Tag Archives: judgment

REVISITED: Wrath of God, part 5

Read Jeremiah 31:1-10

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I—yes, I alone—will blot out your sins for My own sake and will never think of them again.” (Isaiah 43:25, NLT)

jer4-weeping-prophet

Jeremiah stood there in the midst of the city. Everything had been destroyed and burned to the ground. The houses were smoldering furnaces with smoke billowing to the heavens. Corpses were lying everywhere and the stench of decay filled the air. Jerusalem had her share of sorrows in the past, but they all paled in comparison with the Babylonian seige.

The Temple was in ruins and not one stone remained on top of the other. The holy place of God was a ransacked pile of rubble, laid to waste by the gentile Babylonians. The survivors were left without their Temple, without their homes, without the property, and without anyone of their spiritual leaders. King Zedekiah, his cabinet of advisors, his family, his priests and all of the leaders and their families were all exiled from Jerusalem and taken back to Babylon as spoils of the war. The future of Judah, the future of Jerusalem, were uncertain.

Jeremiah stood there that day, having been released from the prison by order of the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II. He was imprisoned by King Zedekiah for speaking out against the corruption of the King and the king’s government. Nebuchadnezzar had him released because word reached him that there was a prophet who prophesied in Babylon’s favor. Jeremiah stood there, horrified at the site of the utter and complete destruction, and he wept.

“If only they had listened,” he thought to himself. “If only they had turned from their wickedness, from their corruption, from their greed, they would have avoided all of this. How many innocent lives had been destroyed by the evil perpetrated by those who refused to live justly, who refused to love mercy, and who refused to walk humbly with their God?

But as sad Jeremiah was that day, he was not without hope for he knew that God was not the God of eternal judgment but the God of endless and ever abounding grace! God would not abandon the people of Judah, but would be working to bring them home and to restore them back to the people they were created to be. God would be showing them forgiveness and working toward reconciliation. This was not so just in spirit and in truth, but through the leadership of those who were still open to God’s wisdom and guidance; through the leadership of people like Jeremiah and those who followed him.

What is important for us to gather from Jeremiah and the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians is that GOD is not the GOD OF WRATH, but the GOD OF GRACE. When looking at the wrath of God, ask yourself this question: Is God reigning wrath down on the people? Even if it is being articulated that way by the Biblical authors, is that really what is going on? Or is the wrath of God, properly speaking, the natural consequences to the evil that people perpetuate? People may get away with being wicked for so long, but eventually (as the phrase suggests), “every dog has its day.”

What’s even more important to glean from this narrative, is that while we do often bring the wrath of our actions down upon our heads, God never gives up hope on us. God is always forgiving us, always working to restore us back to a place of righteousness, and always working to reconcile us with God and with our neighbor. In wrath, in the natural consequences of our sinful and evil actions, there is still GREAT HOPE. Today’s challenge is to see the hope in the consequences we, and the world, are facing today and to begin to be God’s mouthpiece for the proclamation of the Good News of God’s reconciliation and restoration!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The work of community, love, reconciliation, restoration is the work we cannot leave up to politicians. This is the work we are all called to do.” – Shane Claiborne

PRAYER
Lord, help me to not only seek justice, but to seek reconciliation for myself and for others. Amen.

REVISITED: Wrath of God, part 2

Read Genesis 4:1-16

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“So the LORD was sorry He had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke His heart.” (Genesis 6:6 NLT)

broken-heart

In the Beginning, God desired to create a world in which God could raise and nurture all of creation. So God set about in that Creation and saw all that was created as divinely good. Finally, God decided to make a creature that would be fashioned in the very image of God. In God’s image (imago Dei), human beings were created and set apart from the rest of Creation.

Now, humans were not set apart so that they could feel superior to God’s creation, for God loved all of Creation; however, God hoped to have a special relationship with humans, a mutual relationship that would be founded on the love of which God created them. God gave them everything they could ever need, and God made sure that they were cared for and nurtured.

