Tag Archives: Injustice

God’s People, part 99: Ezekiel

Read Ezekiel 2

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear.” (2 Timothy‬ ‭4:3‬ ‭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.

img_1078Part 99: Ezekiel. The prophet Ezekiel is one of the most influential prophets in the Old Testament, especially in Christian Theology. All that we know about the prophet comes from what what was written of himself in his eponymous book of prophecy, which records six of his prophetic visions.The prophet in the book is identified as Ezekiel, son of Buzi, a priest. Thus, Ezekiel was born into a priestly lineage. His visions began when he was 30 years old.

In his visions, Ezekiel is referred to as “son of man” and he is in direct dialog with God, who “appeared like a man” and was seated on a throne. Recognizing it was the LORD, Ezekiel fell prostrate, face down to the floor. Then the voice of the LORD spoke out to him and told him that he was to go to the people of Israel and warn them of all that God was going to show him. The reason he had to “go” to the people of Israel was because he was the first wave of exiles that were taken when Babylon deposed Jehoiachin as king and replaced by Zedekiah. Thus, at the time of his visions, Ezekiel was living in exile in Babylon on the bank of the Kebar River.

In his visions, he is shown the destruction of Jerusalem and the destruction of God’s Holy Temple. He is shown many of the inhabitants of the city and surrounding area being destroyed by a foreign invader. There was much bloodshed and much horror throughout the city. On top of that, Ezekiel also prophesied that the surrounding nations that had tormented Israel throughout the centuries would also be destroyed. Those nations included the Ammonites, Moabites, Edomites, Philistines, the Phoenecian cities of Tyre and Sidon, as well as Egypt.

Of course, Ezekiel’s prophecy also had a promise of redemption as well. God was allowing these things to happen to a wicked people who had long forgot their God, evidenced by their corruption, oppressive regimes, and execution of injustice. God promised that, one day, Jerusalem and the Temple would be rebuilt and the glory of the LORD would return to be with God’s people forever.

As is usually the case, the people were too outraged at Ezekiel’s message despite the hopeful message. God warned him of this, “You must give them my messages whether they listen or not. But they won’t listen, for they are completely rebellious!” (Ezekiel‬ ‭2:7‬ ‭NLT‬‬) Indeed, God was right, the did not listen. Ezekiel spent his prophetic career incessantly prophesying and acting out the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple; however, the rulers and leaders ignored his warning and opposed him for speaking out.

The truth is that people in power don’t like to be told that what they are doing is wrong. Instead of listening to God’s prophets and messengers, they tend to put forth their own prophets and messengers who falsely counter the truth in order to maintain the status quo. To people in power, the truth of God’s Kingdom is inconvenient because it means that they no longer get to be on top. In the Kingdom of God, all people will be on equal footing and a level playing field, for all people were created equally and are loved equally by God.

We see this resistance to truth in our own day and age. Just recently, the United States of America’s Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, used the Apostle Paul’s words in Romans 13:1 to justify the enactment and enforcement of the evil, cruel, and harmful policy of separating children from their parents. These people are not only immigrants crossing our borders illegally; rather, many of them have legal asylum status. With the Church (e.g. Roman Catholics, United Methodists, Presbyterians (PCUSA), Southern Baptists, and even the Rev. Franklin Graham) rising up against this policy, Sessions misused Scripture to justify what he and the adminstration are doing. This not the first time politicians have wrongly quoted that Scripture to justify their evil, for it was that Scripture and others that long kepts black people enslaved.

Let us, right now, remember that God sends prophets for a reason. The prophets’ words may be harsh sounding, they may pierce like daggers and feel ungracious; however, they are absolutely words of grace meant to give us pause and guide us to repentance when we are wrong. If we humble ourselves and heed the warnings given to us, we will avert many of the destructive consequences of our sins; however, if we don’t repent and give our lives over to God through Jesus Christ our Savior, we are destined to face an eternal God who knows our hearts and knows the vastness of our sins. Let us, in the name of Jesus Christ, repent and stand up for justice so that all may know the glory of the LORD.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” —Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

PRAYER

Lord, help me to be humble and honest about my sins. Forgive me, in Jesus name, and strengthen me to stand up for righteousness and justice. Amen.

God’s People, part 93: Joel

Read Joel 2

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“’In the last days,’ God says, ‘I will pour out My Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams.’” (Acts 2:17 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.

Joel_-Michelangelo--58b5ce175f9b586046cfa311Part 93: Joel. As with the previous prophets, this devotion cannot really be focused on any character flaws the prophet might or might not have had. We know very little about Joel. Scholars are not even entirely sure what period the prophetic book was written in. As such, I am going with the traditional dating of the book the pre-Exilic time of the first Temple. With that said, please note that some scholars believe that it was written in the post-Exilic time of the Second Temple.

