Tag Archives: Israel

God’s People, part 78: Uzziah

Read 2 Chronicles 26

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Asa was the father of Jehoshaphat. Jehoshaphat was the father of Jehoram. Jehoram was the father of Uzziah.” (Matthew 1:8 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.

Rembrandt van Rijn, 1606-1669; King Uzziah Stricken with Leprosy (?)Part 78: Uzziah.  Uzziah, as he was known to the author of 2 Chronicles, or Azariah as he was known to the author of 2 Kings, was king in the ancient kingdom of Judah. He was 16 years old, if you can imagine that, when he became king. The first 24 years of his reign he shared as co-regent with his father, King Amaziah. The remaining 28 years following his father’s death he ruled as the sole king of Judah. Thus, King Uzziah was ruler of Judah for a total of 52 years. Quite a reign for a king in the ancient world.

Both 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles state that Uzziah had ruled Judah well and that he had “what was right in the sight of the LORD.” The Chronicler (aka the person/people who wrote 1 and 2 Chronicles) wrote that the king followed the instruction of a spiritual menor named Zechariah, not to be confused with the prophet who wrote the eponymous book in the Hebrew Scriptures. According to the Chronicler, Zechariah imparted the visions and deep respect of the LORD to the king.

While this spiritual mentor lived, Uzziah sought the guidance of God through Zechariah. He declared war against the Philistines, the Arabs of Gur, and the Meunites. He was able to get the latter group to pay Judah an annual tribute in order to maintain peace. As a result of this, he had become a very powerful and influential king the his fame spread to even Egypt. His army was massive, his fortifications were improved upon, and Judah was a force to be reckoned with.

As a result, the king’s pride and ego grew with his power and fame. This should not be surprising for it is nothing new. His pride and his ego led to his ultimate downfall. He wrongfully entered the sanctuary of the LORD, where only the high priest was permitted to enter, and personally burned incense on God’s altar. The high priest, along with eighty other brave priests, called him out on his egotistical sin. They told him to get out of God’s sanctuary, but the king was furious and refused to listen.

As a result, he broke out with leprosy, an infectious skin disease that rendered him unfit to rule, unfit to live in the palace, and unclean (which would have banned him from the Temple altogether). His son, Jotham of Judah, took over as “co-regent”. Though his father was still seen as king to the end of his life, it was his son who really began to rule at that point onward. Uzziah’s pride got the best of him; however, he was still one of God’s chosen kings and one of God’s people. The proof of this would come approximately 738 years when, as Matthew records, Uzziah’s descendant was born. That descendant, of course, was Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah, the Son of God.

Let us learn a lesson from King Uzziah. We, who are God’s people, find ourselves empowered by the Holy Spirit when we are open to the guidance and the presence of the LORD. With that said, when we allow our pride and/or our egos to take the place of God, we can find ourselves facing unintended consequences for our corrupted hearts and actions. Those consequences are brought on by ourselves; however, they do not remove us from the grace, the love, and the ultimate mercy of our Lord and Savior. Let us be a people who, rather than go down the hard road of unintended consequences, keep our egos in check and remain fully dependent on our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes [people] as angels.” – Saint Augustine

PRAYER
Lord, humble me and fill me with your Holy Spirit so that I may grow in my dependence in you and rely on your guidance to lead me to where you are calling. Amen.

God’s People, part 39: The Levite

Read Judges 19

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” (Romans 3:23 NLT)

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

LeviteConcubinePart 38: The Levite. This is one of those rare instances that a male character is not named in the Bible. While this is not uncommon for minor women characters, most of the male subjects in the Biblical stories are named and, when they are not, it is usually because they are just THAT bad. Like Harry Potter, such people are “they who shall not be named.” Pharaoh is one such character who is only known by his title and role in Egypt.

The Levite in Judges 19 is another one of those characters and, quite honestly, his story is that of a horror story. It is a macabre fest filled with stuff that would send Stephen King running away in sheer fright, and would send shivers down the spine of Edgar Allan Poe. The story is repulsive, twisted, and completely random. It is also one of those texts that have people up in arms over the “violence” in the Bible.

