Tag Archives: Greed

God’s People, part 128: Taxes

Read Luke 19:1-10

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Later, as Jesus left the town, he saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at his tax collector’s booth. ‘Follow me and be my disciple,’ Jesus said to him.”  (Luke 5:27 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.

001-lumo-jesus-matthewPart 128: Taxes. Everybody’s favorite subject, right? Taxes are just a bowl of jiggly, cherry flavored joy (aka JELLO). Everybody loves paying taxes nowadays and so it is really hard for us to understand why anyone in the ancient world would hold a grudge against tax collectors, right? If you haven’t picked up on it yet, I will let you know that I am totally being sarcastic here.

In U.S. American history alone, there are ample examples of our bitter hatred of taxes. In fact, it is safe to say that taxes played a huge role in the British Colonies rebelling against England and forming the United States of America. They fought against major tariffs and/or taxes placed on things like stamps and tea, without any representation from the colonies. In other words, the crown decided to raise taxes, and did so without any consideration for the people in the colonies. They had no one appointed to represent their needs to the King.

In Jesus’ day, taxes were even more despised than they were in the days of the American Revolution. Why? Because of the system of taxation they wre forced into. Under Roman occupation, the Romans “employed” local people to collect the taxes that were due to them. These tax collectors were not actually paid by Rome; rather, they were expected to collect what was due Rome and it was completely acceptable and expected that they would raise what was owed to compensate themselves for their services. You heard me right. If someone owed $1,000 for the year in taxes, the tax collector might charge $2,000. They would give Rome its $1,000 and keep the other $1,000 for themselves.

Keep in mind, these tax collectors are locals. What that means is that the tax collectors in Judaea were other Jews making a killing off of the backs of their own people, for the benefit of themselves and the Roman government. Thus, tax collectors were not a popular group of people by any stretch of the imagination. That is what makes Jesus’ acceptance of Levi (aka Matthew) and Zacchaeus so shocking.

On top of Roman taxes, the people also had to pay a Temple tax, local government taxes, military tax (and drafts), customs taxes, import and export taxes, toll bridges, crop/harvest taxes, sales taxes, property taxes, as well as special taxes where there was a war, a building project or campaign to fund. For the common person, these taxes became burdensome and added to the oppression they were experiencing.

With all of this context, it is important for us to note that while the tax collector was hated by most people, Jesus chose to include them in his ministry. He invited them into a new service, a service of giving rather than collecting. His willingness to see the divine in them broke through. His willingness to love them and treat them with dignity, broke through their hearts and sparked in them transformative change.

This should challenge us. Who are the “rightfully despised” in our communities? Who are the people who have earned a bad name for themselves and how do we show them Jesus? How do we bring the Christ who loves them and calls them to experience transformative grace in their lives? Are we willing to see such people as Christ sees them, or will we let our disgust stand in our way? Let us not forget that, ultimately, we’re no more righteous than those people. In fact, we’re less righteous when we think we’re above or better than them. Christ calls us all to humility and to grace.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent.” – Jesus of Nazareth (Luke 5:32 NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, humble me and help me to see all people through your eyes. Amen.

God’s People, part 75: Gehazi

Read 2 Kings 5:15-27

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows.” (1 Timothy 6:10 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.

3393-largePart 75: Gehazi. The story of Naaman is one of the greatest examples in the Old Testament of the gracefulness of God. There was a man who was technically not one of God’s people, meaning that he was not under the Jewish covenant with the one, true God, yet he sought out the help of God through the prophet Elisha. In doing so, in humbling himself, God cleansed Naaman of his lebrosy.

Such an experience would, obviously, be life changing. 2 Kings tells us that Naaman went with all of his accompanying party back to Elisha and declared, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel.” He also proclaimed, ” Then Naaman said,  “From now on I will never again offer burnt offerings or sacrifices to any other god except the LORD.” (vv. 15b, 17a).

This is the power of God through those who effectively witness to God’s love and merciful grace. Because of Elisha’s faithfulness in caring for an enemy, that enemy became a brother in the LORD. Naaman made one other request of Elisha. While he would only ever worship the LORD God of Israel, he still needed to show loyalty to his king. He asked if God would pardon him for bowing before the King. Though this is technically a sign of worship, as much as it is a sign of loyalty and respect, Naaman’s heart was set on worshiping the LORD and not his king. God knows the hearts of people. Elisha’s response was conciliatory. He said to Naaman, “Go in peace.”