So, instead of focusing on the prophet himself, I am going to focus on the prophecy and on the character flaws of Judah (as a people) that led to the woes described in the Book of Joel. This is happening because there is zero biographical information given about the prophet in the book itself and I cannot begin to make character flaws up where they may or may not have existed. Prophets exist to hold the people accountable and to turn people back to God. Thus, the flaws that existed in the Kingdom of Judah are what led to Joel having to prophesy in the first place.

Joel is a rather short book that consists of 3 chapters (in the Christian Bible) or 4 chapters in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible). It is the same exact text, word for word; however, the Christian compilers divided up the text into 3 chapters, whereas the Jewish compilers divided it up into 4 chapters. Keep in mind that, when these scrolls were written, there were not originally divided up into chapters or verses.

In Joel, the prophet laments the fact that Judah has experienced a great locust plague and severe drought, which affected Judah’s agriculture, farming, and even the supplies for agricultural offerings in the Temple. Joel also compares the locusts to God’s army, being sent by God to punish Judah for their sins. This comparison has led some Hebrew scholars to interpret the locust plague itself metaphorically, rather than literally. In this interpretation, the locusts are the enemy kingdoms that are constantly “swarming” and attacking Judah.

Following the lament, Joel calls Judah to national repentance in the face of God’s judgment. Joel proclaims that God will one day redeem Judah and will restore prosperity to the land. He also prophesies that one day God will pour out God’s spirit on all people (a clear prophecy of Christian Pentecost where the Holy Spirit entered and empowered Christians). One day, God’s justice will reign supreme and the enemies of God will perish and Israel will be justified!

How does this relate to us? Being that this is directed at the kingdom of Judah, let us look at “us” as a people. Keep in mind that I am writing in the United States of America, and so when I say “us” I am referring to the U.S.A. With that said, this can be applied to any nation or kingdom.

Let us look at our own nation. We are a people that perpetually claim our own greatness and we look to God in prayer and in song for God’s blessing. Yet, are we a godly and righteous nation? Are we just? Are we a people who mirror the Kingdom of God, or a people who mirror the world? I think, if we are honest, we will find out that we are a people who fall quite short of God’s standard.

We idolize other “things” above God. Don’t believe me, go into a house of worship on Sunday morning and see how many people are there. Worship attendance is declining because people are finding meaning in other things, whether they be sports, work, televangelists, or even sleeping in. Whatever we prioritize are ultimately what we worship.

In the last couple of decades we’ve declined from a people who prided itself as a melting pot of diversity to a people who are calling for “walls to be built” so that we can keep “those people” out. In a neighboring community to my own, this manifested itself in a high school basketball game where the “white” people in the audience booed at the Hispanic/Latino players and shouted, “Build that wall” and “go home.”

I could go on and on, but we have fallen far from where God has called us. How can we expect God to bless us when we are not honoring God? How can we expect good to come out of our actions when our actions are evil? Joel’s lament and call for national repentance is not just written for the people of Judah; rather, it is written for us as well. Of course, this message is NEVER popular, but I pray that people heed it and that the heart of our nation turns back to God.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
There can be no forgiveness for those who don’t believe they need any.

PRAYER
Lord, forgive me for the part I have played regarding injustice. Turn me back to you and guide me so that I have the strength to stand up for what is righteous and just. Amen.

God’s People, part 17: Tamar

Read Genesis 38

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“And may the Lord give you descendants by this young woman who will be like those of our ancestor Perez, the son of Tamar and Judah.” (Ruth‬ ‭4:12‬ ‭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 17: Tamar. There are many strange stories in the Bible, perhaps one of those stories at the top of the list is the story of Tamar. There are many elements of the story that are strange, and many elements that get highlighted by antitheists and skeptics alike to prove that God is nothing more than a fairytale dreamt up by simple minded ancients seeking to explain why things happen the way they do. Yet, like all things, one must first understand the context first before one can leap ahead to any such conclusion.

Tamar, like all of the women we have looked at thus far, is a woman of her times. She was born into a highly patriarchal society that valued the men over the women. What’s more, a woman who could not (for whatever reason) produce heirs to the male lineage of the family, were of no use to the patriarchal family structure. On top of that, any woman who could not produce children was seen to be under God’s curse (since this was her “natural” function and reason of exisiting) and was considered a stain upon her marriage and a shame upon her family.