Created in God’s image, humans had sharp intelligence and were filled with the creativity of their Creator. They were filled with compassion and a profound sense of their connection with the rest of Creation, so much so that they first people began name the creatures God created and began to be there caretakers, just as God was the care takers of them. Thus, they were living into that very image in which they were Created. To God, everything seemed perfect.

Unfortunately, humans quickly grew to resent their dependence on God and they became bored and complacent in their relationship. Like young adults seeking their independence from their loving parents, they first people chose to do things their own way and to make their own way in the world. They sought out their own wisdom and disregarded the wisdom God had already given to them. They ignored the warnings of God and, as a result, humanity fell into a state of sin. Whether this was a good thing or a bad thing is up for debate. Perhaps this was the final step of Creation, where humans could “fully mature” and could now choose for themselves to have a loving and mutual relationship with God. Perhaps, this was more of a fall than a blessing as humans began making poorer and poorer choices. Or, as I have come to understand it, it was a little of both.

Regardless, overtime humans when from being in a loving, mutual relationship with God to being in a tenuous, and often dysfunctional relationship with God. This was sadly reflected in the dysfunctional relationships that began to plague the relationships humans had with each other. Patriarchy started to develop, where men saw themselves as better, superior, and in control of women. Brothers rose up against their other siblings out of competition and jealousy, murdering their siblings in cold and sadistic blood.

All of God’s creation began to suffer as a result of this terrible imbalance in the world God had created. People started owning animals, owning land, owning other people, ruling those they conquered, and killing all who stood in their way to attain absolute power. The green fields, the deserts, the streams, ponds and oceans went from pure to running red with the blood of the destruction humanity was reigning upon the earth!

God, seeing the terrible turn that creation had taken, began to grieve so deeply that God began to question why God even created anything at all! God’s grief moved from questioning to remorse and that remorse grew into anger. God was angry that Creation had fallen into such a state of disrepair. God was angry that humans were killing humans, that they were denying their divine connection to Creation, and that they were denying their divine connection to and relationship with their Creation. In that deep anger, God also found compassion, and set out to redeem this Creation that had become so tragically broken!

This is, obviously, just the beginning of the narrative of God we find in the Bible. This is just the Genesis, if you will. I fully admit that lots of theological questions pop up in regard to how a perfect God could create a world that went so tragically wrong. I also fully admit that there is no answer out there that fully satisfies those types of questions. But this narrative shows us that God’s reaction to the evil in the world is not unlike ours and that our righteous anger over the brokenness of this world comes from that divine image of God within us. Let us reflect on that for today, and in the days ahead, just as surely we will reflect on the evil that is currently and consistently plaguing this world.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.” – William Blake

PRAYER
Lord, help me to see the world, in its brokenness, through your eyes. In my anger, help me to discover the compassion from which it stems and allow it to fuel me to be even more compassionate. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: No One Can Judge

Read Romans 7:14-25

“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged.” (Matthew 7:1, NLT)

Annex - Lugosi, Bela (Dracula)_05

Every year, around this time, I read Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which is a tradition I have carried on since I was in high school. I absolutely love that tale, which is ultimately a tale about HOPE in the midst of darkness. There is one scene in the book that is absolutely striking to me. Mina Harker had recently been bitten by Count Dracula and, to make matters worse, had drank some of his blood. As we find out, this fuses Mina to him and begins to make her one of his. At one point, upon finding out that she drank Dracula’s blood (as she was in a trance when she did it), she cried out, “Unclean, unclean, God help me, I’m unclean!”

One can only imagine the absolute horror that Mina was going through. She had lived her life in a manner that was pure, always priding herself in her manners and behavior. She was a loyal person and loved her husband dearly, yet now she was tainted by this monster’s blood. She is absolutely revolted by the Count and horrified by what he as done to her; however, because she is spiritually bound to him, and as she begins to watch her humanity slowly fade away, she comes to a realization.

Looking up at her husband Jonathan, she asks that if she becomes like the count that he will put an end to her and put her soul at peace so that she may be with God. But her plea doesn’t end there. She also begs that he find the count and put an end to the monster so that the man trapped inside may find peace as well. Whoa! It is almost unfathomable for her husband Jonathan, but she makes him agree. He cannot understand how she could have even the remotest bit of sympathy for this savage beast, this wretched demon, this accursed vampire.

