Tag Archives: Gospel

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.

THE CHRISTIAN MANIFESTO, Part 12: Response

Read Luke 4:22-30

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

But I tell you the truth, no prophet is accepted in His own hometown.” (Luke 4:24 CEB)

 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 12: Response. In every movie I have ever seen of Jesus, when it comes to the scene in the synagogue in Nazareth, the people become outraged when Jesus utters the words, “Today, the Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” The people are infuriated that this carpenter’s son could dare call himself the fulfillment of this prophecy. “How dare he call himself the Messiah and act as if we don’t know who he truly is. He’s Joseph’s son, is he not?” And of course, the people throw Jesus out of the synagogue and seek to stone him.

In reality, this portrayal in the films is far from the truth. Luke tells us that after having claimed that the words of Isaiah had been fulfilled in the moment he read them, the people “spoke well of him and [were] amazed by the gracious words that came from his lips.” (4:22 CEB) So, in reality, the people were excited he read those words. Their initial response was one of affirmation and support. They “spoke well of him” and were impressed that this son of a carpenter was so well spoken. They were also excited that this son of Nazareth might possibly be the Messiah.

Yet, things took a turn for the worse as Jesus didn’t stop there in order to accept the accolades. Rather, he challenges them and tells them that they’ll no doubt want him to perform a miracle like the ones he performed in other towns around Galilee. He then predicted that he would not be accepted by them, for he was coming to them a prophet. In other words, he was coming to them as a voice crying out against them and the ways they were playing a part in the impoverishment, blindness, captivity and oppression of the suffering among them. Not only the people literally suffering in the streets and jails, but all people including themselves.

Then Jesus pointed them to two examples in the Scriptures where other prophets were sent by God, not to the people of Israel, but to outsiders. Rather than performing miracles for those who supposed themselves to be “people of God”, God sent the prophets to peform miracles to those who were supposed to be Gentiles who were “under God’s curse.” In other words, according to Jesus, God was about to pass Nazareth by because they had hardened their hearts to God’s call to change. They weren’t interest in changing their ways. They weren’t interested in being a part of the solution. They weren’t interested in anything but sitting idly by and awaiting the arrival of one who would change the world while defending their own status quo.

It is at that moment, at the realization that this Jesus was not an ally but someone who came to speak against them, that they grew enraged and wanted to throw him off of a cliff. That was there response to Jesus’ Manifesto of change. The question for us is this, what is our response? Does Jesus go to far in calling us to subscribe to this manifesto? Will it require too much of us, make us too uncomfortable, and cause us to change our worldview? Or will we embrace it and allow the Christian Manifesto to manifest itself within us, to change us, and altar the course of our lives? Ultimately, that choice is left up to you: will you try to push Jesus off of a cliff, or join him in bringing about the Kingdom of God in the world? The choice is yours.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Christians should be ready for a change because Jesus was the greatest changer in history.” – Ralph Abernathy

PRAYER

Lord, prepare me for the change you are bringing into my life and help me be a part of the change you are bringing into the world. Amen.

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

Read Luke 4:14-21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE CHRISTIAN MANIFESTO, Part 9: God’s Favor

Read Luke 4:14-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

Show your fear of God by not taking advantage of each other. I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 25:17 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 9: God’s Favor. In the time of the ancient Hebrews, when they came into the land of Canaan and made that their dwelling place, the Hebrews established the law of Moses as the law of their land. The law was given to them to establish much needed order in the land, to keep them set apart from the native people of the lands they were occupying, and to ensure that they remained wholly devoted to God. This last part meant that on top of justice, they were to be a people of love, compassion and mercy. Thus, within the law, measures were taken to ensure that they would do differently to foreigners (aka immigrants), to those in debt, to those abandoned and alone, and to all who struggled in life than was done to them while they were enslaved in Egypt for 400 years.

One of the major things that was established within the law was called the Year of Jubilee. This happened on either the 49th or the 50th year of the Jubilee cycle, and it was the year when all who were indentured servants because of the debts they owed, when seized property was returned to those who lost it, when all slates were wiped clean, and when people did not plant, farm, or harvest food to be stored and sold for profit, but when people ate freely from what the land produced naturally on its own. This was a reminder to all the Hebrew people of the mercy and grace of God, a mercy and a grace that, as God’s children, we should be modeling.

It’s believed that observance of the Year of Jubilee was essentially ignored during and following the captivity of the Jews who were exiled in Babylon. The reason for this is that they had believed that Jubilee could only be celebrated only when the Jews had complete control of the land of Canaan, which was the ultimate sign of God’s favor being upon Israel. Following Babylon, that reality never came into fruition and so Jubilee became more of a symbolic gesture, with the blowing of the shofar (a type of horn), but not truly observed. Yet, in the Nazareth Synagogue, Jesus stated that was anointed to announce the year of the Lord’s favor right then and there to a people who had long been occupied and oppressed by the Roman Empire.

What should stand out for us here is this, that while the consensus in Jesus’ day was that Jubilee was over and that God’s favor was removed from the land, Jesus stood against that mindset. While people allowed endless enslavement, imprisonment, debt, poverty, and loss to continue because they felt everything was hopeless, or because of a theological interpretation they had of the Scriptures, Jesus proclaimed that God’s favor was not gone, that their situation was NOT hopeless, and that it was high time that people do something to bring an end to suffering. What’s more, he charged his followers, including us, to make that our mission. The question for you is this, are willing to do what it takes to proclaim and work for the distribution of God’s favor?

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

In what ways are you ignoring the suffering of those around you and in what ways could you be proclaiming God’s favor in your current community and context?

PRAYER

Lord, free me from my imprisonment to sin and complacency, and give me hope in your favor. Amen.