Tag Archives: Gospel

The Beatitudes, part 8: Peacemakers

Read Matthew 5:9

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Yet the time will come when Israel’s people will be like the sands of the seashore—too many to count! Then, at the place where they were told, ‘You are not My people,’ it will be said, ‘You are children of the living God.’” (Hosea 1:10 NLT)

RomanLegionIt was high noon as the sheriff stepped off of the the old, dried out, wooden deck of his office and onto the dusty road of the town. He faced the outlaw with a certain steadiness in his eye, a determination to put down this cold-blooded, no good, double-crossin’ rattlesnake before he caused anymore problems for the citizens of Tumbleweed, NM. The Sherrif slowly brushed his black trench coat back on both sides, showing the peacemakers he had holstered to his hip. The other man flinched, and before he could even take a breath, the lawman’s peacemakers rang out with bullets blazing. That outlaw would never be disturbing the peace of Tumbleweed again.

Often times, when we hear Jesus say, “Blessed are the peacemakers”, we think in terms of the sheriff above who was certainly “making peace” for his town by ridding it of troublemakers and outlaws. We think of our military, the police officers, and other first responders who keep the majority of people in our communities safe from criminals and others would “disturb the peace. We also think of pacifists and people who refuse to partake in any sort of violence.

Yet, while both of these understandings certainly embody an aspect of “peacemaking”, none of them captures what Jesus is actually refering to in his beatitudes. First, it is important to understand the historical and political contexts in which Jesus is living. In the first century, the Jews found themselves under Roman occupation and they were quickly being “converted” to a Greco-Roman society. There was great pushback against this and many groups, including zealots and others, violently resisted such occupation. Yet, Jesus’ message was not merely against those groups’ violent action against Rome, as it is sometimes portrayed.

Much more than that, this was a political statement against Rome itself. After all, the Roman emperors called themselves “peacemakers” and “Sons of God.” It was the Roman Emperor, and by extension the empire’s legions, that peacemaking was done. The Zealots, the Essenes, the community at Qumran, and many more were put to death by the Roman sword or the cross. If one didn’t live peaceably under Roman rule, then one found a sharp and painful end to their unwillingness to conform. This was what Rome considered to be “peace” and they spread their pax Romana (Roman peace) throughout the known world.

With the spread of terrorism, violence in our own communities, and on our own streets on the rise, many today are calling for peace by force. They want their streets safe again and they want someone to enforce “law and order” in order to ensure that “peace” is ruling in the streets. The question is this, peace for who and at what cost? Is this what Jesus meant when he said, “blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the children of God.” Does God force into peace, or does God strive to reconcile us with each other and with God in order to attain God’s Kingdom of peace here on earth as it is in heaven?

It is important to understand that when Jesus states, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” he is not referring to governmentally or civilly enforced peace, nor is he referring to a passive attitude toward violence and/or others. On the contrary, being peacemakers is the actively engaged, and difficult, work of bringing reconciliation into our communities. Those who seek to bring reconcilliation between people/communities and their neighbors, as well as reconciliation with God, are the ones who are called the “children of God.

What this means is that anyone who wishes to follow Christ must be an agent of God’s recociliation.Those who are know that such work is not easy and, it is often costly. Jesus attests to that in his next beatitude, as we will see next week. I pray that you find yourself challenged by this and that the Lord leads you, as well as all of us, down the road of making peace and building up a reconciling community of love.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Peace is not absence of conflict, it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means.” – President Ronald Reagan
PRAYER
Lord, grant me peace that I may be a peacemaker and counted among your children. Amen.

The Beatitudes, part 6: Mercy

Read Matthew 5:7

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6 NLT)

MercyIt’s not often I venture even remotely close to the world of politics because, most of the time, I find it to be completely fruitless and counterproductive. I have my opinions and others have theirs and, as a pastor, I am called to serve ALL people…not just those who are politically aligned with me. So I veer from getting political in terms of sharing who I do or don’t support.

With that said, as a pastor I am also called to be prophetic which means that I will speak on moral issues, even if they are political hot button topics, because that is what I am called to do. Jesus did the same thing. He didn’t lobby for this person or that, but he did address moral issues in ways that certainly had political implications and, unfortunately, ramifications.

