves us and has bought us our right to be called Children of God through this suffering, death and resurrection.

Second, people matter to God and, therefore, people ought to matter to us as well. We should never put shun people just because they’re presence is inconvenient or because we see them through the lens of the labels we attribute to them. Today’s challenge is for us to stop labeling others, including ourselves, and to stop allowing our circumstances, diseases, and/or other people from labeling us. The only label we have that is accurate is “child of God.” Christ loves us and calls us to accept that love and to share it with others.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“My feeling is that labels are for canned food… I am what I am – and I know what I am.” – Michael Stipe

PRAYER
Lord, help me to see past the labels into who people actually are. Amen.

Wrath of God, part 6

Read Ephesians 2:1-11

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” (Matthew 9:13 NRSV)

4456579If you have been reading this series of devotions on the wrath of God, we have certainly been dealing with a subject that most people avoid like the pestilences found in Egypt and Revelation. With good intentions perhaps, many clergy steer clear of talking about the wrath of God so as to not “scare people off” and/or because they themselves are uncomfortable with the topic. The very clergy who organized the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) have often focused on the “happy” and/or “positive” images of God, only to skip over many of the wrathful images.

Of course, there are some clergy and some Christians who ONLY focus on the wrath of God. These Christians often sit on their perches like hawks, looking down on whom they can throw the Bible at and whom they can warn of hellfire and damnation. Unfortunately, these Christians (and not the Scriptures) are largely responsible for scaring people off and for the bad image that God has received throughout the years. Equally as unfortunate, the silence of responsible theologians on the subject of God’s wrath have also served to be a detriment to the image of God because in the silence the unsilent extreme have been given an unfettered platform to define God through their theology.

It is because of the outspokenness of the Christian extreme and the silence of the more responsible Christian majority that anti-theists, and a growing number of people in our world, have come to reject God and some have even deemed religion to be an evil that the world needs to be rid of! For example, prominent anti-theist Richard Dawkins has written, “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” He also has written, “Religion is capable of driving people to such dangerous folly that faith seems to me to qualify as a kind of mental illness.”

Of course, while I respect Dr. Dawkins’ opinion, one could say that his simpleton, straw-man, and heavily skewed understanding of religion can and has led to dangerous folly as well (e.g. any communist nation, take your pick). So, in light of all the terrible things happening in this world, some of them indeed happening in the name of God and/or Allah, I have found it necessary to talk about God’s wrath and I feel is it fruitful for all people to wrestle with what “the wrath of God” really is.

For me, it can be summed up in this manner. The God we worship is the God who created all that is out of love and a desire to be in relationship with that creation. As such, it pains God to see creation suffer and it angers God to see creatures do harm to other creatures. God’s anger can be felt burning in the souls of humans as they witness suffering as a result of sin and evil. That anger is heard in the voices of those who protest against the injustices in the world. I would even say, dare I say it, that God’s anger can be heard through Richard Dawkins whose opinion has formed out of a disgust with religiously motivated ignorance and evil.

God’s wrath, on the other hand, is not something that GOD is bringing upon people! I want to make that clear. Yes, the Bible has articulated it that way, for sure! Yes, people tend to understand it that way; however, that understanding is also countered in the same Bible by the reality that the wrath that was experienced was brought about by the wickedness of humans. God does not punish, nor does God need to. Humans, far too often, punish themselves. Their wickedness brings destruction upon themselves and, unfortunately, upon the innocent as well.

Our God, on the other hand, is grace, mercy, compassion, justice, forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration. Our God, through prophets, humanitarians, and good Samaritans alike, is actively working to bring about hope, healing and wholeness in the world. God’s wrath is spoken through the voices of prophets, but the consequences are the result of human wickedness and NOT God.

