Tag Archives: Grace

A LOOK BACK:Monster Squad

Read Luke 9:49-55

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For the law was given through Moses, but God’s unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17, NLT)

monstersquad3

One of my all time favorite novels, as I have expressed in the past, is Bram Stoker’s Dracula. As a fan of the novel, one who has read it several times over the years, I am also a fan of Dracula films. Not one of the films ever does the novel justice, in my humble opinion, but I love them all the same. One of my favorites, is Francis Ford Coppola’s “Bram Stoker’s Dracula”, which tried to remain true to the novel, but also explored the sensual side of the story as well. In fact, my main beef with the film is that it went overkill on making it erotic, taking away the beauty of the subtle eroticism that is inherent in the novel. As a result, it felt more like a romance than it did a horror.

In this film Dracula becomes a sort of tragic antihero. The film opens with the historical Dracula who is defending Romania, and Christendom, against the Turkish Muslims who are invading his land. One of the Turks attached a note to an arrow and shot it through a window in Dracula’s Castle; the letter was subsequently read by Dracula’s wife. The note stated that Prince Vlad Dracula had been killed in battle. Bereaved and beside herself, the princess committed suicide by jumping out of the castle window and fell to her death into the river below. When Dracula returned home, he found his dead wife laid out on the chapel floor. Before he could begin to even process what had happened, the priests told him that his wife’s soul had been damned to hell for committing suicide.

This graceless and condemning pronouncement of his true love sent Dracula into a rage. He grabbed his sword and stabbed it into a stone cross, which immediately began to gush with blood. Dracula then grabbed the Eucharistic chalice and, after he filled it with the blood, drank from it. It is in this moment that man died and the monster was born. Honestly, though, Dracula became a monster as a result of another monster in the room: GRACELESS THEOLOGY. It was the theology of the priests, who are supposedly Christ’s representatives, that killed Dracula the man and created Dracula the monster. Dracula’s response to the priests is best summed up by the lyrics of the song “Dracula” by Iced Earth: “I am the Dragon of blood, the relentless prince of pain. Renouncing God off His throne, my blood is forever stained. For true love I shall avenge. I defy the creed that damned her.”

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am certainly not justifying with Dracula’s reaction, nor am I suggesting that Dracula was right to “defy God.” What I am saying is that there is no greater monster than graceless, bad theology. Some Christians have placed themselves as judge and jury against what they feel is sinful or immoral. Yet, has Christ called Christians to be judge or jury? Or has Christ called us to be representatives of and witnesses to the love and the grace of God? I think the answer is clear. And I think it becomes clear who the real villains were in this particular telling of Dracula. Monstrous theology makes monsters of those who believe in it, and it also ends up either destroying and/or damning its victims, sometimes creating monsters out them as well.

In the spirit of Halloween, let us become the “Monster Squad.” Let us hunt down and eradicate the demons, the ghouls and the monsters that lurk in our theology. Let us be thoughtful and prayerful about what we believe and how express that. Let us be humble in our faith and recognize that ONLY GOD IS THE JUDGE and that we are not called to take the place of God. Let us remember that Christ has called us to be representatives of the Kingdom of God, to be witnesses of God’s grace, to to be bearers of God’s profoundly unconditional, limitless, and enduring love. Let our theology be the kind that points to the sacred worth in all people; and let us lay to rest any theology that sets out to destroy.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“One of the main tasks of theology is to find words that do not divide but unite, that do not create conflict but unity, that do not hurt but heal.” – Henri Nouwen

PRAYER
Lord, help me to be humble and to be faithful in representing your grace and love to all people. Amen.

God’s People, part 266: Crispus

Read Acts 18:4-8

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius…” (1 Corinthians 1:14, NLT)

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

Part 266: Crispus. It is at this point in Acts that we see Paul begin to change his focus from Jews and then Gentiles, to just Gentiles. Paul’s model, which he learned from Barnabas, was to go into the cities and immediately enter the synagogue. Why? Because he was trying to spread the Good News to his fellow Jews. Of course, there were Gentiles who met in the synagogue as well and many of them converted; however, this caused much resentment from the synagogue leaders for obvious reasons. It’s never kosher for a religious leader to go into another house of worship and poach members, so-to-speak.