Prior to dealing with the story, we need to first understand what a Levite is. If you recall, many devotions back, we discussed Jacob/Israel and his 12 sons (not counting Joseph) who became the 12 tribes of Israel. Levi was one of those 12 sons and his tribe. Out of that tribe descended Aaron, brother of Moses, who became the first “high priest”. From that point forward, all “levites” were dedicated to the priesthood and were set apart for leading the Israelites in worshiping the God of Israel.

So, it is important for you to realize that this unnamed “Levite” is a priest. This priest, while traveling, takes a woman to be his concubine or mistress. That sounds priestly, doesn’t it? Upon traveling home, the priest decides to stop off at a town along the way called Gibeah. While there, an old man invited them in to stay at his home; however, trouble was brewing and what happens next is sure to curdle the blood at the very thought.

The townspeople formed a mob and came to the house of the old man, demanding that he hand over the priest so that they could rape him. This narrative is not all that different than what happened to Lot and his family. Refusing to do so, the old man instead offered the mob his own virgin daughter and his guest’s mistress, so that they could rape them instead. For raping the priest would be “evil.”

The mob wanted none of that. So, Levite (out of what I can only imagine was fear) pushed his mistress out the door and toward the mob. The author than writes, “The men of the town abused her all night, taking turns raping her until morning. Finally, at dawn they let her go” (Judges 19:25 NLT). How horrifying, right? How can a priest, a person of God, do such a cowardly and terrible act?

Well, that is not the worst of the story. At daybreak, the raped and battered woman returned the priest, who found her unconscious at the doorstep. He commanded her to get up and get going (as they were going to continue traveling onward), but she did not respond. So, he put her body up on his donkey and brought her home. Once he arrived, he butchered her body into twelve pieces and then sent a piece of her body to each of the twelve tribes of Israel. Who knows if the woman was dead already or not, as the text never specifies.

This is a truly gruesome and greuling narrative. Apart from those who have seriously read the Bible, it is unlikely most Christians even know it is in there. Yet there it is, in black and white. Again, I want to remind you, the reader, that this man was a priest. He was supposed to be a representative of God, yet he chose to save himself and the household he was staying in by sending his concubine out to be raped and battered.

I am not sure what the point of this story was, except perhaps to remind the reader of just how sinful people had gotten and how society was pushing closer and closer to the need of a “just ruler” who would keep the peace and execute justice throughout the land. This story reminds us that we live in a cruel and broken world; honestly, not even pastors or other Christian leaders are immune to the reality of sin and evil. Christians, leaders or not, are prone to sin and fall short of God’s glorious standard, just like the rest of humanity. Let us reflect on that, on our own propensity to sin and put ourselves first. Then let us turn to God in humility and penitent heart.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Sin is too stupid to see beyond itself.” – Alfred Lord Tennyson

PRAYER
Lord, have mercy on me a sinner. Create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me. Amen.

God’s People, part 30: Judges

Read Joshua 2:16-23

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.” (Judges 21:25 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.

judgesPart 30: Judges. When we hear the term “judges”, we think of a number of things. We think of people who are in a position of legal authority, whose job it is to make decisions and sentence people under the laws of the town, the county, the state or the federal government. We think of people who determine the winners at competitions. We think of people who look down their noses at people and make sweeping generalizations and self-righteously determine other people’s eternal fate. The latter one is the kind of “judge” that Jesus warned against becoming, for who can truly be THAT kind of judge?

Yet, the book of judges was not written with hypoctical judging in mind, nor was it written with our understanding of a penal judge in mind; rather, the judges were people who were placed in charge to keep the law and order in the land and, esepcially, to protect Israel from outside threats such as the Philistines. With that said, those designated as judges were still human and had their flaws. They still had the tendancy to be hypocritical, sinful people who wrongly “judged” others; however, their role as Judge was ultimately to serve and protect the people of Israel!

What’s more, it is important to understand the theological underpinnings that led to this form of governance. From the time of their exodus from Egypt, the multitude of slaves that became the people of Israel wandered for forty years in the wilderness. That’s right, for FORTY YEARS they wandered, only to end up settling in a place that was a mere 250+ miles away! Through that time of wandering, they put the Ark of the Covenant (which was seen as the throne of God) in front of them, for God was the leader who was leading them to their freedom.

Moses, Joshua and those that followed were people in conversation with God, who was their leader. What an amazing display of faith it was; then again, what else do desparate people have to rely on but their faith? Once the nomadic multitude from Egypt settled in Canaan and became established, things changed. For one, they made a number of enemies along the way. Also, as they began to prosper, they came up in competition against competing Kingdoms. So, even if they had not made enemies, competition would have made them enemies.