The good news in all of this is that we serve a God who is EMPATHETIC to our suffering, a God who stands in solidarity with those suffering, rather than an aloof God who simply does not care God who simply doesn not exist. Like Elijah, like Isaiah, like Jeremiah, let us call upon our God in times of distress that we may be given strength to voice God’s anger and wrath, as well as God’s grace, forgiveness and reconciliation, to those who have strayed into wickedness.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The hallmark of intelligence is not whether one believes in God or not, but the quality of the processes that underlie one’s beliefs.” – Alister McGrath

PRAYER
Lord, help me to have the strength to speak against injustice, rather than remain silent. Amen.

THE CHRISTIAN MANIFESTO, Part 11: God’s Favor Realized

Read Luke 4:14-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE “And then [Jesus] told them, “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone.’” (Mark 16:15 NLT)

 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 11: God’s Favor Realized. It’s truly hard to put the Christian story into perspective. By Christian story, I don’t mean the Gospel story of Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah, the Son of God. What I mean by “the Christian Story” is the story of the rise of Christianity. In the faith-based film, “Risen”, the filmmakers try to tell account of the Resurrection of the Christ, but they do so from the perspective of the Roman Tribune who led the legionnaires responsible for crucifying Jesus. While, I am not about to give away the film for those who may not have seen it, what is great about it is that it really shows the Gospel message coming into contact with Rome.

While the film doesn’t span but 40 days past the Resurrection event, the reality is that, in a relatively short amount of time (only 400 or so years), Christians went from a hunted group of outcasts to being funded by the Roman Empire. How did this happen? How was it possible that a rag-tag group of disciples of a peasant Jewish mystic rabbi would found what ultimately would become the largest of the world religions? How did the one crucified by Roman Empire become the one venerated by that same Empire in less than half of a millennium? Surely, God’s that is evidence of God’s favor realized, right?

Wrong. While that historical tidbit is totally awesome and exciting for historians and theologians such as myself, it is more or less evidence of how politics can often take unexpected turns (just look at our current political climate) and that sometimes the most unlikely group can end up benefiting (sort of) from that. But when we look at the Christian Manifesto, we see that God’s favor was not coming to set up a religion, or to create yet another religious “establishment”; rather, God’s favor was falling on those who were poor, captive, blind, and oppressed, as well as to those who choose to bring that favor to them.

Who are the people to which God’s favor is extending to? The answer is simple, to all of the people of the world! For God created us all, God loves us all, and God (in the form of Jesus Christ) sacrificed it all so that we may be free from sin, death, and the things that hold us down, burden us, possess us, oppress us, blind us, enslave us and destroy us. Whether we are poor or rich, whether we are oppressed or the oppressor, whether we are blind or think we can see, whether we are poor in spirit or rich in self-righteousness (not a good form of wealth, by the way) God’s favor is upon us. We just need to realize it, accept it, turn from the things that keep us from it, and share it with everyone in our lives, in our neighborhoods, in our towns, in our states, countries and world! It takes you, yes YOU, for God’s favor to be realized. Fulfill the words of the Christian Manifesto, “that the time of the LORD’s favor has come.”

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

As Christians, we should witnessing to Christ’s love by standing against oppression and evil in whatever forms they take.

PRAYER

Lord, raise me up into a representative of your love, your grace, your justice and your compassionate mercy. I pledge myselfyou’re your manifesto of hope, healing, and wholeness. Amen.

All Authority

Read Luke 9:1-5

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.” (Matthew 7:20, NLT)

magic_gateway_wallpaper_by_jerry8448d4nyul6For those of us who are Christian, how easy it is for us to call ourselves people of faith, right? We often set ourselves apart from the “non-believing world.” We often separate ourselves from those who “don’t believe” and/or those who “don’t have faith” and see ourselves in an “us versus them” kind of way. I am not pointing this out in order to point out Christians in a way that is different from any other human religion, institution or group. All humans see their group in an “us versus them” kind of way. That is, whether fortunately or unfortunately, the human condition.