Jesus’ beatitudes were no exception, especially when we look at the particular beatitude of mercy. As Christians, people love to claim the mercy of God as displayed through the redemptive act of Jesus’ death and resurrection. We love to hear stories on the news about acts of mercy being done. We love experiencing mercy, epsecially when we are going 60 in a 50 mph zone and the police officer lets us off with a warning. We love mercy when it makes us feel warm and fuzzy.

Yet, how many of us are challenged by it? How many of us seek to be merciful? How many of us truly hold “mercy” at the core of who we are. We like mercy, but we would rather prioritize justice over it. Just recently in his acceptance speech, Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump stated that he is going to be the “law and order” candidate. What he meant by that was that he was going to enforce the law and those who break the laws are going to meet swift and decisive justice.

He also said in another speech that Amercia “will be a country of generosity and warmth. But we will also be a country of law and order.” This statement bears the marks of the common understanding of mercy and justice. They are both important, but they are distinct and different, and justice trumps (pun not intended) mercy at the end of the day.

This isn’t just Donald Trump’s understanding of justice, but the world’s understanding. Justice trumps mercy and takes precedent over it. There are people in the streets protesting for social justice, which they absolutely should do; however, some of these protests have been violent because people are not feeling heard and they are feeling like they need to take justice into their own hands. Businesses have been burned down, cars blown up, houses and stores looted and destroyed, and lives lost because people are seeking a justice that seems to just NOT be coming…at least quick enough, if at all.

Yet the world’s understanding of justice is not representative true, divine, justice at all; in fact, it often only begets more injustice. First, God has called us to LIVE JUSTLY, meaning that God has called us to do what is right. God follows that up in Micah 6:8 with LOVE MERCY. To do justice is to love mercy. To do what is right is to be merciful. Being merciful is what is right in God’s eyes. Unlike what the world puts forth, justice and mercy are not distinct and separate from each other. God’s justice IS MERCY. Hence the redemptive work of Jesus Christ on the cross.

God is just and gives us JUSTICE, but not the “justice we deserve.” Rather, God’s justice for all is God’s mercy for all. We simply need to accept it and live by it. Remember, Justice is not THE LAW. Rather, the law is supposed to point us toward justice. Whether we uphold it through mercy or through force, that is it’s function. The world may tell us we need to enforce justice, God is telling us something completely different through Jesus the Christ, who unjustly died for the ones who put him on the cross…namely all of sinful humanity. God is calling us to LIVE JUSTLY, and uphold JUSTICE through acts of mercy and loving kindness. Those who do so, those who are merciful, are blessed and shall themselves receive mercy.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.” – Abraham Lincoln

PRAYER
Lord, teach me your merciful justice so that I may become merciful in all that I say and do. Amen.

The Beatitudes, part 3: Mourners

Read Matthew 5:4; Luke 6:21b

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; He rescues those whose spirits are crushed.” (Psalms 34:18 NLT)

black-and-blue-lament-e1468181738718Jesus continued his bestowal of blessings, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” The words rang out and filled the ears and souls of the multitude of people gathered around Jesus that day. There was much to mourn in their day and age, there had been much to be grieved over. Under the weight of such suffering, there wasn’t a single soul among Jesus’ followers who hadn’t been in some state of mourning or another.

Whether rich or poor, whether powerful or weak, whether a person of status or a peasant, all were in a state of grief over the travesty of being subjegated to the Roman Empire. Sure, there were some who had much to gain from Rome’s presence. The High Priest, Caiaphas, and his whole priestly family benefited from Rome. According to Flavius Josephus, Annas (the same Annas who took part in Jesus’ mock trial) was appointed High Priest in 6 CE by the Roman Governor Quirinius as the first High Priest of the new Roman Province of Iudaea (aka Judea). He served in that role until he was deposed by the Roman Governor Gratus in 15 CE and was replaced by his son, Eleazar, in 16 CE. In 17 CE, Gratus deposed Eleazar and appointed Annas’ son-in-law, Joseph son of Caiaphas (aka Caiaphas) as the high priest.

