Tag Archives: judgment

God’s People, part 198: Deaf Man

Read Mark 7:31-37

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“If you were blind, you wouldn’t be guilty,” Jesus replied. “But you remain guilty because you claim you can see.”  (John 9:41, 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.

009-lumo-deaf-manPart 198: Deaf Man. When I had graduated high school, I had gotten a job as an aide on a special needs bus. To begin with, I had been put with special needs kids who had behavioral issues. There was one boy I specifically remember, who was a good kid but had a hard time sitting still on the bus. Of course, that can pose serious issues for the bus driver and the safety of everyone on board.

This child would get angry if you tried to enforce the rule that he stay seated. He would even get combative.  It was a challenge to work with him, but it was a blessing as well because in the end he and I bonded and I became one of the few people who could reach him and keep him calm.

The next year I ended up working on a bus with deaf kids and that experience taught me a lot about myself. I headed into that assignment thinking that I was dealing with “handicapped” people who were different than I or the other “normal” people I that I went to school with when I was back in elementary school. I didn’t consciously think those things, but they were underlying presumptions I made because I knew that these children were deaf and attending a special school for deaf folks.

Those presumptions couldn’t have been further from the truth. The kids I encountered on that bus were regular, “normal”, kids. The only differences they had from me as a child was that they could not “hear”, and they fluently spoke two languages, English and American Sign Language (ASL). In other words, these kids were actually brighter and more advanced than I was at there age. Wow. Humbling.

I have always been a quick learner with a fairly open heart and so, I learned quickly that I had been wrong in my presumptions and I opened myself up to learn from them. They taught me ASL, at least as much as I could learn on a bus ride and I learned to communicate with them so that we could understand each other. When they spoke in sign language, they also spoke verbally, though the formation of their words were not as clear, because they cannot properly hear themselves speak.

I am imagining that this is exactly what we have in this account of Jesus healing the deaf man with a speech impediment. The speech “impediment” was not that he couldn’t speak properly, but that he could not hear himself speak due to his deafness. When he was brought to Jesus, he led the man away from the crowd so that they could be alone.

Why alone? Probably because Jesus didn’t want a spectacle. This man, no doubt, had be the victim of everyone’s presumptions. To them he was a deaf man who sounded funny. To them, he had a problem and they were the “normal” people. They had written this man off as less than them, someone who needed fixing. No doubt, this was the case for many of the people Jesus healed; however, this time, Jesus led the man away from the crowd so that they could be alone, and he healed him.

What this account does is tell us about ourselves. We often see ourselves as “normal”, and others as “abnormal”. The truth is, while people without hearing would love to hear again, it was the “normal” people who need healing from the hardness of their hearts. We think that our lives are the pinnacle and anyone who has “less” than us should be pitied and prayed for.

The challenge for us is to be aware of that bias we place on our abilities and to become an agent for removing the stigmas associated with “disability”. In fact, many people choose not to even use that word because of the connotations of it. Remember that while Jesus healed the blind man, he told that Pharisees that they were the ones who were REALLY blind. And while Jesus healed the deaf man, we are the ones who really need to have our ears opened, along with our hearts, to Jesus Christ.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“My disability exists not because I use a wheelchair, but because the broader environment isn’t accessible.” – Stella Young

PRAYER
Lord, open doors of my heart so that I might view all people as children of God, no matter what differences I may perceive. Amen.

God’s People, part 186: Deformed

Read Matthew 12:9-13

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“At this, the enemies of Jesus were wild with rage and began to discuss what to do with him.” (Luke 6:11, NLT)

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

DeformedHandPart 186: Deformed. Jesus was a healer. He was someone who took time to seep people’s deepest needs and to bring healing into their lives. There was no disease, no demon, no condition that was too great for Jesus to heal. It was the power of God, rested in him, that was working to give us a glimpse of what it means to be God’s people in God’s Kingdom.

This world is a broken world, where pain, suffering, sickness, disease, sin, evil and death reign supreme. In this world there is no guarantee in regard to anything. As a pastor, I have watched cancer rot people from the inside out, I have prayed over and given blessings to babies who have died in the womb, I have watched people suffering from Multiple Sclerosis, and I have counseled people who are suffering from emotional and spiritual distress due to a wide variety of things including abuse.

