Tag Archives: humility

God’s People, part 218: Zacchaeus

Read Luke 19:1-10

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with such scum?’”  (Matthew 9:11, 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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
By Niels Larsen Stevns – Own work (photo: Gunnar Bach Pedersen) (Randers Museum of Art, Randers, Denmark), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1428023

Part 218: Zacchaeus. This is one of those accounts in the Gospel of Luke that is very well known. Most people have heard of little Zacchaeus who climbed a tree in order to see Jesus over the crowd. In fact, he’s so well known that there is even a children’s song based on him entitled, Zacchaeus Was a Wee Little Man.

As with all well-known accounts, people easily gloss over the important details of the story. With Zacchaeus, there are number of layers to this account that help us understand what was really going on beyond the story of a short man climbing a tree to see Jesus. Within the first sentence of the passage, we learn the location of Zacchaeus and that location bears with it a whole socio-economic and religious context.

Jesus found Zacchaeus in the city of Jericho. Before we look at Jericho, let us first take a look at Zacchaeus. He was not only a tax collector, but he was the “chief tax collector for the entire region.” Tax collectors were Jews who worked for the Romans to collect taxes from their fellow Jews. To make a long story short, whatever the percentage was expected from the Romans, the tax collector would raise that price even higher so that they could make a profit. Thus, the tax collector was not only being paid for their job, but they were also taking a cut of the taxes the collected because they gouged the percentage that was owed. In essence, the tax collectors were robbing their own people blind and becoming rich off of their desperation. Zacchaeus was doing this very thing to the people of his region and thus, in a word, he was DESPISED by the Jewish people in and around Jericho.

The city of Jericho, itself, was one of the cities of the priests. It was 15.9 miles northeast of Jerusalem and it has been said that 12,000 priests and Levites lived there. Thus, this is a town where many temple elite were living; yet, Jesus does not seek an audience with any of them. Ancient Israel had a culture of honor built into it. For a teach or rabbi to visit the home of someone was a great honor. Instead of honoring one of the elite religious leaders in the city, jesus chose to honor wee little Zacchaeus.

To make matters worse, as was mentioned above, Zacchaeus was a “sinner” of the worst kind. He was in bed with the Romans and was robbing the people of what little money they had. So, when Jesus called Zacchaeus down and invited himself over the tax collector’s house, the people became indignant. How dare him! How could this rabbi associate with such a sinner, let alone honor him by going to his house?!?! This was a major insult to them.

Yet, Jesus paid them no mind. At the feast, while the priests were grumbling, Zacchaeus was so moved and honored by Jesus that he pledged to give half of his wealth to the poor. On top of that, he also promised to pay back 4 times the amount he took from those he cheated. Jesus then blessed his house and called Zacchaeus a true son of Abraham, reminding the people present that his mission was to come seek and save those who are lost.

This is a challenge for us as well. Do we view certain people as being outside the bounds of God’s grace? Do we view certain people as being to classless, or too inappropriate, or too secular, or too sinful to be worthy of God’s grace? Do you harbor any resentment toward those you think have cheated you or others? Remember, Christ came to seek and save those who are lost. In fact, we all were lost at one point and Christ has found and saved us. We should, with Christ, seek out the lost and include them in our fold with the love and blessing of Christ. After all, that is what Christ did and that is what he is calling us to do.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” – Jesus Christ in Matthew 9:13

PRAYER
Lord, forgive me, a sinner. Help me to see other people through your eyes, rather than my own. Amen.

God’s People, part 205: Poor Widow

Read Mark 12:41-44

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.”  (Matthew 5:3, 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.

widowsmitePart 205: Poor Widow. If there is one thing that is consistent about all accounts of Jesus in the Gospels, it is that he consistently showed favor and deference to those who were “the least of these.” We need to be careful in how we read/hear that. I am not saying that “the least of these” were always the poor, the homeless, the oppressed, etc. To read that into it would be to expose our own biases. Some of the richest people can be “the least of these”.

We have already seen cases of that in our readings. In fact, it is safe to say that being rich can really be a place of spiritual and emotional poverty. Jesus recognized this and when that type of the “least of these” were humbled by that poverty and realized their need for God, Christ brought healing and wholeness into their lives as well. What we need to remember is that “the least of these” come in every shape and size; there is no “one size fits all”.

