Tag Archives: Evil

God’s People, part 114: Mordecai

Read Esther 2

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Mordecai sent this reply to Esther: “Don’t think for a moment that because you’re in the palace you will escape when all other Jews are killed. If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?” (Esther‬ ‭4:13-14‬ ‭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.

  Part 114: Mordecai. Continuing on from the last devotion, we are going to explore some of the key characters in the book of Esther. To quickly refresh you, you will remember that Esther was a Jewish girl who was taken out of the custody of her cousin, Mordecai, and placed into the king of persia’s harem. A harem was a separate living quarter for three groups of women in the royal palace: legal wives, royal princesses, and concubines.

The first two are pretty obvious, but people today might not necessarily understand what concubines are. Some people view concubines as promiscuous women who are of low moral character because they sleep around with married men; however, this is a false understanding of the concubine’s situation. In Perisa, along with other Middle Eastern cultures, a concubine was a person who was legally bound to the king for sexual purposes, but had lower status than wives. They were not merely mistresses who threw themselves before the king; rather, they had no choice for they were chosen to be in sexual service to the king. They were, in essence, sex slaves.

Mordecai was Esther’s cousin; however, he was much older than her and he adopted her as his own daughter after her parents died. Anyone with a heart can imagine how hard it was for Mordecai to see his loved ones pass and how his heart must have broken for Esther. At the same time, we should not over-romanticize it either. Extended family members were obligated, as pure their cultural and religious customs, to take care of the children of their deceased family members.

With that said, the Scripture implies that the relationship between Mordecai was a close one. In Esther 2:7, it says he raised her as his own daughter. Mordecai was clearly someone Esther had a great deal of respect toward and someone she listened to. It was, after all, Mordecai who convinced Esther to risk her life and go before the king uninvited to petition for the lives of her people. It was Mordecai who bluntly laid the reality of the situation before her in Esther‬ ‭4:13-14‬.

Mordecai was no doubt petrified and in a panicked state his words, no doubt, came off forcefully. What he was asking her to do was to go on a possible suicide mission by breaking the courtly codes of conduct for a queen. The queen was not permitted to come uninvited before the king when he was conducting royal business in the court. To do so meant death unless the king favored his wife and accepted her reasoning. Esther believed that she had fallen out of favor with the king, that he was bored with her, and so to go before him most certainly meant death.

Mordecai, on the other hand, had just been informed of a royal decree, sent out under the authority of the king, permitting Persians to kill any and all Jews. This happened as a result of the King being tricked by his evil advisor, Haman. So, Mordecai didn’t have time to mince words and he let the queen know that saving her own life in this moment would most certainly mean death for them all in the next.

With that said, it is also important to note that Mordecai was directly responsible for egging on Haman and causing him to lash out in such a wretched and evil way. Haman worked in the king’s court as an official and all the officials were expected to bow and show respect to Haman, who was the king’s chief official. Mordecai refused to do so. Not just once, or twice, but time and time again, day after day. His reasoning for not bowing in respect to the chief official, evidently, was that he was Jewish. Of course, there’s no law against showing respect to a king or an official, so long as you are not “worshiping” the official as a god, but Mordecai refused to budge and, consequently, so did Haman who was as proud as he was arrogant. The end result was that Haman, who was evil, plotted to have all Jews killed in spite of Mordecai’s defiance.

Perhaps Mordecai had good reason for not bowing, or perhaps he simply did it pridefully because he wasn’t going to be seen as inferior to Haman. It’s hard to say because the author leaves the explicit reason out. Mordecai’s defiance, however, begs us to question our own motivations when we are being defiant. Not all defiance is good, not all defiance is bad; however, defiance does lead to unintended consequences and because of Mordecai’s unwillingness to compromise and follow protocol, the very lives of his people were put into unnecessary jeopardy. Thankfully, Esther was able to expose Haman’s evil and justice one out in the end; still, let us reflect on our own pride (whether Mordecai was prideful or not) and how our unwillingness to budge can be harmful to others.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Anger is the enemy of non-violence and pride is a monster that swallows it up.” —Mahatma Gandhi

PRAYER

Lord, help me to evaluate myself honestly and humble myself sincerely so as to not bring harm, if possible, to those around me. In Christ, all things are possible. Amen.

