Tag Archives: Grace

God’s People, part 91: Jonah

Read Jonah 4

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“As the crowd pressed in on Jesus, he said, “This evil generation keeps asking me to show them a miraculous sign. But the only sign I will give them is the sign of Jonah.” (Luke‬ ‭11:29‬ ‭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.

  Part 91: Jonah. Thus far, we have covered the major prophets prior in the Hebrew Scriptures; however, before we follow the people of Judah into the Babylonian exile, there are several more prophets and/or figures we should pause to look at. One of them is a prophet who is very well-known because of the grandiosity of his story; however, with that said, very little is known about this prophet as a whole.

The prophet I am referring to, of course, is Jonah. In fact, scholars debate whether Jonah was a real prophet or not. There is, of course, an obscure reference to a prophet named Jonah in 2 Kings: “Jeroboam II recovered the territories of Israel between Lebo-hamath and the Dead Sea, just as the Lord, the God of Israel, had promised through Jonah son of Amittai, the prophet from Gath-hepher” (2 Kings‬ ‭14:25‬ ‭NLT‬‬).‬‬

This leads me, and others, to believe that the book of Jonah was based the historical prophet mentioned in that book. Of course, the fact that there might have been a prophet named Jonah does not mean that the accounts in the book of Jonah were word-for-word historical. Jonah lived in the 8th century BCE, while the book was written somewhere between the 5th and the early 4th centuries BCE. The book itself is written in the style of a satire or a parody, and it may have been poking fun at a faction within Jewish society who were pushing for separationism. This faction believed that the wrath of God befell people who disobeyed them, destroyed wicked cities, and that God’s mercy was not given to people outside the Abrahamic covenant.

If this viewpoint sounds familiar, it should because it was the viewpoint of a faction that was on the rise around the post-exilic time period the book of Jonah was written. That faction became known as the Pharisees and they were pushing for strict observance of Jewish Law (Torah) and separation from Gentile culture. There very name means “set apart”, or “separated”. Jesus of Nazareth, like the author of Jonah, would go on to challenge this group and so would the earliest Christians who ended up seeing Jesus’ death and resurrection as being the opening of the Abrahamic covenant to all of the people of the world.

But as for the prophet Jonah, as detailed in the book, most are familiar with his story. He was commanded by God to go to Ninevah and proclaim God’ wrath upon the city. At first he refuses and heads in the opposite direction, running away from God’s call. After being swallowed by a giant fish (not necessarily a whale), and after having stayed in its belly for three days, Jonah is spit up on land and reluctantly goes to Ninevah.

Having proclaimed the destruction of the city to its people, Jonah witnessed the Ninevites repent en masse. He then realizes that God had heard their repentance and, in an act of mercy, chose not to destroy the city. This angered Jonah, who believed that the city ought to be destroyed for he does not believe that the repentance was enough. In protest, Jonah stormed out into the wilderness and refused to eat or drink anything. He sat there and waited for God to destory Ninevah. When that failed to happen, he hoped to die in the wilderness since the LORD was showing mercy, rather than venegful wrath, toward the Ninevites. God did not allow Jonah to die, which further frustrated and angered him.

Jonah’s attitude counters the attitude Christ taught us to have toward our enemies and toward our culture as a whole. Yet, with that said, we see many “separatists” in the Christian today. These people would have Christians separate themselves from the “secular” culture in order to remain “set apart” and holy. Such people push people to buy exclusively from Christians, to listen exclusively to Christian music, to burn their secular CDs and to disengage from secular culture. Such people, sadly, are not learning from Jonah or from Jesus.

While we should not be joining in with the “wickedness” of the secular culture, we should also not be disengaging it. The challenge for us is to enter back into the model practiced by the earliest Christians. This model of evangelism engaged the culture and utilized it in a way that pointed to Christ and brought glory to God. Those who read Life-Giving Water’s devotions know that I often use secular culture as a springboard to Jesus Christ and the divine call placed upon all of us. Let us learn from Jonah and, instead of separating ourselves, let us engage the secular culture for the glory of Christ.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

The sign of Jonah, prophesied by Jesus of Nazareth, was both a prophesy of Jesus death (in the belly of Sheol) and resurrection, as well as a prophesy that God was going to show great mercy through Christ to all the world, Jewish and non-Jewish alike. That was the sign God was going to give the self-righteous Pharisees and others who thought that only they were deserving of God’s grace.

