Tag Archives: humility

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.

Stoned

Read John 8:1-12

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“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 6:8 NLT)

Glass HouseOne of the most powerful testimonies to the kind of compassionate, merciful, forgiving nature that Jesus embodied, is the story of the adulterous woman who was brought to him as way of his opponents to test both his understanding of Scripture as well as his commitment to the Torah. Under normal circumstances, according to the Law of Moses, the law demanded only one thing: the woman must be stoned. Yet, with that said, these were not normal circumstance and the religious leaders were, indeed, setting a trap for Jesus.

First, it is important to note that while the Law of Moses demanded that adultery be stamped out (via stoning) of Israel, it seems that by the time of the prophets, there may have been a more merciful way of handling adultery: divorce. There adulterer was divorced, and shamed  before the whole community, as a way of both punishing and correcting the sin. This precedence is alluded to in Hosea 2, Isaiah 50, and Jeremiah 3…though the prophets themselves are referring to the adultery of Israel against God. Second, the Law found in both Leviticus 20:10 and Deuteronomy 22:22-24 requires that there be two witnesses that can testify against the adulterers, and that both adulterers (as it takes two to tango) be stoned if convicted of the crime.

The religious leaders believe that they have this Jesus, this simpleton from Nazareth, in a proverbial pickle. They couldn’t be further from the truth. Jesus answers to them, “Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone.” Well, who is without sin? Not one person could rightfully throw the stone at this woman after that. But not just because we are all, theologically speaking, sinners. The people trying to trap Jesus were found to be committing the sin by their not following the Law in a just manner. First off, if there were any witnesses to her act of adultery, they did not bring these witnesses to Jesus. For all Jesus knows, this woman could be falsely accused. Second, they did not bring the person she committed adultery with. If she had committed adultery, the Law is quite clear that both her and her illicit partner need to be stoned. Where was he? These religious leaders were sinning by the very act of handling the trial the way they did, and Jesus knew it…as did they!

What’s most important is that in the face of the rigidity of the law, Jesus opts for grace, for humility, for compassion and for mercy. How often do we, like the religious leaders, uphold the law in a way that favors us over others? But, by the very act of doing so, we bring the law down upon our own heads. While it is easy for us to stand above others we think are wrong, we are wrong by standing above others as their judge, jury and executioner. Christ has called us to live by the heart of law, which is living in right relationship with God and with each other. While adultery does not live into the heart of the law because it breaks the covenantal bond within the marital relationship, neither does holding others to a standard that we ourselves cannot, and do not, live by.

Here is what Jesus is telling us. If we are to receive love, let us love. If we are to receive forgiveness, let us forgive. If we are to receive mercy, let us be merciful. If we are to receive compassion, let us be compassionate. If we are to receive respect, let us be respectufl. If we are to receive justice, let us live justly. For to live by the law is to die by the law. If we want to receive the law and all of the consequences of not following it, then we are on the right path when we judge others, for we will be judged according to the same standard with which we judge. Let us ever be mindful of that as we continue to live out our lives in the name of our righteous, holy and just God.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“One who lives in a glass house shouldn’t throw stones.” – Unknown

PRAYER
Lord, help me to be loving, merciful, graceful, compassionate, just and certainly humble. Amen.

Victims…Aren’t We All?

Read Revelation 3:1-6

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“But I, the LORD, search all hearts and examine secret motives. I give all people their due rewards, according to what their actions deserve.” (‭Jeremiah‬ ‭17‬:‭10‬ NLT)

movie-the-crow_00212772One of my favorite movies, on my endless list of movies, is a film called “The Crow.” It is starring Brandon Lee, who was the son of the ever-famous Bruce Lee, and it was his definitive role as an actor. The story is about a man who was murdered, along with his fiancée, on the eve of their wedding day. Exactly one year later, Eric Draven is resurrected by a mysterious crow who brings him back in order to exact revenge against his murderers. The first one he goes after is a man nicknamed, “Tin Tin.” He’s nicknamed that because his weapon of choice is a knife, and he’s really good at using them. When he runs into Tin Tin, he screams out, “Murderer”, and reminds “Tin Tin” of how he raped and killed his fiancée.

Tin Tin, of course, attacks the now ghostly Eric and comes at him  with his knives. He screams back at Eric, “Murder!?! Murder!?! Let me show you a little something about murder! It’s fun, it’s easy, and you’re gonna learn all about it!” Pulling you two of his blades, he mockingly says to Eric, “I’d like you to meet two friends of mine. We never miss.” But, as I am sure you can guess if you’ve never seen the film, Tin Tin does miss. Eric deflects one blade, and then the other. Tin Tin pulls out yet another blade and throws it at Eric who catches it and throws it back, hitting the gangster in the shoulder blade and tacking him to the wall. Tin tin, now broken, bleeding and frightened begins to breathe heavily and starts to moan in pain as Eric approaches him. Then, picking up one of Tin Tin’s other knives, Eric says sardonically, “Victims; aren’t we all?” and then kills Tin Tin.