As such, neighboring countries began to threaten and attack them and they began to panic. Many of the people were pushing to have a king rule them and, of course, a king would have led to fortresses and armies and some sense of security. With that said, prophets also warned the people that such a king would grow in power and eventually abuse that power. They urged the people to keep their focus on God and to see God as their King.

For a time, these prophets served as “judges” who saw themselves as accountable to God and led by God to hold Israel accountable. They were not kings or queens who could rule over people; however, they were given the duty of basically protecting the people of Israel from threats, both within and without. If God was still ruler of Israel, the judges were the enforcers of God’s reign. That is how the ancient judges saw themselves, and how they functioned.

As we will see with a few of the judges I will highlight, that plan was really a bandaid response that that only temporarily stalled Israel’s quest for a human ruler to place faith in. They wanted to place their faith in what they could see and was tangible. This switch in the placement of faith proved, as we’ll see, to be quickly disasterous. While there is no need to take the judges’ accounts literally, quibbling over whether we should have human rulers or not, it is a good exercise for us to look at it metaphorically and see the truth that lies in there.

Do we place God as the ruler of our lives? Do we place our faith completely in God and follow God where we are being led. Or do we place our faith in ourselves, or other human leaders, and hope that God will come along with us? While it is important to recognize that humans are key players in God’s plan, there is a fine line between being a key player in God’s plan and seeing God as a key player in our plan. I pray that we all can discern who’s lead we are ACTUALLY following, God’s or our own.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The same God who made a way in the waters, will make a way in the wilderness” – Unknown, based on Isaiah 43:15-19

PRAYER
Lord, forgive me for the times I have done things my way and give me the wisdom to see things your way. I desire to follow your lead. Amen.

God’s People, part 29: Israel

Read Judges 2:1-15

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“My people bend their tongues like bows to shoot out lies. They refuse to stand up for the truth. They only go from bad to worse. They do not know Me,” says the LORD.” (Jeremiah 9:3)

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.

masadaPart 29: Israel. You may be scratching your head and thinking, “Wait a minute, Israel is the other name of Jacob. Didn’t we already talk about Israel?” If so, my answer to you is yes, we did. With that said, we still have yet to talk about people of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob or, rather, the people of Israel. While Israel, the person was a character, it should be clear to anyone who is familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures, that Israel (the collective people) is a character as well. In fact, Israel in the latter sense is featured far more than any other character in the entire Bible.

Israel was chosen by God to be set a part for God’s redemptive plan in the world. Right from the beginning of God’s covenant with Abraham, Israel’s purpose was to be a blessing to all the nation so of the earth (Genesis 22:18). Yet, the struggle to live up to their divine purpose was real. Just like their forefather Jacob was renamed Israel because he had spent his whole life wresting with God and with people, the Israelites were constantyl wrestling with God and with people. The struggle for Israel, just as it was for Jacob, was real.

In Judges 2, we see Israel at its outset. One would think that beginnings ought to be inspiring and lead people into the golden years, the opposite seems to be the case for Israel. Right from the get go, Israel choose to do their own thing, rather than doing what God instructed them to do. Case in point: God instructed Israel to take over the Promised Land and drive the inhabitants out. While Israel conquered the land, they failed to follow the “driving out” part of God’s instructions. Instead, they enslaved those they didn’t kill (Judges 1:28).

Slavery, of course, profitted Israel greatly as slaves work their tails off for free; however, God did not free the Hebrew slaves so that they could go and enslave others. What’s more, those slaves didn’t remain slaves forever and the land ended up filled with TONS of people who did not believe in God and who were most definitely enemies of Israel. The end result: Israel found itself in a constant state of sin and falling away from God as a result of competing ideologies, and Israel also Israel also found itself under constant threat of attack both from within and without their Kingdom.

Unfortunately, the end result also led Israelites later on to seek to purify their kingdom. They sought to isolate themselves from any multicultural experiences, and to isolate themselves from marrying anyone outside of their own religious identity. The more trouble Israel found itself in with competing kingdoms, the more Israel felt the need to be LESS engaged with the rest of the world. While the history is a long and complicated “back and forth” between the two extremes of embracing and shunning diversity, the ultimate reality is that Israel was failing to live up to its divine purpose of being a BLESSING to the nations.