In Romans, Paul spent a good amount of time writing about the self-perpetuating cycle of sin. We know that certain things are good and often gravitate away from them. Conversely, we know that certain things are not good or healthy and yet we find ourselves doing those things anyway. No matter how hard we try, we often find ourselves stuck in the mire of our sins.

Paul knew, just as Mina came to realize, that there is a bit of monster in us all. We all let certain things get the better of us. We all are, to one extent or another, controlled by the negative things we allow into our lives. Perhaps some do more than others, but we all get caught up in things that God would otherwise wish to set us free from. Yet, we also tend to look at others as if they are worse than we are and, like Jonathan, we often get too caught up in our own self-righteousness to see that we are really in the same boat as the ones we judge.

Rather than being in the prison of our own judgements, we are called by God to be humble and to see the humanity in others, including ourselves. Even though we may not agree with the actions that people take, and even though we might even be forced to act against the evils that people perpetrate, we are still called to see the child of God beneath the sins that entrap them. We are all children of God, loved by God, and God wishes to free us all from our sins…in particular, the sin of judgment. All we have to do is be humble and let God guide us from the darkness of our judgments to the light of God’s unconditional love and grace.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The least amount of judging we can do the better off we are.” – Michael J. Fox


PRAYER
Lord, humble me so that I might not judge others. Open my eyes and my heart to your mercy, your love, and your grace. Amen.

Holy Week 2021: 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.

AngryJesus

Holy 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.

Monsters

Read Luke 18:9-14

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. ” (Matthew 7:1, NLT)

Continuing on with our horror theme for Halloween, another favorite out of 1980’s horror is the cult-hit film, Monster Squad. Released in 1987 and rated PG-13, this was a horror-comedy film that was geared to a teenage audience. It was a film that had a perfect balance of fun and scares in it and it captured the imaginations of its younger audiences.

The film centers on a group of misfit kids who belong to a secret monster club in Sean’s (the main character) treehouse. This club consisted of nothing more than these kids meeting to discuss their favorite Universal horror monsters and learning their strengths and weaknesses. Some kids like to play with dolls, others with GI Joes, this group of kids dug monsters.

As it turned out, Count Dracula and the Universal monsters are real and they show up in Sean’s town with a plan to take over the world. In order to pull this off, the Count Dracula recruits Frankenstein’s monster, Gil-Man (aka the Creature from the Black Lagoon), Wolf Man, and the Mummy and moves into an abandon house in town. While most of the adults are oblivious to the clear and present danger to their community and the world, the monster club kids become aware of what is going on.

As such, they recruit an extra team member who happens to be a misfit in school because he’s viewed as a tough “bad boy”. As it turns out, Rudy is not as bad as he appears and actually intervenes to stop one of the monster club members from being bullied. As such, and also because he was able to answer questions about monster movies, Rudy is accepted into the club and together they defeat the monsters under their new name, The Monster Squad.

And this brings me to an important segue. While there are Universal monsters threatening the town, they really were not the only monsters lurking in this sleepy town. Much can be gathered by the way the kids talk and the way the adults act. Sean’s parents are seeking couseling for their marriage and they are on the verge of divorce because his dad, who is a detective, puts his job before his family and before his relationship with his wife. Sean was no doubt affected by the dysfunction in his own household.

Society, as a whole, is pretty monstrous too. The 1980s and 1990s were not a time of political correctness, social sensitivity, or healthy school environments. Horace, who was one of the monster squad members, was bullied because of his weight. The kids in school call him “fat kid” and “faggot”. Even member of the monster squad use language like “homo” to make fun of gay people. They also pick on Sean’s younger sister and try to exclude her from the Monster Squad because she’s a girl, though she ends up being a godsend later on in the film.

The Monster Squad also shows their monstrous side in how they judge an old man who lived alone in a house on Sean’s street. They thought he was a German Nazi who was a mass murderer. Of course, they had no reason to think that, but that was the rumor circulating among the kids in school and they bought into that conspiracy theory.