PRAYER

Lord, help me to not only acknowledge you are merciful toward me, but help me to model your compassionate mercy to others. All who repent are forgiven. I praise you Lord! Amen.

A LOOK BACK: Growing in Grace

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 65: Kings of Judah

Read 1 Kings 15:1-24

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.” (Matthew 23:37 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.

The_Burning_of_Jerusalem_by_Nebuchadnezzars_Army_by_Circle_of_Juan_de_la_CortePart 65: Kings of Judah. The Kingdom of Judah was established when the tribe of Judah hailed David as their King, following the death of Saul. Eventually, David was able to unite all of the twelve tribes together under his rule, which formed the United Kingdom of Israel; however, the unity was ultimately short-lived. Following the death of Solomon, Jeroboam led the ten tribes in revolt against Solomon’s son Rehoboam. That resulted in the split between those ten tribes that supported Jeroboam and the 2 tribes (Judah and Benjamin) that were loyal to Rehoboam and the Davidic line.

Thus, Jeroboam’s kingdom kept the name “Israel”, while Rehoboam’s Kingdom reestablished itself as the Kingdom of Judah. As was discussed in an earlier devotion, Rehoboam ended up not being the ideal king. He was weak and he felt entitled. He increased the tax burden of his subjects and abused his authority as king. He doubled down on the harshness of his father and boasted about it. What’s more, he continued his father’s practice of idolatry.

His son, Abijah, succeeded him and, unfortunately followed in his father’s footsteps. Despite all of that, there was much more stability in the early years of the Judah’s reestablisment than there was in the Kingdom of Israel. That is mainly because of the power, money, and prominence the Kingdom of Judah had. The stronghold of Jerusalem, the Temple which drew countless people from around the world, and other factors helped to give Judah the advantage. Still, due to the corruption of its political and religious leaders, Judah was not able to stay in such privileged times for that long.

There were 20 kings following the reestablishment of the Kingdom of Judah, starting with Rehoboam. Out of those 20 kings, only 5 were deemed righteous in God’s sight, according to the Bible. Those kings were, King Asa (1 Kings 15:11; 2 Chronicles 14:2), King Jehoshaphat (2 Chornicles 17:3-4), King Jotham (2 King 15:34; 2 Chronicles 27:2), King Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:5; 2 Chronicles 29:2), and King Josiah (2 Kings 22:2; 2 Chronicles 34:2). That is it! Out of 20 kings, only ¼ of them were good and did what was pleasing in the sight of God. The rest were corrupt tyrants who cared little for the people they ruled and cared most for their own grip on power and wealth.

When we look around at the history of humanity we can see this trend with our own eyes. Most of our politicians and leaders, while they are not totally evil, compromise what’s right in order to attain what advantages them the most. The truth be told, this is not just a fault of our leaders but of people in general. Rather than loving the LORD our God with all of our hearts, and seeking God first in all that we do, we tend to seek out our own way and our own path.

This often leads us down paths that end up hurting us and others; yet, just as with the people of Judah and the Davidic line, God does not abandon us even when we abandon God. The truth be told that, despite all of our unfaithfulness, God remains faithful to us. Even when we face the wages of our sin, God is there trying to lead us out of the darkness and into the light.

Just as through a twisted lineage of broken, despotic kings God brought salvation into the world through Jesus Christ, so too can God work in, through and in spite of us even when we are not always in line with God. Let us reflect on that and stand in awe of a God who will not be trumped by our sin. Let us praise our God who does not give up on us, despite the fact that we often forget and/or give up on God. Let us praise God who, despite our brokenness, provides us The Way to salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Though the Davidic line ruled the Southern Kingdom of Jerusalem, Jesus the Messiah (who was of the Davidic line), was raised in Nazareth, a city in what was once the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Hence the response of Nathanael, who was from Bethsaida in Judah, “Nazareth? Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (John 1:46).

PRAYER
Lord, thank you for your undying faithfulness. Continue to lead me and have mercy on me, as sinner. Amen.

God’s People, part 35: Barren

Read Judges 13

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
The LORD took hold of me, and I was carried away by the Spirit of the LORD to a valley filled with bones. (Ezekiel 37:1 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.