Much later in this series, we’ll see how God still ultimately finds a way to make Israel the blessing it was intended to be; however, there is a challenge for us here today. Do you realize that God created you to be a blessing to the nations as well? Do you realize that God created you to reflect the love, the mercy, the grace, the hospitality and the inclusivity of God? Do you realize that God created you to be a blessing today and always?

Instead of looking for God’s blessing on us, which was given to us the minute life was breathed into our nostrils, we should be looking to fulfill that divine purpose God gave each of us. We have been equipped with gifts to bless others uniquely. All we need to do is to let God reveal those gifts to us and then use them as God intended us to do. While we all play the part of Israel in “wrestling with God and other people”, and that is quite natural, God does not want us getting so preoccupied with wrestling that we fail to do anything else. Stop wrestling and begin to bless others as God created you to, then you will know just how blessed you truly are.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“After the first blush of sin comes its indifference.” – Henry David Thoreau

PRAYER
Lord, you have created me to be a blessing. Turn me away from sin so that I may fulfill that divine purpose you have given me. Amen.

God’s People, part 28: Conquest

Read Judges 1

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“When the Israelites grew stronger, they forced the Canaanites to work as slaves, but they never did drive them completely out of the land.” (Judges 1:28 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.

heb-ass01sPart 28: Conquest. “Now the only way to avoid this shipwreck, and to provide for our posterity, is to follow the counsel of Micah, to do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God. For this end, we must be knit together, in this work, as one man. We must entertain each other in brotherly affection”, proclaimed the famous Puritan John Winthrop in his sermon A Model of Christian Charity.

“We must be willing to abridge ourselves of our superfluities, for the supply of others’ necessities. We must uphold a familiar commerce together in all meekness, gentleness, patience and liberality. We must delight in each other; make others’ conditions our own; rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, as members of the same body. So shall we keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.”

John Winthrop paused. It had been a long journey to the New World. They had crossed the entire Atlantic Ocean with the hopes of getting to his place filled with such hope and such uncertainty. Looking out at his band of exiles, Puritans fleeing religious oppression in England, Winthrop continued, “The Lord will be our God, and delight to dwell among us, as His own people, and will command a blessing upon us in all our ways, so that we shall see much more of His wisdom, power, goodness and truth, than formerly we have been acquainted with… For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world.”

While I don’t normally use long quotes in these devotions, the words above are words that continue to live on in the American psyche. They were idealistic and Americans still hold on to the hope those idealistic words created; however, they were also prophetic, for they warned of the consequences of failing to live up to the kind of justice, mercy, and humility that honors God. Since that time, America has been a struggle between the righteous idealism found in Winthrop’s words, and the reality of the consequences of conquest, greed, injustice, cruelty and pride, which Winthrop warned of.

Like Winthrop leading the Puritans to a new world of promise, Joshua had led the Hebrews to the land that God had promised them. And like the Puritans, the Hebrews came upon a land that was already occupied by people long established there. The Bible, of course, states that God intended for it to be this way and that God was giving this land to the Hebrews. What’s more, God commanded the Hebrews, under the leadership of Joshua, to drive out the people from that land.

We could get into a debate about whether we should interpret the Bible literally here and/or whether God would ever truly want anyone to come into the homeland of another and obliterate them; however, that debate is neither here nor there for the purposes of this devotion. The fact is that the Hebrews began a systematic campaign of conquest in the land of Canaan and, one by one, took over all the land. The other fact is that they made many missteps along the way, and often sought their own glory, rather than heeding the guidance and warnings of God.

The rest of the Bible outlines all the problems that arose out of that flawed conquest. While they did successfully take possession of Canaan and forged their own kingdom in it, they also had created enemies throughout the entire region, including some who were still living in the land. The rest of the Hebrew Scriptures are spent detailing all the conflicts that were sparked by competing kingdoms in the surrounding area. Soon after Joshua died and the conquest was complete, the people ended up electing guardian rulers, called judges, to protect them from their enemies.

