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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Part 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
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.
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.
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)
“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
Lord, steer me away from all who are false, and steer me away from being false. Amen.
Read Matthew 5:27-30
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“You must not commit adultery.” (Exodus 20:14 NLT)
Here, once again, Jesus starts off by affirming the law, “You have heard that it was said, Don’t commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14 NLT). Before we go any further than the law itself, it is vital that people understand what is meant by adultery. Typically, adultery is defined in modern culture as being any extramarital, sexual realtionship. In other words, if someone is married and has sex with someone other than his or her spouse, that person is committing adultery. Thus, this Biblical law is often interpreted as meaning, “you must not have extramarital sex.”
While that understanding is not entirely incorrect, it is also lacking in what is fully meant by the term “adultery”. What’s more, without the fullest understanding of the term adultery, one misses the significance of Jesus’ antithesis to this Biblical law. I have heard some Christians, most famously Kirk Cameron, use Jesus’ antithesis to show that ALL humans are adulterers; however, that is not what Jesus is doing at all and such an understanding betrays a MISUNDERSTANDING of context and Biblical Law.
In the Torah, and in the ancient Jewish context, adultery (μοιχεύω, see Matthew 5:27) should not be confused with fornication ( πορνεία, see ). The latter is reference to any and all illicit sex outside of the marital covenant. Fornication is most definitely considered to be immoral, and those who commit adultery are fornicating (by definition); however, not all fornicators are committing adultery. Fornication does not equal adultery.
In ancient Jewish Law, adultery was the act of a man having sex with a woman married to another man. To do so was to strip the married man of his exclusive sexual right to his wife, as well as it was to deny him of the assurance that his children were his own. Thus, if a man (married or not) had sex with a woman married to another man), that act was considered to be adultery and both the man and the woman involved would be guilty of being adulterers. It was a crime punishable by death. Again, adultery hinges on the married woman. Thus, a married man having sex with an unmarried woman WOULD NOT be guilty of adultery. Conversely, and unmarried woman having sex with another man (married or not), WOULD NOT be guilty of committing adultery. They would considered immoral (which carried its own social consequences), but they would not be considered adulterers and necessarily subject to the penalty of death.
This law, obviously, comes out of a patriarchal society where a man has “rights” over a woman, but the woman does not have rights over the man. So a married man who has sex with another person is not guilty of committing adulter, whereas, a married woman fornicating with another person is. This may not sound like a just law to our twenty-first century ears; however, it is important to understand that law (without our own biased judgment upon it) in order to understand what Jesus does next.
Following affirming the law as it stands in the Torah, Jesus presents it’s antithesis (or it’s direct opposite). “But I say to you that every man who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery in his heart” (Matthew 5:28 NLT). Notice what Jesus does here? He takes a patriarchal law and flips it on its proverbial head. Instead of it being focused on the woman (as the physical law is), Jesus focuses on the man who will face an eschatological (end time) judgment by God.
Again, Jesus affirms the Torah in that a woman or a man found to be adulterers will be subject to judgment (as a matter of fact in that ancient world); however, Jesus flips his command on men (as women were often considered to be the offenders in the ancient world). This is a remarkable and scandalous thing Jesus does here and, in doing so, he is letting men know that if they look at a married woman lustfully, they are guilty of committing adultery in their hearts (even though the woman is guilty of absolutely nothing).
To conclude, this antithesis should once again remind us that God is looking at our hearts. Are our hearts filled with love, or are we predators in our hearts? While humans can judge upon appearances, upon evidence, and upon circumstances, only God knows the hearts. It is the heart that God judges and none of us can hide our hearts from God. This dire reminder is not meant to scare us, but to humble us. This should give us a new understanding of Jesus’ words, which are to come a bit later in this sermon (Matthew 7:1-2). Let us avoid taking the judgment throne, which is God’s alone; rather, let us reconcile our own hearts with God so that we may be filled with mercy and righteousness.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Love is not predatory.” – The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary (Volume VIII, pg. 190).