God’s People, part 80: Ahaz

Read 2 Kings 16; 2 Chronicles 28

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Uzziah was the father of Jotham. Jotham was the father of Ahaz. Ahaz was the father of Hezekiah.” (Matthew 1:9 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.

KingAhazPart 80: Ahaz. Oh boy. We’ve all heard that phrase, “The apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree.” Well, this was certainly NOT the case for Ahaz who wasn’t even a quarter of the king his father Jotham was. With that said, Ahaz didn’t grow up in a vacuum and the things that his father let slide during his reign, ended up manifesting in his son, Ahaz, who “did not do what was pleasing in the sight of the Lord his God, as his ancestor David had done” (2 Kings 16:2 NLT).

If you recall, King Jotham was mostly a good king; however, he carried on some of his father, Uzziah’s, policies. The policy that ended up affecting Judah the most was the one that allowed the foreign shrines to remain and the idol worshipping to continue. More than likely, this was done in order to be welcoming of foreigners traveling through the land and the more welcoming a nation is the more money it generates through tourism and other such things. Think about all the money being offered to the gods at the pagan shrines, and then you might begin to see, from the king’s perspective, the benefit to leaving them there.

With that said, the question should always be, “do the benefits outweigh the risks?” Would Jotham have followed those policies if he knew what would become of his son…or his grandson? 2 Kings 16:3 tells us that Ahaz “had his son pass through the fire.” Though there is some discrepency as to what that means, the probable meaning, as you can imagine, is that he sacrificed his son to the gods by burning him alive. Nice, right? I am pretty sure Ahaz didn’t make “father of the year” that year.

What’s more, when people attacked him, and large portions of his people were exiled to Damascus in Assyria (2 Chronicles , he allied himself and made himself a “vassal”, or subordinate) to the King of Assyria. He even visited Damascus (in what is modern-day Syria) and admired the altar to the gods they had set up there. So, he instructed his high priest to design a duplicate altar for God’s Temple and to remove the bronze one for the king’s own personal use. He also had a canopy that was used for the Sabbath removed from the Temple, among other things. What’s more, the Chronicler recorded that Ahaz ended up closing the temple so no one could worship there, and set up shrines to Baal all over Jerusalem. Yikes.

In the end, there was no direct consequence to Ahaz for his actions; however, he left Judah forever weakened, vulerable, and a subordinate to an enemy state that would one day come in and threaten the safety and sovereignty of Judah, in which Jerusalem would eventually be beseiged by the Assyrians. Similarly, the Northern Kingdom of Israel (whom the Ahaz followed the ways of), would be attacked and held captive by the Assyrians.

The challenge for us is to realize that just because God is our God, and just because we are God’s people, does not mean we are immune to sin and evil. What’s more, we asbolutely must recognize the sovereignty of God and trust that God’s way is better than our own ways.

Our actions have a greater impact than we realize. It is not just us who experience the consequences of our sin. In fact, sometimes we are not the ones at all who experience those consequences, but the ones we love and the ones who follow us. Let us turn to our God, who is graceful and sovereign, and fully rely on the Holy Spirit, through our Lord Jesus Christ, to lead us from where we are to where God is calling us to be.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
If our sins do not catch up with us, they will fall like bricks on the ones we love and those who follow after us.

PRAYER
Lord, thank you for your grace and your forgiveness of my sins. Lead me to where it is you are calling me. Amen.

God’s People, part 68: Ahab

Read 1 Kings 16:29-34

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“The king of Israel answered Jehoshaphat, ‘There is still one prophet through whom we can inquire of the Lord, but I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad. He is Micaiah son of Imlah.’ ‘The king should not say such a thing,’ Jehoshaphat replied.”