Scripture promises us that one day, those things will pass away. They will die; however, those of us who love God and are called according to his purpose shall never perish, but will inherit eternal life. How do we know this to be true? Because God, in Jesus, walked the earth and gave us a glimpse of what is to come. That glimpse we see in the healings as well as in Christ’s teachings. What’s more, Christ invited us to join him in bringing God’s hope, healing and wholeness into this broken world; however, we have often not been faithful or receptive to Christ’s call.

The account of the man with the withered, or deformed, hand is a great example of how God’s people often miss the boat when it comes to helping usher in God’s peaceable kingdom. Before we get into the healing itself, let us give some thought to the man with the deformity. With out a hand, how could he ever work or make a living? He could not, obviously. Thus, this poor man was left to the generosity of others, whether that generosity came from family, friends, or strangers passing by.

We are not told if this man had family or not, but he is clearly out in the public square for the Pharisees to use as a trap to bait Jesus. It is likely that this man had no one to help him, family or otherwise. That very fact actually speaks loudly to the man’s situation. Even more, it speaks much to the hearts of these specific Pharisees.

These Pharisees could have prayed for this man, they could have even approached Jesus to see if the Lord could heal this man out of concern for him; however, the only thing the Pharisees were concerned with here was themselves. They wanted Jesus out of their hair, so that they could remove the threat he posed to their authority. Rather than trying to bring healing to this poor man, they instead used him in order to get at Jesus.

Alas, we live in a broken world and even God’s people (in this case the Pharisees) get trapped in their own brokenness. This, of course, should cause us to pause and reflect on how we allow our brokenness to control what we do, rather than allowing Christ to free us from our brokenness for joyful service in the world. The challenge for us is to admit we are broken, to turn our brokenness over to Christ, and to allow the Holy Spirit the freedom to guide us into Kingdom-building action in the world. Let us be the healers Christ has called us to be.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Part of the healing process is sharing with other people who care.” – Jerry Cantrell

PRAYER
Lord, heal me from my sin and brokenness and use me to bring your healing into the lives of others. Amen.

God’s People, part 184: Lepers

Read Mark 1:40-45

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Suddenly, a man with leprosy approached him and knelt before him. ‘Lord,’ the man said, ‘if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.’ Jesus reached out and touched him. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be healed!’ And instantly the leprosy disappeared.”  (Matthew 8:2-3, 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.

Leper-HealingPart 184: Lepers. When we hear the word Leprosy or  Lepers, we think of people who have what is also known as Hansen’s Disease. According to the United States Center for Disease Control (CDC), leprosy is a bacterial infection that attacks the nerves, skin, eyes, and the inner lining of the nose. When attacking the nerves, the bacterial infection causes swelling and discoloration of the skin, which can also get flaky.

If left untreated, permanent nerve damage can be done leading also to paralysis of the hands and feet. A slow growing bacteria, it can take up to 20 years before one even shows symptoms of having it. This disease was once considered to be highly contagious; however, researchers have come to realize that it is not so easily spread, especially when it is treatable. People with leprosy, if properly treated, can go on to live normal and productive lives.

In the Bible, we read the word leprosy a number of times. Namaan, the Aramean General in 2 Kings 5, had leprosy. Leprosy is also mentioned a number of times in the Gospels, where Jesus lays hands on them and heals them. There’s a lot we don’t know about the disease that these lepers had; however, what we do know is that those afflicted with leprosy in Biblical times did not have what we know now as Hansen’s disease which was described above. The Hebrew word for leprosy is tzara’ath (צָרַעַת, pronounced tzaw-rah’-ath). This word was used for those who had a dermatological condition that caused the skin to scale.

Psoriasis, which can also lead to crippling psoriatic arthritis, seborrheic dermatitis, scabies, crusted scabies, syphilis, impetigo, scarlet fever, and other such diseases could be classified in the ancient world as tzara’ath or leprosy. In other words, any number of dermatological diseases could have been considered leprosy and anyone with that disease would be viewed as a leper.