There were others who also had much to gain. Herod, an Idumaean Jew, and his family gained power under Rome, as did those who supported Herod’s agenda of Hellenizing Judea (aka the Herodians). Yet, even they were not without their mourning for, under the Roman boot, no one was truly free to do as they pleased, not even Herod. Following Herod’s death, Caesar Augustus refused to give any of his children the title of king, but appointed three of his sons as governors. Herod’s son Archelaus, though willed by his father to be king, was eventually deposed by Augustus and the regions he ruled (Samaria, Judah, and Idumaea) were consolodated into a new Roman province of Iudaea (aka Judea) and placed directly under Roman Rule. Antipas and Phillip both kept governorship of their regions, but the tension between them and Rome was thick.

So, yes, many had much to mourn over in the days and years Jesus of Nazareth walked the earth, and no doubt, everyone has something to mourn about in our day and age as well; however, Jesus was not merely speaking to those who mourned in the physical sense, as it is often misunderstood. Jesus was, in actuality, speaking to those who mourn in both the physical and spiritual senses.

Without doubt, by using the phrase “those who mourn”, Jesus is referring to the poor. This can be evidenced in Luke’s literal interpretation of this famous beatitude (Luke 6:21b). With that said, I would once again caution anyone from rushing to the judgment that Matthew is “spiritualizing” Jesus’ words. First, it is more than likely that Luke was written after Matthew, not beforehand. Thus, chronologically speaking, it would be more likely that Luke “literalized” the words of Jesus found in Matthew, and even that’s just as unlikely. Second, since the mysterious Q source of Jesus’ sayings has never been found, only speculative (and not empirical) claims can be made regarding what Jesus was actually recorded as saying. Without empirical evidence, there’s no reason to believe that either Matthew or Luke are detracting from what Jesus said, but more or less expounding upon it.

Lastly and most importantly, Matthew’s text (regardless of the points above) does not exclude the literal poor, but most certainly includes them when mentioning those who mourn. Blessed are they who mourn because of the greed, the corruption, the power, and oppression of the wicked, for they will be comforted. Also included in this group of blessed people are those who mourn and lament because of how far wayward God’s people had gone as a result of greed, corruption and abuse of power. Blessed are those mourners for they, too, will be comforted when God’s Kingdom finally and fully reigns on the earth.

What’s more, as will be seen later in the beatitudes, the mourners are not merely those who are helpless and voiceless against injustice, but those who stand up against it and face the consequences of doing so. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. The question for you is, which one of these are you? Are you one of the poor and helpless who mourn? Are you one of those who mourn and lament over injustice and stand up against it, or are you one of those who our Lord (Matthew 23; Luke 6:24-26) declares a series of woes against? Challenge yourself to earnestly reflect on this, not only this week, but always.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Good God, if our civilization were to sober up for a couple of days it’d die of remorse on the third.” – Malcom Lowry
PRAYER
Lord, as I mourn the way this world is, empower me to follow you and change it. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: Mr. Merit, Tear Down That Wall

miltonious-blog-unicorn-of-technical-difficulties-640x360It appears that a mysteriously mischievous unicorn has kept me from uploading the next devotion. While this technical difficulty could be frustrating, I have seen the rainbow lining and am just happy the majestic, mythical creature showed up to say hi. What are the odds?!? As I work to get the next devotion up by the next publishing time, please click here to read a blast from the past. I hope you find it as relevant now as it was then.

Wrath of God, part 3

Read Jeremiah 6:1-19

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let Me. And now, look, your house is abandoned and desolate.” (Matthew 23:37-38 NLT)

Destruction_of_JerusalemJeremiah looked at his beloved Judah, and his beloved Jerusalem, and all he could feel was his anger, his rage toward what it had become. Coming from the tribe of Benjamin, Jeremiah was born in a priestly family and was called by God to be a prophet. Though reluctant at first, Jeremiah soon found that he could not turn away God’s call, for it burned like a wildfire within him.

Jeremiah was called to be a prophet around a year after King Josiah reformed Jerusalem and banned any form of idol worship. The king had tried to bring Judah back to a true and pure worship of God and he established the Temple of Jerusalem as the ONLY temple that God could be worshipped in. Following his death in a battle at Megiddo against Egypt, Judah quickly returned to its wicked ways.