Desert_Background_with_TreePart 35: Barren. As I am sure you have seen in this series, thus far, I like to shake things up a bit. The heart of this series is about looking at individuals in the Bible and showing them to be just like us: human beings prone to error, yet saved by the grace of God. Yet, from time to time I have decided to show the people of Israel as a whole, to pinpoint how sinful society (which is made up of sinful people) can truly be, with the hope that you, the reader, can reflect on how our society mirrors theirs, as well as the part we individually play in that.

Here is such a time. As we approach the well-known, exciting persona that is Samson, it will prove beneficial for us to pause and look at his parents, Manoah and “his wife.” Once again, we will notice that “his wife” doesn’t really have a name. That is not because she didn’t actually have a name, but because the author didn’t seem to think that “her name” was all that important. On the other hand, Manoah is named, which shows the patriarchal bias at work in this author’s writing.

In that time, and in that culture, the lineage was traced through the man and not the woman. So, as can be seen here, the woman was barely mentioned if not totally left out of the equation. That is not to say that the woman had no place in the family, or that women were looked down up on by their husbands or anything like that. I do not want to overstate things. All that is being said is that the society as a whole did not favor the woman equally and, in terms of lineage, traced the family tree through the father.

What’s more, all societies treasure productivity. From childbearing to work, societies look toward its people to produce in every sort of way. It is what keeps a society thriving and pushing forward. Without production, a society, in time, would die. But societies, unfortunately, put so much pride in those who “produce” that they become neglectful (at best) or damning (at worst) of those they deem to be unproductive. What’s more, societies will hone in on one area lacking productivity over and above all of the productivity going on elsewhere.

Such was the case with Manoah and his wife. It was automatically assumed that if a woman could not get pregnant, it was because she was barren. That was the bias that existed in Manoah’s culture. Despite that truth, both the husband and the wife were left in shame and bewilderment when there was no productivity in childbearing. Society, heavily valuing productivity, would look with scorn and judgment on those who could not produce chidlren, as being under God’s curse and as a shame. Of course, by “society”, I am not just meaning religious leaders, town elders, villagers and/or townsfolk, but also family and extended family.

So, it is not hard to imagine the joy that both Manoah and his wife are feeling when they learn that they will, indeed, conceive and produce a child. They both are willing to do whatever God wants of them, and whatever God wants of the child, in order to thank and praise God for such a glorious blessing. In the end, God would be blessing far more than just two eager parents in the birth of Samson.

While this story seemingly has a happy ending, there is a dark sadness that casts its shadow over it. Instead of being valued and encouraged in the ways they may have contributed aside from childbearing, the society was structured to shun, mock, judge and condemn people who could not have children. Again, when I say society, I do so fully recognizing that societies are made up of individual people. Knowing this, how do we contribute to people getting shunned, mocked, judged, and condemned in our society. In what ways does our society inform our own biases, and how do we allow those socially constructed biases to hurt and destroy others? Honesty is the only way we will be reflective enough to allow God to change us.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Putting societal values over and the love of God and neighbor results in a barren people who possess barren souls.

PRAYER
Lord, open my eyes that I may see. Change my heart, making it more and more like yours. Amen.

God’s People, part 27: Rahab

Read Joshua 6:20-27

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Salmon was the father of Boaz (whose mother was Rahab). Boaz was the father of Obed (whose mother was Ruth). Obed was the father of Jesse. Jesse was the father of King David. David was the father of Solomon (whose mother was Bathsheba, the widow of Uriah).”  (Matthew 1:5-6 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.

rahabPart 27: Rahab. Most people familiar with the story of Joshua are familiar with the name Rahab. She was the “prostitute” who helped Joshua’s spies escape Jericho without getting captured. She was the unseemly woman who read the “tea leaves”, as it were, and did the seemly thing in order to save herself and her family.

At best we look at Rahab in the same light that Vivian Ward is viewed in the 1990 hit film, Pretty Woman. If you recall that film, you will remember it centers on the main character, Vivian, who is a “hooker” who is down on her luck. She can barely turn enough “tricks” to make end’s meet and pay her rent. She’s ultimately looking for “Mr.Right” to come in like a knight in shining armor; however, what man of that caliber consorts with prostitutes?

Of course, such a man does come to the rescue and saves the day. Well, sort of. He was actually a rather cold, calculating, arrogant, and driven business man who was ultimately looking to “let loose” with a call girl. It was only through getting to know her situation, and through getting to appreciate the quirky aspects of her personality that he saw the human behind the label. It is only in that moment that he began to fall in love with who she was as opposed to what she could do for him.