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.

img_0908Part 68: Ahab. One of my favorite classic movies is Moby Dick, about the fanatical Captain Ahab who leads his crew to destruction on a hellbent, vengeful hunt against a giant sperm whale who bears the name of the film’s title. It was based off of a novel by Herman Melville and is believed to have been inspired by a real seafaring tragedy in which a captain who was taken out of a whaleboat by a foul line had drowned.

The story’s protagonist/antagonist, Ahab, was given that name based off of King Ahab found in 1 Kings 16-22. Like King Ahab, the captain was an ungodly idolator who allowed other influences to give him a puffed up confidence in his ability to overcome fate and destroy his archenemy, the whale known as Moby Dick. Of course, listening to the advice of the “yes people” around him, Ahab took his entire crew on a suicide mission in order to hunt the whale that took his leg years earlier. In the end, Ahab was not successful in killing the whale, but ended up being brought down to the depths of the ocean, a result of getting caught in the lines attached to the harpoons that where protruding out from Moby Dick.

King Ahab, according to the Bible, was King of Israel for 22 years and did much evil in the sight of the Lord. For the most part, the evil that the Bible mentions is Ahab’s idolatry and his leading the entire Kingdom of Israel further astray from God than his predecessors had. Ahab had the potential to be a great king and, under his rule, there was relative stability between his kingdom and the Kingdom of Judah. In fact, there was an alliance between Judah and Israel due to King Jehoshaphat’s (of Judah) son Jehoram having been married Ahab’s daughter Athaliah.

Yet, Ahab does not end up relying on the Lord. He married a Sidonean (a person from the city-Kingdom of Sidon) named Jezebel and was influenced by her to worship the Canaanite god, Baal. He built temples and altars to Baal, surrounded himself with prophets of Baal and killed anyone who spoke against him or against his idolatrous practices. Elijah, who we will discuss at a later point, was the last remaining prophet (at least at one point) of the LORD and notoriously took a stand against Ahab and the prophets of Baal.

The king, like many rulers, was not a fan of being told no and was not a fan of people prophesying against him. When Neboth refused to sell the wicked king his vineyard, he and his wife plotted to have Neboth murdered. Once the evil deed was done, Ahab took his vineyard for himself. He hunted down Elijah anyone who stood against him and listened to the unwise and false advice from the “yes people” he called prophets who surrounded him.

The result is that he led himself, and the entire people of Israel, down a destructive path that led straight to their demise. In his own words, Ahab stated he hated one of the prophets of the LORD, Macaiah, because he never had anything good to say to the king. In other words, Macaiah always brought words of correction and rebuke toward the King for doing evil in the Lord’s sight and the king didn’t want to hear that. He just wanted to hear accolades and praises about himself; however, that is NOT the call of a prophet. The call of the prophet is to speak the truth of God to those who desperately need to hear it. The kings words betrayed his own pride and foolishness.

Ahab, when you think of it, is not much different than most politicians, leaders and, even, people in general. No one likes to be told they’re on the wrong track and that they need to change. With that said, we are being challenged to change our outlook, and have the wisdom to accept being held accountable by God and those whom God sends with corrective messages. To dismiss them because they don’t line up with one’s own self-perception is foolish and, often, deadly for oneself and those whom one is around. Be challenged by this, listen to what God is actually saying to you, rather than what you would like God to say. Listen and be changed by the sanctifying grace of God through the Holy Spirit.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“It’s [one’s] own mind, not [one’s] enemy or foe, that leads [one] to evil ways” — Buddha

PRAYER

Lord, help me to listen to and be corrected by your Holy Spirit. I submit myself to you. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: Reversing Evil

bflw-devotional-800x490Writing the Life-Giving Water devotionals is not only an important ministry, but is a deeply rewarding spiritual discipline for me as well. With that said, observing Sabbath (aka rest) is an important spiritual discipline as well. So here is a LOOK BACK to a devotion I wrote in the past. Read it, reflect on it, be challenged by it. Who knows how God will speak to you through it and how it will bear relevance in your life today? May the Holy Spirit guide you as you read the suggested Scripture and subsequent devotion.