Eventually, after finding a book written in German by the famed vampire hunter, Abraham Van Helsing, they worked up the courage to go to the old man to see if he could help them translate the book. The old man gladly helped and, eventually, he let them know that they were wrongly prejudging him, though he is quite forgiving of them. In this old man, they found a friend and an ally. Upon leaving his house, Sean said to him, “Wow, it seems you really are familiar with monsters”, or something to that effect. The man responded, “Yes, I suppose I am,” and then he closed the door. As he does so, you see numbers tattooed on his arm. He was a holocaust concentration camp survivor.

That was one of the most powerful scenes in the entire movie. Sure, the monsters are cool and the battle between the monsters and the Monster Squad is a lot of fun to watch; however, that scene was a piece of important moral and social commentary. Judging others is one of the most monstrous things we can do as humans because, when we do so, we place ourselves in the place of God who is the only one who is capable of judging. There are many monsters out in the world to fight and defeat in this world; however, we cannot do so if we are monsters ourselves.

The irony about The Monster Squad is that they were doing the same thing that the Nazi’s did. The Nazi’s judged that man and countless others as less than human and put him in a concentration camp as a result. He no doubt endured monstrous and inhuman treatment because of how he was judged. The Monster Squad, though to a lesser extent, were judging the old man because he was recluse and not well-known and German, and they judged him as a Nazi serial killer when, in fact, he was a victim of the Nazis.

Had these boys not fought against their monstrous bias against this man, they would have never been able to defeat the actual monsters that were threatening them and their entire town. This should open our eyes and challenge us too. Are we going to prejudge people based off of how they look, where we think they’re from, how they dress, what accent they have or any other outward appearance? Or are we going to get to know someone for who they are as opposed to how we perceive them? Christ calls us to do the latter and reminds us that we are not the judges. Only God can judge. When we judge others, we become the monsters instead of righteous heroes. Remember, judge not and you will not be judged. Amen.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Judging is God’s role. When we judge, we set ourselves up as God. Judging is the result of self-idolatry.

PRAYER
Lord, help me refrain from judging. Amen.

A LOOK BACK:Monster Squad

Read Luke 9:49-55

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For the law was given through Moses, but God’s unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17, NLT)

monstersquad3

One of my all time favorite novels, as I have expressed in the past, is Bram Stoker’s Dracula. As a fan of the novel, one who has read it several times over the years, I am also a fan of Dracula films. Not one of the films ever does the novel justice, in my humble opinion, but I love them all the same. One of my favorites, is Francis Ford Coppola’s “Bram Stoker’s Dracula”, which tried to remain true to the novel, but also explored the sensual side of the story as well. In fact, my main beef with the film is that it went overkill on making it erotic, taking away the beauty of the subtle eroticism that is inherent in the novel. As a result, it felt more like a romance than it did a horror.

In this film Dracula becomes a sort of tragic antihero. The film opens with the historical Dracula who is defending Romania, and Christendom, against the Turkish Muslims who are invading his land. One of the Turks attached a note to an arrow and shot it through a window in Dracula’s Castle; the letter was subsequently read by Dracula’s wife. The note stated that Prince Vlad Dracula had been killed in battle. Bereaved and beside herself, the princess committed suicide by jumping out of the castle window and fell to her death into the river below. When Dracula returned home, he found his dead wife laid out on the chapel floor. Before he could begin to even process what had happened, the priests told him that his wife’s soul had been damned to hell for committing suicide.

This graceless and condemning pronouncement of his true love sent Dracula into a rage. He grabbed his sword and stabbed it into a stone cross, which immediately began to gush with blood. Dracula then grabbed the Eucharistic chalice and, after he filled it with the blood, drank from it. It is in this moment that man died and the monster was born. Honestly, though, Dracula became a monster as a result of another monster in the room: GRACELESS THEOLOGY. It was the theology of the priests, who are supposedly Christ’s representatives, that killed Dracula the man and created Dracula the monster. Dracula’s response to the priests is best summed up by the lyrics of the song “Dracula” by Iced Earth: “I am the Dragon of blood, the relentless prince of pain. Renouncing God off His throne, my blood is forever stained. For true love I shall avenge. I defy the creed that damned her.”