At best, Rahab is seen in that kind of light. She’s the “hooker” who was lucky enough to have a couple of men (no stereotypical thinking there, right?) come in and save the day. At worst, she is seen as the kind of “low life scum” that God is willing to save if they would only do the right thing for a change. Sadly, both the best and the worst case ways that Rahab is often thought of in only goes to betray how judgmental we are, and how much this story was MEANT FOR US as a reminder that our judgment is  way, way off.

Yes, Rahab was a prostitute. Yes, more than likely, the house that she “lived in”  was an inn and a brothel one of the major city-states in Canaan. Yes, it is more than likely that she and/or other prostitutes that worked under her “serviced” the two spies of Israel. Yes, that her line of work was shady and not what God would want for any human being to do for a living. And, yes, it is true that she did strike a deal with the spies, because she had a hunch that their God was going to deliver the victory to them over her own people. Smart move on her part.

There is no doubt that Rahab was a sinner and that her line of work is sinful. Prostitution is a degrading of one’s own body, one’s own sacred sexuality, for the purpose of making money. No one…well, mostly no one would argue against that. But the real sin here was not Rahab’s,  but that of the society. The real sin was the society’s for creating a culture where women were left destitute and forced to exploit their own bodies in order to survive.

The sin was that of the men, and men were ruling Rahab’s world, who saw women as nothing more than property and/or objects to use and abuse. And let’s not be fooled, women weren’t the only one’s being exploited. Men and women alike, in the ancient world as in our time, have been exploited and prostituted out for profit. Men and women alike have been bought and sold as property and seen as nothing more than a means to an end. The word shameful doesn’t even do it justice. The world EVIL, on the other hand, does.

The thing is that God is always on the side of the oppressed, not on the side of the oppressors. God was on Rahab’s side that fateful night she brought two spies into her brothel. God was on Rahab’s side the fateful night the spies returned with their army and spared her life. God was on Rahabs side, and chose her to be the mother of royalty, and one of the pillars in a long lineage that led right to the Messiah, the Son of God, himself.

That’s right, Jesus descended from a prostitute. But God saw more in her than the labels other human being threw on her. God saw more in her than she saw in herself. God saw a woman of character, a woman of integrity, and a woman whose gracious hospitality would lead to the ultimate embodiment of grace. The challenge for us is to see other human beings through God’s eyes and not our own. After all, who are we to deem the worthy from the unworthy. Only God can be that judge. Rather than placing ourselves in God’s place, let us put ourselves to the work of God…the work of liberating all human beings from exploitation and oppression.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Do not call something unclean if God has made it clean.” – The Holy Spirit (Acts 10:15)

PRAYER

God, it is not what is on the outside that defiles us, but what comes from within. Purify me, and renew a right spirit within me. Amen.

God’s People, part 25: Joshua

Read Joshua 1

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Now if Joshua had succeeded in giving them this rest, God would not have spoken about another day of rest still to come.” (Hebrews 4:8 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

JoshuaPart 25: Joshua. Joshua is a very strong character in Bible, in fact, he may be one of the strongest. Sure, there is Samson; however, Joshua is displayed with little to no weaknesses, whereas Samson is filled with weaknesses a plenty. But we’ll discuss Samson at a later time. Joshua was the protégé of Moses. He was the son of Nun, born a slave in Egypt before the time of the Exodus.

Almost immediately following their escape from Egypt, selected Joshua to be the leader of a militia group and was put in charge of fighting and defeating the Amalekites in Rephidim (Exodus 17:8-16). Quickly, Joshua became Moses’ right-hand man. It was Joshua, and Joshua alone, who ascended Mount Sinai with Moses to accompany him as he communed with God “face to face” and received God’s vision for the Israelites in the land of Caanan, as well as received The Ten Commandments.

He ended up becoming the leader who took over for Moses, the one who led them to enter into Canaan and conquer the lands from the native peoples inhabiting it. He led with an iron fist, so to speak. He was a general, a warrior, and a conqueror and he had much blood on his hands.

While Joshua was most definitely a person of strong faith, and one who was faithful to God, he also was someone who saw things only in black and white. You were either for him or against him. You were either Hebrew or not Hebrew, which also translated to you were either allowed to live and flourish in the Promised Land, or you were slaughtered and killed. Even when one looks at the story of Rahab, she proved to be for Joshua and the Israelites and so she was spared.