While we will be talking about some of these judges in upcoming installments of this series, it goes without saying that the negative consequences of their conquest went on to haunt the Israelites throughout the years, even into the modern age. The same is true for every major empire, including the United States of America, that waged wars of conquest. Violence begets more violence and, as Winthrop warned, one falls hard when they claim to be God’s but don’t live up to God’s standard. God’s conquest has never been for land or money, but for the very hearts of people. The question for us is this, are we the type of people who will seek out our own glory in God’s name, or will we bring glory to God’s name by giving God our hearts?

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The march of conquest through wild provinces, may be the march of Mind; but not the march of Love.” – Herman Melville

PRAYER
Lord, I lay down my pride and give you my heart, so that I may be changed by your love. Amen.

God’s People, part 25: Joshua

Read Joshua 1

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Now if Joshua had succeeded in giving them this rest, God would not have spoken about another day of rest still to come.” (Hebrews 4:8 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.

JoshuaPart 25: Joshua. Joshua is a very strong character in Bible, in fact, he may be one of the strongest. Sure, there is Samson; however, Joshua is displayed with little to no weaknesses, whereas Samson is filled with weaknesses a plenty. But we’ll discuss Samson at a later time. Joshua was the protégé of Moses. He was the son of Nun, born a slave in Egypt before the time of the Exodus.

Almost immediately following their escape from Egypt, selected Joshua to be the leader of a militia group and was put in charge of fighting and defeating the Amalekites in Rephidim (Exodus 17:8-16). Quickly, Joshua became Moses’ right-hand man. It was Joshua, and Joshua alone, who ascended Mount Sinai with Moses to accompany him as he communed with God “face to face” and received God’s vision for the Israelites in the land of Caanan, as well as received The Ten Commandments.

He ended up becoming the leader who took over for Moses, the one who led them to enter into Canaan and conquer the lands from the native peoples inhabiting it. He led with an iron fist, so to speak. He was a general, a warrior, and a conqueror and he had much blood on his hands.

While Joshua was most definitely a person of strong faith, and one who was faithful to God, he also was someone who saw things only in black and white. You were either for him or against him. You were either Hebrew or not Hebrew, which also translated to you were either allowed to live and flourish in the Promised Land, or you were slaughtered and killed. Even when one looks at the story of Rahab, she proved to be for Joshua and the Israelites and so she was spared.

Upon one’s theology and understanding of God rests how one interprets Joshua’s leadership. Joshua believed that he had been appointed by God to take over from Moses, and he was instructed by God to not turn to the right or to the left from Moses’ teachings (Joshua 1:7). What followed was a campaign to ethnically cleasnse all of Canaan and to build a Kingdom of Israel. This involved the raiding of cities, towns and the countryside and resulted the deaths of countless men, women and children.

I am not writing this to debate, one way or the other, as to the reason or the justification for what Joshua and his army did. We live in different times and, no doubt, the Israelites were not going to be able to just knock on the doors of Jericho, expecting a welcoming embrace and gracious hospitality. Joshua was made leader and, in his leadership, he turned his band of nomadic desert wanderers to a unified army that conquered the land it had in its sights. From that land rose judges, kings, queens, prophets and, ultimately, the Messiah.

What I also know is that Jesus is the english transliteration of the Greek word name for Yehoshua, which is the name Joshua in English. In other words, Jesus (which is Greek) really was named Joshua. That is why the author of Hebrews compares Jesus to Joshua…or rather, the two Joshuas. Joshua, son of Nun, brought them into the land of Canaan where they could rest from their wandering in the wilderness, Joshua (aka Jesus) the Christ, brings us into the Kingdom of God.

Unlike Joshua, Jesus didn’t do this by military conquest, but through unconditional love, compassionate grace, and merciful forgiveness. Rather than slaying his enemies, Christ sacrificed himself and was slain by his enemies. Rather than conquering by the sword, Christ conquered THE ENEMY, by loving those who persecuted them even to the point of forgiveness and he conquered death by resurrecting from the dead into true life. One Joshua led to the other, no matter how imperfectly.

To play upon Joshua’s own advice, we need to choose this day whom we serve. Will we serve a black and white mentality? Will we serve the imperfect Joshua who conquered by the sword? Or will we serve the Joshua who died because he loved instead of hated, who rose so that we might rise to life in him, and who calls us to conquer evil through unconditional love and divine grace? Choose this day whom you serve.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The glory of Christianity is to conquer by forgiveness.” – William Blake

PRAYER
Lord, remind me daily that I am a servant of love. Let love be my ultimate campaign. Amen.