What’s more, in all cases it is humility that leads to healing and wholeness. Rich or poor, the proud always find themselves in a place of needing to be humbled, whereas those who are humble recognize their need for God. We certainly see this in the poor widow, whom Jesus observes giving the last bit of money she has in order to tithe. In reality, she does not tithe for a tithe is merely a tenth of what one possesses. This woman gave 100%, even though she needed it for her own sustenance.  Think about the kind of faith that she had to give the last money she had to God. That is why Jesus highlighted what she was doing and honored her gift with his words to his disciples.

But Jesus’ teaching to his disciples was not meant to just highlight the poor widow. It would be easy to prop her up as the “the least of these” and dismiss the other reason for pointing her out. In fact, while this woman was certainly the “least of these” in terms of her finances, she was actually the “greatest of these” spiritually speaking. Make no mistake, in terms of her faith and stewardship, this woman was embodying the kingdom of Heaven.

The REAL poverty was seen in those who have much but were only giving what was required. They were not giving out of their joy and gratitude toward God; rather, they were giving out of an obligatory duty that was required to them by the law. They wanted to maintain the appearance of being good, faithful people, but they were not fooling Jesus with the charade.

This should challenge us to learn from Jesus’ comparison between the “poor” widow and the obligatory tithers. It should challenge us to find be in a place of humility when we self-reflect in what ways we truly are “the least of these” in need of God’s hope, healing, and wholeness. Do we give of what we have out a sense of obligation or out of joy and gratitude toward what God has given us?

Everything we have is a gift from God. The poor widow understood that and gave all that she had back to God, trusting that God would not fail her nor forsake her.  We are being called to see everything we have as a gift from God, rather than looking at what we have as OURS to give. After all, what is truly ours when our very lives were given to us by the One who created us and has redeemed us through the immeasurable sacrifice of death on a cross? Let us be like the poor widow and celebrate our LORD through generous, joyful giving!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“There’s poverty in wealth. If a man is wealthy without good health, is he not poor? If a man is wealthy without children, is he not poor? If a man is wealthy without God, is he not poor? If a man is wealthy without giving alms, is he not poor? If a man is wealthy without wisdom, is he not poor? Then there’s a great lack in riches.” – Michael Bassey Johnson

PRAYER
Lord, help me rid myself of the ways in which I am impoverished. Help me to store up my treasures in you. Amen.

God’s People, part 202: Children

Read Mark 10:13-16

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.”  (Proverbs 22:6, 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.

jesus-and-the-little-childrenPart 202: Children. This is one of those texts in which context is key. Most people read this with their 21st century lenses on, doting on the imaginary children they envision rushing up to a tenderhearted, bright smiling Jesus waiting to embrace them and play “patty cakes” with them on his lap. We, in Western Civilization just love children. In fact, we more than love them; we idolize them.

We can see this in the way we parent nowadays. Where the kids are we go. Parents no longer tell their children that they have to go to church and put God first. They no longer structure their children’s lives; rather, they allow their children to structure their lives. This, of course, has not only led to an increasingly godless society but, in some cases, it has created self-centered monsters out of our children.

This was not the case in Jesus’ day and age. Before describing children in the ancient world, I need to be clear that I am not saying that the ancient world’s way of rearing children is the perfect, most blessed way either. I think both eras have their highlights and their shady points in parenting. Any parent knows there is no manual that comes with their children and, often, parenting is learned through societal norms as much as it is passed down from our own parents.

In Jesus day, the place for children was in the household. They were to be seen and not heard. It was expected that they would help around the house. As soon as boys were old enough, they would go to work with their father’s, learning whatever trade or vocation they held. We see that this was the case of Jesus, who was a apprentice in carpentry under his father Joseph. As an adult, Jesus carried on his father’s work until he left that behind to become an itinerant preacher and rabbi.

The girls would help their mothers around the house until the age that their father could find a suitable husband. That usually happened as soon as the girl was able to bear children. Thus, many women were arranged a marriage around the age of 14. Up until then, the girl’s place was in the home with mom, taking care of housekeeping, cooking, and teaching the younger kids stories from the Hebrew Bible.