The people of Judah and Jerusalem fell back into idol worship as a result of weak and corrupt leadership. The leaders themselves were corrupt politicians, greedy, murderous, and totally lacking the moral and ethical compasses needed for true leadership. The desparity between the ruling class and the poor grew wider and wider and the shepherds (aka the leaders) of God’s people were more or less wolves in disguise. They weren’t caring for or protecting the people, they were milking and raping them of all they had. What’s worse, the priests and religious leaders were corrupt as well, and supported these elitist, tyrannical rulers with the authority of their religious office. By doing this, the priests were explicitly giving the rulers “God’s blessing” to continue in their corruption.

This incensed Jeremiah. He was furiously beside himself and could not contain the fire that was raging inside. “I’m filled with the Lord’s rage,” Jeremiah shouted, “and am tired of holding it in” (Jeremiah 6:11). In the suggested reading, one sees Jeremiah go through an entire rant about how angry God is and that God would not sit idly by and do nothing in regard to the wickedness of Judah. God was going to bring wrath upon their heads. Their cities would be leveled. Their people would be exiled. Smoke would be seen from miles to remind everyone of what happens when you stray and embrace wickedness. Jeremiah’s rant is harsh, and much of it is spoken as being the very words of God.

Outside of the context, it is very easy for us to read that and take the words literally. In fact, some Christians do believe that God is an angry God who punishes the wicked for their wrong doings. They even wrongfully use such words in judgment against groups of people they disagree with, labeling them as “wicked” and blaming catastrophic events on their wickedness.What’s more, anti-theists will often point to such verses as a reason that religion needs to go. And it is no wonder why, what kind of perfect God throws such temper-tantrums and wipes out entire peoples.

Yet, let us not lose sight that this is Jeremiah speaking. He may be doing so on behalf of God, but he is not God. Let us also not lose sight that Jeremiah is extremely angry, and rightfully so, at the corruption and injustice of Judah’s leaders. It’s not all that different from the anger many are feeling today at the corruption of our American leaders and the injustice that is spreading throughout our land. Jeremiah is, quite frankly, ticked off at this and, rightfully, is pointing out that God is really, really angry too. In fact, God’s anger is what is fueling his anger!

With that said, Jeremiah also provides us words that permit us to interpret this text more responsibly. He words it that way but also proclaims, “Listen, all the earth! I will bring disaster on My people. It is the fruit of their own schemes, because they refuse to listen to Me. They have rejected My word” (Jeremiah 6:19 NLT). In other words, God’s wrath is ultimately the natural and often unintended consequences of evil and wickedness having their effect upon a people who have brought such consequences upon themselves.

As we will see later on, God does not just display wrath but also mercy, forgiveness, redemption and reconciliation. Yet, I do not want to put the cart before the horse. Today’s challenge, then, is for us to reflect on God’s wrath. Reflect on the wickedness in our own hearts, the wickedness in the world, and the evil that is carried out on a daily basis. Reflect on the natural consequences of such wickedness and evil. Read the suggested reading, feel God’s and Jeremiah’s pain, and reflect upon it. Allow it to pierce your heart and move you to change as well as turn you into an agent, a prophet, of change.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“This is the very worst wickedness, that we refuse to acknowledge the passionate evil that is in us. This makes us secret and rotten.” – D. H. Lawrence

PRAYER
Lord, help me to move away from wickedness and injustice and to speak out against it as well. Amen.

Another Form of Trifling

Read Exodus 20:8-11

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE 
So I commend enjoyment because there’s nothing better for people to do under the sun but to eat, drink, and be glad. This is what will accompany them in their hard work, during the lifetime that God gives under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 8:15 CEB)

  America was founded on what I call the Puritan ethic. That ethic is deeply ingrained in the theology held by Puritans who were TULIP Calvinists. “What is TULIP, you might ask?” It stands for the following:

  • Total Depravity
  • Unconditional Election 
  • Limited Atonement 
  • Irresistable Grace 
  • Perserverance of the Saints 

In essence, this theological position states that humans are totally depraved and filled to the core with sin, that God elects those whom God elects due to God’s will and NOT due to any sort of condition, that Jesus only died for the elect (whoever they are) and not for anyone else, that those who are elect cannot resist God’s grace, and that once one is elect one is always elect. One cannot lose their election or their salvation.