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am certainly not justifying with Dracula’s reaction, nor am I suggesting that Dracula was right to “defy God.” What I am saying is that there is no greater monster than graceless, bad theology. Some Christians have placed themselves as judge and jury against what they feel is sinful or immoral. Yet, has Christ called Christians to be judge or jury? Or has Christ called us to be representatives of and witnesses to the love and the grace of God? I think the answer is clear. And I think it becomes clear who the real villains were in this particular telling of Dracula. Monstrous theology makes monsters of those who believe in it, and it also ends up either destroying and/or damning its victims, sometimes creating monsters out them as well.

In the spirit of Halloween, let us become the “Monster Squad.” Let us hunt down and eradicate the demons, the ghouls and the monsters that lurk in our theology. Let us be thoughtful and prayerful about what we believe and how express that. Let us be humble in our faith and recognize that ONLY GOD IS THE JUDGE and that we are not called to take the place of God. Let us remember that Christ has called us to be representatives of the Kingdom of God, to be witnesses of God’s grace, to to be bearers of God’s profoundly unconditional, limitless, and enduring love. Let our theology be the kind that points to the sacred worth in all people; and let us lay to rest any theology that sets out to destroy.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“One of the main tasks of theology is to find words that do not divide but unite, that do not create conflict but unity, that do not hurt but heal.” – Henri Nouwen

PRAYER
Lord, help me to be humble and to be faithful in representing your grace and love to all people. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: No One Can Judge

Read Romans 7:14-25

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged.” (Matthew 7:1, NLT)

Annex - Lugosi, Bela (Dracula)_05

Every year, around this time, I read Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which is a tradition I have carried on since I was in high school. I absolutely love that tale, which is ultimately a tale about HOPE in the midst of darkness. There is one scene in the book that is absolutely striking to me. Mina Harker had recently been bitten by Count Dracula and, to make matters worse, had drank some of his blood. As we find out, this fuses Mina to him and begins to make her one of his. At one point, upon finding out that she drank Dracula’s blood (as she was in a trance when she did it), she cried out, “Unclean, unclean, God help me, I’m unclean!”

One can only imagine the absolute horror that Mina was going through. She had lived her life in a manner that was pure, always priding herself in her manners and behavior. She was a loyal person and loved her husband dearly, yet now she was tainted by this monster’s blood. She is absolutely revolted by the Count and horrified by what he as done to her; however, because she is spiritually bound to him, and as she begins to watch her humanity slowly fade away, she comes to a realization.

Looking up at her husband Jonathan, she asks that if she becomes like the count that he will put an end to her and put her soul at peace so that she may be with God. But her plea doesn’t end there. She also begs that he find the count and put an end to the monster so that the man trapped inside may find peace as well. Whoa! It is almost unfathomable for her husband Jonathan, but she makes him agree. He cannot understand how she could have even the remotest bit of sympathy for this savage beast, this wretched demon, this accursed vampire.

In Romans, Paul spent a good amount of time writing about the self-perpetuating cycle of sin. We know that certain things are good and often gravitate away from them. Conversely, we know that certain things are not good or healthy and yet we find ourselves doing those things anyway. No matter how hard we try, we often find ourselves stuck in the mire of our sins.

Paul knew, just as Mina came to realize, that there is a bit of monster in us all. We all let certain things get the better of us. We all are, to one extent or another, controlled by the negative things we allow into our lives. Perhaps some do more than others, but we all get caught up in things that God would otherwise wish to set us free from. Yet, we also tend to look at others as if they are worse than we are and, like Jonathan, we often get too caught up in our own self-righteousness to see that we are really in the same boat as the ones we judge.

Rather than being in the prison of our own judgements, we are called by God to be humble and to see the humanity in others, including ourselves. Even though we may not agree with the actions that people take, and even though we might even be forced to act against the evils that people perpetrate, we are still called to see the child of God beneath the sins that entrap them. We are all children of God, loved by God, and God wishes to free us all from our sins…in particular, the sin of judgment. All we have to do is be humble and let God guide us from the darkness of our judgments to the light of God’s unconditional love and grace.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“The least amount of judging we can do the better off we are.” – Michael J. Fox

PRAYER

Lord, humble me so that I might not judge others. Open my eyes and my heart to your mercy, your love, and your grace. Amen.