God’s People, part 57: Amnon

Read 2 Samuel 13:1-22

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“So at Absalom’s signal they murdered Amnon. Then the other sons of the king jumped on their mules and fled.” (2 Samuel 13:29 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.

Jan_Steen_001God’s People, part 57: Amnon. We have discussed, at length, the character and person of King David. Now it is time that we turn our attention to some of David’s more prominent children. I will not go into nearly as much depth with them as I have with others, nor will I be bringing up David’s sins (for the most part) as excuses for what his children did. No doubt, David’s sins played their part and I think that is clear enough that I do not need to reiterate that point over and over again. The first son we will will look at is Amnon.

We do not know too much about Amnon, but that he was the eldest son of David and Ahinoam (who was the woman David married after leaving his wife, Michal, behind while fleeing from King Saul). The reality is that David was polygamous and had many wives who, in turn, had many children. If you think sibling rivalries happen in the nuclear, monogamous family, you can only imagine how much more challenging the family dynamics are in polygamous families such as David’s.

All that Amnon is really known for is the terrible and horrifying sin he committed against his half-sister Tamar. Being David’s eldest son, Amnon was set to be the heir of his father’s throne. He had everything going for him and, I can imagine, felt a good sense of entilement given his status as heir to the throne.

Amnon, according to the Bible, was lusting after his half-sister Tamar. His desire for her grew into an obsession, and eventually he acted out on his lust. His friend helped him devise a plan to pretend he was ill and request that Tamar be the one to serve him food and care for him while he was sick. Once that request was granted, Amnon made his sexual advances toward her, which Tamar rebuffed.

Amnon would not be told no, as is the case with predators, and he raped his half-sister. Once he had his way with her, he sent her away from his room and refused to have any dealings with her, let alone any sort of relationship. This act of evil brought shame to the entire family and left Tamar completely scarred and broken. The Bible states that she never recovered from it and, seeing his sister completely destroyed in body and in spirit, Absalom sought out and enacted vengeance against Amnon. He waited two-years to complete the deed, but he eventually had Amnon put to death in order to avenge his sister.

This story is an extremely relevant one, as allegations of sexual misconduct, harassment, and rape are coming out of the woodwork against politicians, business people, clergy, church members, and Hollywood stars alike. Rape is nothing new; however, it is one of the most egregious and evil acts that one could ever commit against someone else. Rape has nothing to do with sex, nor does it have anything to do with hormones.

Rape has to do with power. Amnon did not rape Tamar because he had the hots for her (which would alone was sinful given that she was his half-sister); rather, he raped her because he could. Because he wanted her and she wasn’t going to tell him otherwise. With him, as with all rapists, it came down to power. He had it, she didn’t, and he was going to show her that she had no business telling him no.

What’s more, rape need not have to be committed sexually at all. We can rape people in more ways than just sexually. We can rape them emotionally, as well as spiritually. Rape is an act of dominance, of power, where we take what is not rightfully ours to take…because we can. Because we want it. Because we put ourselves over and above the other. How many of us have been guilty of this? How many of us have sought to exert our power over others in ways that are, in effect, raping them?

I know, I know. This is not a comfortable topic; however, with the amount of rape being had out there, it is a topic we ought to be reflecting on. We are called to love people, not manipulate them. We are called to honor and respect the divine dignity in all people, not rape them and rob them of it. Let us be a people who are challenged by what we see going on in the media and respond in a self-reflective and honest way, by repenting of our sinful and/or evil actions to our Lord Jesus Christ, and by allowing Christ to transform us into agents of the Kingdom of God and of reconciliation.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“How can we excuse David from the sin of Eli; who honoured his sons more than God?” – Rev. John Wesley

PRAYER
Lord, turn me away from my selfish need for power and control. Steer me away from being a manipulator so that I may not walk the pathway of Amnon, but that of Jesus Christ. Amen.