This was a radically different world of parenting from ours. It was a society built on honor. It was not considered honorable or right for the children to be out in society bothering other adults. Thus, for those parents to be bringing their children to Jesus to be touched and blessed was completely inappropriate in that society. There was a pecking order and children were at the bottom of the totem pole until they grew old enough to contribute to the household. Even then, their place was not with the adults until they became an adult.

“These children are not ill. They have nothing wrong with them. Why, then, would these thoughtless parents bring them, disrupting our master when he was so busy with important matters.” That is, no doubt, what the disciples where thinking when they scolded the parents for bringing their children. According to the societal and religious culture in the ancient Middle East, the disciples were in the right to put those parents, along with their children, back in their places.

Yet, Jesus did not think so; rather, he turned to his disciples and scolded them. “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” (Mark 10:14-15, NLT) In that moment, he taught his disciples that “the least of these”, including innocent children, are as valuable to God as anyone else. Jesus also taught them that their pecking order was NOT GOD’S.

Let us be challenged by this. Let us not seek status in the world, but let us humble ourselves before God. Let us approach God and others with the innocence of a child. That does not mean we should be naïve, but that we should be as eager and open to embracing God as a child is. If we approach God and others with that openness, then truly the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to us.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth.” – Jesus Christ (Matthew 5:5, NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, give me the openness, eagerness, and humility of a child. Amen.

God’s People, part 102: Nebuchadnezzar II

Read Daniel 4

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“I, the Lord, will punish the world for its evil and the wicked for their sin. I will crush the arrogance of the proud and humble the pride of the mighty.” (Isaiah‬ ‭13:11‬ ‭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 102: Nebuchadnezzar II. If you know your history, or payed close attention to the past devotions as of late, you are probably wondering why there would be a devotion on Nebuchadnezzar II, the fierce and mighty king of Babylon. Up until this point, I have covered the major Biblical characters (and some minor ones) who were a part of the Hebrew People. I have addressed kings, for sure, but they were Hebrew kings from either the northern Kingdom of Israel or the southern kingdom of Judah.

So, why now am I choosing to focus on a Gentile king, a king who was not born under the Torah (aka the Covenantal Law of God)? I didn’t write about Pharaoh or the king of Philistia or any other Gentile king; so, why now write about Nebuchadnezzar II? He wasn’t one of God’s people, right?

Well, if by “God’s people” one means a descendent of one of the tribes of Israel, then he or she would be correct in saying that Nebuchadnezzar II was not one of “God’s People”; however, he was one of God’s people in that he is a part of the human species, created by God in God’s holy image, just as we all are. What’s more, Daniel reveals that Nebuchadnezzar fulfilled God’s plan whether he realized it or not. While God would have never chosen for Judah to be conquered and exiled, God worked through their sinfulness a plan for redemption and reconciliation. Nebuchadnezzar was a part of that plan.

The Babylonian king was a fierce and ruthless man, full of power, authority, and ego. He conquered lands and removed the ruling classes into exile, destroyed their religious institutions, and left only the insignificant and poor behind. This was done so that there would be no resistance to his rule, because the only ones who were left behind were the ones who were in no position to resist his rule.

If you recall, Nebuchadnezzar beseiged Jerusalem after the Jewish king double-crossed him. The seige lasted for 18-30 months and was most brutal. He eventually took the city, captured King Zedekiah and had the king’s children murdered before him prior to gouging his eyes out and taking him back to Babylon to live in a dungeon until he died. Also, among the people he exiled to Babylon were Daniel and his three friends, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (aka Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego).

Nebuchadnezzar was a prideful, egotistical ruler. It is this king that spared Daniel because he proved to be a useful interpreter; yet, on the other hand, he condemned Daniel’s friends to burn alive in a fiery furnace for refusing to bow down and worship the king. He also ignored Daniel’s warning to humble himself and submit to the will and authority of God most High. As a result, he brought the judgment of God down upon himself.

This king, this powerful and mighty warrior, found himself in a very humbling set of circumstances. He became mentally ill and delusional, wandering the wilderness within Babylon like a wild animal, and grazed on grass while groveling in the dirt and dust. This mental illness lasted for seven long years, until the moment where Nebuchadnezzar humbled himself and acknowledged the power and authority of the one True God. Upon doing so, his kingdom was restored back under his control.