What I am trying to point out, however, is that Christians do see themselves as being people of faith. I am pretty sure that all Christians, everywhere, would agree with that statement. Yet, in my own observance, many Western Christians (in American especially) do not live out their faith with much conviction. Sure, we are good at being convicted about certain things. I mean, many Christians will flip over backwards to tell you how we’ve fallen from God’s glorious standard (Romans 3:23), how Christ’s death was God’s plan to save us from our sins and close the chasm that lay between us and God, and that all we need to do to be saved is to say the sinner’s prayer (whatever that is) and accept Jesus into our hearts. Once that has been done, we are saved and no longer a slave to sin and death (Romans 8:1-2); what’s more, once we’ve been saved nothing can ever separate us from the love and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 8:38-39).

We are convicted to tell you that part of the Gospel story, but that is just about where our conviction ends. As a result, Western Christianity is rather shallow and completely skips over the ACTUAL end of the Gospel. Being forgiven of our sins is only a part of the Gospel story…and it happens to be the beginning of it, not the end. You see, anyone who has read any part of the Hebrew Scriptures could figure out we’re sinners and that God is working to forgive us of our sins. It’s not like God wasn’t forgiving sins before Jesus. Yes, Jesus sacrifice for us and the salvation that sacrifice brings is a part of the Gospel story, but not the whole of it; rather, when we accept Jesus and his atoning sacrifice, we also accept the authority Christ has given us.

What authority you ask? The authority to represent Christ in the world. We have been the authority to fight against injustice and oppression, the authority to care for and bring healing to the sick, the authority to be present with the lost, the depressed and the lonely. We have been given authority over the powers of darkness and over the inner demons that try to take us and others down. To accept Christ’s forgiveness, to attain salvation in Christ, is to accept the authority that Christ is giving us over such things. But that’s not the end of it either. Once we’ve accepted Christ, and Christ’s authority, we being sent out by Christ into the world proclaiming the arrival of God’s Kingdom. In other words, we are to proclaim to the world that the day of equality, social justice, mercy, compassion, peace, love, and God’s presence has finally arrived. This is exactly what Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was doing when he spoke to the nation at the Lincoln Memorial. It was Mother Teresa was doing in Calcutta, India. It was what Bonhoeffer was doing in Nazi Germany. This is not an activity reserved for a few who are called; rather, ALL CHRISTIANS ARE CALLED to go out into the world and proclaim the Gospel. All Christians have been equipped with spiritual gifts to do such.

Of course, this will not make Christians the most popular people in a world that wants to keep the have-nots in their places. Yet, if we are truly convicted in our beliefs, if we are truly a people of faith, then we will bless those who hear and accept the proclamation of God’s Kingdom and shake the dust off of our feet when it comes to those who refuse to. The latter is not intended to be our judgment against them; rather, Christ is telling us to leave the opponents of God to God and is calling us to focus on those who would ally themselves with God and with the arrival of God’s Kingdom of hope, healing and wholeness. The question for us is this, how convicted are we? How much faith do we possess. God knows what tree we are by our fruit.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
It is much easier to call oneself “a person of faith” than it is to ACTUALLY live a life of faith.
PRAYER
Lord, strengthen me and continually work in me so that I may move beyond my fear and accept the authority you have given me. Amen.

The Gospel Truth

Read Luke 20:9-19

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
He replied, ‘My mother and brothers are those who listen to God’s word and do it.’” (Matthew Luke 20:9-19 CEB)

copy-of-jesus-faceIf I were to walk into any given church, or up to any random person, and ask them what the heart of the Gospel message is, I would more than like receive something like the following: “The Gospel message is that God sent his one and only Son, Jesus Christ, into the world so that he could be the perfect sacrifice for our sins. Because Jesus was perfect and without sin, he became the spotless lamb led to the slaughter in order that he may die the death we deserve in order that those who believe in him might be atoned to God and saved.” This is the, in essence, the modern, popular Christian understanding of the heart of the Christian Gospel. Jesus came to die so that we might live.