Lord, remove judgment from my heart and fill it with contrition and love. Love is not predatory in judgment or in any other manner. Steer me from being predatory as well. Amen.
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)
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
Lord, help me to not only seek justice, but to seek reconciliation for myself and for others. Amen.
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)
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
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.
Read James 4:1-12
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.” (Matthew 7:1-2 NLT)
I love music that speaks to my soul. I am not a radio listener, for the most part. I do not listen to music for the sake of hearing catchy pop tunes, or the latest fad. Every now and again I will turn on the radio, just because I am not sure what mood I am in and/or what music I want to listen to, and occasionally I am blessed to come across a gem of a song that inspires me to check out other work by an artist.
It was somewhere during the Spring of 1995 when I turned on the radio in my car. I had just got my license and I wanted to listen to some music. It was in that car at that moment that I heard the voice of an angel singing a question that still resonates with me today, “Who Will Save Your Soul?” That artist is, of course, Jewel Kilchner (often just referred to as Jewel). The song stuck with me and at some point my parents went out and got me her debut album, “Pieces of You”. It is an album that spoke to my soul in a way that most albums have never done, and most certainly never will.
There was an honesty and complexity in her hauntingly beautiful lyrics mixed with her folk-style guitar playing. Her angelic voice plays on the eardrums like a harpist plays on one’s heartstrings! One of the songs that spoke to me so much was the eponymous track, “Pieces of You.” In that song, Jewel puts each and every one of us on trial as she begins to address common stereotypes and askes probing questions of the listener, who may or may not hold those stereotypes. For those who don’t, the questions reflect the need for them to become a part of the solution rather than just sitting quietly on the sideline. For those who do hold those stereotypes, the song becomes rather convicting and, perhaps, quite a bit uncomfortable as Jewel puts their consciences on trial.
If you haven’t listened to the song, YouTube it. I highly recommend you listen to it as it will add a deeper meaning to this devotion, though I must warn you that she uses language that is often used by those who label those they are stereotyping. It’s not gratuitous, however, and the language is certainly appropriate given the context of the song.
The driving question of the song is this, why do we stereotype people? Why do humans tend to group people together and label them as if they are all the same because of the label we attribute to them? For instance, are women to be defined by their looks? Are they to be defined by their sexuality? Are they to be defined by their body parts? Do men (or women) want to reject a woman because they perceive her as ugly, or do they want to “get with her” just because she is perceived as pretty?
How about gay men and women? Do we want to deny their humanity, that they were created in the image of God like the rest of us? Do we want to shun them? Should they merely be defined by their sexuality, by their orientation, and by who they are in love with? Or how about people of different religious beliefs? Do we judge them as less than us because we view our beliefs as superior? Do we judge them as peculiar because their normal is different than our normal? Do we judge them as sinners because their expression of faith is different than ours?
The question that Jewel asks is one we should be asking ourselves. Do we hate different people because of any valid or good reason? Is there any reason to hate? Or do we hate different people because of fear, because when we look at them we are reminded that they are pieces of us, and that the differences in them remind us of the parts of us that are unknown and uncertain? If we are truly lovers of God, if we are true followers of Christ, we know that it is not our place to judge and that we are constantly being called to step outside of our comfort zone to love ALL people. Jesus didn’t put any exceptions on who we should and shouldn’t love. What’s more, Jesus did not give us any loopholes in which it would be okay for us to judge. Instead of rejecting people, I pray we can all begin to accept others as “pieces of us”, for if we do that we will begin to recognize that we are all related to each other and to the human experience.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
For every sin you point your finger at in the Bible, the Bible has ten pointing back at you.
Lord, teach us to love others as you have loved us. Help us to drop our false labels, in order that we may begin to see people as they TRULY are…your children. Amen.
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)
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
Lord, help me to be humble and to be faithful in representing your grace and love to all people. Amen.