While this is a violent scene, I think it also bears a lot of truth as well. How many times in our lives have we felt victimized by someone or something? I am sure each of us can come up with countless examples of the times that we have been victimized. Yet, if I were to ask you how many times you’ve victimized others, I bet it wouldn’t be as easy of a question to answer. We are often so good at playing the victim, and extra quick to overlook the times that we are the victimizer. Sometimes, like Eric, we start off as the victim only to become the victimizer.

This devotion is not being written to assume that you, the reader, have ever played the victim, or that you’ve victimized others, or something in between those two. Nor is it defining victimization in any other way than the broad definition of intentionally bringing harm to another’s body, mind, emotions, and/or spirit. I think it is safe to say that we’ve all been on both sides of the victimization spectrum. What I hope this devotion does is cause you to introspectively reflect on whether you are the VICTIM or the VICTIMIZER and, depending on your answer, what are going to do about it? If you are the victim, are you going to lash out at others and become the victimizer? If you are the victimizer, are you going to continue down the destructive path of bringing harm to others, regardless of your reason for doing it?

Remember, we’ve all been victims at one point or another; it is never okay to become the victimizer! Remember, God sees us for who we really are and calls us to repent and to believe in Christ’s Good News of hope, healing and wholeness. If we are truly victims, God will not fail us nor abandon us; rather, God stands in solidarity with those who are oppressed and downtrodden. God seeks to restore them to healing and wholeness. With that said, if we are the victimizers then it is time for us to humble ourselves and turn to God’s way of LOVE and PEACE. It is there that we will find reconciliation, restoration and renewal. Let those with eyes see, let those with ears hear, and let those with hearts be transformed by LOVE.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“When you’re the victim of the behavior, it’s black and white; when you’re the perpetrator, there are a million shades of gray.” – Dr. Laura Schlessinger

PRAYER
Lord, open my ears, my eyes and my heart and give me the insight to see myself for who I am, so that I may change where I need to. Amen.

15 Ailments of the Church #1: Immortal, Immune, and Indispensable

Read Galatians 1:1-12

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“You will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand only through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe.” (Romans 11:19-20 NRSV)

FaceOfGodWell, it is Christmas Eve. It is the day that Christ was born. It is the day that you are probably expecting to find a writing on the little baby Jesus, silently asleep on the hay; however, that baby is never quite as quiet as we would like him to be. We often wish we could keep Jesus in his infantile form, right where we would like him, so that we can continue on doing the things as we have been without any questions or cause for self-reflection. But to bring you that silenced baby would be to NOT bring you Jesus.

Just the other day Pope Francis I gave a speech addressing a list of what he called “ailments of the curia.” The bishops and cardinals were not all too pleased to hear that list as it was directed at them, but it is a list that needs to be brought forward. It is not just a valid list for the administrators of the Holy See, but is a list that the Church as a whole could benefit from examining. So over the next seven and a half weeks, I will be addressing those 15 Ailments of the Church.

Ailment # 1: Feeling immortal, immune, or indispensable. Over the last 1500 or so years, the Church has been the center of community. The church had a say in all of communal life, from politics to family life, the church was the driving force behind it all. In times of celebration, in times of need, in times of confusion, in times of war, and in times of peace, people relied on the Church for support. As a result, the Church grew to a place of prominence, a place of pomp, and a place of power. It grew to see itself as immortal, immune and indispensable. As such, it bred a culture in which its leaders and its laypeople began to believe that their faith worldview and their church institution and themselves were indispensable and immune from the need to self-examination.

But that Church has since found itself wanting. A Church that once thought itself indispensable is finding less and less people seeking it out. In times of need, times of confusion, times of war, and times of peace, people are simply going elsewhere! Yet the attitude of indsipensiblitly is still prevelant in the church and still prevelant among its members. Within every church are the people that would see themselves as the “pillars” of the church. Such people see themselves as indispensable, as immune to accountability, and immortal. I wish I could get a dollar for everytime I heard the phrase, “this is my church.” What’s worse is that those who think themselves to be indispensable often view and treat others as though they are dispensable.

I tell you the truth, the Church is NOT yours! Nor is it mine! The church doesn’t belong to the United Methodists, the Presbyterians, the Evangelicals, the Baptists, the Roman Catholics, the Lutherans, the Episcopalians, or any other denominations! Behold, the Church is the body of Christ and, as such, belongs to Christ! We are not immune to accountability, nor are we immortal gods who can hold ourselves higher than anyone else, either within the church or outside of it. Remember that Christ is with those on the fringes and Christ is the voice of the silenced, the oppressed, the disenfranchised, the neglected. Christ lived the life of one who was viewed to be dispenisble, and he resurrected from dispensibility into immortality. Remember that God exalts the humble and  humbles the proud. Today’s challenge is for you to humble yourself and live your life as a part of Christ’s exalted body, equal with all of the other parts. Don’t forget that you, too, were grafted into this tree of faith and that a grafted branch can just as quickly be removed. Christ calls us to humility on this Christmas Eve.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:12 NRSV)

PRAYER
Lord, I humble myself before you. Gift me with the ability of self-reflection so that I may grow in your love and grace. Amen.