Yet,  when you read the Gospels themselves, we find that Jesus dying as a sacrifice for our sins is just a part of the Gospel story. It is not the whole of it. Yes, Jesus’ death and resurrection are vitally important to Christian theology, Christology, and the Gospel message; however, only so when it is told in the context of the other components that we find in the Gospel. When those components are missing, what we end up is with a skewed, inaccurate portrait of the purpose of Jesus of Nazareth, as well as a skewed and inaccurate portrait of God’s purpose for sending Jesus, the Christ.

While it is certainly true that Jesus’ death and resurrection has brought about salvific and transformative atonement from our sins, to only tell that part of the story does an injustice to the life and the teachings of the Christ. In fact, it not only does a disservice, but it completely ignores Jesus’ life and teachings altogether, as if they are simply secondary and/or non-important. Yet, was Jesus’ life and teachings trivial? Was his life and teachings secondary, just a necessary back-story to his ultimate death and resurrection? If that is the case, if Jesus’ teachings are trivial and secondary to the work of salvation in the world, then why go down the route of teaching and preaching at all. The Gospel writers could have simply just had Jesus proclaim that his the messiah and the son of God, have people reject that, have him crucified, died, buried, resurrected and be done with it.

But that is not what the Gospel writers did. Rather, they included the whole of Jesus’ life and they dedicated most of their time on Jesus’ teachings. For them, the person of Jesus of Nazareth and his teachings were both as integral to God’s salvation plan as his death and resurrection were. Jesus came, not to die, but to bring TRUE LIFE into the world. To show them what God means by LOVING GOD and NEIGHBOR. Jesus came to set the example and to personally deliver the beginnings of God’s reign in the world. But, like Jesus’ own parable of the wicked tenants suggests, some of those in the world to whom the father sent the son (e.g. the Romans, the politicians, some of the religious leaders, etc.), rejected his identity, as well as his authority, and tried to eliminate him.

That plot, though, ultimately failed; rather, what happened was that God made the greatest good EVER come out of both the life and the death of Jesus. Instead of remaining dead, Jesus resurrected and now sits in power and authority in a complete union with God. Those who believe in him have found the power of redemption, as well as the transformative presence of the Holy Spirit and the perfecting grace of God in their lives. They are not saved, but are transformed and are living out their FAITH in real and tangible ways.

The challenge for us is this, don’t be misled by a lopsided and misguided Gospel. Jesus wasn’t born merely to die. What kind of God would scheme up that kind of plan? Rather, Jesus was born so the he might LIVE in the world and that through him we might attain TRUE LIFE. Even in the face of evil, and even when finding himself in the valley of the shadow of death, Jesus perservered and triumphed over death because in him was a presence greater than death…the very presence of GOD. Through our belief in Christ, through our following his example as detailed in the Gospel, and through his death and resurrection, we have found REDEMPTION and have been placed on the narrow path that leads to life. Let’s start walking it.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“We cannot have the fruits of the gospel without its roots.” – Joseph B. Wirthlin
PRAYER
Lord, I open my heart to the truth of your Gospel. Perfect me in it and set me a part a witness to its power. Amen.

 

The Categorical Imperative

Read Genesis 1:26-31; Psalm 23; Matthew 25:31-46

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.” (1 Corinthians 4:2 NRSV)

In the church and in the corporate world, the word “stewardship” often floats around congregations in the form of campaigns to raise “funds” for the mission and ministries of the church. As such, many people hear the word “stewardship” as just a church-speak for, “cough up some dough for us.” This particular perception has risen up as a result of the way stewardship has been discussed and handled in the church and corporate settings.

Yet, the word steward is used in other ways that point to the fact that, deep down, we know stewardship to be more than just monetary support. Back in the day, flight attendants were known as Stewards and/or Stewardesses. The steward, in the airline industry, is the person who cares for the needs of the customers boarded on the plane. They fetch pillows, bring food and drink, listen to and address issues specific travelers may be having, and they instruct people of safety procedures in case of an emergency. What’s more, in the event of an emergency, the steward risks their own safety in order to save lives and get people off of the plane (if it has been grounded). The role of a steward is the same on trains and ships as well.