Tamar’s case was slightly different, because it wasn’t that she was barren and unable to have children; rather, it was that her husband died before she could conceive a child. In that day and age, if such circumstances happened, the woman was to sleep with the next oldest brother of the husband so that the woman could bear a child. This was not so much out of courtesy to the woman (for what woman would want to have sex with her husband’s brother in normal circumstances), but a courtesy to the deceased husband who would not be able to have an heir of his own.

So, Tamar was married off to Onan, the second oldest brother; however, Onan didn’t want Tamar to have his brother Er’s children, he wanted his own kids. So he performed what is known as coitus interruptus or, as people know it today, the “pull out” method of birth control. In other words, he was having sex with his brother’s wife but “pulling out” before he could ejaculate and impregnate her (too much information, I know). The Bible says that, for doing this, Onan was seen as being wicked in the judgment of God and died prematurely.

Good news for Tamar, right? Wrong. Judah (the same Judah who was involved in selling his brother Joseph off as a slave) refused to have Tamar married off to his youngest son, for he saw her as being under God’s curse. In other words, rather than seeing his sons for what they were, namely wicked in God’s sight, he instead placed the blame on Tamar who had done absolutely nothing wrong. Tamar was told to go back to her parents home (which would have brought her “shame” upon them) and to wait until the youngest brother could marry her; however, as was indicated above, Judah had no intentions of ever letting his youngest marry this woman.

Tamar waited and waited, but Judah’s youngest son Shelah never came calling. This is when Tamar took things into her own hands. Knowing that Judah was recently widowed himself, she disguised herself as a prostitute and deceived Judah, who did not recognize her because she was not wearing her “widow’s clothes” that allowed men to know she had been married and also had herself veiled. When he called upon her “services”, she slept with him and conceived a child by him, thus eliminating her shame.

The question here for us is, why did Tamar have to prostitute herself out in order to have children? Was this fair, or right, or just? Prostitution is obviously sinful because it is the selling of sex, which is sacred, to make a profit out of giving another physical pleasure and because it exploits human beings and uses them as a means to an end (e.g. sexual pleasure). Yet, what about Judah’s sin? What about the sin of discarding a human being as worthless? What about the sin of patriarchy, which values one sex over the other? As can be seen in this story, God does not stand for such injustice and Tamar is the one who is honored by God, while Judah is the one who is ashamed.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

In the face of patriarchy, it is a brave act indeed for both men and women to embrace, rather than shame or attempt to eradicate, the feminine.” – Alanis Morissette 

PRAYER

Lord, help me to be upright and just, not valuing anyone more than another for any reason, whether it be their sex, their gender, their color, their creed or any other thing. Amen.

Grim Grinning Ghosts

Read 1 Samuel 28:7-20

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant.” (Galatians 6:7 NLT)

clare-kramer-grave-dancers-movie-stills-mq-07 “When the crypt doors creak and the tombstones quake, spooks come out for a singing wake. Happy haunts materialize and begin to vocalize. Grim grinning ghosts come out to socialize.” Thus the song, “Grim Grinning Ghosts”, kicks off as one is winding down from the roof of Walt Disney World’s “The Haunted Mansion”, to the graveyard below, filled with ghostly ghouls and whisping spirits flying through the night sky. As a huge Disney fan, who will be at the parks this summer as well, “The Haunted Mansion” is without doubt my all-time favorite ride.

As most people know, I love horror movies and, in particular, I love a good ghost tale. One of my more favorite ghost movies is an independent film called, “Gravedancers”. I am not sure how many people realize this or not, but it is a fact that this film was inspired by Disney’s “The Haunted Mansion”, which is the favorite ride of the director/writer of the film. He has loved that ride since he was a child and the frightful fancies it induced.

In fact, it is the song from the famous ride, “Grim Grinning Ghosts” that the director drew the most inspiration from when coming up with the ghosts that were going to be haunting his film. Perhaps, the word “haunt” is an understatement when it comes to these ghosts. Take a long, uncomfortable look at the ghost pictured above. They go beyond creepy, to downright making your skin crawl at first sight.

Like all horror films, there is a certainly immorality present in all of the characters that causes the horror they go through to manifest in their lives. The ghosts that haunt them, no doubt, do so because they disregard their own moral compasses and act selfishly, with little regard to others (including the dead) in the process. Their sins literally come back to haunt them in ways that are both horrifying and unforgettable. Like, the images literally are etched into one’s mind after seeing this film.

One of the main moral failures that he characters display in this film, is the utter and total disregard of others. The story starts off with a group of college friends reuniting years after they had graduated in order to attend the funeral of one of their former friends. Following the funeral, they all go out drinking and end up taking their party to a cemetery because, well, excessive alcohol intake leads to some pretty nonsensical and irrational decisions and deeds.