Upon one’s theology and understanding of God rests how one interprets Joshua’s leadership. Joshua believed that he had been appointed by God to take over from Moses, and he was instructed by God to not turn to the right or to the left from Moses’ teachings (Joshua 1:7). What followed was a campaign to ethnically cleasnse all of Canaan and to build a Kingdom of Israel. This involved the raiding of cities, towns and the countryside and resulted the deaths of countless men, women and children.

I am not writing this to debate, one way or the other, as to the reason or the justification for what Joshua and his army did. We live in different times and, no doubt, the Israelites were not going to be able to just knock on the doors of Jericho, expecting a welcoming embrace and gracious hospitality. Joshua was made leader and, in his leadership, he turned his band of nomadic desert wanderers to a unified army that conquered the land it had in its sights. From that land rose judges, kings, queens, prophets and, ultimately, the Messiah.

What I also know is that Jesus is the english transliteration of the Greek word name for Yehoshua, which is the name Joshua in English. In other words, Jesus (which is Greek) really was named Joshua. That is why the author of Hebrews compares Jesus to Joshua…or rather, the two Joshuas. Joshua, son of Nun, brought them into the land of Canaan where they could rest from their wandering in the wilderness, Joshua (aka Jesus) the Christ, brings us into the Kingdom of God.

Unlike Joshua, Jesus didn’t do this by military conquest, but through unconditional love, compassionate grace, and merciful forgiveness. Rather than slaying his enemies, Christ sacrificed himself and was slain by his enemies. Rather than conquering by the sword, Christ conquered THE ENEMY, by loving those who persecuted them even to the point of forgiveness and he conquered death by resurrecting from the dead into true life. One Joshua led to the other, no matter how imperfectly.

To play upon Joshua’s own advice, we need to choose this day whom we serve. Will we serve a black and white mentality? Will we serve the imperfect Joshua who conquered by the sword? Or will we serve the Joshua who died because he loved instead of hated, who rose so that we might rise to life in him, and who calls us to conquer evil through unconditional love and divine grace? Choose this day whom you serve.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The glory of Christianity is to conquer by forgiveness.” – William Blake

PRAYER
Lord, remind me daily that I am a servant of love. Let love be my ultimate campaign. Amen.

Identity

Read Colossians 3:1-17

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“See how very much our Father loves us, for He calls us His children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know Him.” (1 John 3:1 NLT)

identityIn today’s time, we have come to understand the importance of identity. We know that during our toddler years, we are modeling our identity off of our parents and immediate family. As school-aged children we are becoming socialized and beginning to identify ourselves by the people we socialize with and the subjects we we connect with. As teenagers we are trying desperately to find our own identity apart from our parents and family (which is what makes these years so challenging for parents and teens alike). As adults, we spend our working years establishing and maintaining our identity in what we do, in the families we create, the stuff we own, and the stuff that owns us (you know, those bills, bills, bills). Finally, in our later years we re-identify ourselves in our family legacies (as our kids have kids who then have kids, etc.).

Yet the above is really a gross, oversimplification of identity. There are other things that form our identity. First, we are human beings and identitfy as such. Beyond that we find our identity in a whole host of other things such as our sex, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, culture, the groups of people we associate with, and a whole host of other things. We easily find the validity of our own identity and who/what we identify with; however, we tend to look at conflicting identity’s as a threat to who we are and what we think, feel, hold dear, and believe.

What’s more, our identities are not just subjective (meaning that they only exist in our heads), but they are also objective and tied into our bank accounts, our stocks, our careers, and our debts. In fact, our objective identities (name, height, weight, eye color, hair color, birthmarks, tattoos, etc.) are placed onto identification cards and attached to numbers for our own social security, among other things. This reality causes much fear for many people, because there is always the chance that someone else could steal our objective identities and do anything with them.

We are so attached to our subjective and objective identities that we very often forget our TRUE identity, which transcends both the subjective and the objective realities that we get so mired in. That IDENTITY is in God our Creator. We were all created in the image of the Creator, meaning that we were created to be autonomous beings, free to choose to be in a loving relationship with our Creator and free to choose to live into God’s very image: LOVE.

Yet, humanity had its identity stolen by SIN and, unfortunately, what followed was death. Perhaps that is a little vague, so let me add clarity to that last statement. People, out of free will, chose to identify itself by their sins, in place of their creator. They began to identify themselves by the things they desired to be. Such false, human-made identities, led them to be divided amongst themselves. They began to prefer to be with those they identified similarly with, and to reject, spurn, feud with, and even murder those they saw as different than them.