Again, this approach was the approach of Barnabas mentored Paul to begin with; yet, it became clear that this approach was no longer working. All Paul was doing was causing more conflict than it was worth. His preaching about Jesus Christ at synagogue was enraging the synagogue leaders as much as it was bringing in Gentile converts. Thus Paul had an important decision to make: would he stay the course, or change his approach and focus in ministry.

As someone who saw himself as the Apostle to the Gentiles, Paul knew what the answer was. He needed to change his approach and focus on bringing the Good News the to the Gentiles, and that is exactly what he did. Luke wrote of his response polemically where, in vs. 6,  Paul said, “…Paul shook the dust from his clothes and said, ‘Your blood is upon your own heads—I am innocent. From now on I will go preach to the Gentiles” (Acts 18:6, NLT).

Perhaps, flabbergasted, Paul did put it this way; however, his choice was in direct obedience to the instructions Jesus gave his 72 disciples when he sent them to the towns around Galilee, “But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near’” (Luke 10:10-11).

In essence, that is what Paul did and it had a pretty surprising result. Once he made this decision he went to stay with a Gentile named, Titius Justus who, consequently, lived right next door to the Synagogue. As a result of investing himself in Titius, God was able to reach the leader of the synagogue, named Crispus. Crispus ended up believing in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior and his whole household was baptized into the faith. What’s more, Crispus ended up becoming the Bishop of Chalcedon before eventually being martyred.

This should give us pause as there is a lesson to learn here. Too often, we try to force our views on people who just are not ready, and maybe not willing, to listen. Yet, the Biblical approach is to show those people grace and move on to others who will. It is hard letting people go when you love and care for them; however, it is often the BEST EXPRESSION of love.

What’s more, when we give up control to God and move on to more receptive people, it is amazing how powerfully God can work in and through that. Paul could not convert Crispus, but God certainly could and did. So, let us remember that and always choose the path of grace. All we need do is plant seeds, God will take care of the rest.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
One must remember that the most common form of idolatry is self-idolatry. Humility has us know our place, step out of the way, and let God take control.

PRAYER
Lord, help me to show the kind of love that lets go so that you can work on the hearts of the unreceptive. Amen.

God’s People, part 190: Jairus

Read Mark 5:21-24, 35-43

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace. Your suffering is over.”  (Mark 5:34, 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.

jairusPart 190: Jairus. In the last part of this devotion series, we met a little girl how had died and Jesus resurrected her back to life. In that devotion, the focus was mostly on the crowd of people, the family, friends and neighbors of Jairus, the little girl’s father. If you recall, the crowd did not believe Jesus when he said the girl was not dead, but was merely sleeping. They laughed and scoffed at him. Yet, when Jesus uttered the words, “Talitha Koum”,  the little girl “woke up” from her “slumber” and the unbelieving crowds were AMAZED. I would imagine they were probably terrified as they saw the dead girl alive and well.

While the miracle, and the crowd’s reaction to Jesus before and after it, is an important account for obvious reasons, it is also important that we do not overlook Jairus. In the Scripture, Jairus was described as “the leader of local synagogue” (Mark 5:22, NLT), which means that he was one the religious leader in his community. This is important to note because, up to this point, Jesus’ has not had many positive interactions with the religious leaders.

Yet, this Jairus was not only positively interacting with Jesus, he was seeking him out for help. His little girl, his precious daughter, was on her deathbed and Jairus was at wits end. It’s a parent’s worst nightmare. He was desperate and, in those desperate circumstances, pride falls by the wayside. “If this Jesus is who he says he is, if he can do what he says he can do, I had better do what I can to make contact with him and get him to visit my litte girl!”

Jairus’ little girl was, in fact, twelve years old; however, to a parent, one’s child is always their little boy or girl! It is significant to note that when Jairus’ daughter was born, that was the same year that the woman Jesus had healed, just hours earlier, started bleeding. She had been bleeding for twelve long years, which means that she started bleeding the same year that Jairus’ daughter was born. He also distinctly referred to this woman as “daughter”, even as he was on his way to heal Jairus’ daughter.

