Tag Archives: Justice

God’s People, part 94: Nahum

Read Nahum 2

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“There is no healing for your wound; your injury is fatal. All who hear of your destruction will clap their hands for joy. Where can anyone be found who has not suffered from your continual cruelty?” (Nahum‬ ‭3:19‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

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

  Part 94: Nahum. Since there is literally nothing biographical to go on, regarding Nahum, I am not going to focus on the prophet as much as I will the prophecy. In Nahum’s three short chapters, we find a scathing denunciation of the city of Ninevah. Nahum’s words are swift, pointed, sharp, violent and, at times, his language is rather vulgar: “‘I am your enemy!’ says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. ‘And now I will lift your skirts and show all the earth your nakedness and shame. I will cover you with filth and show the world how vile you really are’” (Nahum‬ ‭3:5-6‬ ‭NLT‬‬).

In order to understand the language used in the prophecy, one has to understand the city and the kingdom it was spoken against. Most of you probably remember the city of Ninevah from the narrative about the prophet Jonah. If you recall, Jonah was sent there to pronounce God’s wrath, and imminent destruction, upon the residents of that city. According to Jonah, the city collectively repented, put on sackcloth and turned their hearts to God, thus receiving God’s mercy and forgiveness.

The likeliness that the Book of Jonah offers a historical record seems fairly slim, as the text seems to have been written as a satirical allegory. What is clear is that by the time of Nahum (writing a couple of centuries later than when Jonah lived), Ninevah seems to be just as wicked as it was back then. It was a wealthy and powerful city, as well as the capital of the ancient Assyrian Empire (modern day Iraq). The Assyrians were a militant and brutal Empire that had conquered many kingdoms, including: the Chaldeans, Babylonians, Medes, Persians, Scythians, Cimmerians, and the Northern Kingdom of Israel.

What can be said about the Assyrians is that they were saber rattlers, militant, and boasted of a powerful military force. They were seemingly unstoppable and were feared by the entire region. Yet, there strength became their undoing…their vulnerability…their weakness. What’s more, Nahum foretold that such disaster would befall them for all of their wickedness, militancy, and cruelty.

Shortly after Nahum’s prophecy, the Chaldeans, Babylonians, Medes, Persians, Scythians, and Cimmeriancs joined forces in an alliance that brought down the Assyrian empire. Many in the city were massacred or driven out. Archaeologists discovered unburied skeletons at the site of ancient Ninevah, evidence that such a seige of Ninevah, and such an end to the Assyrian Empire, was truly a historical event.

This should remind us all that the larger something is the harder it falls. Think of all of the major empires in the world: Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Roman, etc. Each of these Empires, as powerful as they were, fell tremendously as a result of their power and over-ambitious reach. Nahum reminds us that God favors the weak over the strong. According to Nahum, it was God that brought down the Assyrian empire for its evil ways, its wickedness, its militancy, and its cruelty. It was God that put an end to this powerful empire, through the unintended consequences that came out of its military conquest.

This should be a red flag for Judeo-Christians who live in powerful countries. Many Christians today see hyper-nationalism, military might, and saber rattling to be the direction God has called us in. Many Christians are celebrating, or at least justifying, the separation of children from their migrant families. Many Christians are calling for schools, homes and churches to be weaponized. Many Christians believe that their nation’s interests (no matter which country they’re from) should be put first at all costs. Many Christians believe that the end justifies any means.

Yet, Nahum warns the reader that God is not on the side of boastful, militant, powerful nations, or peoples, who use their might to promote their own self-interests. Rather, God calls us to be peacemakers, to put our faith and reliance on God and not in our weapons of death and destruction, and to witness to God’s kingdom through justice, mercy and humility. The challenge for us is to evaluate our own beliefs and to measure them to what the prophets, such as Nahum, teach us about God. Do our beliefs align with God, or do they stand in opposition to God? I pray we honestly reflect, repent, and adjust as need be.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

Which do you put first, God or country? Whichever you put first is what you owe your allegiance to, everything else is subordinate to what you prioritize.