God’s People, part 247: Cornelius

Read Acts 10

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“When I saw that they were not following the truth of the gospel message, I said to Peter in front of all the others, ‘Since you, a Jew by birth, have discarded the Jewish laws and are living like a Gentile, why are you now trying to make these Gentiles follow the Jewish traditions?”’  (Galatians 2:14, 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.

Brooklyn_Museum_-_The_Centurion_Le_Centurion_-_James_Tissot-Wikimedia-CC2Part 247: Cornelius. As Luke wrote, Cornelius was the captain of a Roman cohort called, “The Italian.” While, that may sound like the name of a sandwich to us, Roman cohorts were no joke. They were made up of 480 men and were roughly the equivalent of a modern military battalion. Thus, Cornelius was someone who had worked himself up the ranks in the Roman military.

While we don’t know much more about Cornelius than that, we can certainly ascertain that he was not a person to be trifled with. He, no doubt, would have been much like the centurion that Jesus engaged with. That centurion said the following to Jesus, “…I am under the authority of my superior officers, and I have authority over my soldiers. I only need to say, ‘Go,’ and they go, or ‘Come,’ and they come. And if I say to my slaves, ‘Do this,’ they do it.’”  (Matthew 8:9, NLT)

There’s something else we know about Cornelius: he and his entire household were God-fearing people. Perhaps you are questioning what it actually means to be a “God-fearing” person. In the ancient word, a God-fearer was a Gentile who was supportive of Hellenistic Judaism. He or she would observe certain Jewish religious traditions and rituals; however, they were not fully converted to Judaism. To traditional, non-Hellenistic Jews, they were still unclean and not a part fo God’s people because they didn’t follow all of the Jewish laws, including Kosher dietary laws.

Cornelius, despite being a Gentile, was someone who lived according to the heart of the law. It is quite clear that he loved God with his whole being and he was clearing loving his neighbor as he loved himself. Luke attested to the fact that Cornelius was very generous and compassionate toward the poor; however, that clearly didn’t seem to initially change the Apostles’ opinion of him.

That is why God gave Peter the vision prior to sending him to Caesarea to visit with Cornelius. In the vision, God told Peter to kill and eat an unclean animal and Peter objected. Was this some sort of gotcha test? After all, Peter had been a devout Jew is whole life. Still, God commanded him to kill the unclean animal and eat it. In fact, God scolded Peter for his reluctance and said, “Do not call something unclean if God has made it clean” (Acts 10:15, NLT).

It took Peter having this vision 3 times in a row for him to budge and agree. Sadly, the debate did not end there. Even after Peter did go in and eat in the household of Cornelius, the leaders in Jerusalem were not okay with it. Their reluctance caused Peter to live a double life, eating with Gentiles while James and the Jerusalem church leaders weren’t around, but avoiding such foods and table company when they were around. Eventually Paul called him out on his hypocrisy and Peter testified that God had declared the act of eating with Gentiles to be a clean and holy act.

Of course, while Peter’s reluctance to follow God did not end with his time with Cornelius, much good did come out of Peter’s engagement with Cornelius. He and his family were baptized, and they went from God-fearing people to being followers of Christ. What’s more, it wasn’t just Cornelius’ family that converted, but the Holy Spirit fell on many Gentiles during Peter’s time there.

This should challenge us. How do our ideas of God’s law keep us from seeing the working of the Holy Spirit in others? We look at different people as being “unclean” because of how we read Scripture and interpret God’s opinion. For instance, we look at people who are scantily dressed, or people who have tattoos all over them, or people who listen to certain music, or who have certain professions as being lost and foreign to God; however, today’s Scripture cautions us on our judgments and calls us to stop telling God what is unclean. That is for God to determine, not for us. Besides, even is something is unclean that does not mean it is outside of God’s ability to cleanse. Remember, we are not called to be judges but witnesses of God’s amazing Grace through Jesus Christ our Lord.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear and grace my fears relieved. How precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed.” – John Newton

PRAYER
Lord, help me to see people through your eyes rather than through my own. Amen.