There are other examples of stewardship as well. Rather, than belabor the reader with a million examples of stewardship, it is more important to point to the definition of what a steward is, in order to better grasp the concept of stewardship. A steward is a person how cares for the needs of other people, organizations, events, and/or places. Thus, stewardship is the ethos that embodies the responsibility of caring for those needs, which absolutely includes the management and planning of resources. With that said, let us not simply limit resources to money. Google defines a resource as, “a stock or supply of money, materials, staff, and other assets that can be drawn on by a person or organization in order to function effectively.”

In other words, stewardship is the embodiment of managing and planning resources, whether those resources are monetary, material, human, natural, or any other resource. Being a good steward is about managing those resources well; however, this sounds more corporate and less spiritually worded. In terms of being Christian and living out our Christian faith, being a good steward means taking good care of all that God has given us and making proper use of the resources God has given us. If we don’t share our resources with others, we are not being good stewards, and the same is true if we neglect, abuse, misuse, or mismanage the resources shared with us.

Thus, to be a good steward, spiritually speaking, we must recognize that ALL THINGS are FROM GOD. Our money, our natural resources, our real estate and property, our congregation members (in the case of churches), our staff members (in the case of corporations and/or organizations), and all other resources are from God. If we do not recognize the divine value within each of the non-living resources, and the divine presence and/or image in all living resources (especially in humans), then we are not embodying the ethos of good Stewardship. We cannot abuse/neglect the environment, be misers, and/or see our congregation members, our staff, our friends and family as expendable means to an end, and still call ourselves good stewards, let alone stewards in any sense of the word.

This latter part is often overlooked in stewardship talks and campaigns and, yet, is the most important part of stewardship. PEOPLE MATTER and are to be valued. LIVING BEINGS are ends unto themselves and never should be seen as a means to an end (to summarize Immanuel Kant’s Categorical Imperative). So, today I challenge you to start evaluating your stewardship and start working toward being the best stewards you can be. That is what it means to be disciples of Christ, that is what it takes to truly follow Christ and uphold Christian values. STEWARDSHIP IS VITAL. Be good stewards and work to user in God’s Kingdom on Earth.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Live your life as though your every act were to become a universal law.” – Immanuel Kant
PRAYER
Lord, forgive me for when I’ve used people as a means to an end. Help me to treat people as divine persons and not tools. Amen.

WORKS OF THE FLESH: Fornication

Read Galatians 5:13-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry).” (Colossians 3:5 NRSV)

realistic-fiery-letters-and--numbers--fiery-font-letter-f--burning-aphabets--az--pictures-wallpapers-74110In his letter to the church in Galatia, the Apostle Paul is writing to a community that is divided over the issue of male circumcision: should new Gentile followers of Jesus be counted as a part of the Jewish covenant without being circumcised, or should they have to be circumcised just as all of the Jews are circumcised. Being that Christianity at the time wasn’t a religion, but a sect of Judaism, this was a VITALLY IMPORTANT question. While Paul is opposed to making Gentiles be circumcised, he also is against divisive behavior regardless of which side it is coming from. In response to this division, Paul describes to the Galatian church what he calls, “the works of the flesh.”

THE WORKS OF THE FLESH: Fornication. Oh boy, nothing like starting off the list of sinful works than with the biggie of fornication! Hey Paul, why don’t you just cut to the chase! We all know, or should know, what fornication is. It is the act of having a sexual relationship with someone outside of a marital covenant. Fornication is an umbrella word that houses more specific words underneath it; words such as adultery and promiscuity. For Paul, the idea of having sex in any context outside of the marital covenant was against his Jewish sensibilities; however, it was not necessarily outside the sensibilities of his Gentile audience. Paul was adamant that sex was meant to be shared between a LOVING and MARRIED couple.