God’s People, part 16: Gang of 11

Read Genesis 37:18-36

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“But Joseph replied, “Don’t be afraid of me. Am I God, that I can punish you?” (Genesis‬ ‭50:19‬ ‭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 16: Gang of 11. We all know how siblings can be. My sister and I were super close; however, that also tended to make us super enemies at certain points. There are a couple of great examples that proves what I am talking about. When things were good between my sister and I, they were really good. When they were bad, things got really ugly.

For instance, the summer leading into my freshman year in high school, my sister and I used to ride our bicycles all over the place. I was trying really hard to lift weights and beef up to get on the high school football team. I just loved football. I used to ride my bike to the gym which was only a little over a mile away.’

One day, while riding my bike to the gym with my sister, I got hit by a pickup truck while crossing the road. I had thought I looked both ways before crossing, but clearly I did not look good enough. My sister witnessed the whole thing happen and she was the one who picked me up off the road and helped me to get to the shoulder. She sat me back down and then rode her bike to the nearest phone booth (remember those?) to dial 911 for help. My sister literally saved my life.

On the other hand, my sister (who is younger than me by two years) loved to tease me and egg me on. I remember one incident where she was throwing pebbles at me. She kept hitting me in the back with them every time I looked away and then laughing hard when I swung around each time to tell her to knock it off. Finally, I had reached my boiling point and I picked up a rather large pebble and threw it back at her, accidentally hitting her in the head.

She let out a painful wail and began to cry. I instantly knew I had messed up big time and went into let my parents know. I tried to minimize the damage I had done, saying I only “tossed” a rock at her because she was throwing them at me; however, when they came out to check on her, she had blood pouring (and I mean pouring) down her head. Her strawberry blonde hair was now crimson red. She turned out to be fine, as head wounds bleed far more than the average wound anywhere else; however, I was in trouble…BIG TIME.

Well, Jacobs sons were no different. In tough times they stuck together with the strong bond of brothers. They defended their sister’s honor when she was raped. They protected their youngest brother Benjamin, knowing that any harm to him would cause their father life-threatening grief. They weren’t evil people anymore than I was evil for throwing a rock at my sister. They ultimately loved their family, and would die to protect them.

With that said, they were also human…VERY HUMAN. And they had their serious flaws. As we will see a little later in this series, they too were tested by the rivalry they ended up having with their youngest (at the time) brother Joseph, who was that little snot-nosed brat who could do no wrong in daddy’s eyes. To top it off, the little twerp kept telling them that he was better than them and that they would one day be worshiping him and serving him as slaves. Like me, they had reached their boiling point, except they weren’t just one person; rather, they became a gang of eleven and they ganged up on Joseph seeking to literally kill him.

Thankfully, Reuben thought better of it and convinced his brothers that it would be better to put him in a cistern to leave him to die (for he secretly wanted to come back and rescue him); however, Judah convinced the other brothers to sell Joseph into slavery and make a buck off of him. It was a decision that would later haunt them; however, it was a decision that did keep their brother alive. While, their brothers did seriously sinned in the sight of God that day, God did not abandon them. They did come to realize how wrong they had been and did eventually come to a place of reconciliation with their brother. They were still God’s people despite their flaws, and eventually became the founding fathers of 11 of the 12 tribes of Israel.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“I do not at all understand the mystery of grace – only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.” – Anne Lamott

PRAYER

Lord, forgive my sinful shortsightedness, and my emotional reactions. Restore me in grace. Amen.

God’s People, part 12: Jacob

Read Genesis

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“For God’s gifts and His call can never be withdrawn.” (Romans 11:29 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly are like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.
 Part 12, Jacob. As was discussed in the last installment of this series, Esau was supposed to be the heir to his father, Isaac’s fortune. It was through Esau that Isaac’s geneology would continue and it was Esau who was to be given the authority of his father as the head of the family. We also discussed how proud and arrogant Esau was. That was certainly his character flaw, and it was a flaw that brought his chance of claiming his birthright right down to a 0% chance.

Esau had mistreated his brother and already thought of Jacob as his servant, because he was the oldest (by mere minutes). He did not regard his birthright as something to be cherished and appreciated; rather, he saw it as something that he was entitled to and did not even consider for a moment that he would ACTUALLY LOSE it to his puny brother Jacob.