What is important to understand about Nebuchadnezzar is this, all authority in heaven and on earth exists in God almighty. There is no human, no matter how powerful, that deserves credit for what they have done. When our leaders and our rulers credit themselves for what they have done to make their nations and this world better, they are puffing themselves up above God and making idols of themselves. Worse still, they are leading countless others into idolatry, into giving the leaders the credit and the worship as opposed to God. This should be challenging to us all in that it should remind us that no human, whether leader or not and whether it be ourselves or not, should receive the credit and prasie that is due our God. Let us take that warning to heart and adjust our hearts if need be.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

Jesus Christ is Lord of all and nothing can, nor will, trump Christ’s authority. Follow Christ, not the current world order.

PRAYER

Lord Jesus, help me to put You first in all that I do so that I may steer clear of idolatry. Amen.

God’s People, part 94: Nahum

Read Nahum 2

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“There is no healing for your wound; your injury is fatal. All who hear of your destruction will clap their hands for joy. Where can anyone be found who has not suffered from your continual cruelty?” (Nahum‬ ‭3:19‬ ‭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 94: Nahum. Since there is literally nothing biographical to go on, regarding Nahum, I am not going to focus on the prophet as much as I will the prophecy. In Nahum’s three short chapters, we find a scathing denunciation of the city of Ninevah. Nahum’s words are swift, pointed, sharp, violent and, at times, his language is rather vulgar: “‘I am your enemy!’ says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. ‘And now I will lift your skirts and show all the earth your nakedness and shame. I will cover you with filth and show the world how vile you really are’” (Nahum‬ ‭3:5-6‬ ‭NLT‬‬).

In order to understand the language used in the prophecy, one has to understand the city and the kingdom it was spoken against. Most of you probably remember the city of Ninevah from the narrative about the prophet Jonah. If you recall, Jonah was sent there to pronounce God’s wrath, and imminent destruction, upon the residents of that city. According to Jonah, the city collectively repented, put on sackcloth and turned their hearts to God, thus receiving God’s mercy and forgiveness.

The likeliness that the Book of Jonah offers a historical record seems fairly slim, as the text seems to have been written as a satirical allegory. What is clear is that by the time of Nahum (writing a couple of centuries later than when Jonah lived), Ninevah seems to be just as wicked as it was back then. It was a wealthy and powerful city, as well as the capital of the ancient Assyrian Empire (modern day Iraq). The Assyrians were a militant and brutal Empire that had conquered many kingdoms, including: the Chaldeans, Babylonians, Medes, Persians, Scythians, Cimmerians, and the Northern Kingdom of Israel.

What can be said about the Assyrians is that they were saber rattlers, militant, and boasted of a powerful military force. They were seemingly unstoppable and were feared by the entire region. Yet, there strength became their undoing…their vulnerability…their weakness. What’s more, Nahum foretold that such disaster would befall them for all of their wickedness, militancy, and cruelty.

Shortly after Nahum’s prophecy, the Chaldeans, Babylonians, Medes, Persians, Scythians, and Cimmeriancs joined forces in an alliance that brought down the Assyrian empire. Many in the city were massacred or driven out. Archaeologists discovered unburied skeletons at the site of ancient Ninevah, evidence that such a seige of Ninevah, and such an end to the Assyrian Empire, was truly a historical event.

This should remind us all that the larger something is the harder it falls. Think of all of the major empires in the world: Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Roman, etc. Each of these Empires, as powerful as they were, fell tremendously as a result of their power and over-ambitious reach. Nahum reminds us that God favors the weak over the strong. According to Nahum, it was God that brought down the Assyrian empire for its evil ways, its wickedness, its militancy, and its cruelty. It was God that put an end to this powerful empire, through the unintended consequences that came out of its military conquest.

This should be a red flag for Judeo-Christians who live in powerful countries. Many Christians today see hyper-nationalism, military might, and saber rattling to be the direction God has called us in. Many Christians are celebrating, or at least justifying, the separation of children from their migrant families. Many Christians are calling for schools, homes and churches to be weaponized. Many Christians believe that their nation’s interests (no matter which country they’re from) should be put first at all costs. Many Christians believe that the end justifies any means.