In light of past history, as well as a more scientific understanding of human sexuality, fornication has become a loaded word for us in the twenty-first century. Since the time of Paul, we have 2,000 years of history that we need to be aware of. While we certainly want to honor and respect Paul’s warning against fornication, we also don’t want to fall into the trap of becoming like one of the Puritanical finger pointers of Hester Prynne in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter.” What’s more, while sexual immorality (aka promiscuity and adultery) is certainly what Paul is referring to, we all have participated in a fornication of a different kind at one point or another. And that is what I would like to focus on.

According to Christian theology, we Christians are in union (aka marriage) with Christ our Lord. What this means is that we are joined in a spiritually intimate relationship with Christ and, as it is within a marital covenant, we are called to remain faithful to Christ just as he is faithful to us. Faithfulness means that we will give of ourselves wholly to Christ just as spouses give of themselves to each other…meaning that we will live and breathe the risen Christ in all we do and/or say. We will feed the hungry, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned, take care of the “least of these,” avoid judgment, seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God. When we fail to do these things, and are pulled away by the attitudes and behaviors of this world, we are d in a spiritual sense.

Just as God has been faithful to us, so to we are being called to remain faithful to God. Straying from our purpose of serving others to self-centered living is but one of the ways we end up fornicating in a world set on fornication. The word fornicate, I am sure, makes most of us squirm around uncomfortably…and it should. Let us strive to remain faithful to God and what God is calling us to do. Let us strive to model our lives after that of Jesus’ life. Let us all model a life of bold compassion, love, peacemaking, service, respect, stewardship, radical hospitality, and self-sacrifice. Then we will be sure to steer clear of the pitfall of spiritual fornication.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The essence of immorality is the tendency to make an exception of myself.” – Jane Addams

PRAYER
Lord, purify and sanctify me. Keep me from straying from your all-encompassing love. Amen.

Just Imagine

Read Zechariah 7:9-14

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“No one can know a person’s thoughts except that person’s own spirit, and no one can know God’s thoughts except God’s own Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 2:11 NLT)

Different_Shoe_DayOne of the things that God has gifted me with is the ability to imagine myself in other people’s situations, to have empathy, to have compassion and, as a result, to have a broader understanding of a situation because I was able to see mutliple sides and/or angles. This is something that comes rather natural to me and, because of that, I can be a rather sensitive person. Through the years, I have learned to manage my sensitivity so that it works for me and not against me; however, more often than not, my being sensitive has been an asset and not a curse.

Growing up there were times, even for me, where it was hard to see outside of my own circumstances. For instance, when people would make fun of me or bully me, it was hard to see past being bullied and made fun of. In those times, my mom would impart a wisdom that sticks with me until this very day. She used to tell me, “Todd, you don’t truly know what someone is going through until you’ve walked a mile in there shoes. You don’t know what is going on to cause people to be the way they are. You don’t know what is going on in their home lives. You don’t know what kind of hurt is built up inside.” She would go on, “Not that what they’re doing is right. There are other ways to handle hurt and pain, but they are choosing to lash out at you and, no doubt others. So pray for them, Todd. Pray that they may be healed from whatever is hurting them.”

Those words still resonate in me to this very day. In fact, when I look around I see a world filled with people who are lost in their own situations and circumstances. Most people don’t know how to put themselves in another’s shoes, they don’t take the time to think about why someone is behaving the way they do or saying the things that they say. There is always more to a story than one side. We are very adept at knowing OUR SIDE of the story; however, we so often fail at seeing any other side but OUR SIDE.