Of course, no one can know whether they are elect or not. Not even the Puritans knew whether or not they were elect, though they believed certain things were signs of election. One of the biggest signs was how hard one worked. If one was a hard worker, and did not trifle time away, that was a sign that one was possibly elect. It wasn’t guaranteed, but it was a sign.

This may sound absolutely ludicrous to you. I mean, who in their right mind would even remotley point to a merit-based measure of Christian Salvation. Of course, the Puritans would say that hard work does not earn salvation, but just that a hard work ethic is a sign of one being saved. It is the fruit of salvation, so-to-speak. So, it would be a complete and total misunderstanding to say that TULIP Calvanists such as the Puritans ever thought one could earn their own salvation. With that said, their theology put hard work into the soul of America.

You might now be asking, what in the world is wrong with that? In and of itself, hard work is a good thing, right? It is what has propelled America and the world into progress. As a huge Disney fan I think of the Carousel of Progress, which shows how our society has amazingly progressed from the turn of the twentieth century to where we are in the twenty-first century. Yet, in that progression I can also see the downside of a world that continually moves and never stops to slow down or take a pause.

In my last devotion, I wrote how time is of the essence and how Rev. John Wesley (following the guidance of Scripture) had the rule of never trfiling away time and/or of never being trifingly employed. This is an important rule, for sure; yet, I will put forth the following proposition, which I feel is an important addendeum to John Wesley’s rule: resting, the observation of Sabbath and holy rest, is an important time to not be trifled with. Working without cessation is trifling with God’s time as much as is working mindlessly without purpose on unimportant tasks.

Today’s challenge is for us to start to work hard at resting, at observing Sabbath. We can do that by making sure we take regular time off. We can do that by ensuring that we do things that bring us fulfillment and enjoyment. While it is important to work hard for the glory of God, it is just important that we rest and that we play. Just as God works, finds enjoyment in creative playfulness and rests, so too it is important that we do not let the Puritan work ethic get the best of us and our souls.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“If you don’t take a Sabbath, something is wrong. You’re doing too much, you’re being too much in charge. You’ve got to quit, one day a week, and just watch what God is doing when you’re not doing anything.” – Eugene H. Peterson

PRAYER

Lord, help me to see that rest and the enjoyment of play are equally as important as hard work. Amen.

Bewitched

Read Galatians 3:1-5

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace.” (Romans 6:14, NLT)

TheWitch01The lights darkened, the room silenced, and the discordant sound of stringed instruments filled the air in an unsettling and disturbing manner. The sounds of violin and cello cut through me like seraded steel as the theater screen faded in from black to the image of a teenager’s stone pale and frightened face. It was clear from the way that she was dressed that she was living in seventeenth century New England and that she was among a group of people known as the Puritans.

As it turns out, her father is standing trial for not adhereing to the laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, at the time a British colony, because he believes those laws to stand against the teachings of the Gospels. As such he and his family are banished and end up moving out of the village they were in and settling in the wilderness of New England on the edge of a think and dark wood (aka forest). While I will not give away anything, as I run a tight “no-spoiler” ship, this is where the 2016 film, “The Witch”, opens up and where the horror begins.

This film, as I see it, is a work of fine art and there is much for us Christians to pull from it. On the surface, the horror is centering on a potential witch that lives in the woods and is preying upon a New England family that is doing everything they can to remain godly and to stay together as a family. But as misfortune after misfortune happens, and as the family becomes more and more certain they are “witched”, the more and more it is that the real horror is revealed.

Right from the opening scene onward, we are made aware that this family is hypersensitive to their sin, to the sin of others, and to the soveriegnty of God. It is not wrong to be sensitive to those things in a healthy kind of way, but this family is overly sensitive, to the point that every conversation is filled with talk about their sinfulness, the wickedness of the world and the uncertainty of their own, let alone anyone else’s, salvation.

At every turn, the family is reminded that they are wicked and sinful and they start to have the feeling that they are “witched” because God is punishing them and handing them over to the devil as a result of their wickedness. Nowhere, and I mean nowhere, is God’s grace really at play here in this film and in the psyche of the family. Even when God’s mercy is mentioned, it is with the understanding that they are in need of mercy because of their wickedness, and their pleading for it betrays their theology that they worship a God who just might not show mercy to them.