PRAYER

Lord, help us to put you first in our lives. If other things are in alignment with your will, so be it. Grant us the clarity to discern so that we can do what is right in all things. Steer us clear of anything that is against your nature. Amen.

God’s People, part 92: Amos

Read Amos 5:1-25

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, an endless river of righteous living.” (Amos‬ ‭5:24‬ ‭NLT‬‬)‬‬

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

img_1061Part 92: Amos. Again, with the prophets, little is known about their lives. With the exceptions of Elijah and Elisha, of which narratives were written, all that we have left of the prophets are their prophecies. This is certainly true of Amos. We have the book of prophecy that is attributed to him and little else.

With that said we know, by his own account, that Amos was from the Kingdom of Judah, although his ministry was spent in the Northern Kingdom of Israel. What’s more, he was not always a prophet. Prior to his call, he was a shepherd and a sycamore fig farmer (Amos 7:14).

This is important to note. All of the prophets whose books are in the Bible, found the need to mention how they were called to their prophetic ministry. None of them were trained, professional prophets. What this tells us is that there was suspicion among the common people for the prophets of their day and age. Why, one might ask? Because the professional prophets who were hired by the leaders were giving flowery words and accolades to their leaders rather than being honest, holding them accountable, and steering them back toward the LORD.

Thus, Amos defended his prophetic ministry by pointing out that he wasn’t such a “hired prophet”, but a true prophet hand picked by the LORD. “But Amos replied, ‘I’m not a professional prophet, and I was never trained to be one. I’m just a shepherd, and I take care of sycamore-fig trees. But the Lord called me away from my flock and told me, “Go and prophesy to my people in Israel.”’” (Amos‬ ‭7:14-15‬ ‭NLT‬‬)‬‬‬‬

Out of all the prophets, Amos spoke up the most about social justice. Actually, he wrote at a time of relative peace; yet, he wrote of the growing disparity between the wealthy and the poor. He was the first to push people “beyond thoughts and prayers”, and taught that prayers and empty rituals do not make up for bad deeds. He also taught about “privilege” and how it leads to apathy and escapism (Amos 4:4-5). He proclaimed God’s disgust at the empty rituals and he called out the 1% of society for making their profits off of the backs of the poor.

Ultimately, Amos believed that by oppressing the poor and failing to practice justice, Israel was not living righteously. And he gave voice to the proclamation of God, “Away with your noisy hymns of praise! I will not listen to the music of your harps. Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, an endless river of righteous living” (Amos‬ ‭5:23-24‬ ‭NLT‬‬)‬‬

Clearly, Amos’ message made people of privilege and wealth feel uncomfortable. In fact, I am sure Amos’ message was a threat to them, much like it is to those of us who have it better than others in our own society. This is so true that the word “privilege” has become a trigger word for people who do not see themselves as privileged. People get incensed when they even hear the word; yet, the reality is that such people, myself included, have been afforded benefits that others have not been afforded.

The challenge for us is to try and understand the message without taking offense to it. It is God who is taking offense at those of us who are calling ourselves by Christ’s name, but opposing the justice and compassionate love that Christ embodies. Let us be a people that stand up for God’s justice and allow our prayers, which are important, to move us into action. Let us open up the floodgates to God’s river of righteousness, so that the waters of justice may roll on down. Let God’s Kingdom come, God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. invoked “let justice roll down like water” (Amos 5:24) in his famous Letter from the Birmingham Jail.

PRAYER

Lord, help me to stand up for your justice and not stand int he way of it. Amen.

God’s People, part 86: Micah

Read Micah 6

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“They said, “Remember when Micah of Moresheth prophesied during the reign of King Hezekiah of Judah. He told the people of Judah, ‘This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: Mount Zion will be plowed like an open field; Jerusalem will be reduced to ruins! A thicket will grow on the heights where the Temple now stands.’” (Jeremiah‬ ‭26:18‬ ‭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 86: Micah. To put it plainly, Micah is one of my favorite prophets in the Hebrew tradition, because of his bold prophecy and the concise, but profoundly divine, counsel he gives at the end of his eponymous book. Micah was also a prophet during the same time period that Isaiah and Hosea were prophesying. His message is consistent with there’s.