At the cemetery, they open up a letter in a black envelope that has a poem in it, which beckons them to dance on the graves of the dead. To most sober people, this would sound like a bad idea just out of respect for the dead and their living, grieving, loved ones. But these characters (to avoid using a more pejorative word) think this would be a great way to celebrate their lives. So they dance and, in doing so, desecrate the graves of the dead, awakening the rage of some pretty vengeful and malicious spirits.

There’s something in this story for us to pull from. How often do we go about our lives, merely thinking of ourselves and our own. We call ourselves Godly people because we, typically, care for those we love and those who love us back. We call ourselves “good” people because there are “far worse” people than us out there; however, we are, admittedly, “not as good” as we could be. We measure the merit of our lifestyles by how much gratification it gives us, with often little to no regard for whether our lifestyles are impedeing and/or harming others, and we fight to keep the status quo so that the powers that be, so-to-speak, favor us over and above others.

While we may not be dancing on the graves of the dead, we are often living our lives in a way that dances on the lives of others, thus sealing their fate in terms of their suffering. We often are dancing on the living graves of the oppressed in order to enjoy the benefits that are afforded to us but not to others. In doing so, we are also simultaneously conjuring up grim grinning ghosts that come to haunt us in ways we could have never imagined.

Just take a look at all of the chaos and woes of society, and you will see the grim grinning ghosts that have been unearthed by the sins of a people who have forgotten to live justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God. What can we do about it? We can choose to begin to fight for justice, for equality, and for the peaceable Kingdom of God in our households, our communities, and our world. Through standing up for such ideals, and through self-reflection and contemplation, we can be holy agents of change.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The more enlightened our houses are, the more their walls ooze ghosts.” – Italo Calvino

PRAYER
Lord, empower me to recognize the ghosts I have unleashed in my life, and in the lives of others. Help me to stand true in your light in order to remove them once and for all. Amen.

Wrath of God, part 6

Read Ephesians 2:1-11

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” (Matthew 9:13 NRSV)

4456579If you have been reading this series of devotions on the wrath of God, we have certainly been dealing with a subject that most people avoid like the pestilences found in Egypt and Revelation. With good intentions perhaps, many clergy steer clear of talking about the wrath of God so as to not “scare people off” and/or because they themselves are uncomfortable with the topic. The very clergy who organized the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) have often focused on the “happy” and/or “positive” images of God, only to skip over many of the wrathful images.

Of course, there are some clergy and some Christians who ONLY focus on the wrath of God. These Christians often sit on their perches like hawks, looking down on whom they can throw the Bible at and whom they can warn of hellfire and damnation. Unfortunately, these Christians (and not the Scriptures) are largely responsible for scaring people off and for the bad image that God has received throughout the years. Equally as unfortunate, the silence of responsible theologians on the subject of God’s wrath have also served to be a detriment to the image of God because in the silence the unsilent extreme have been given an unfettered platform to define God through their theology.

It is because of the outspokenness of the Christian extreme and the silence of the more responsible Christian majority that anti-theists, and a growing number of people in our world, have come to reject God and some have even deemed religion to be an evil that the world needs to be rid of! For example, prominent anti-theist Richard Dawkins has written, “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” He also has written, “Religion is capable of driving people to such dangerous folly that faith seems to me to qualify as a kind of mental illness.”

Of course, while I respect Dr. Dawkins’ opinion, one could say that his simpleton, straw-man, and heavily skewed understanding of religion can and has led to dangerous folly as well (e.g. any communist nation, take your pick). So, in light of all the terrible things happening in this world, some of them indeed happening in the name of God and/or Allah, I have found it necessary to talk about God’s wrath and I feel is it fruitful for all people to wrestle with what “the wrath of God” really is.

For me, it can be summed up in this manner. The God we worship is the God who created all that is out of love and a desire to be in relationship with that creation. As such, it pains God to see creation suffer and it angers God to see creatures do harm to other creatures. God’s anger can be felt burning in the souls of humans as they witness suffering as a result of sin and evil. That anger is heard in the voices of those who protest against the injustices in the world. I would even say, dare I say it, that God’s anger can be heard through Richard Dawkins whose opinion has formed out of a disgust with religiously motivated ignorance and evil.

God’s wrath, on the other hand, is not something that GOD is bringing upon people! I want to make that clear. Yes, the Bible has articulated it that way, for sure! Yes, people tend to understand it that way; however, that understanding is also countered in the same Bible by the reality that the wrath that was experienced was brought about by the wickedness of humans. God does not punish, nor does God need to. Humans, far too often, punish themselves. Their wickedness brings destruction upon themselves and, unfortunately, upon the innocent as well.