Yet, that is exactly what happened. Jacob bid his time and remained humble, despite his brother’s bossiness and boarish behavior. Being a sibling myself, I can only imagine the anger that raged through Jacob everytime his brother ordered him around, but he was humble and listened to his mother’s advice to wait for the right moment. That patience certainly paid off in the end.

Yet, it would be a mistake to think that Jacob was wholly innocent in this situation. He absolutely was not. There is a difference between being humble for humility’s sake, because one knows their place and appreciates all that has been done for them. It is entirely different to assume humility in order to lay claim of something that one is scoping out all along. Jacob definitely falls into the latter category.

Make no mistake, Jacob did not have altruistic reasons for being humble; rather, he was born into a status of humility and used that to his advantage in winning out over his brother. He played well the part of the meek and humble servant, so well that not even his own father thought that Jacob would do what he was about to do. He was a thief lying in the dark waiting for the right moment to take his own brother and father by surprise.

When it became abundantly clear that Jacob would not receive the coveted birthright by his father choosing him over Esau, he followed his mother’s lead in disguising himself as Esau in order to trick his blind and ailing father. Covering his arms with animal hair, he went to his father as Esau and asked his father to give him his blessing now. Even though his voice was different than his brother’s, his father fell for the trick because his arms felt like Esau’s. Thus, unwittingly, Isaac gave Jacob the blessing that was meant for Esau, and Jacob became heir to his father’s fortune, and the head of his father’s family.

This act of betrayal led to much dismay in the family, so much so that Jacob ended up fleeing the camp for his life. Esau was so enraged to hear that his brother had stolen away his birthright that he sought to kill Jacob. Because of his sinful deception, Jacob did not receive his inheritance for at least 14, but probably closer to 20, years later; rather, he spent those years in hiding in a foreign land in the househould of Laban.

Again, the Bible does state that God gave Rebeka a revelation that her youngest son would inherit Isaac’s household and fortune; however, it is hard to imagine that God wanted Jacob to pull that off in the way he did, taking matters into his own hands. Because he did things his own very dishonest way, he paid a bitter and long price. It was a good thing that Jacob was blessed with having the virtue of patience, because was really going to need it right down to getting a wife.

Have you ever been dishonest because you felt that it was the only way to make things go good for you? Have you ever cheated or cut corners to bring about what you felt God wanted you to do? Have you ever had to wait even longer for what was reward was coming to you as a result of your actions? As can be seen in the story of Jacob, it is always better to trust God and allow God to work, than taking matters into one’s own hands to force what God is ultimately doing anyway.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“There are no shortcuts in life – only those we imagine.” – Frank Leahy

PRAYER

Lord, keep me honest, even when my anxieties and anticipations dictate dishonesty. Amen.

I AM

Read Exodus 3:1-14

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I assure you,” Jesus replied, “before Abraham was, I Am.” (John 8:58 CEB)

i-amOne of the most powerful stories in all of the Bible, for me, is the story of Moses and the burning bush. While the concept of a bush that is on fire but not consumed is pretty cool in and of itself, but that miracle is not what draws me to the story. It is also pretty awesome that a voice is coming from this burning bush, but that is not what draws me in. I mean sure, that would be pretty powerful to witness, at least in the moment. It might even be powerful and remain cool the next couple of days; however, overtime it would end up getting stored on the back shelves of cool things in my mind, right along with sightings of ghosts, my first kiss, and other such things.

As we know, Moses was tending sheep at the base of Mount Horeb (aka Mount Sinai) when he looked up on the mountain and saw an odd flickering light. It looked to him like a fire and, like most people would, Moses went up on the mountain to check it out. Upon reaching the flickering light, he noticed that it was a bush that was totally caught up in flames, but wasn’t actually burning. In fact, it is kind of ironic that this bush became known as the “burning bush” because it wasn’t burning at all. Naturally, and probably cautiously, Moses began to step closer and closer to the bush. As he approached it, a voice cried out from the flames, “Moses, remove your sandals for you are standing on holy ground.” Now, I don’t know about you, but if I heard that I would have thrown myself off the mountain in fear. Moses was far braver than I and he did as the voice instructed him.