God’s People, part 34: Jephthah

Read Judges 11

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
But I say, do not make any vows! Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ or ‘No, I won’t.’ Anything beyond this is from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:34a, 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.

1909 Jephthahs DaughterPart 34: Jephthah. Daughter, O daughter, wherefore art thou daughter? I wonder if you have even heard the name Jephthah before. He was, believe it or not, one of the major judges who rose up to deliver Israel from her enemies. He was a judge for a period of six years and was a great, great warrior. Yet, like all of God’s people, Jephthah was far from perfect.

The Bible indicates that Jephthah was the son of Gilead and a prostitute, who lived in the land of Gilead. Given the nature of a prostitute’s job, this might mean that his father was not named Gilead, but was unknown. In other words, his father could have been any one of the men of Gilead consorting with a prostitute. So, the great and mighty warrior’s story starts off with the detail that he was an “illegitimate child”.

Yet, this child (as all children are) was created and loved by God, and he rose up to defend his people against the Ammonites. With that said, he was reluctant to at first, because of the way he had been treated by his own people, the Israelites. Since his birth was scandalous, he was shunned and driven out of Gilead by the residents there. He was told he would have no inheritance in his father’s house. Again, his father might have been named Gilead, or this might be symbolic of not being welcome in his home town due to the scandalous nature surrounding his mother.

When asked to defend Israel against Ammon, Jephthah refused to do so unless they made him a permanent ruler over all the Israelites. The people, desperate for his help, vowed an oath under God to make him the permanent ruler. So, Jephthah agreed to lead the Israelites against the Ammonites. Scripture tells us that he was filled with the Spirit of God; however, Jephthah wanted to ensure victory and, in doing so, made a tragic and fatal mistake. He vowed that if the Lord would give him victory, he would sacrifice the first thing that walked through the front door of his house.

What a silly, silly vow. Why would he vow such a thing? Didn’t Jephthah know that the first thing that would walk through his door was his one and only daughter? This is, yet again, another one of more vile texts we find in the Bible, for Jephthah does indeed hold true to his vow to God and sacrifices (aka murders) his daughter. He lets her wander the hillside with her friends for two months but, following that, he sacrifices her.

The Bible is not clear as to whether or not God wanted such a sacrifice, or whether God wanted Jephthah to carry that sacrifice through. All we have is the vow that he made and the action that he carried out. With that said, God’s silence does not mean that this is what God wanted, let alone what God demanded. The reality is that people do all sorts of evil and sick things, and God does not come down out of the heavens (as was the case with Abraham) to stop them from carrying it forward.

The point of this story is not to take it literally and get hooked on the gory and horrific details. The point of is to learn something about ourselves in it. Had Jephthah trusted that the Spirit of the LORD was with him, he would not have made such a rash, foolish and ultimately tragic vow. Had he merely trusted in God’s presence, he would have simply led his people out to victory and won. Instead, by trying to secure his victory through bartering with God, he put himself and his daughter in a situation that should have never existed.

I believe that Jephthah should have never carried that vow out to conclusion, just as he should have never made the vow to begin with; however, he did what he did and we’re left horrified by the whole scenario. Let this be a reminder to us that we need not barter with God, as if God can be bought by our silly vows and promises. All God asks of us is to seek to live justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with the LORD, our God. The challenge for us is to be satisfied in our faith, to be satisfied with the assurance Scripture gives us of God’s presence in our lives, to be confident in the hope that GOD will not abandon us, and that salvation and deliverance will come. Why? Because God delivers and is faithful. Let us be faithful back to God and place our trust in the Holy Spirit within us.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Those that vow the most are the least sincere.” – Richard Brinsely Sheridan
 PRAYER
Lord, your Holy Spirit is within. Give me the assurance to trust in your presence. Amen.