Leprosy was viewed as a defiling disease, meaning that anyone with it would be deemed ritually and physically unclean. Such people were shunned and avoided at all costs. They were not allowed to live within the community, nor were they allowed to participate in the community’s religious life. They often lived in “colonies” of others with the disease.

According to the annotations found in The Jewish Study Bible, “The Bible does not view disease per se as defiling. Only those having “tzara’at” or abnormal genital fluxes are considered to be impure…Tzara’at, seen as a gradual erosion of the skin, was thought to culminate, unless the patient recovered, in the ultimate disintegration of the flesh, which was taken as a manifestation of the gradual escape of life. The person afflicted with it was looked upon as potentially dead, death itself having begun to consume his body.”[1]

If one even so much as came in contact with or touched a leper, they too would be seen as defiled. Thus, people avoided lepers like the plague. What’s more, many believed that leprosy was a divine punishment for the act of slander. Thus, those who had leprosy were not only shunned, but judged by society. Thus, we can see how scandalous it was for Jesus to lay hands on and heal lepers. Not only did he risk defiling himself, but he was also showing his power over sin.

When dealing with the healings that Jesus performed, I want us to focus more on society and on us as “the people of God”, for it is there that we see the true sin and missed opportunities in living up to being God’s people. The stories of Jesus healing the lepers ought to challenge us that God loves people equally, no matter what may or may not be afflicting them. When we shun such people because they are “gross”, or “disgusting”, or “we might catch what they have”, we are actually shunning God. When we refuse to help people because “they brought it upon themselves” we are actually putting ourselves above God.

While we should take precautions so as to not infect ourselves or spread infectious diseases, we should approach all people as children of God who deserve to be treated with love, compassion and diginty. We should work toward bringing healing to folks, rather than more harm through shunning and judging them. Let us open ourselves up to being God’s people rather than being people of the world.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
We are blessed that we might be a blessing to others. Shunning people is not blessing them.

PRAYER
Lord, help us to be compassionate to all who suffer no matter the cause, and steer us away from judgment. Amen.

[1] Schwartz, Baruch J. “Annotations for Leviticus 13.1-14.57” in The Jewish Study Bible, Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, eds. (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1999), 234.

God’s People, part 176: Judas Iscariot

Read Matthew 27:3-10

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Judas had bought a field with the money he received for his treachery. Falling headfirst there, his body split open, spilling out all his intestines. The news of his death spread to all the people of Jerusalem, and they gave the place the Aramaic name Akeldama, which means ‘Field of Blood’” (Act 1:18-19, 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.

JudasIscariotPart 176: Judas Iscariot. The greatest enigma in the whole of the Bible, apart from the mystery of God, is Judas Iscariot. Who was he? What was he like as a human being? What brought him into the fold as one of Jesus’ disciples? What made him someone Jesus trusted enough to be the treasurer of Jesus’ ministry? What was running through his heart and mind when began to turn away from Jesus’ teachings? What was the reason for Judas deciding to betray the one he had called teacher and Lord? What caused this Judas to go from a faithfully daring disciple to a tragic traitor?

So, what do we know about Judas? Let’s start with his name. The name Judas is Greek for Judah. Judah, of course, is the name of one of the 12 tribes of Israel and is where the name “Jews” comes from. As such, some people have tried to argue that Judas was a “made up” character constructed to blame the Jews for Jesus’ death; however, an overwhelming majority of scholars reject that claim.

Judah was an extremely popular name at that time. In fact, one of Jesus’ own half-brothers, had the same name. What’s more, there was more than one Judas among Jesus’ disciples. There was also Judas son of James, whom we discussed in the previous devotion. Thus, the majority of scholars believe Judas was a real person and that was his name.

The epithet which accompanies his first name, Iscariot, has also caused much debate among scholars. It was certainly used to distinguish him from the other disciples. The epithet has most commonly been understood as a Greek rendering of a Hebrew phrase (איש־קריות, Κ-Qrîyôtthat) meaning, “the man from Kerioth”, and seems to be supported by John 6:71.