I am not saying this to excuse or to take away accountability from those who are doing wrong. People need to be held accountable and action DOES need to be taken; however, I am saying this because people, far too often, react in negative ways based off of their internal emotions. We often fly off of the handle without giving even a moment’s pause to reflect upon what was done and what the appropriate response to it might be. We so often fail to ask the person why they are doing the things they’re doing and, even if we cannot ask them, we fail to pray to God for their well-being. What kind of world would this be if people started praying…seriously praying…before they acted? What kind of world would this be if people tried to put themselves in other people’s shoes?

Perhaps instead of being quick to judge communities for protesting police brutality, we might imagine ourselves as minorities and imagine what discrimination might be like. Perhaps instead of being quick to judge police for every shot fired, we might put ourselves in their shoes and imagine what being a police officer caught in a violent situation might be like. And those are just two examples pulled from current events. Just think of what this world would be like if people stopped judging, started praying, and allowed God to lead them in their against the circumstances that rise against them. Jesus of Nazareth did that. The Apostles did that. St. Francis did that. Dietrich Bonhoeffer did that. Mother Teresa did that. Mahatma Gandhi did that. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. did that. Those who have done such things have turned around, taken the appropriate course of action in their given situations, and have made a positive difference in our world. Just imagine what such a world would be like if we all started following their examples.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.” – Dalai Lama

PRAYER
Lord, fill me with your compassion and insight so that I am have understanding and act in accordance with justice and mercy. Amen.

Stoned

Read John 8:1-12

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“No, O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what He requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8 NLT)

Glass HouseOne of the most powerful testimonies to the kind of compassionate, merciful, forgiving nature that Jesus embodied, is the story of the adulterous woman who was brought to him as way of his opponents to test both his understanding of Scripture as well as his commitment to the Torah. Under normal circumstances, according to the Law of Moses, the law demanded only one thing: the woman must be stoned. Yet, with that said, these were not normal circumstance and the religious leaders were, indeed, setting a trap for Jesus.

First, it is important to note that while the Law of Moses demanded that adultery be stamped out (via stoning) of Israel, it seems that by the time of the prophets, there may have been a more merciful way of handling adultery: divorce. There adulterer was divorced, and shamed  before the whole community, as a way of both punishing and correcting the sin. This precedence is alluded to in Hosea 2, Isaiah 50, and Jeremiah 3…though the prophets themselves are referring to the adultery of Israel against God. Second, the Law found in both Leviticus 20:10 and Deuteronomy 22:22-24 requires that there be two witnesses that can testify against the adulterers, and that both adulterers (as it takes two to tango) be stoned if convicted of the crime.

The religious leaders believe that they have this Jesus, this simpleton from Nazareth, in a proverbial pickle. They couldn’t be further from the truth. Jesus answers to them, “Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone.” Well, who is without sin? Not one person could rightfully throw the stone at this woman after that. But not just because we are all, theologically speaking, sinners. The people trying to trap Jesus were found to be committing the sin by their not following the Law in a just manner. First off, if there were any witnesses to her act of adultery, they did not bring these witnesses to Jesus. For all Jesus knows, this woman could be falsely accused. Second, they did not bring the person she committed adultery with. If she had committed adultery, the Law is quite clear that both her and her illicit partner need to be stoned. Where was he? These religious leaders were sinning by the very act of handling the trial the way they did, and Jesus knew it…as did they!

What’s most important is that in the face of the rigidity of the law, Jesus opts for grace, for humility, for compassion and for mercy. How often do we, like the religious leaders, uphold the law in a way that favors us over others? But, by the very act of doing so, we bring the law down upon our own heads. While it is easy for us to stand above others we think are wrong, we are wrong by standing above others as their judge, jury and executioner. Christ has called us to live by the heart of law, which is living in right relationship with God and with each other. While adultery does not live into the heart of the law because it breaks the covenantal bond within the marital relationship, neither does holding others to a standard that we ourselves cannot, and do not, live by.