God’s People, part 232: The Council

Read Acts 4:1-2

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For God chose to save us through our Lord Jesus Christ, not to pour out his anger on us. Christ died for us so that, whether we are dead or alive when he returns, we can live with him forever. So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.”  (1 Thessalonians 5:9-11, NLT)

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

The_Sanhedrin_in_session_2013-12-25_00-59Part 232: The Council. When it came to matters of religious law, there was only one authority that decided whether someone was innocent or guilty for breaking it. That sole authority was the Sanhedrin, which was the council of the top Sadducees and Pharisees that stood as judges over the Jewish people. There was a lesser Sanhedrin made up of 23 people for each of the cities; however, there was one Great Sanhedrin, made up of 71 judges, which acted as the Supreme Court over all of the land. The court met every day except holy observances, including the Sabbath.

Within the Sanhedrin, there was the Nasi who was the president or head of the court, as well as the Av Beit Din, who was the chief judge. On top of them, there were 69 general members of the Sanhedrin. During Jesus and the Apostles’ time, this council/court met in the Hall of Hewn Stones within Temple. This was the council which tried Jesus in the middle of the night, against their own legal procedures, and this was the council which tried Peter and John for preaching about Jesus that we read about in today’s Scripture reading.

With that said, it would be a mistake that this group of people were all corrupt or that they somehow were being malicious in their decisions. No doubt, lots of different factors came into play in their decisions. First, they came to their decisions with the Torah in mind. Did the people in question go against the common understanding of the Torah? Were these people knowingly going against the Torah, or were they simply in error and in need of correction?

This council also had to consider things from a political point of view. How would their judgment effect the people as a whole in light of Roman rule? How would their decisions affect their own authority as the ruling religious body of Israel. It would be a mistake to think that this body was solely religious, just as it would be a mistake to think this body was solely political. In the first century CE, the worlds of religion and politics were intimately connected.

When Peter and John came before them, they were originally seen as ignorant fisherman who got caught up in believing the blasphemous teachings of Jesus Christ. It is clear that the Sanhedrin did not see these two as being intentional in going against their authority in or in blaspheming against God. They had them arrested and held them until the next day, when they could hear their case. In the end, they sent Peter and John away with a stern warning, “Do not continue teaching about this heretic and traitor named Jesus.”

As far as the Sanhedrin was concerned, justice was done but mercy was also shown (Micah 6:8). So, as was mentioned earlier, it would be wrong to read “villainy” into the council and its members. It’s easy to do that because we are invested in those people they were judging against; however, those members of the Sanhedrin thought they were on the right side of God and carrying out God’s justice.

This should challenge us. Most of us believe that we are on the right side of God and that we are living justly under God. We look at those who are like us to be people of God, but we also look at those who are NOT like us as being those who need God. We believe that we are measuring people on God’s standard; however, the real standard is that “those people are NOT like US.” Thus, we become the measure, not God.

Let us be a people who learn that, while it is important to protect the faith from false teachings and things that take people further away from Christ, it is also important to not do so judgmentally, but with humility. We are NOT saved by our right understanding of things, but by the grace and the love of Jesus Christ. Let us correct people when they are in error, but let us walk that fine line without falling into the pit of condemnation. This is the way to the Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus Christ is leading us on!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Compassion will cure more sins than condemnation.” – Rev. Henry Ward Beecher

PRAYER
Lord, give me the discernment to know what the Gospel truth is; however, steer me clear of condemnation. Amen.