Our God, on the other hand, is grace, mercy, compassion, justice, forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration. Our God, through prophets, humanitarians, and good Samaritans alike, is actively working to bring about hope, healing and wholeness in the world. God’s wrath is spoken through the voices of prophets, but the consequences are the result of human wickedness and NOT God.

The good news in all of this is that we serve a God who is EMPATHETIC to our suffering, a God who stands in solidarity with those suffering, rather than an aloof God who simply does not care God who simply doesn not exist. Like Elijah, like Isaiah, like Jeremiah, let us call upon our God in times of distress that we may be given strength to voice God’s anger and wrath, as well as God’s grace, forgiveness and reconciliation, to those who have strayed into wickedness.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The hallmark of intelligence is not whether one believes in God or not, but the quality of the processes that underlie one’s beliefs.” – Alister McGrath

PRAYER
Lord, help me to have the strength to speak against injustice, rather than remain silent. Amen.

Wrath of God, part 4

Read Genesis 19:1-16

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Do to [Babylon] as she has done to others. Double her penalty for all her evil deeds. She brewed a cup of terror for others, so brew twice as much for her.” (Revelation 18:6)

fall-of-babylon-640x426It was on Thursday, Sepetember 13, 2001 that the late Rev. Jerry Falwell carried a conversation with televangelist Pat Robertson regarding the worst terrorist attacks in U.S. history just two days earlier on 9/11. He said, “The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularise America, I point the finger in their face and say, ‘You helped this happen.'”

Wow! Go ahead, read that quote again. Let it sink in. Did God really send terrorists, or “allow terrorists to succeed” in killing nearly 3,000 people (most of whom were not abortionists or ACLU members, many of whom were not gay or lesbian, and most of whom were not pagans) because such people are fighting for the secularization of the country? Does God really operate in such a morally questionable way? This is the type of stuff that make the Bible and, in particular, the wrath of God so hard to navigate while trying to be a responsible theologian.

I am not quoting the late Rev. Falwell to judge him; but to continue to address the wrath of God and how that operates in the Biblical narrative. First, I would like to state that God’s wrath is almost always poured out upon nations (with some exceptions). Rev. Falwell’s line of thinking that God could be pouring judgment and wrath upon America is certainly not unfounded in a literal interpretation of Scripture. In Exodus, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Jonah, and many others we see God actively calling nations out for their wickedness and we see God’s wrath poured out on them for their wickedness. In Revelation, we see God’s wrath being poured out on the beast, which represents the Roman Empire.

But the question is, what angers God so much that God’s wrath boils up and over? Time and time again, when we look in the Bible, we see that what God despises the most, what sets God off in anger and wrath, is injustice! When the privileged abuse their power for their own gain, when those in power lord it over those who are powerless, God gets angry. When people are oppressed, enslaved, mistreated, disregarded, impoverished, forgotten, manipulated and/or exploited, God is incensed.

Even in the instance of Sodom and Gomorrah, the wrath was the result of all of the men of the city trying to rape the very messengers God sent to warn the cities. While rape involves a sexual act, it is more of an abusive act of power than it is one of sex. And God destests such injustice. God’s wrath on Sodom and Gomorrah was not over consensual homosexuality, as it is often misinterpreted, but rather about the kind of moral depravity that the entire city was consumed by…to the point that its citizens would rape and have their way with strangers and aliens, just because they could!

Let us not fall into the moral tar pit of judgment toward people who are different than us in sexual identity, in gender, in political affiliation, in ideology, or in any such thing. That is the pathway of sin and, ultimately, can lead to evil (e.g. Orlando Massacre). When reflecting on God’s wrath, we must understand the heart of God. The Bible makes it clear to us, over and over again, that God detests injustice in all forms, and God’s heart is with the downtrodden and the oppressed and that God’s wrath comes against the SYSTEMS that work their hardest at keeping the oppressed “in their place.”

The question for us is this, does God’s anger burn through us at the injustice we see toward all who are oppressed and/or discriminated against? Or do we align with the SYSTEM in its discrimination? Do we fight for all to be treated equal in the system and under the law, or do we want to keep the under-privileged in their places so that we can hold on to our privilege and power? Reflect upon this and allow the conviction of God to stir up honest answers to those questions, for honest answers lead to heavenly transformation.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“If everyone howled at every injustice, every act of barbarism, every act of unkindness, then we would be taking the first step towards a real humanity.” – Nelson DeMille

PRAYER
Lord, help me to see the injustice that I perpetuate so that I may eliminate it and fight against it in the world around me. Amen.