Yet, Nahum warns the reader that God is not on the side of boastful, militant, powerful nations, or peoples, who use their might to promote their own self-interests. Rather, God calls us to be peacemakers, to put our faith and reliance on God and not in our weapons of death and destruction, and to witness to God’s kingdom through justice, mercy and humility. The challenge for us is to evaluate our own beliefs and to measure them to what the prophets, such as Nahum, teach us about God. Do our beliefs align with God, or do they stand in opposition to God? I pray we honestly reflect, repent, and adjust as need be.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

Which do you put first, God or country? Whichever you put first is what you owe your allegiance to, everything else is subordinate to what you prioritize.

PRAYER

Lord, help us to put you first in our lives. If other things are in alignment with your will, so be it. Grant us the clarity to discern so that we can do what is right in all things. Steer us clear of anything that is against your nature. Amen.

God’s People, part 86: Micah

Read Micah 6

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“They said, “Remember when Micah of Moresheth prophesied during the reign of King Hezekiah of Judah. He told the people of Judah, ‘This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: Mount Zion will be plowed like an open field; Jerusalem will be reduced to ruins! A thicket will grow on the heights where the Temple now stands.’” (Jeremiah‬ ‭26:18‬ ‭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 86: Micah. To put it plainly, Micah is one of my favorite prophets in the Hebrew tradition, because of his bold prophecy and the concise, but profoundly divine, counsel he gives at the end of his eponymous book. Micah was also a prophet during the same time period that Isaiah and Hosea were prophesying. His message is consistent with there’s.

Before I get into the specifics of Micah’s prophecy, I want to remind us that this series is intent on finding the flaws in the Biblical characters so that we may see how close to us, how down to earth, and how human they were. Unfortunately, the prophets didn’t write autobiographies; rather, their writings consisted of their prophecies. Conversely, the scribes of the Kings did not write historical biographies of the prophets and so there is little to gleen from their lives, unless they happen to reveal that in their writings. Some did, such as Isaiah and Jeremiah; however, most did not and I am not about to “make up” flaws.

With that said, I can speak to what they were prophesying against, and we can explore how that relates to us today. In that way, we can see that the people of the ancient times were not more religious, more obedient, more sinless than we are. The times have changed, technology has changed, geography has changed; however, humanity has not changed.

Now back to Micah. Jeremiah reveals to us that chapter 3 was written against the king of Judah, Hezekiah. Remember that Hezekiah was actually one of the more righteous kings; however, he was not perfect. The king, to refresh you, had fallen victim to his pride. Because of the tremendous flattery given to him by the Babylonians, he had allied himself with Babylon, which was something that would go on to bear terrible consequences.

Isaiah had scolded the king for that decision. It cannot be certain whether this was what Micah was scolding Hezekiah or not; however, what can be certain is that Hezekiah humbled himself and listened. According to the Jeremiah, the warning was heeded and so God did not allow calamity to fall upon Jerusalem. If only more leaders could find themselves constructively humbled to avert the unintended pride-consequence of disaster.

Beyond Jerusalem, Micah had much to say against Israel and its detestable practices. In the end he wrote: “What can we bring to the Lord? Should we bring him burnt offerings? Should we bow before God Most High with offerings of yearling calves? Should we offer him thousands of rams and ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Should we sacrifice our firstborn children to pay for our sins? No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah‬ ‭6:6-8‬ ‭NLT‬‬).‬‬

While it is clear that Micah stood opposed to idolatry, to human sacrifice, and to the injustice the rulers and leaders were perpetrating against their own people. Unfortunately, while Hezekiah turned from his sin and repented, the Israelites did not. They continued on with their practices and shorthly thereafter, the Assyrians came in, conquered and exiled them.

No one likes a prophet. No one likes to hear they are wrong or that they need to change; however, the wise person heeds advice no matter how painful it is to hear. The wise person listens, prays, discerns, and changes. This takes great humility. The question for us is this, are we willing to humble ourselves and listen to the words of God’s prophets. Not just the prophets of old, but are we willing to listen to those through whom God is speaking now? Let us reflect on that.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Get all the advice and instruction you can, so you will be wise the rest of your life.” (Proverbs‬ ‭19:20‬ ‭NLT‬‬)‬‬

PRAYER

Lord, advise me in your ways and count me among the humble who are wise. Amen.