The true tragedy is that, as a result choosing to have their own identity, humans chose to identify themselves apart from God. They divided themselves away from God, for they viewed God as something other than what they were. Instead, they began to worship god(s) fashioned in their own identities and likenesses.

Yet, despite all of this, God did not give up. LOVE NEVER QUITS, IT NEVER GIVES UP. God decided to give up all of the things that “separated” God from humanity in order to become one of us. God, in essence, became Jesus the Christ. In Jesus, God showed us that it is possible to reclaim the divine image we were created in. It is possible to find our reconciliation with God, to give up the false identities we have taken upon ourselves, and to return to our TRUE identity as children of the Creator God! All we need do is place our faith in God through Jesus the Christ, who was, who is and who will come again.

If we do that we will begin to be tranformed into who we are into who we were Created to be. The Holy Spirit will enter into us and will guide us in becoming embodiments of God’s LOVE. We will no longer seek our own identities, our own ways, our own desires, our own fears. We will no longer seek to destroy, or to get vengeance, or to hate on others because we think they hate on us. We will no longer see things through human eyes, but through the eyes of the one who Created us all! If you would like that, if you find yourself trapped in your own humanity, if you find yourself desparate for an escape from hell this world and your false identity offers, then stop in your tracks, acknowledge your need for help, and turn to the one who LOVES YOU so much that not even death would get in the way of SAVING YOU! God lovingly awaits.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.” – Jesus the Christ (John 14:1 NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, save me from myself and restore to me the identity that is truly mine, for I am your beloved child. Amen.

Amazing Grace

Read Luke 20:9-18

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Therefore, this is what the Sovereign LORD says: ‘Look! I am placing a foundation stone in Jerusalem, a firm and tested stone. It is a precious cornerstone that is safe to build on. Whoever believes need never be shaken.’” (Isaiah 28:16 NLT)

AmazingGraceAgain, I want to reevaluate the parable of the vineyard and the wicked tenants. In particular, I would like to have us focus on the wrathful ending to it. In the last devotion, we spent time discussing what the parable reveals to us about God’s plan of redemption. Being that this is the parable Jesus chose to teach just days before he was going to be betrayed and handed over to the Romans for capital punishment, it reveals to us exactly what Jesus thought his mission to be. Yet, as was also discussed, the redemption seems to get lost in translation and overshadowed by God’s wrath.

So, let us look at the rhetoric Jesus is using and try to understand this not as God’s wrath, but of God’s ultimate measure of grace. The reality is that when Jesus asks the question, “what do you suppose the owner of the vineyard will do to [those wicked tennants]?”, he is attemption to elicit a certain response. Yet, the religious leaders had come to be trap this pesky Galilean teacher, not to be trapped by him. So, these leaders remain silent rather than answering the question.

Of course, they surely knew what the answer was. They knew that any owner of such a vineyard, who had the right to claim his/her share of the crops, would definitely not sit by after having his servants killed by such wicked tenants. What’s more, the murder of his son would have driven this father (and any parent) over the proverbial edge. Yet, there the religious leaders stood, resolute in their silence.

Thus, Jesus answered for them, “I’ll tell you—he will come and kill those farmers and lease the vineyard to others” (Luke 20:16a NLT). This response elicited the exact response Jesus knew they would come up with. Instantly, the religious leaders scoffed, “how terrible that such a thing should ever happen.” In other words, these religious leaders were both saying that such a scenario is horrible and, on the same note, a rather far-fetched story that bore no relevance to them.

Yet, it absolutely bore relevance to them. Jesus, knowing their hearts were hardened, quoted scripture, “Then what does this Scripture mean? ‘The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.’ Everyone who stumbles over that stone will be broken to pieces, and it will crush anyone it falls on” (Luke 20:17-18 NLT).

First, I want to point out that Jesus’ answer on how the vineyard owner would respond does not exactly match the Scripture that Jesus quotes. The answer itself is the answer that Jesus knew lay in the hearts of the ones he was telling the story to. It is the answer that we as humans would wish that the owner, who’s own son was murdered, would do. Of course, the father is going to seek vengeance and retribution for the death of his son, right? What father wouldn’t?