Before I get into the specifics of Micah’s prophecy, I want to remind us that this series is intent on finding the flaws in the Biblical characters so that we may see how close to us, how down to earth, and how human they were. Unfortunately, the prophets didn’t write autobiographies; rather, their writings consisted of their prophecies. Conversely, the scribes of the Kings did not write historical biographies of the prophets and so there is little to gleen from their lives, unless they happen to reveal that in their writings. Some did, such as Isaiah and Jeremiah; however, most did not and I am not about to “make up” flaws.

With that said, I can speak to what they were prophesying against, and we can explore how that relates to us today. In that way, we can see that the people of the ancient times were not more religious, more obedient, more sinless than we are. The times have changed, technology has changed, geography has changed; however, humanity has not changed.

Now back to Micah. Jeremiah reveals to us that chapter 3 was written against the king of Judah, Hezekiah. Remember that Hezekiah was actually one of the more righteous kings; however, he was not perfect. The king, to refresh you, had fallen victim to his pride. Because of the tremendous flattery given to him by the Babylonians, he had allied himself with Babylon, which was something that would go on to bear terrible consequences.

Isaiah had scolded the king for that decision. It cannot be certain whether this was what Micah was scolding Hezekiah or not; however, what can be certain is that Hezekiah humbled himself and listened. According to the Jeremiah, the warning was heeded and so God did not allow calamity to fall upon Jerusalem. If only more leaders could find themselves constructively humbled to avert the unintended pride-consequence of disaster.

Beyond Jerusalem, Micah had much to say against Israel and its detestable practices. In the end he wrote: “What can we bring to the Lord? Should we bring him burnt offerings? Should we bow before God Most High with offerings of yearling calves? Should we offer him thousands of rams and ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Should we sacrifice our firstborn children to pay for our sins? No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah‬ ‭6:6-8‬ ‭NLT‬‬).‬‬

While it is clear that Micah stood opposed to idolatry, to human sacrifice, and to the injustice the rulers and leaders were perpetrating against their own people. Unfortunately, while Hezekiah turned from his sin and repented, the Israelites did not. They continued on with their practices and shorthly thereafter, the Assyrians came in, conquered and exiled them.

No one likes a prophet. No one likes to hear they are wrong or that they need to change; however, the wise person heeds advice no matter how painful it is to hear. The wise person listens, prays, discerns, and changes. This takes great humility. The question for us is this, are we willing to humble ourselves and listen to the words of God’s prophets. Not just the prophets of old, but are we willing to listen to those through whom God is speaking now? Let us reflect on that.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Get all the advice and instruction you can, so you will be wise the rest of your life.” (Proverbs‬ ‭19:20‬ ‭NLT‬‬)‬‬

PRAYER

Lord, advise me in your ways and count me among the humble who are wise. Amen.

God’s People, part 70: Obadiah

Read 1 Kings 18:1-16a

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“The eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.” (2 Chronicles‬ ‭16:9a‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

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

img_0916Part 70: Obadiah. Right now, having read this series up until this point, one might be drawing the conclusion that the northern Kingdom of Israel was filled completely to the brim with wickendness. But that is neither fair, nor would it be accurate. As with any nation, there are good and faithful people within it and there are wicked and unfaithful people within it. What we need to keep in perspective is the fact that the writers who were writing against Israel, were trying to show how wayward the kingdom was from God; however, they do not spend much time on highlighting any faithfulness, barring a few.

Still, not everyone in Israel bowed to Baal, and there are a few who are lifted up as perfect examples. One such person was named Obadiah, not to be confused with the prophet by whom the eponymous Biblical book was written. In 1 Kings 18, Obadiah is revealed to be what is known as a majordomo, or someone who speaks on behalf of and takes charge for another person. He was in charge of the king’s palace and the king’s affairs.