God’s People, part 81: Hezekiah

Read 2 Kings 18-20; 2 Chronicles 29-32

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Hezekiah welcomed them; he showed them his treasure house, the silver, the gold, the spices, the precious oil, his whole armory, all that was found in his storehouses. There was nothing in his house or in all his realm that Hezekiah did not show them.” (Isaiah 39:2 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.

King_Hezekiah,_clouthed_in_sackcloth,_spreads_open_the_letter_before_the_LordPart 81: Hezekiah. I love the story of Hezekiah. For me it proves that God is at work at all times and in all places. Hezekiah is evidence that no matter what, God can and will break through to the hearts that are open to God. Hezekiah is proof that “guilt by association” is nothing more than a logical fallacy. Just because one is born to a father or mother who is wicked, unjust and swayed by evil, does not mean that one will automatically go down that road.

King Hezekiah was the son of King Ahaz who, as was discussed in the last devotion, was a wicked king who followed the ways of evil, rather than following God. Ahaz was also proof that just because one has good parents does not mean that one will end up being good or righteous. Let’s call the stories of Ahaz and Hezekiah to be ancient myth-busters.

I am not sure how Hezekiah came to be in relationship with God, having a parent like his dad. Let’s not forget that his dad made his “first-born” son “pass through the fire.” As was mentioned in the last devotion, there is debate as to what that means. The most common interpretation, and the one that the New Living Translation goes with, is that his sacrificed his first-born son to the Canaanite god Molech by burning him. That would mean that Hezekiah would have been the second-born son and next in line for the throne.

With that said, it could also mean that he put his first-born son through a pagan initiation rite involving fire, dedicating him to the god Molech. If that was the case, Hezekiah would have been that son. Either way, Hezekiah clearly grew up detesting the ways of his father and found his faith in YHWH, the God of his ancestor David.

What that meant is that Hezekiah had all of the shrines and idols throughout Judah destroyed. He brought the people of Israel back to the one, true God by strictly enforcing that the worship only the LORD and that they do so only in the LORD’s Temple. He also thought ahead and began to work for the safety of Jerusalem. When Assyria conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and exiled many of its leaders, King Hezekiah had already begun fortifying Jerusalem, ensuring that the city would be harder to take.

That is not to say that the king was perfect, after all, he was a human being. Isaiah recorded that the king was visited by envoy from the Babylonian Empire. He was so flattered by the visit that he let it go to the place of vanity and began to show off all of his wealth and power to the visitors. This, of course, got fully reported back to the King of Babylon. That empire would be setting its sights on Jerusalem and would eventually conquer her.

The challenge for us is this: even when we are following God, we are still not immune from sin and vanity is the sin, along with pride, that tends to get us when we least expect it. Let us not worry about what people think of us. Let us not boast so that people can think we are all that and a bag of chips; rather, let us be humble and remember that the only One we need to please is God. The challenge is to LOVE GOD and to keep our vanity at bay so that we can serve God and others in LOVE and in TRUTH. Humanly speaking, this may be impossible, but with God, all things are possible. (Matthew 19:26).

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves; vanity, to what we would have others think of us.” – Jane Austen

PRAYER
Lord, steer me away from vanity and shelter me in humility. Amen.

God’s People, part 60: Adonijah

Read 1 Kings 1:5-10

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 14:11 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.

Macbeth_illustration14_001Part 60: Adonijah. The story of Adonijah much reminds me of Jesus teaching about humility in Luke 14, just prior his telling of the Parable of the Great Feast. In that teaching he warned the gathered people to not sit in the places of honor, but at the lowest place at the table. In doing so, one would avoid being dishonored by being asked to move to a place of lower status in front of all the people at the table and would, more than likely, be honored when the host asks one to move from the lowest place to a place more prominent.

Jesus’ words are wise and they are not meant merely as a “play it safe rather than sorry” suggestion. Jesus is, rather, guiding those who will be taught by him to not think too highly about themselves. Humility, simply, is knowing one’s place. It is not self-denigration; however, it is not self-engrandizement either. While Jesus’ teaching refers to social status, his wisdom is regarding Spiritual Humility. Such humility recognizes that none of us are better than “the least of these” because, from the least to the greatest, we are all God’s created children.