It becomes clear to me, without giving anything away from the actual story line of “The Witch” itself, that the family is bewitched by their own stringent, and horrific, theology. While it is true that God is  sovereign and it is true that we fall short of God’s glorious standard, it is NOT true that God is out to get us for our fallenness. Their theology is so damning that they could never, ever experience the grace and mercy that was already there waiting for them. They were so busy worrying about the prowling devil in the woods that they could not see that they had all they needed to thrive in the wilderness: their family and their faith.

Today’s challenge is this: don’t let yourself get bewitched by a negative and graceless theology. Rather, at every turn, steer clear of the devil by choosing to see the grace of God throughout your life, in your family, and in your community. Community is not perfect, but God is working to perfect it through your presence as well as others. Remember, God saved you from slavery to sin and death, so why negate that by making those things the foundation of your faith? Jesus Christ is the grace of God. That, and that alone, should be your faith’s foundation.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
The devil’s work is division and separation from others.  God is the great uniter.

PRAYER
Lord, keep me from bewitching myself with bad theology. Remind me daily of your grace. Amen.

Our Existential Problem

Read Proverbs 3:5-18

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
For the LORD grants wisdom! From His mouth come knowledge and understanding. (Proverbs 2:6, NLT)

EyeKnowIn the Garden of Eden story we learn that humanity’s downfall was in it’s desire to have wisdom and the ability to judge what is right and what is wrong. Humanity, in its infancy, sought to become independent of God and doing things for itself. Those things, in and of themselves, are not necessarily bad; however, the desire to have something NOW, rather than trusting that God will provide those things at the right time, is where the downfall begins.

The author of the Garden narrative saw the attaining of widsom as the downfall of humanity because the “wise” know, and what they know obligates them. In other words, once humanity could discern good from evil, people were then obligated to choose to do good over evil. But that knowledge wasn’t they only knowledge the ended up acquiring; rather, they also attained self-knowledge.

The story recounts how, following eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve’s eyes were opened and they saw that they were naked. They became keenly aware of themselves and became self-aware and self-conscious. In the feeling of shame of their nakedness, Adam and Eve sewed fig leaves together in order to cover their private parts. Prior to them eating the forbidden fruit, of course, those parts were not private and there was no need to be ashamed of them.

This is where I believe the real fall took place. Prior to the deception of the serpent on the tree, Eve and Adam saw each other as one. They did not look at the other as an entity unto themselves. They did not see each other as being separate, distinct, unique or individual. Instead, they saw one another as complimentary parts of the same whole. Hence Adam’s reaction at the creation of Eve, “ “At last! This one is bone from my bone, and flesh from my flesh! She will be called ‘woman,’ because she was taken from ‘man.'” (Genesis 3:23 NLT)

Yet, when the forbidden fruit was eaten, man became separated from woman, and woman became separated from man. They hid their bodies away from each other, and then hid themselves away from God. This is important to note because, in this we see what was common understanding in the ancient world: God created us to be in community, to be one with each other, and when we fail to do so we not only separate ourselves from each other but from God as well.

What compouds this reality even more is the fact that humans, even though they had been separated from each other down gender lines (and many more lines that followed that), they still believed they had knowledge of each other. What’s more, humanity grew in confidence in its ability to discern right from wrong, except that it was no longer utilizing that discernment in self-reflective ways, but in ways of judgement against other human beings.

Whether we take this story literally or not is really beside the point. Humans were created to be subjects, in that we are under the dominion of our own personal thoughts,  and are subjective by nature. While we think we know, and we think we have the ability to grow in our knowldedge, the truth is that we are limited in our knowledge, if we know anything at all.

Thus, our discernment is really based more off of what we think as opposed to what we, strictly speaking, know. The best we can say is that we think we know, which betrays the fact that our knowledge is dependent on our thoughts which are processed through our own subjectivity. Confused? What should be pulled from is this, humans have the ability to discern what is right and wrong; however, as subjective human beings, we cloud our judgment of right and wrong with our own personal feelings and justifications. We do so to our advantage and often to the detriment of others.