Wrath of God, part 1

Read 1 Kings 21:1-29

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
God is a righteous judge, and a God who has indignation every day. (Psalms 7:11 NRSV)

lightning-storm-at-sea-wallpaper-2Anger. It is a natural response to things that not only “upset” us, but things that shake us to our very core. We as humans get angry at a lot of different things for a whole host of different reasons. We get angry when we experience injustice, when we lose loved ones, when we aren’t validated, when we feel out of control, when we feel threatened, and when we are stuck in a world of uncertainty.

I am not referring to petty anger, I am not referring to someone getting “mad” because they didn’t get their way, or because they missed their favorite show, or because their best friends suddenly became super annoying. I am not referring to any sort of petty, temper-tantrum, stubborn anger that wells up out of self-absorption.

Rather, I am referring to the deep, gutteral, extremely emotional, often times physical reaction our souls, minds, and bodies have to the evil in the world that surrounds. This week we do not have to look far or wide to get a sense of what I am talking about. The mass shooting that took place in an LGTBQ nightclub in Orlando, Fl and claimed the lives of 50 people is such an example.

When I first heard of the shooting in the early morning of Saturday, June 12th, I was at first deeply saddened and, if I am honest, a bit numb. How many times are we going to have wake up to hear that more people have been shot, stabbed, and/or maimed? How many times are we going to see images of bloodied, frantic, and devastated people in our streets? While there has always been violence in the world, and in United States, this is not the country or world I remember growing up in.

Of course, others in our country have a far different and more painful memory of the past than I do. Plenty of people in our country have experienced violence and discrimination against themselves because of their race, their gender, their sexual orientation, their age, and their ability. The more I thought about the mass shooting, those suffering as a result of it, and those suffering throughout our country and world because of senseless violence and hatred, the more angry I became.

I am angry that people perpetuate the evil of hatred, of bigotry, and of violence. I am angry that our politicians keep perpetuating an evil divisiveness in their rhetoric toward one another. I am angry that we, as human beings, fail to see the humanity, and the divine image, in one another. I am, pardon the phrase, pissed off that my children have to live in perpetual anxiety of the world around them…that their innocence is gone forever. I am angry.

Most people can accept that I am angry. People get angry, right? That is normal and natural, and the anger above is called for. But what about when we talk about God getting angry. That begins to make us uncomfortable doesn’t it? I recognize there is a flipside to this, but for now I will stick with this side of the topic. For those of us who are in the mainline tradition of Christianity, we get very uncomfortable talking about God’s anger and/or the wrath of God.

Perhaps it is because we have seen evil wrought in the name of God. Perhaps it is because we have heard egregious theology from the mouths of Christians that explain natural disasters, diseases and terrorist attacks to be the wrath of God on a “Godless nation.” Whatever the case may be, we find it challenging to except a God of anger, judgment and wrath.

Today, I beg you to pause and reflect on this. What is the alternative? At what cost do we avoid paying attention to the anger and the wrath of God? Would we prefer an apathetic and aloof God that is disconnected from the painful and horrible realities of evil in the world. The fact that we have a God who DOES get angry, who DOES seek to weed out injustice (aka wrath), means that we have a God who is passionately in love with us, who is actively grieving with those who are in grief, who is actively hurting with those who are hurt, and who is actively seeking to put an end to ALL evil, sin and suffering! Instead of ignoring God’s anger and wrath, let’s deal with it and try to gain a responsible understanding of it.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
There’s nothing wrong with anger provided you use it constructively.
PRAYER
Lord, teach me to trust that, even in your anger, you ARE LOVE! Amen.

THE CHRISTIAN MANIFESTO, Part 8: Oppressed

Read Luke 4:13-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Don’t be surprised if you see a poor person being oppressed by the powerful and if justice is being miscarried throughout the land. For every official is under orders from higher up, and matters of justice get lost in red tape and bureaucracy.” (Ecclesiastes 5:8)

oppression11Recently, a fellow colleague and friend of mine got into a conversation about the scripture passage I was preaching on at the church that I serve. The passage is Luke 4:14-21 and is on Jesus’ first recorded visit to the synagogue in Nazareth following his baptism and wilderness experience. In that passage, Jesus is handed the scroll of Isaiah and he opens it up to the following passage: “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, for He has anointed Me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the LORD’s favor has come.” Inspired by the conversation, I have decided to devote a series of devotions on this particular passage, which has become known as “The Christian Manifesto”.

Part 8: Oppressed. In our world, it is so very easy to see oppression just about everywhere we turn. We don’t even have to look far or wide. We merely, have to turn on the news to see oppression spill forward into our homes. Stories of people killing others because they are of a different creed, tribe, race, or all of the above. People enslaving women and children and subjegating them to all sorts of horrific and oppressive conditions. Perhaps we know of people who are in abusive relationships who, in the context of such abuse, are subjected to an oppressive living environment. Sadly, some have even found the church to be a place of oppression and subjegation.