If only Adonijah had been given those wise and timely words. It’s never easy being less than the eldest brother in the royal family. Only the eldest could be the heir to the throne. Only the eldest could one day be king, unless the eldest died. Even then, Adonijah was not second eldest but third eldest. He was third in line. He could pretty much bank on NEVER being the King, not because he was unqualified (as he could not think of anyone more qualified than he was) but because of circumstance.

Yes, I am writing this a bit tongue-in-cheek; however, it is clear that Adonijah thought pretty highly of himself and he was quite thrilled (I mean, who wouldn’t be?) when his two eldest brothers died and were no longer in his way. It was Adonijah chance to rise up and take the throne for himself! He would be the one in power and could rule the kingdom!

The only problem with that comes in one word: SOLOMON. Because of his love for Bathsheba, David had declared that he willed for Solomon to be his heir. So, rather than rightfully taking the throne, Adonijah actually stages a coup and tries, like his brothers before him, to usurp David’s kingdom. As can be seen in the scriptures, it doesn’t go well for Adonijah. In the end, he fled for his life and was temporarily spared only to be killed by Solomon once he assumed power.

Adonijah could have served a great purpose for God. Who knows what God had in store for him; however, the corruption of his father and brothers spread to him and he sought power and authority rather than God. As a result, he ended up cutting what ties may have been left with his half-brother Solomon and betraying his father’s trust. All that did, in the end, is lead to his demise. The question for us is this, how do we allow our earthly ambitions to get between us and our God-given purpose? Be challenged by that question and seek out God’s will over your own!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels.” – St. Augustine

PRAYER
Lord, protect me from becoming proud so that I might be honored to serve you in the exact ways you created me to. Amen.

Honored

Read John 4:1-45

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Pride ends in humiliation, while humility brings honor.” (Proverbs 29:23 NLT)

a-woman-of-samaria-mediumIn the last devotion we talked about Nicodemus and how Jesus schooled him. What was not mentioned in that, but is important to note, is that ultimately Nicodemus did have an open and receptive heart to what Jesus was teaching him. As we find out later in John’s Gospel, this Pharisee goes on to be a supporter of Jesus’ and he, along with Joseph of Arimathea, end up pleading with Pilate to give them Jesus’ body so that he may receive a proper burial. Tradition has Nicodemus as one Jesus’ post-resurrection followers.

What I love about the Nicodemus story in John, a story about the humbling of a man of prominence, is that it is followed by the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. This woman’s status could not be any further apart from that of Nicodemus. While Nicodemus was a revered and respected teacher, a wealthy individual who was highly educated and powerful, this woman was not revered or respected, she was shunned by her own community and her community was shunned by Jews as being totally unclean and detestable.

What we have in the Samaritan woman is the pretty much the exact opposite to Nicodemus the chapter before. She was a woman who was traveling by herself to the well to get water at the hottest part of the day. If modern archaeology is correct, Sychar was about a mile or so away from “Jacob’s Well”, which is still in existence today. It would be highly unlikely that this Samaritan woman would travel to this place alone, let alone at the time the sun is the hottest.

What this tells us, if we read the text carefully in light of the social and historical context of that place and time, is that this woman was outcast from the other women in her village. Why? The text gives us the answer to that. This woman had been married five times and was currently with a sixth man to whom she was not married. She was, no doubt, a threat to the other women of her village. What’s more, to be divorced that many times was a shame upon the woman and her family. It mean that she was “less than adequate” as a wife, which was the highest station in life for a woman in that time period. On top of that, she was living outside the marital covenant with another man.

In other words, in the ancient near east context, this woman would have been considered an unclean scourge upon her community. Then add that to the fact that she was Samaritan, the fact that the Jews believed the Samaritans were “unclean” from birth and that for one to even cross the shadow of a Samaritan would defile him or her, and you can see that this woman would have been considered a scourge within a scourge. She was the lowest of the low.

So, knowing this, it should be QUITE SHOCKING that Jesus was having any sort of conversation with her, let alone that he was alone with her at a well (which was a common “hook up” place in the ancient world. E.g., Genesis 24:17; 29:10; Exodus 2:16-21). Jesus is breaking some major social taboos in order to engage this woman in conversation, including the fact that women were not considered to be “teachable” and worthy of being a “student” of a teacher. Yet, Jesus does engage her and treats her no differently than he would have his own disciples.