Here is what Jesus is telling us. If we are to receive love, let us love. If we are to receive forgiveness, let us forgive. If we are to receive mercy, let us be merciful. If we are to receive compassion, let us be compassionate. If we are to receive respect, let us be respectufl. If we are to receive justice, let us live justly. For to live by the law is to die by the law. If we want to receive the law and all of the consequences of not following it, then we are on the right path when we judge others, for we will be judged according to the same standard with which we judge. Let us ever be mindful of that as we continue to live out our lives in the name of our righteous, holy and just God.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“One who lives in a glass house shouldn’t throw stones.” – Unknown

PRAYER
Lord, help me to be loving, merciful, graceful, compassionate, just and certainly humble. Amen.

Antichrist Superstar

Read Matthew 18:1-10

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I tell you the truth, all sin and blasphemy can be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. This is a sin with eternal consequences.” (Mark 3:28-29 NLT)

tumblr_static_antichristsuperstarIt was October of 1996, I was 18 going on 19 years old, and I remember the religious fervor that was being struck up by a band that had just hit the mainstream airwaves a year before with their cover of the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of These).” Though this band came out in 1994, it was clear that this latest album would become it’s defining moment; for some Christians, choosing to listen to that album would be a soul-damning moment, one that had eternal consequences, and this is just what the band Marilyn Manson was banking on.

It’s not that they were banking that their album, Antichrist Superstar, would send people to hell; however, Marilyn Manson were banking on the religious fervor that inevitably ignited against it, and they rode that money train all the way to the bank. The album, to date, has sold over 7 million copies, with 1.9 million of those copies being sold in the United States alone. That’s probably not what the protesting Christians were hoping for, but it was an unintended consequence of all of their protests.

One of my favorite songs off of the album is the title track, “Antichrist Superstar.” In it Manson writes, “You built me up with your wishing hell, I didn’t have to sell you…cut the head off, grows back hard. I am the hydra, now you’ll see your star.” Many Christians feared that Manson was the Antichrist, that he was leading kids to Satan and ultimately to hell, and that the end of the world was near with the rise of someone who seemed so blatantly Satanic. But when you look at the lyrics, we find some substance beyond all of the theatrics. It is Christians who created this “Antichrist”, and it is Christians who were now protesting his rising like a star.

Brian Warner grew up going to a Christian school that taught him all about the devil. It taught him to fear Satan, but to fear God even more. He was taught that if he didn’t do the right things, think the right things, say the right things, and pray the right things, he would end up going to hell. He grew up having nightmares of the Antichrist coming and devouring him, he grew up having nightmares of God damning him to hell for not living the “good” life. This was what Brian Warner (aka Marilyn Manson) grew up believing Christianity was. The lyrics to his song, “Antichrist Superstar,” are a mirror of how Christianity represented Christ to him. It was Christianity that had built him up to fear, it was Christianity that taught him God was a God of wrath, and it was Christianity (sadly enough) that helped drive him away from Christ. Of course, it was only a certain brand of Christianity; however, it was the brand he grew up knowing and fearing. Though he attempts to show he’s broken free of that fear, his album is really more of a reflection of how that fear still consumes him.

As Christians, we are not called to be driving the “fear” of God into anyone. Satan only has as much power as we give him. If all we do is focus on evil, on the possibility of misstepping, of the possibility of damnation, then we imbue power into our fears of such things. God has not called us to do that; rather, God has called us to focus on the hope, healing and wholeness that comes through a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. What saddens me is that Marilyn Manson, and countless others, have not gotten that memo because the ones who were representing Christ were too busy pushing fear rather than love and acceptance. Let us not be such a people. Let us not fail the little ones who look up to us and model themselves off of us. Let them see within us the light of God, rather that the fear of darkness. Let us not build up antichrists by our wishing hell, but let us build up Christians by showing the love and the light of heaven in all we do.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“This is the culture you’re raising your kids in. Don’t be surprised if it blows up in your face.” – Brian Warner

PRAYER
Lord, teach me to move beyond fear and into your eternal arms of love. Help me to grow in that love and share it with others. Amen.