The truth is that, no matter where we are, if there are people congregated and organized, there is bound to be oppression in one way or the other. Oppression happens when one who is in a position of power lords it over those over whom they are in power. In other words, oppression happens when power is misused and abused. Whether it be in the work enviornment, in a domestic situation, in schools, in churches, in governments, or wherever it is occuring, oppression always involves an abuse of power. You know the phrase, “absolute power corrups absolutely”; too often, good people corrupted by power become monsters and demons.

With that said, oppression is pernicious. It does not go away once the oppressor is removed; rather, oppression begets more oppression. Often times, the oppressed end up becoming the oppressor. Having risen out of being oppressed, the victim seeks to put themselves into a place of power so as to never fall victim to the abuse they endured in the past. Other times, the victim acts in an oppressive manner because it is learned behavior and it is all they have ever known, What ever the case, be it self-preservation or ignorance, the oppressed will often morph into the oppressor and the ugly, nasty cycle will continue.

Most, if not all, of us have been on both sides of the oppressed/oppressor divide. We’ve all, no doubt, been in situations where we have been abused or where power had been lorded over us in a way that made us feel week, vulnerable, threatened, and trapped. With that said, there are times (even if seemingly minor) that we have been of abusing the power that we have over others. Perhaps in our familial relationships, or in our professional relationships, or in friendships, or in our communities. The point of this is not to point the finger, but to spark a new and more wholesome self-awareness so that we can move forward from where we are to where God is calling us to be. As can be seen in the Christian Manifesto, Christ was anointed by God to set the oppressed free, which means that Christ has both set you free from being oppressed as well as from the oppression of being the oppressor. What’s more, just as Christ has begun the work of freeing the oppressed, so too we Christians are called to carry on the work of eliminating oppression and injustice from our homes, from our communities, from our world and from our midst. The task is set before you as surely as Christ is with you. Amen.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
PRAYER
Lord, end all oppression and make me a part of the solution and reconciliation process. Amen.

 

THE CHRISTIAN MANIFESTO, Part 6: Captives

Read Luke 4:14-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32 NLT)

LA5561-001
Man with hands chained above head, high section (toned B&W)

Recently, a fellow colleague and friend of mine got into a conversation about the scripture passage I was preaching on at the church that I serve. The passage is Luke 4:14-21 and is on Jesus’ first recorded visit to the synagogue in Nazareth following his baptism and wilderness experience. In that passage, Jesus is handed the scroll of Isaiah and he opens it up to the following passage: “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, for He has anointed Me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the LORD’s favor has come.” Inspired by the conversation, I have decided to devote a series of devotions on this particular passage, which has become known as “The Christian Manifesto”.

Part 6: The Captives. Standing in the Synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus read the passage from Isaiah slowly and deliberately to the people gathered around. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for God has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.” This was a message that, at least in the moment, was resonating with a people who had been under foreign occupation since the days of Assyria and Babylon. This time around their oppressors were Rome and the Jewish people were looking for the Messiah to come and save the day. This text in Isaiah had long been seen as the promise of the coming of the deliverer, the Messiah who was both anointed King and the liberator of the people Israel. Could this Jesus, this carpenter from their own village, really be that Messiah? They had heard of the great and amazing miracles and signs he had performed around Galilee, and they were hoping he’d prove his worth and identity here.

Jesus continued, “God has sent me to proclaim that the captives be released.” There were plenty of captives, for sure! The people in Nazareth knew that. If Rome or their puppet Tetrarch Herod Antipas had it out for you, you either ended up captive, put to the sword or, worse yet, crucified. Just a short while before Jesus was born, King Herod (Antipas’ father), had 2,000 Galileeans crucified for rebelling against his rule. John the Baptist, the one who baptized Jesus in the Jordan, had become a critic of Herod Antipas’ and his wife. As a result, Herod had him arrested and, ultimately, beheaded. Yes, there were many prisoners who were looking for the day that the Lord’s Messiah would come and give them their freedom. The people in that synagogue were no doubt waiting for the day when the Messiah would come and set captive Israel free.