What can be said is this, Jesus models the economy of heaven here. This woman was the last and the least in her society. She was humble because she had nothing in her life to be “proud” of. Her station in life as a Samaritan woman was humble. As a sinner, she was also humble in that she knew that others judged her and that she was not welcome among the other women in her village. To say that this woman was “lowly” would be an understatement of the worst kind.

In Scripture, we are told that “pride ends in humiliation, while humility brings honor”. While Nicodemus, in all of his pride, was humiliated by how little he seemed to know in comparison to Jesus, who was a lowly teacher, this woman was honored by the Teacher who chose to engage her over any of the self-righteous  villagers who continually shunned her. As such, this woman not only came to see that Jesus was the Messiah, but she also became his witness to the rest of the villagers. “Come and see,” she exclaimed with joyous excitement, “the man who told me everything I have ever done!”

Today’s challenge is for us to evaluate ourselves. Are we humble or are we proud? In what ways are we proud? How can we let go of the pride we imprison ourselves with? Remember that God humbles the proud and exalts the humble. If there is any part of us that holds ourselves in higher regard than others, that is the part of ourselves we MUST die to. I pray that we all come to a place of humility so that we may be exalted for the glory of God!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
It is far less painful to be humble than it is to find ourselves in need of being humbled.

PRAYER
Lord, teach me the ways of humility so that I may be your humble servant. Amen.

Ixnay the Cliché

Read Micah 6:1-15

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the LORD, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.” (Amos 5:15)

highway-to-gloryThe end justifies the means. That is a cliché that I think is predominant in our society and/or culture. The end justifies the means. All we need to do is turn on television and watch any of a plethora of television shows, all we need to do is to go to the theater and watch any given movie and we will see a whole lot of that cliché being played out. We see heroes compromising their values in order to bring about some supposedly better end…and using any means necessary to make that happen.

Beyond television shows and movies, politicians will often use any means necessary to bring about what they believe to be a better end. Politicians who cut people down and use political action committees to destroy the reputation of their opponents, simply because they believe they’d make the best leader. Businesses who look at the bottom dollar as the end goal and use whatever means necessary in order to make the bottom dollar work out in favor of the company. Often times, the means to attain that end involves coldly getting rid of people and treating employees as expendable numbers, rather than being compassionate and not treating people as if they are expendable.

We also see this cliché play out in our communities. We see our government take people’s homes and property away, declaring it as eminent domain, in order to better commercialize and bring more money into a town and/or region. We see people who will cut people off on the road to ensure they’re not going to be late getting to work, or to a play, or to the nearest roadside coffee shop. I have even witnessed people cutting around funeral processions in order to avoid getting stuck in those situations.

The point here is this, in order to live by the cliché of “the end justifying the means,” we have to ultimately compromise our character and our moral code. The cliché certainly, and explicitly, announces that. The end justifies the means. That is really a nice way of saying the following: while normally taking this action would be deemed bad and/or immoral, it is okay to do so here because, in the end, things will work out for the better. The end justifies the means. Whatever means it takes to reach the end is justified by virtue of the end that is trying to be reached.

The end justifies the means…or does it? When we look to Scripture we see a ton of examples as to how the end never, ever justifies the means. David is, perhaps the most compelling and obvious of people to look at in this regard. David would do just about anything to be king, and once he became king he did just about anything to keep himself and his family in power. He slept with Bathsheba and to avoid scandal had her husband killed. He offed his political rivals with shrewd and shady expediency, looking as if he had nothing to do with it. He knew he was God’s chosen king and that God was going to establish his kingdom forever, and he let that go to his head. As a result his kingdom, his reputation, his power, and his entire family came crashing down.

Not only does the end never justify the means, the reality is that often times the means changes and/or destroys the end. What’s more, the means changes and/or destroys us in the process. Let us not be a people who justify any and every means to reach an end. Let us not be a people who justify evil by the end we are trying to reach. Remember that our call, first and foremost, is to live justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God, regardless of the end. In fact, there should be no other end but that, and that end will dictate the means. Live justly, love mercy, walk humbly. It’s simple, it’s honest, and it’s the narrow way that leads to God’s Kingdom.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets. “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. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” – Jesus, the Christ (Matthew 7:12-14)
PRAYER
Lord, I want to follow you in all that I do. Lovingly hold me accountable to your way and steer me clear of sin and evil. Amen.