Still, not everyone accepts this explanation. A popular explanation has been that Iscariot (Skaryota in Aramaic) is a play on the Latin word sicarius (or dagger man). If this were true, this would make Judas one of the Sicarii, a Jewish group of rebels known for committing acts of terrorism in the 40s and 50s AD. This interpretation has also found its way out of academia and into the world of film as well. In fact, the 1961 film, King of Kings (starring Jeffery Hunter as Jesus and Rip Torn as Judas Iscariot), utilizes this theory and portrays Judas as former sicarii (they incorrectly use the term zealot) who decided to betray Jesus to force his hand in striking down the Romans.

However, this view that Judas was a sicarii has no basis in Scripture, and there is no historical evidence that the sicarii ever existed during the 30s AD when Judas was alive. Thus, we don’t really know why Judas did what he did, or what he was before he was introduced in the Gospel accounts. We know that he was paid for his treachery, and the Gospel of John indicates that his motivation was greed; however, I would guess that there was more to it than just that. Still, we simply do not know why and we never will.

What we do know is that, at some point, Judas turned on Jesus and eventually betrayed him. We also know that Judas lived in a culture that took honor and shame very seriously. Once Jesus was arrested, convicted of treason, and crucified, Judas felt the weight of his actions crush him. The shame he had brought upon himself for betraying his teacher was unbearable. No doubt, you can see that shame played out in the Gospels.

The authors, and certainly those who conveyed the accounts to them, all looked upon Judas as a scourge for what he did. Every Gospel uses Iscariot to distinguish him from other Judases, and they always list him as Judas Iscariot (the one who betrayed Jesus). That shameful fact hung like an albatross around Judas’ neck and, sadly, he took his own life.

The challenge for us is to NOT read with judgment toward Judas. Yes, he betrayed Jesus; however, he was chosen by Jesus as one of his twelve and, no doubt, Jesus chose him for a reason. What’s more, Judas was not the only one to betray or abandon Jesus that night. Peter denied him 3 times, the other disciples ran (one of them ran away naked as his clothes were torn off of him) and hid away for fear of their own lives.

The challenge for us is for us to, instead of judging Judas, turn the mirror around at ourselves. How do we fall short of Jesus? How do we betray him? How do we turn our backs at him? What’s more, how do we come to a place of forgiveness for having betrayed him? How do we move beyond the guilt and shame of our sins and into the blessed assurance of God’s redemptive grace?

I believe that Jesus had already forgiven him when he uttered the words, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” He forgave Judas, the other disciples, the Jewish authorities, and the Romans. He also forgave you, and me, and us all. The choice is ours, just as it was Judas’, as to whether we choose to accept that forgiveness and move onward into serving the Risen Christ.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” – Jesus Christ (Luke 23:34)

PRAYER
Lord, thank you for your forgiveness and for freeing me for joyful service. Amen.

God’s People, part 164: 2nd Advent

Read Matthew 24:1-31

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“They said, “If you are the Messiah, tell us.” He replied, “If I tell you, you will not believe; and if I question you, you will not answer. But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God.””  (Luke 22:67-69, NRSV)

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.

second-coming-814x610@2xPart 164: 2nd Advent. In 2011, megachurch pastor and author wrote a book that would spark a controversy before it was actually published and on the shelves. Rob Bell, the pastor in question, put out a promotional video for his book, which can be viewed by clicking here. In this promo, Rob Bell discusses how at an art gallery his church hosted there was an exhibit that was of Gandhi. During the course of the show someone saw to it to attach a note to the exhibit that read, “NEWS FLASH, he’s in hell.”

The promo then turns to Rob Bell raising a series of questions starting with, “Really? Gandhi is in hell? And someone is so sure of this that he or she felt compelled to tell us this?” From their the promo continues to ask questions around hell and around the character of God. He ends with saying that that what we believe about heaven and hell is incredibly important, and that what the Bible has to say is beautiful, profound and truly Good News.