How awesome the grace of God is! God knew Naaman’s heart and was not going to force Naaman to disrespect his king over a technicality. The overjoyed Syrian commander wanted to give Elisha a gift; however, Elisha refused to accept one. His work was not for payment, but in service of the living God. Unfortunately, that sort of humility and selflessness fell on deaf ears and a hardened heart with Elisha’s servant, Gehazi.

Gehazi was angry over his master not accepting the gifts. He vowed to chase after Naaman and get something from him. Upon reaching Naaman, he made up a lie about prophets arriving as guests and that Elisha was in need of 75 pounds of silver to entertain and care for them. Naaman, of course, was overjoyed to help and gave Gehazi twice the amount he asked for.

Once he returned home, Gehazi hid the money in his house. Yet, God knew what he had done and, as it turns out, so did Elisha who had a vision of him committing the crime. Unlike Naaman, who had humbled himself, Gehazi was proud and full of greed. He was not acting like the servant of God that he was called to be. As a result, Gehazi ended up contracting leprosy. His skin became crusty white, as snow.

Stories of God’s wrath always make us uncomfortable, probably because we all know that we all fall short of God’s glorious standard (Romans 3:23); yet, it is important to realize that whether Gehazi had gotten leprosy or not, his actions poisoned his soul and led him far from where God was calling him to be. The challenge for us is to not dismiss accounts of the wrath of God because they makes us uncomfortable, but to let them cause us to reflect on our own lives, on where we are and where we ought to be. Are we, God’s servants, living up to the purpose God has for us, or are we selling out to our base nature and giving in to other spirits, voices and temptations? Let us strive to be like Naaman and avoid, like the plague (pun intended), the way of Gehazi.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“God’s judgment is not like man’s judgment. It is not a suspension of His Love but an extension of His Love. His justice is always righteous, so His judgment is always Love.” – Criss Jami

PRAYER
Lord, help me from following my base nature and turn my heart back to you. You have created me, apart from sin. Remove my sins and renew me, once more, as your servant. Amen.

God’s People, part 64: Kings of Israel

Read 1 Kings 16:15-20

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way.” )John‬ ‭4:23‬ ‭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.

Fuoco 4Part 64: Kings of Israel. Thus far, just in case you haven’t noticed, we have covered the major (and some minor) characters in the Bible, from Adam through King Solomon, and kings Rehoboam and Jeroboam. Wow, right? In the last two devotions we discussed the major split that took place in the United Kingdom of Israel. Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, held on to power in the South; however, Jereboam was able to usurp authority from 10 of the 12 tribes of Israel and formed his own kingdom in the north. Thus, there ended up being two kingdoms, the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah.

It would take a considerable amount of time to go through all of the Kings mentioned in 1 & 2 Kings as well as 1 & 2 Chronicles. Thus, I will sum up those Kings leading up to our next major character. With that said, I would strongly encourage you to read the books of 1 & 2 Kings and 1 & 2 Chronicles as they really paint a picture for you of the history of ancient Israel in its shortlived “heyday”. In fact, these Kingdoms can be viewed, in a way, as characters unto themselves. FYI, I will be referring to the Northern Kingdom of Israel simply as“Israel” and the Sothern Kingdom of Judah simply as “Judah”.

The Kings of Israel, according to the Bible, all followed (somehow or way) in the footsteps of Jeroboam I. As far as I can tell, this seems to indicate that the Kings continued Jeroboam’s religious policies and practices of worshiping the golden calfs and other gods aside from the imageless God of Israel. It should be taken into account that the authors of 1 and 2 Kings are, no doubt, from Judah and that their bent is certainly toward Judah and not the Kingdom of Israel; however, despite that, it is clear that the religious practices of the Northern Kingdom of Israel were unorthodox at best.

What is also clear, is that Jeroboam’s precedent of violently weeding out anyone who might pose a threat to his rule continued on in his successors. Jeroboam was succeeded by Nadab who was assassinated by one of his own military captains along with the rest of his family. That captain, Baasha ruled corruptly and was succeeded by his son Elah, who was later assassinated along with the rest of his family. The one who had him murdered, Zimri, succeeded him and only reigned seven days before his palace was beseiged. He set fire to the palace, with himself in it, and perished.

He was succeeded by Omri, who constructed the city of Samaria and made that city his captial. Later, the entire region would be known by the name of this infamous city, and it is from this region that Jesus of Nazareth would later converse with a Samaritan woman at the well, and it is of this region that Jesus would base his parable about the Good Samaritan on.