The Vineyard

Read Mark 12:1-12

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I will test you with the measuring line of justice and the plumb line of righteousness. Since your refuge is made of lies, a hailstorm will knock it down. Since it is made of deception, a flood will sweep it away.” (Isaiah 28:17 NLT)

The+VineyardJesus had stirred up a hornets nest. Just the day prior, he had gone into the temple, violently overturning the tables, let the animals loose, and drove out anyone who was buying or selling goods for sacrifice, as well as anyone changing their currency into the currency accepted in the Temple or vice versa. The next day, he had also told the religious leaders that he didn’t need to answer their questions, since they were unwilling to answer his. Things were about to get pretty ugly, and Jesus knew it.

Following this, Jesus began to tell a parable. He told of a man who built a vineyard and leased it out as a cropshare to other tenants. When it was time for the harvest, this man sent his servant to collect his share of the crops; however, the tenants grabbed the servant, beat him up, and sent him back to the man empty handed. So he sent another, and another. Only, these times the servants were not only beaten but killed.

Finally, the man sends his son to show the tenants how sincere he was about getting his share of the crops. He figured the tenants would see his son, and see that the son came in his authority, and have a change of heart. He hoped they would finally give his share of the crops to his son to return back to the man. Instead, these wicked tenants took hold of the son, beat him and killed him with the intent of taking ownership of the entire estate.

Following the parable, Jesus asked the religious leaders what the man would do once he heard that his son had been killed. Instead of answering, they stood their quiet. They knew the answer, but could not bring themselves to answer it. So, Jesus answered it for them and said, “I’ll tell you—he will come and kill those farmers and lease the vineyard to others. Didn’t you ever read this in the Scriptures? ‘The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone. This is the LORD’s doing, and it is wonderful to see.'” (Mark 12:9-11 NLT)

Of the many parables that Jesus taught, this one seems to be one of the least understood. The end of the parable seems to overshadow people’s interpretation of the rest of it, meaning that God’s wrath seems to overshadow a parable that is otherwise filled with grace. Yet, despite the last couple of sentences, the whole verse gives us a clue as to Jesus’ mission on earth, which was ultimately a mission of God’s unconditional love and grace.

We often look at the cross as something Jesus had to go through in order for us to be saved from our sins. We view Jesus’ sacrifice as being substitutionary, that Jesus death was a substitute for our own. Those of us who understand Jesus’ sacrifice and death in this way, often view God as a just God, one who is angry at sin, and because of God’s absolute holiness, cannot allow for sin to go unpunished. Thus, God demands blood as a price for such sin and, knowing this, Jesus offered himself as the blameless, sinless lamb as an atonement for us.

Yet, when you look at this parable, I think it is clear that Jesus is pointing us to a different reality. That God’s plan was not to send Jesus to die; rather, God’s plan was to send Jesus to show us The Way back to God. Like the man in the parable, God’s son was sent to bring us who have sinned against God to a state of repentance. God’s son was sent to show us how wrong we have been in severing the relationship we used to have with God, and to call us back into a relationship. Yet, people were too sinful to care that God had sent God’s son and, instead of repenting, we doubled down in our sin and killed God’s son. Jesus did not die as a subsitution for our sins, but BECAUSE OF THEM.

The wrathful ending to the parable is a reflection that God’s plan of redemption cannot be thwarted by our sin. The very people who nailed Jesus to the cross had stumbled on the cornerstone and, no matter how much they thought they had won the day, they had totally lost the battle. While they further damaged their relationship with God and further corrupted their own souls in the process, God’s plan of redemption carried forward from the cross to the empty tomb. In other words, while sin put Jesus on the cross, God’s redemptive plan came to life again and walked right out of the tomb three days later. The challenge for us, as we journey through Lent, is this: will we humble ourselves, repent and be redeemed, or will we allow sin to further separate us from our loving Creator? In the end, it’s our choice.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“May the perfect grace and eternal love of Christ our Lord be our never-failing protection and help.” – St. Ignatius

PRAYER
Lord, lead me to repentance and save me from the power of sin in my life. Amen.