Anyway, Jairus would have been well-known as a religious leader in Capernaum, but that didn’t stop him from seeking Jesus out. In any other circumstance, Jairus may have found himself offended by Jesus. In any other situation, Jairus might have been oppositional toward Jesus; however, this man was desperate to save the life of his daughter and came to Jesus for help. Even when everyone else scoffed at Jesus when he said the girl was sleeping, Jairus believed. He had to! His daughter’s life was at stake.

Of course, Jairus’ faith led to his daughter’s resurrection. We know that because we have the benefit hindsight. We know the end of that story; however, we ought to be challenged by it. Do we trust Jesus enough to seek him out for healing in our lives? Do we trust Jesus, even when all seems terribly lost and hopeless? Do we trust Jesus when healing seemingly does not occur, or even when it most definitely does not occur?

That is the kind of faith that Jairus’ displayed and that is the kind of faith we are being called to have! Trust in Jesus and, when all else fails, trust in Jesus. Jesus is where our trust begins, and Jesus is where our trust must rest! Have faith and believe in the one who gave everything up for you!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Life is full of happiness and tears; be strong and have faith.” – Kareena Kapoor Khan

PRAYER
Lord, you are the author of all Creation. In you I have faith and place my trust. Amen.

God’s People, part 149: 1 Baptism

Read John 3:22-36

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism,” (Ephesians 4:5, 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.

water-baptismPart 149: 1 Baptism. As was mentioned in the last devotion, the Bible includes 4 perspectives on the Baptism of Jesus of Nazareth. To briefly sum it up, in Mark, Jesus was baptized by John, with no mention of any crowd. Upon coming out of the water Jesus saw the heavens open and the Holy Spirit descend upon him like a dove. Then he heard the voice of God tell him, “You are are my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

In Matthew, John reluctantly baptized Jesus after trying to talk him out of it. Following his baptism, Jesus saw the heavens open and the Holy Spirit descended upon him like a dove. Then the voice of God announced, presumably to all who were there to witness it, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

In Luke, Jesus is baptized by his cousin John during the same time that everyone else is getting baptized. Following his baptism, the heavens opened up and the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form as a dove and settled on Jesus. Then the voice of God proclaimed, “You are my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.

Finally, in John there is no mention of Jesus baptism at all; rather, John reveals that he saw the Holy Spirit descend like a dove upon Jesus and he proclaims that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. This has been assumed to have happened during Jesus’ baptism, even though it is not explicitly in the text.

With those perspectives summarized, it must be made clear that all four perspectives give us different ways of understanding one baptism. This may seem to be an unnecessary distinction to make; however, it is theologically and doctrinally important to make this distinction because by being baptized and commanding his disciples to baptize, he instituted it as a holy Sacrament.

In Matthew, Jesus stated to John that he was to be baptized because it was important that he fulfilled all that God required. What’s more, in the great commission, he commanded the following: “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20, NLT).

In Jesus’ baptism we have the model for all other baptisms in Jesus’ name. For Jesus, there was only one baptism, through which Jesus received the Holy Spirit and was sent out for preparation in the wilderness and, from there, sent into ministry. Thus, there is only ONE baptism. There was only one baptism for Jesus. Only one baptism for his disciples, and only one baptism for any person being brought into faith in Jesus Christ. Paul also acknowledged there being only one baptism (Ephesians 4:5).

The importance of acknowledging one baptism is that is acknowledges that what God does is final. Once baptized, God’s grace has been given to us and begins transforming us through the Sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. This transformation is a lifelong process in which we are being perfected in God’s love. There is no need to be “rebaptized” or baptized a second or third time, for our first baptism covers us sufficiently.

The challenge for us is to have faith that God is working within us through the Holy Spirit. We cannot control God or control outcomes by going through more than one baptism. If we were baptized at birth, we can remember our baptism and take the Christian faith upon ourselves through our confirmation of that baptism; however, there is only one baptism.