We should NOT rely soley on our own ability to discern right from wrong, but we should rely on God’s. What that means is that we will envelope ourselves in communities of service and loving accountability (aka churches), we will study the Bible (and its historical contexts), we will model ourselves off of the life and teachings of Jesus, and we will begin to live in a way that truly reflects our TOTAL TRUST in God. Acknowledge your subjectivity, refrain from judgment, embrace humility, and allow God to guide you in your discernment.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
When the Bible says to seek and cherish Wisdom, it is pointing us to Jesus Christ who is God’s Wisdom personified.

PRAYER
Lord, fill me NOT with my understanding, but with your wisdom. Amen.

Pledge Allegiance

Read Romans 12:1-3

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. (Luke 12:34 NLT)

PledgeAllegianceToJesusIf you are at all like me, you are probably growing very weary of the American political campaign for the Presidency of the United States of America. It does not matter where in the world you are while reading this, you have no doubt heard the names Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Donald, of course, is now the presumptive GOP nominee, and Hillary is looking like she will be.

I have never used my devotions, or the pulpit, to talk politics and I do not intend to now; however, I have used both platforms to talk about specific spiritual and theological issues that are connected to or implicated by political issues. I am called to speak out prophetically on issues that concern all Christians, regardless of where, when and how those issues arise. Thus, I do so now.

The political climate in America is so divisive and malicious that the country has become a battle ground for a war being waged between very contentious and controversial candidates. We have Donald Trump who has said very hurtful things about fellow candidates and about certain groups of people. We have Hillary Clinton who is caught up in a plethora of scandals and has trust issues among voters. We also have Bernie Sanders who identifies as a Democratic Socialist, who has tried to maintain a campaign focused on the issues important to him, but who has also stepped up the rhetoric by accusing the Democratic Primary System of being rigged and stacked against him and the people.

Worse than the candidates, many religious figures have stepped into the political fray in order to demonize those within their own religious groups who are supporting a candidate different than theirs. Unfortunately, many Christians have followed suit with that. It’s as if such people now identify Christ and Christianity with a certain party or a certain political ideology. Conservative Christians see Christ as socially conservative. Progressive Christians see Christ as socially progressive, and anyone who disagrees with either side must not be a Christian. This is the sad, but unfortunately true, state we American (and dare I say Western) Christians find ourselves in nowadays.

I have family, friends, and colleagues who are on both sides of the political divide. Some of them who are progressive look down on Trump supporters as ignorant, angry, racist, white people of privilege. Some who are supporters of Trump and/or identify as conservative, view the Clinton and Sanders supporters as a threat to the economic stability and American traditions that “made America great” and accuse those supporters of “wanting to fundamentally change and destroy our great country and freedoms.”

Ironically, the progressive view of conservatives is very elitist and sounds awfully similar to the accusations that the Jewish and Roman elites used against Christ and the early Christians. Yet, a word to the wise, ignorance comes in many forms and a college education does not guard against it.  Conversely, the conservative view ironically sounds awfully like the view that the Jewish and Roman leaders held against Jesus, and a lot like the mob mentality of the Romans as they threw Christians, who were seen as being out to destroy Rome’s greatness, to the wild beasts.

What I am going to say may come as a shock to some, and perhaps less so to others, but it is as truthful and honest as I can be. Jesus Christ does not give a damn who you vote for. Christ is not Republican and Christ is not Democrat. Christ is not Amercian and Christ is not the figurehead of Western Civilization. Christ, and Christ alone, is LORD of all Creation! What’s more, there are Christians on all sides of the political divide and their vote does not make them more or less Christian.

What makes us Christian is CHRIST. If our hearts are centered on Christ, then we are Christian. None of us are perfect in that and we serve a God of grace. Christians can and should vote, and I wouldn’t state otherwise. But voting is your national duty, not your Christian duty. Vote for who you are going to vote for, and have the grace and love to let others do the same. In the end, whoever wins will win and, in the end, their term(s) will come to an end. Christ’s reign will NEVER come to an end. What Christians are required to do is follow Christ and and lead others to do the same through their example of Christian love and service. I pray that, whatever your political beliefs are, your true and only allegiance is pledged to CHRIST OUR LORD.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
As we seek out someone to “save our country”, we forget that we are to pledge allegiance to the ONE who saves our world.
PRAYER
Lord, guide me to pledge my allegiance to you over and above anything else. Amen.