Depraved

Read Mark 7:14-23

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)

depraved-skullI am sure you are looking at this title and going, “Oh, no! Where’s he going to go with this.” I can assure you that I am not about to pull my inner Calvinist out and start talking about total depravity. As a theologian, I do not subscribe to humanity being “totally depraved”, for God created human beings and saw that they were good. Sure, humanity strayed from the love and grace of God, allowing sin and evil to enter into the picture; however, there is still the goodness that God created within each of us and, thus, we are not TOTALLY depraved (meaning that we are not corrupt and/or evil to the core of our very being).

With that said, I am not going to take this to a comfortable place either. I don’t completely reject human depravity because we all have the potential to become depraved. I see evidence of this in Scripture as well as in every day life. I would have to be morally blind and completely naïve to think that human depravity doesn’t exist in this world. All we have to do is turn on the news to find it. In fact, along with covering the depravity of human beings around our communities, our country and our world, the news networks (and I mean ALL of them) themselves engage in depravity.

I was just recently watching the news and seeing college kids at the University of California Berkley rioting on campus because a conservative/liberatarian speaker was coming to give a speech. When I say rioting, I mean wearing masks, throwing molotov cocktails, shooting fireworks at the school library, pepper spraying a woman who had a “Make America Great Again” hat on, knocking down power lines and making a bonfire out of school property. All of this because people are opposed to the current administration and, as a result, conservatives in general.

On the flip side, conservatives have done their share of riling up anger. They have engaged in irresponsible rhetoric, led a brutal campaign unlike I think anyone has ever seen before, thoughtlessly executed laws that have done harm to people, and engaged in “tit-for-tat” bomb throwing on social media. What’s more, as is usually the case when any side wins an election, there has been a lot of gloating as well. Not to mention the white supremacists and other morally debase people coming out of the wood work, spray painting swastikas on playgrounds, shouting racial slurs at people of color, and chanting “build that wall” at our Latino and Hispanic brothers and sisters, most of whom are citizens.

Don’t mistake me here, I am not engaging in political discourse or taking sides. As I see it, both sides are wrong. We live in an age where we no longer can look at one another as brothers and sisters, as fellow human beings, as children of God; rather, we look at others as enemies, as evil, as monsters, as ignorant, as dangerous, as threats, as demons that need to be sent back to the fires of hell. Burn, baby, burn.

This world is on fire with depravity right now. No, it’s not the first, nor even the worst time in the history of the world, but we are descending into the depths of destruction faster than anyone of us could have ever anticipated. People I once stood side-by-side with in serving others, are now chanting “fight fire with fire”. People I once could have an intelligible conversation with, are no longer stopping to listen anymore. Everyone anymore seems to be screaming expletives past each other, without stopping to pause and notice that they have lost the high ground.

Is this what God wants? Is this what God envisioned for us when we were created? How can we claim to love God when we hate our neighbor? How can we claim to listen to God when we cannot even have the respect and love to listen to one another? We have become a depraved people, spanning generations. I recognize that that NOT EVERYONE has engaged in the extremes of the depravity we have been seeing; even so, most of us who have not have laid quietly in fear of standing up IN LOVE against it.

Do you believe in Jesus Christ? Do you believe in all that he did and taught? Do you believe in the power of his resurrection and the coming of the Kingdom of God? If you answer yes to all of those questions, then you are called to be the peacemaker of the world around you. All of us who believe are. We are to look for truth on all sides and bring people together, rather than divinding them further apart. We are to take the long, hard, painful road of loving all people, especially those we disagree with or call our enemies. We are to be the hands and feet of our risen, living Savior. We are to counter depravity with the goodness and righteousness (aka justice) of Christ who is Lord. Will you join me in that? I hope so.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“All we are saying is give peace a chance.” – John Lennon

PRAYER
Lord, help me to assess my own fears and feelings so that I may rise above depravity and be a peacemaker in the world around me. 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.