God’s People, part 224: Adulterer

Read John 7:53; 8:1-11

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Soon afterward Jesus began a tour of the nearby towns and villages, preaching and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom of God. He took his twelve disciples with him, along with some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases. Among them were Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons;”  (Luke 8:1-2, NLT)

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

Jesus_Woman-AdultererPart 224: Adulterer. We all are familiar with the account of the adulterer in John 8. This scene has been played out in virtually every movie ever made on Jesus’ life, teachings, death and resurrection. Most likely, it is remembered in the following way:

A crowd of people come storming into the village square, stones in hand as they chase down a woman who is in a ragged undergarment. Her makeup is smeared across her face, and her dark, exotic eyeliner, eye shadow, and mascara are streaking down her face with streams of tears. Jesus sees the angry crowd and also notices one of the religious leaders approaching him.

“Teacher,” the man called out snidely in order to trap Jesus, “this woman was caught in adultery. The law of Moses says we must stone her to death. What do you say?”

Jesus bends down quietly and draws in the sand a fish symbol. Though Jesus doesn’t answer the man, he calls out again and demands an answer. “All right,” Jesus responded, “But let the one who is without sin cast the first stone.

Each person knowing that they aren’t without sin, they begin to drop their stones on the ground and leave dejected. Jesus approaches the woman and asks, “Woman, who here condemns you.

“No one, master,” she replied. Then Jesus said to her, “Then, neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.

Of course, this memory of the Scripture is mostly right, though some of the details are off. First, the crowd was not necessarily holding stones; rather, the account tells us that they brought the woman before Jesus in order to trap him. When Jesus said his famous line, “let the one who is without sin cast the first stone”, there is no mention that the people dropped their stones, but that they just left.

Also, we don’t know what Jesus actually wrote in the sand. Films often have Jesus draw a fish, which was the ancient symbol for Christ followers; however, there is no actual evidence that Jesus drew that symbol, let alone anything else. Most importantly, this woman often gets conflated with Mary Magdalene. In fact, this identity has become so strongly linked to the adulterous woman, that even when we read the text, in which the woman is given no name, we see Mary Magdalene as that woman.

The truth is, Mary was never linked to being an adulterer, nor does the Bible say that Mary Magdalene was ever a prostitute. In fact, the only mention of Mary in her life prior to following Jesus, was that she had been possessed by seven demons and that Jesus had performed an exorcism on her, casting them out. Thus, this woman caught in adultery was NOT Mary Magdalene, but an unnamed, anonymous woman.

Many Christians will read into this lots of different things, none worse than the idea that this passage promotes the common, hideous, phrase of “hate the sin, but love the sinner.” People will use this woman as an example that, while Jesus forgives, he does so on the condition that you go and “sin no more.” There is some truth to that; however, it is a half truth at best and it is often used to justify one’s own judgmentalism.

Yes, Jesus forgives us and, it is true, that Jesus does ask us to go and sin no more. With that said, the forgiveness is not conditioned on anything. It is give to those who believe in Christ and call on his name for forgiveness. Honestly, Christ’s forgiveness is given to all humanity; however, if they do not see their need for forgiveness and do not accept Christ and the forgiveness he offers, they can never receive it. That is not because Christ doesn’t want them to, but because they are unwilling to.

The woman was not told to go and sin no more and, upon accepting that condition was forgiven. It was quite the opposite of that. Jesus forgave her and then gave her the opportunity to go and sin no more. No doubt, she probably did sin again at some point. She’s a human being; however, due to her acceptance of Jesus in that moment, she had been freed from living in her sins. As a result, any time she slipped into sin, she could remember the forgiveness given her, repent, and change course toward righteousness by the power of the Holy Spirit.

That is the same for all of us. None of us are in a place to “hate the sin, but love the sinner”, for we are all sinners who sin. That doesn’t mean we should like our sins. No, far from it. We should not like our sins, but instead of being the judge of sin in others, we should be turning to God to help us remove our own sins. Instead of judging sins in others, we should support people who are sinning and extend the kind of graceful guidance that Christ would want us to extend. It is then, that we move from judgment to graceful accountability. “Love the sinner and journey with them as we all move away from our sins toward Christ.” Let us make that our motto.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.” – Jesus of Nazareth in Matthew 7:5

PRAYER
Lord, help me to focus on my own sins, rather than being so quick to see, and judge, the sin in others. I look to you for my salvation and I point others to you out of love. Amen.