Yet, as the people of the Synagogue were about to find out, Jesus didn’t just have prisoners of Rome and Herod in mind, nor did he see the role of Messiah in quite the same way that they did. It was true that he was purposefully reading that passage in Isaiah 61, and it was true that he was proclaiming to them that he was the Messiah and that he was, in their hearing, fulfilling the words of the prophet. Yet, what Jesus meant by those words was not limited to the political captives of Rome or Herod. Nor was it limited to the releasing of captive Israel from Roman and Herodian oppression; rather, Jesus was about to fulfill the words of Isaiah, by freeing Israel from being captive to themselves. They were captive to their own biases, to the suffering of the “least of these” around them, and to all who were captive in any sense of the word.

Jesus came to liberate people through truth and awareness. Using the truth, and his example of servant-leadership, Jesus brings liberation to the people who are held captive by their social status. Jesus liberates the people who are held captive by their sins (and which one of us aren’t)? He came to proclaim release for the captives of elitism, of self-righteousness, of pride, of hatred, of bigotry, of hypocrisy, or discrimination, of social injustice and oppression, and of systemic evil. In other words, there is no limit to the understanding that Jesus had of what it meant to be captive. What’s more, if the captives of sin would accept such freedom in Christ, they would be transformed into liberators themselves, working alongside Christ to bring release to all captives in the world (both literal and spiritual). Christ is calling us to be freed by the truth, and to work for the release of all of the captives in our communities and beyond.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin.” – Jesus of Nazareth (John 8:34 NLT)
PRAYER
Lord, set me free from the bondage that holds me from doing your will in working toward the liberation of others. Amen.

The Prophet’s Call

Read Amos 5:11-24

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Those who exploit the powerless anger their maker, while those who are kind to the poor honor God.” (Proverbs 14:31 CEB)

US-Pope-Francis-Congress.JPTwo weeks ago, America was tuned into the 24 hour news cycle. It wasn’t because of some nefarious criminal, or some horrendous crime. It wasn’t because some celebrity was getting married or that some other celebrity was getting divorced. There were no major scandals, and for the first time in I am not sure how long, the news wasn’t very negative at all. Why was this? Because Pope Francis I was visiting the United States of America for the very first time. He started off in Washington D.C., headed from there to New York City, and finally ended up in Philadelphia. The news, and the country, could not get enough of it!

With that said, not ALL of the news was positive. All of the commentators seemed happy that the Pope was here and they were praising him and his papacy; however, with that said, some commentators objected to some of Pope Francis’s stances. Some disagreed with his stance on climate change, while others disagreed with his stance on capital punishment. Some were astounded that the Pope would come to the U.S.A and talk about the injustice found within the golden calf we call capitalism. Some were upset he interjected in our ongoing immigration debate.

“With all due respect to the Holy Father,” I heard one commentator state, “he really should stick with things of a religious nature and leave the politics to the politicians. He’s the head of the church, and while at the Vatican he is also the head of state, America is not a theocracy and he is out of his league speaking in politics here.” Some commentators opined that the Pope didn’t understand capitalism in American and that he only knew capitalism to be as it was in his country of Argentina: crony capitalism (as if that doesn’t exist here too).

Hearing all of the debates going back and forth made me question, was the Pope out of line for speaking out politically against things he felt were wrong, unjust and in need of change? Should a religious and/or spiritual leader simply keep to “religious” things and leave politics to the politicians? Of course the answer is both yes…and NO! Let me address “yes” first. If a religious leader is putting themselves out into the political sphere to garner political points or to receive political gain, then obviously that religious leader is acting inappropriately. If the religious leader is pushing an inherently political agenda for the purpose of getting a specific person elected, or to push his/her congregation to endorse a specific candidate, I will concede that the religious leader is in the wrong.

Yet, I object the claim that religious leaders should stick to religion and leave the politics to the politicians, because that inherently disregards what religion is and it denies the very station that religious leaders and prophets (Jesus included) have taken in society. You cannot divorce religion from politics, just because a religious leader’s message is inconvenient to one’s agenda. The fact is, if a society is acting unjustly, then it is the religious leaders duty to speak out against that injustice. That isn’t political…IT’S RELIGIOUS.

Religion literally means to reconnect or rejoin together. It is the reconnecting of our relationship with God and with our neighbors. It’s all about relationships. Therefore, if a society is in moral decline and/or if there is injustice and oppression within it, then it is counteracting the call of the Spirit to be in right relationship with God and neighbor. It is also hindering others from doing the same. It is a religious person’s duty, it is their obligation to speak out on those subjects no matter how inconvenient those truths might be. That can be done without naming people, without any hidden agenda and certainly without bashing or endorsing candidates; however, the faithful are called to stand up against oppression and injustice. As I see it, Pope Francis is leading the way. Don’t scoff, but join him in ending injustice.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” – Amos, Jewish prophet (circa 750’s BC)

PRAYER
Lord, let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. Strengthen me to speak your words of truth to the power. Amen.