Jesus then follows that up with something quite different from that answer. Jesus points out to the religious leaders that God had given them the stone upon which to build God’s kingdom. This was the very stone that stood before them: Jesus Christ. Yet these religious leaders, who were builders in the sense that they were supposed to be leading the people in building God’s kingdom, had rejected that stone and, in doing so, had turned away from God. Thus, they would end up stumbling over the stone and falling because of it.

Yet, that was not God’s wrathful vengeance, but their own hardened hearts that led them to trip up instead of build. That was the result of their own unwillingness to see what God was doing through Jesus. Sadly, the religious leaders realized that they were the “wicked tenants” in Jesus’ story and, instead of repenting and turning back to God, they fulfilled their part in the prophetic parable. Instead of reacting as humans would in that situation, God instead showed AMAZING GRACE. This grace is extended toward all humanity, even those who have rejected God. In fact, some of Jesus’ opponents did eventually come to follow Jesus (e.g. Nicodemus, Saul of Tarsus, etc.). Everyone can turn from their sins through faith in Jesus Christ, and become the Kingdom builders they were created to be. This is God’s challenge to us this Lent.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved. How precious did that grace appear, the hour I first believed.” – John Newton

PRAYER
Lord, you are the corner stone upon which I have been built. Thank you for your amazing grace. Amen.

The Sermon, part 15: Authentic Prayer

Read Matthew 6:5-6

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“God detests the prayers of a person who ignores the law.” (Proverbs 28:9 NLT)

authentic-indian-laoshan-sandalwood-prayer-beads-bracelets-16-mm-beads-8a8143da7a340fb23016a36462a24820There can be no doubt that Jesus was for authenticity. Jesus was not a fan of fake people and he had a word he liked to use toward fake people: “hypocrites”. The word “hypocrites” in Greek (the language Matthew was written in) is ὑποκριτής (pronounced hoop-ok-ree-tace’) literally means “stage actor.” Thus, properly speaking, a hypocrite is a person who puts on a show.

Unfortunately, today’s passage has become one of the most misunderstood and misinterpreted texts in the enitre New Testament. Throughout Christian history, it has been an unfortunate reality that Judaism has gotten the short end of the stick. They’ve taken the blame for “killing Jesus”, they’ve taken the blame for being more concerned with “the law” than with God or human beings, and they’ve taken the blame for just about everything you can imagine.

This, in my mind, is a blight on Christianity and it is to our shame that Christians have in the past and continue to look down their proverbial noses at our Jewish brothers and sisters. Do we forget that Jesus was a faithful Jewish rabbi and prophet? Do we forget that Jesus claimed to be the JEWISH messiah? Do we forget that Paul and some of the earliest Christians were, in fact, Jewish?

In fact, Paul had some choice words for Christians who were starting to discriminate against Jews within the church in Rome. “You, by nature, were a branch cut from a wild olive tree. So if God was willing to do something contrary to nature by grafting you into His cultivated tree, He will be far more eager to graft the original branches back into the tree where they belong” (Romans 11:24 NLT). While Paul was trying to understand Judaism in the context of the risen Christ, and he was trying to develop his own soteriology (understanding of Salvation) in light of the fact that many Jews had not accepted Christ as the Jewish Messiah, he also did not condone, nor did he participate in, the bashing or blaming of his Jewish brothers and sisters.

Now, back to prayer. Jesus states in verse 5 that one should not “pray as the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on the street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them.” This verse was not meant to be taken literally as a pronouncement against public prayer. First off, the synagogue is known as a house of prayer and it is where countless Jews, Jesus included, went to pray and worship. Public prayer in the synagogue was normal and quite called for, just as it is called for in our churches.

Second, public prayer in the street corners was NOT a normal practice in Judaism, nor was it necessary. It is inherently wrong and slanderous for Christians to propogate this as a common practice in Judaism. Again, Jesus was not saying this a commanded prohibition against the act of public prayer, which he clearly wanted the church to engage in (Matthew 18:19-20), but on the intent behind it! This is important to note.

What Jesus is doing is calling us to look within our own hearts and search the motive(s) behind our prayer. Are we praying for recognition, to appear to be holy, or to gain some sort of selfish desire? Are we stage actors, putting on a good show and pretending to be something we totally are not? Or are we praying to GOD alone, for the sake of praying to God? Is our prayer centered on God, and God’s will, fully expectant that God objectively hears and listens to our prayers? Do we believe, or are we mere stage actors looking for something else?