Needless to say, the kings of Israel were corrupt, we will be discussing one of them later on when we discuss the prophet Elijah. Each King brought the Israelites of the Northern Kingdom further and further away from a relationship with LORD their God, who is LOVE and JUSTICE. As such, each King brought the kingdom closer and closer to destruction, as that is the wages of corruption, greed and injustice.

As such, let us question ourselves? Do we lead a life that is in close relationship with God. Or have we mad an idol of God and become idolators. Yes, I know that most (if not all) of you are not physically bowing down to golden calfs; however, think about the things we might put first above and beyond God. Next, think about the ways we justify those things. Then you will begin to see the full picture of what true idolatry is. It isn’t merely about statues or about the names we use to call God by; rather, it is about our own hearts and who or what we put first. If God is not first, then we are on a path that leads to a dead end. I pray we all may truly reflect.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” – Anne Lamott

PRAYER

Lord, help me to be a person that steers clear of idolatry and remains loyal to you, who created me and loves beyond measure. Amen

Kingdom Building

Read Luke 16:1-13

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.” (Matthew 6:21)

throwing-away-moneyWe are a people who thrive on success, particularly financial success. After all, it is money that makes our world go ’round, right? We are taught, from young ages, what it means to make money and to save up. We are taught the importance of investing our money and, hopefully, growing our stock portfolio. Capitalism thrives on successfully making and investing money. Wall Street is an entire capitalistic empire based on making and investing money, and people have shown that they will go to all ends in order to see that success through.

While this is normal for our government and businesses, which exsit to make money and to secure the financial interests of our nation; however, what is sad is that this has become the mentality of our churches as well. Often times, it is all about the bottom dollar. In my conversations over the years, I have heard people share that so-and-so is really working to bring “the church” down, or that so-and-so’s really doing something that should not be and, yet, the church is too afraid to hold so-and-so accountable because he or she is one of the larger tithers in the church and they might get offended and take their money elsewhere. No joke, this type of stuff happens in the church.

Of course, this doesn’t just happen in churches…it happens in every part of society. Money talks. Yet, the church is not supposed to be like the rest of society. It is set apart. It is to be holy…to represent God and the Economy of God’s Kingdom…not the economy of the almighty dollar. Yet, t o many in the church my words are nothing more than impractical and idealistic. What’s more, many in the church would find my words here to be a threat, because if one chases out the biggest givers, then one is ultimately chasing out any chance of the church being able to stay open.

I certainly understand the fear and the sentiment. My question is this, are we called to worry about the consequences of our decision to follow God. Yes, there are consequences to following God. People might get offended by being held accountable, church buildings might be forced to close if there aren’t enough funds coming in to support the operating expenses, etc. Those things could come to pass. With that said, there are consequences to not following God and there is something that will SURELY pass if we choose to go down that road: WE WILL CEASE TO BE THE TRUE REPRESENTATIVES OF GOD’S KINGDOM.

In God’s Kingdom, the first are last and the last are first. In God’s Kingdom those can see will be shown to be blind, while the blind will be the ones who see. In God’s Kingdom, the rich will inherit spiritual poverty and emptiness, while the poor will inherit the riches (e.g. fulfillment, joy, peace, love, hope, patience, gentleness, generosity, and self-control) of the Kingdom of God. In the Kingdom of God the masters will serve the servants and the servants will lead in their humility. Everything is flipped on its head in God’s Kingdom.

When God’s Kingdom arrives, there will no longer be a world where the few and the elite get everything while everyone else gets nothing. There will no longer be a world where the rich and the powerful get catered to at the expense of everyone else. Christ came to bring an end to such injustice, to such segregation, to such oppression. This is not to say that God scoffs at success or spurns the successful. Not at all; rather, God invites them to see their success as a gift to bring about God’s Kingdom on earth! But God also calls us to not cater to those with money over and above those who don’t. There is no room in Christ for that kind of garbage. If people get offended by that, then they are offended by the Gospel of Jesus Christ and there is nothing that we, the church, can do about that. All we can do is pray and keep on doing the work of Kingdom building that that God has called us to do.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but are yourself lost or destroyed?” – Jesus of Nazareth (Luke 9:25)

PRAYER
Lord, help me to avoid being lured away from your Kingdom by the “riches” of this world. Help me to use what I have in a way that serves others. Amen.