To make a long story short, and so as to not completely repeat the story you already just read in your Bible or e-Bible, Moses ended up having a complete conversation with this disembodied voice emanating from the not-so-burning bush. This voice told Moses that he was the voice of God and that it wanted Moses to carry out a very important task: to go back to Egypt and meet with Pharoah, telling him to let God’s people go. Moses tried to turn down God’s call, but to no avail. Finally, after Moses realized that God had convinced him to go, he asked, “Who should I tell my people sent me when they ask?” God’s answer is what, for me makes this one of the most powerful stories. God replied, “I AM WHO I AM. Tell them I AM sent you.”

Now, on the one hand, that must have thrown Moses for a loop. How could Moses even consider that an acceptable answer? Would people really get what he meant when he said “I AM” has sent me to you, let alone believe him? Yet, Moses carries that message to the Hebrew slaves, “I AM” has sent me to you. What is powerful about that is that it fundamentally shows us who our GOD is. Our God is our I AM. God is always with us, present with us in all of our struggles and trials. Our God is always with us, celebrating with us in our joys and triumphs. Our God is the great I AM. There could never be any greater hope than the hope of God’s presence with us.

From this account of God’s eternal presence comes a powerful message for us. If our God is the great I AM, and if we are the children of God, then it follows that WE ARE. Each and every one of us ARE. We have been created to celebrate the I AM within us. We have been created to live and to live abundantly. We have been created to BE, and celebrate our BEING. Do you do this? Do you celebrate who you are? Do you celebrate the divine I AM that resides in you? Do you see yourself as a child of the great I AM? Today’s challenge, and really everyday’s challenge, is this: look at yourself in the mirror. Stare into your own eyes. Stare deeply, get lost in the iris sea and peer into your soul. When the moment feels right, I want you to say the following words out loud to yourself: “I AM.” Seriously, look yourself in the mirror, get to know yourself and tell yourself, “I AM.” Then, go out into your day, everyday, and see the divine I AM in others. In that I AM will set you and others free.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“I am what I am. I love me! And I don’t mean that egotistically – I love that God has allowed me to take whatever it was that I had and to make something out of it.” – Stevie Wonder

PRAYER
Lord, I am because YOU ARE. Thank you for making me who I am and help me to fully realize who I am. Amen.

Journey with Jesus: Holy Saturday

SCRIPTURE

John 19:38-42

tears_of_sadnessAN EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT

What on earth can we do now? Just last week things looked so promising. Jesus had done amazing things. He had healed the sick and gave the blind their sight back. He cast out demons and turned water into wine. He fed thousands of people with only a little bit of food and even walked on water.

Even beyond that, Jesus raised a couple of people to life after they had passed! Who can stop such a person? What on earth could possibly get in the way of such power? And yet, Jesus never claimed to have power. He was always giving credit to God, whom he referred to as Abba…father. He always…

Oh…what difference does it make? He’s dead now. What looked like hope for Israel, became another crushing blow from the Romans. I feel cold and empty. I feel lost with nowhere to turn. Where is God in this dark hour? Has God abandoned us? I was so sure I was called to be a disciple of Jesus…I was so sure that God wanted me to follow in his footsteps; however, now it seems utterly useless. The light in my life has been snuffed and my purpose has been snatched from me.

REFLECTION

On this day, two thousand years ago, Jesus’ cold, dead body lay in a tomb that was carved out of stone. Outside of the tomb hid is disciples, who were uncertain as to what their next move should be. In fact, the room within which they hid became a dark tomb for them. They were paralyzed by the event of Good Friday. Though they were physically living, the passion that was once burning strongly within them was snuffed out.

As Christians, like the disciples, we too start full of passion and zeal. But somewhere along the way, we find ourselves drained, lost and alone. What is it in your life that has become a tomb? What is it that keeps you from living passionately for Jesus? What fears keep you in hiding…tucked away from the purpose Christ has given you?

On this Holy Saturday, take time to reflect on the tombs in your life. Take time to evaluate all of the things that keep you hidden away from your true self in Jesus Christ. Know that Christ is not dead in your life…in fact, Christ has never been more alive. Know that in Christ there is resurrection and that even the darkest of tombs cannot prevent the light of Christ’s resurrection from bursting forth in all of its radiancy. Know that on Easter, Jesus has you in mind. Are you ready to rise from your tomb(s)?

PRAYER
Lord, in this season of darkness, prepare me to see the light. Amen.