Jesus’ comman to go in a closet, or to be alone when praying, is not meant to be taken literally; rather, it is asking us if our prayer is centered on God ALONE and, on top of that, are we totally focused on GOD alone. We can fake pray in the closet too, just as easily as we can in a public place. The location, nor the company, is not what matters, what matters is the authenticity. Where are you in your prayer life? Are you authentic? Are you solely focused on God, or are have you let others (yourself included) into that (metaphorical) space that is meant to be for God alone? Reflect on this and be challenged by it to further develop your prayer life.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.” – Martin Luther

PRAYER
Lord, I offer you my authentic prayers for I know that you alone hear them when I pray. Amen.

The Beatitudes, part 12: Luke’s Curses

Read Luke 6:24-26

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. (Matthew 7:13 NRSV)

theoldruggedcrossWe all have an idealistic image of Jesus in our heads, do we not? Growing up, we who grew up in the church learned about a Jesus who loves us, who welcomes us, who loves all the little children, and who came to save the world from hate and evil. We learned of a cheery, jovial man who was no ordinary human, but the Son of God; what’s more, Jesus was God in the flesh. We also learned how sinful people rejected Jesus’ message of love and crucified him to a cross, following extensive torture, and left him there to die. Of course the story doesn’t end there, as Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven after appearing to his many disciples.

This just about summarizes our Sunday School/Church understanding of Jesus. It just about sums up every movie that has been created about him, and it sums up what I believe to be wholly an American Jesus who gives us eternity but asks nothing of us in return. This, in essence, is a cheap Jesus who presents to a us a cheap grace.

Don’t get me wrong, the summary is true in that Jesus does love us, welcome us and calls us to follow him. It is true that Jesus came to save us and that people rejected his message of love. But the reason people rejected his message of love, is because it often did not feel so loving. I guess one could say that Jesus’ love was often tough, challenging, and sometimes downright impossible for people to subscribe to.

In Luke’s account of the beatitudes, we get a picture perfect example of Jesus’ tough love. Following the blessings he pronounces on the poor, Jesus hauls off on the rich, cursing them to a series of four “woes” or afflictions. He does this to drive home the message of the four beatitudes, that God stands in solidarity with the poor and will show them partiality when these eschatological (judgment day) blessings take place.

“Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.” (Luke 6:24-26 NRSV). Yikes! Remember, Jesus is not speaking this to strangers, nor to his enemies; rather, Jesus is speaking this directly to his disciples!!

No doubt, there were disciples who had given up everything to follow Jesus (Luke 5:11; 18:28); however, there were also those who had not given up everything. Jesus’ teaching of God’s blessing on the impoverished, as well as his teaching of God’s judgment upon the rich, was meant to be a warning that God’s Kingdom is the ONLY thing we should be seeking to attain. Jesus is also clear elsewhere that one cannot serve two masters, that one will either serve God or they will serve materialistic gain (Luke 16:13 NRSV).

Again, if there was a way to soften this message and remain true to what Jesus is teaching here, I would; however, softening it only serves to add more sugar coating to the idol we continue to build up and name Jesus. Jesus’ message, as hard as it was in his time for people to hear, is really hard for us to hear. A majority of us in America claim to believe in God, and a majority of those who do claim to be Christian in one form or another; however, how many of us Christians really put God/Jesus first and foremost in our lives, foresaking all else in the process? That’s a tall order and most of us, myself included, fall very short of that!

Thank God that Luke’s Gospel doesn’t have the final say on what Jesus taught and/or meant by his teachings; however, we should NOT shrug it off as being irrelevant either. Luke’s Gospel gives us the bitter truth, as hard as it is to swallow, that we are not always aligned with God. What’s more, woe to us who think we are only to find out we never were (Matthew 7:13, 23; Luke 16:19-31 NRSV).

Luke rightfully has us pause and reflect on where we are in our relationship with God, a humility we should be daily embracing. Rather than viewing these woes as personal attacks against our faith, our lifestyles, and/or our wealth, we should be humbled by them and view them as true blessings in our lives. Why, you ask? Because they point us to the way, the truth, and the life and serve as a guide to keep us on the long and narrow road that leads to the Kingdom of God. Christ is teaching us of what our priorities should be, that they should be aligning with the priorities of God. If we heed that warning, we will be the “richer” for it.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace…what has cost God so much cannot be cheap for us.” – Rev. Dietrich Bonhoeffer

PRAYER
Lord, fill me with humility so that I may see how I need to change in order to truly follow you. Amen.