That promo sent people into a whirlwind of speculation before anyone could even read the book. Accusations flew, some (such as Franklin Graham) calling Rob Bell a heretic, and others accusing him of being a universalist. Of course, once people read the book, the charges of heresy diminished to charges of “heterodoxy”. Heterodoxical teachings are a set of teachings that “deviate from orthodox beliefs” but don’t necessarily cross into the territory of full-on heresy. It is questionable as to whether or not what Bell actually wrote was heterodoxy at all; however, with people already being committed to not liking the book, those charges stood in the minds of more conservative Christians.

The book itself, in good Rob Bell fashion, doesn’t take a position at all (other than that love wins, but rather it poses questions, as sell as defines and contextualizes words and concepts. In fairness to its critics, such open-ended questions could lead people to fall into universalism or other unorthodox views; however, I do not believe that was Bell’s intent. He was merely asking questions that many non and nominal Christians have with regard to heaven and hell, with the hope of drawing more people into a relationship with Christ. He was approaching the questions with the bleeding heart of a pastor, concerned for those who want nothing to do with the Church because they are hung up on such doctrines.

I will not spend the space I have in this devotion to discuss the merits or shortcomings of Bell’s Love Wins; however, it does point us to an important doctrine in the Christian faith. Christians traditionally believe that Christ not only came once, died, was buried and rose again. We also believe that Christ now sits at the right-hand side of God the Father, from where we he will come again to judge the living and the dead.

This may seem draconian and off-putting to people in a culture that is so loosey-goosey, and hellbent on “being good” on its own apart from God; however, the Christian witness is different than that. As Christians we hold to the doctrine of Original Sin, that while humanity was created “good”, it eventually chose knowledge and independence over maintaininga dependency on God. That choice led to separation from God, which consequently led to chosing to glorify ourselves rather than God. We are costantly putting ourselves (e.g. desires, family, friends, wealth, etc.) before God. This sinful state is unescapable without God’s preventing, justifying, and sanctifying grace.

As for Jesus’ 2nd Advent, we are all awaiting for that day when Jesus will come again and we will stand before him in TRUTH. None of us will have an excuse, nor will we be able to say, “Oh, sorry God. I didn’t know that I wasn’t meant to live that way.” Why is that? Because God’s grace has been working within us and convicting us to acknowledge and follow God. At our most basic level, we have an innate understanding of what is “right” and what is “wrong”, and we also know that we have an impossible time getting everything “right” and avoiding every sort of “wrong.”

The challenge for us is for us to acknowledge that reality, and to praise God for the grace TO ACKNOWLEDGE it. It takes humility to acknowledge that we are not AS GOOD as we’d like to think and to submit our lives to Christ through repentance and obedience. Let us turn to God and restore our relationship with the One who IS LOVE, the One died for us so that we might be purged of our sin and raised in to life! Amen.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”  (Mark 8:38, NRSV)

PRAYER
Jesus, I repent of my ways and submit to you as Lord. Fill me with your grace, your love and use me for your glory and for the kingdom that is to come on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: Pieces of You

devotions-Bible-Coffee
Photo by Kim Stiver from Pexels. Click photo to see her work.

Writing the Life-Giving Water devotionals is not only an important ministry, but is a deeply rewarding spiritual discipline for me as well. With that said, observing Sabbath (aka rest) is an important spiritual discipline as well. So here is A LOOK BACK to a devotion I wrote in the past. Read it, reflect on it, be challenged by it. Who knows how God will speak to you through it and how it will bear relevance in your life today? May the Holy Spirit guide you as you read the suggested Scripture and subsequent devotion.

Fulfilled: Holy Tuesday

Read Isaiah 49:1-7

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matthew 23:28 NLT)

When we read the Gospels, we get a sense that Jesus saw himself as a savior of his people. We can see how he he lived, how he taught, and how he ultimately took on the role of God’s suffering servant. We see that he claimed not only to be a teacher or a prophet, but that he was the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. What’s more, Jesus claimed to be one with, and the same as, God Almighty, the great I AM.