Likewise, if you have not been baptized but are feeling called to Jesus’ mission and ministry, then I would like to personally encourage you to get involved in a local church and begin to discuss baptism with your pastor. Baptism is necessary because it is a public profession of Jesus Christ as Lord, and it is a witness to the power of the Holy Spirit. For those of us who have been baptized, let us reflect on our baptism and our call to follow Jesus Christ. What does it mean that we’ve been baptized and have confirmed our faith in Jesus Christ as Lord. Let us be challenged to take our baptism seriously and open ourselves up to being ambassadors of God’s Kingdom as opposed to the kingdoms of this world.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“At Baptism, I received grace – that quality that makes me share in the very nature of God.” – Mother Angelica

PRAYER
Lord, as I remember my baptism, spark in me a renewed commitment to you as Lord. Amen.

God’s People, part 148: 4 Views

Read Mark 1:9-11; Matthew 3:13-17; Luke 3:20-22; John 1:29-34

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“The following day John was again standing with two of his disciples. As Jesus walked by, John looked at him and declared, ‘Look! There is the Lamb of God!’”  (John 1:35-36, 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.

baptismofjesusPart 148: 4 Views. Naturally, following a devotion on John the Baptist we will move into one of many parts on Jesus. Today’s focus will be on Jesus’ baptism. The great thing about the New Testament is that the most widely-read accounts of Jesus’ life, teachings, and ministry were all included in the canon. What I mean by that is that Mark, Matthew, Luke and John were all the most widely-read and most universally agreed upon in ancient Christianity. So, they were included even though there are differences between them.

But as most blessings, there is a hidden curse there as well. Overtime, the four stories are read so much and become so familiar that they begin to blend together in the minds of the people reading them. This is not just regarding individual people, but entire communities and churches are guilty of doing this. One of the most common places this happens is in the Nativity Story. Also, the Passion Story has this sort of hodge-podge storytelling happen to it as well. Another area in the Gospels this happens is with regard to Jesus’ baptism.

What is certain is that all of the Gospels have Jesus’ baptism in it; however, each of the Gospels tells it slightly different. The best way to study the difference between the accounts is to read them all, side by side. I hope you have read the suggested Scriptures above. For the purpose of space, I will merely list out the differences here.

  • In Mark, the earliest Gospel we have: Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan.
    • As Jesus came out of the water HE saw the heavens splitting apart and the Holy Spirit descend upon him like a dove.
    • Then HE heard the voice God telling him that he is God’s son…and that God was pleased with him.
  • In Matthew: Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan, though John tried to talk him out of it.
    • Jesus told John he must do it to carry out all that God requires.
    • Following the baptism, Jesus saw the heavens open and Holy Spirit descending up on him like a dove.
    • Then God’s voice proclaimed, implicitly to the people witnessing this, “This is my Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
  • In Luke: When all the people gathered were being baptized, John also baptized Jesus.
    • In that moment, the heavens were opened (notice it does not state someone saw this…but that this HAPPENED) and the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in bodily form like a dove.
    • Then God’s voice proclaimed, “You are my son, with whom I am well pleased.”
  • In John: There is no mention of Jesus being baptized. Go ahead, take a look.
    • All that is mentioned is that John saw the Spirit descend upon him like a dove.
      • Most assume that this happened when John baptized Jesus; however, that is because people are reading the other three Gospels into it.
        • It may be a safe assumption, but it is still an assumption.

These are the 4 views of Jesus baptism. They are very similar; however there are some marked differences between them. One thing can be certain, Jesus was baptized and that baptism was like the shot heard around the world. In Jesus, a fire was stoked that not even the Roman Empire could put out. The challenge for us is to remember our own baptism and our own confirmation in the Christian faith. Do you remember the fire you once had, provided you had it, for Jesus? Do you still have that same passion and/or fire burning within you today? If not, why? What can you do to have it re-stoked within you? Today you are challenged to find your fire for Jesus Christ once again, for the harvest is plenty and the workers are few (Luke 10:2).

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
The Holy Spirit cannot be contained.

PRAYER
Lord, fill me with your holy, uncontainable, unquenchable Holy Spirit. Amen.

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.