His disciples not only believed, but were transformed by their relationship with Jesus and, in turn they helped tranform the world. Jesus’ views were not only his own, but ones steeped in his Jewish beliefs and his understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures. Each day this week, let us look at the prophetic connection between Jesus and the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible.

AngryJesusHoly Tuesday. On Palm Sunday, Jesus rode into Jerusalem being hailed as the King of the Jews. He went into the temple and upset the peace by overturning the tables of the money changers. No doubt, this act had both the Temple priests and the Roman leadership looking intently on this individual…this “prophet.” He was showing himself to be a trouble maker.

By Monday, Jesus he began antagonizing the Temple leadership, as well as the teachers of religious laws (known as the Pharisees). He taught in parables that called the leaderhsip out for their hypocrisy. He proclaimed that hey was the the stone that God declared to be the cornerstone and decried the priests and the teachers fo religious law for rejecting him. He certainly did not win many of the priests and Pharisees over on Holy Monday.

On this day, Holy Tuesday, Jesus’ teachings took a sharp and dramatic turn. Instead of teaching in parables, he called the Sadducees and Pharisees out directlty. “The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach.” (Matthew 23:2-3 NLT). Calling them hypocrites, Jesus levied a series of seven accusations against the religious leadership. “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you cross land and sea to make one convert, and then you turn that person into twice the child of hell you yourselves are!” (Matthew 23:15 NLT)

Jesus called the leadership out on perverting the law for their own gain. He likened them to “whitewashed tombs”  that look pristine and beautiful on the outside, but are filled with bones and the dead on the inside. His words cut through them and caused their hatred of him to grow to an all-time high. They were already trying to find a way to eliminate him; however, after this display, they were even more determined.

Jesus did not stop there either. He went on to predict that the temple would be destroyed and began to share with his disciples that the world was going to experience a whole lot of darkness before it would see the light of God. Jesus lamented over Jerusalem, for its refusal to accept him and the message of God who had sent him. He lamented, “And now, look, your house is abandoned and desolate. For I tell you this, you will never see Me again until you say, ‘Blessings on the One who comes in the name of the LORD'” (Matthew 23:38-39 NLT)!

All of this a profound fulfillment of what was written in Isaiah 49:1-7. Jesus’ words were, indeed, “words of judgment as sharp as a sword.” On Holy Tuesday, Jesus was like a sharp arrow in God’s quiver. He was being loosed on the people who were supposed to be witnessing to the glory and love of God but were, instead, basking in their own status and glory to the detriment of God’s people.

Of course, it is easy for us to read this and point fingers at the religious leadership in Jesus’ time; however, Christians believe in the “priesthood” of all believers. That we are all called to bring people to a relationship with Jesus and represent God’s love in the world. The question is, are you doing that? Are you living into the call that God has placed on your life as a believer? Are you exonerated by Jesus, or his sharp words cutting through with convicting truth? I think we all can acknowledge that there is room for us to grow and transform. I pray that we all open our hearts and be transformed by Jesus’ words in fulfillment with what Isaiah prophesied, “You will do more than restore the people of Israel to Me. I will make you a light to the Gentiles, and you will bring My salvation to the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6 NLT)

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Love does not always come in hugs and flowery words, but as words that cut like a sword through the aspects of ourselves that enslave us and bring us down.

PRAYER
Lord, thank you for loving me enough to tell me the truth. Continually guide me and lead me back to you and your Kingdom. Amen.

God’s People, part 75: Gehazi

Read 2 Kings 5:15-27

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A LOOK BACK: Pieces of You

bflw-devotional-800x490Writing the Life-Giving Water devotionals is not only an important ministry, but is a deeply rewarding spiritual discipline for me as well. With that said, observing Sabbath (aka rest) is an important spiritual discipline as well. So here is a LOOK BACK to a devotion I wrote in the past. Read it, reflect on it, be challenged by it. Who knows how God will speak to you through it and how it will bear relevance in your life today? May the Holy Spirit guide you as you read the suggested Scripture and subsequent devotion.

The Sermon, part 27: The False Ones

Read Matthew 7:15-23

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 24:11-13 NRSV)

vaderandpalp“Beware of False prophets”, Jesus warns his disciples in the Gospel According to Matthew.” This is not a warning of outsiders coming into Christian circles to lead them astray, but of insiders. This is a warning that Jesus makes to his disciples regarding other Christians who call Jesus, “Lord, Lord,” but are only do so with their mouth and not with their deeds. Their words produce praises of Jesus, but their actions contradict and stand against the will of God as given through Jesus Christ.

Since I am in a huge Star Wars mood at the moment, I will liken Jesus’ warning to the first three episodes of the Star Wars franchise. Young Anakin Skywalker had such potential to be a powerful and just Jedi, as well as to be the one who restores the balance to the force and defeats the evil Sith. Yet, Anakin is seduced by the very evil that he is sworn to oppose. That evil, however, did not come in the form of evil. Instead, it came in the form of a kind and seemingly generous old Senator from the noble planet of Naboo.

Senator Palpatine was seemingly a patriot, a friend and ally of the Jedi, and someone who consistently stated he wanted to restore justice to the Republic. When he met young Anakin Skywalker, he acted as a grandfather like character and, behind the scenes, secretly mentored the young Jedi padawan. Unfortunately, behind his kindly words and seemingly sagely advice, lie the sinister and poisonous tongue of an evil and powerful sith Lord.

Over time, Palpatine gained the loyalty of Anakin Skywalker, and was able to lead him to the dark side of the force. Just as Palpatine was being revealed as the Sith Lord Darth Sidious, what good was left in Anakin died and he became the Sith Lord Darth Vader. Together, they would topple the democratic Republic and establish the evil Galactic Empire, ruling the entire galaxy in complete and utter tyranny.

This tragedy is what Jesus is warning his disciples against; however, we need to pause before move to the final point. This particular passage troubles me; however, I do not dismiss it or pass it off as untrue or unimportant. It troubles me because the accusation of “False Prophet” gets weilded around Christianity like Darth Sidious weilded the world “Rebellion” and “Traitor”. It gets thrown out against other Christians who hold different theologies and doctrinal understandings but self-righteous and zealot Christians who think that their way of understanding is the ONLY and RIGHT way of understanding.

I can tell you that I have been called a false prophet, as have many Christian leaders out there. I don’t just mean modern Christians either. Paul was called a “false Apostle” by his Jewish-Christian brothers and sisters. Even Jesus was called a false prophet and false Messiah by some of the Jewish leaders who opposed him. Using the label “false prophet” in such away is not only counter to Jesus’ intent here, it also bears the kind of evil that we see in Sidious and Vader who accuse and destroy their opponents.

To throw this accusation out willy nilly because one doesn’t agree with another brother or sister in Christ, not only besmirches them, it also spiritually damages them and blasphemes the Holy Spirit working within them. That kind of blasphemy, according to Jesus, is the ONLY unforgiveable kind of sin because it goes beyond mere sin and enters the realm of evil. One no longer sees God as supreme, but places onself in the seat of God’s supremacy. Such a person is no longer aware of their own sin, but sees their sinfulness and sinful nature as just and righteous. Of course, not all who have been afraid of false prophets, or thrown that accusation around, are irredeemable. I believe no one is irredeemable; however, Jesus’ warning is rightfully strong, because once someone has crossed over that threshold, it is very hard to come back.

Thus, here is Jesus’ point. Not all who call themselves Christian are TRULY followers of Lord Jesus Christ. Only those who do the will of God are. This isn’t measured in one perfectly following the will of God; however, it is measured in their heart and in their overall fruit. Only God can judge the heart, but we can see evidence of the fruit. So, what kind of fruit does a Christian bear? That is simple: LOVE. Those who strive to love God, love neighbor, love enemies, and follow the golden rule, are the ones who are true followers. Those who claim to be Christian but bear the fruit of judgment, self-righteousness, bitterness, envy, hatred, resentfulness, and pride are the ones Christ is warning us against. Be warned and be self-aware.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Words are cheap, heart-driven actions are costly.” – Rev. Todd R. Lattig

PRAYER
Lord, steer me away from all who are false, and steer me away from being false. Amen.