That is not all the Bible reveals about this man; rather, it is revealed that while he was employed by Ahab, the King of Israel, he was actually a devoted follower of the LORD. When Jezebel was waging a bloodbath persecution of any and all of God’s prophets, Obadiah was running an “underground railroad” of sorts. He hid 100 prophets of the LORD in two separate caves so that they would not be killed. On top of that, he supplied them with food and water.

Doing this, no doubt, came at great risk to him and, while the Bible does not specify this, it is not a stretch to think that the prophet Elijah had interactions with Obadiah during that time. What is clear is that Obadiah recognizes Elijah when he sees him. During that interaction, the prophet asks Obadiah to announce to King Ahab that he has arrived and would like to have a meeting with the king.

At first, Obadiah is reluctant because, up until this point, Elijah was elusive and was the only prophet that Ahab and Jezebel couldn’t capture and kill. Had Obadiah given the king an announcement that turned out to be not true because Elijah pulled a trick and fled the scene, it would have cost Obadiah his life. Elijah did give him the assurance he was looking for and, once he had it, he did as the prophet requested and brought the message to the king.

We don’t know anything else about this particular person other than what I described above; however, the story of Obadiah reminds us a couple of things about ourselves. Each of us has the potential to be puppets of the world; however, each of us also have the potential (and the call) to be followers of God. No doubt, following God comes with risk and potential consequences that can come at great personal cost; however, following God is the right thing to do. The challenge for us is this: will we take the risks to do what is right and follow God, or will we be the silent majority, complicit in our complacency. The choice is ours to make.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

The righteous in alignment with God’s justice.

PRAYER

Lord, guide me to choose what is right over what safe. Amen.

God’s People, part 59: Absolom

Read 2 Samuel 18

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“I wish I were the judge. Then everyone could bring their cases to me for judgment, and I would give them justice!” (2 Samuel‬ ‭15:4‬ ‭NLT‬‬)‬‬

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

img_0874Part 59: Absolom. Absolom comes to us in a way that makes him feel like the Punisher, who is one of my favorite of the Marvel heroes. In fact, the Punisher is not even a “hero”, but an antihero, a vigilante who is seeking punishment for those who murdered his family. Eventually that leads him to seek punishment for all he feels fall on the wrong side of the law. The Punisher seeks not vengeance, but justice through punishment.

The reason there was a Punsiher at all was because the failings of the justice system; his family was murdered by the mob and those who were “enforcing” the law turned a blind eye on him because they were in the pockets of the mafia. Thus, the grieving husband and father, Frank Castle, became the Punisher and took law “enforcement” into his own hand. Nothing will get in the way of him or his mission to punish the corrupt and criminals.

Absolom comes to us in much the same way. He’s outraged when he learns that his sister has been raped his and her half-brother, Amnon. He advised his sister to remain quiet, probably to protect her as we have all seen how “just” David’s court really was. I am sure he had the hope justice would take its course; however, when David remained silent and protected Amnon from any sort of punishment, Absolom becomes indignant. He, like Frank Castle, decided to take “law enforcement” into his own hands and, two years later, had Amnon murdered.

How can one not root for Absolom there, right? I mean his sister’s life was utterly destroyed and her own father did nothing to bring justice to her. I believe that this was the beginning of the split between Absolom and his father, the King. With that said, like many before and many after, Absolom also sought power and, though he was reconciled with his father, he began to plot against him with the hope of taking the throne from him.

Absolom, no doubt, believed he had the moral high ground to plot the coup, because of his father’s inability to judge justly; however, he did not seek God’s will in that regard, but was advancing his own cause and looking to set himself up as the ultimate judge of good versus evil. He proclaimed, “I wish I were the judge. Then everyone could bring their cases to me for judgment, and I would give them justice” (2 Samuel‬ ‭15:4‬ ‭NLT‬‬)!‬‬

Absolom saw himself as the arbiter of justice, and one could almost say that his words were rather chivalric; however, when one thinks of it, it falls short of true justice. All that would have happened would be that Absolom would have assumed the role of absolute ruler and would have fell short of truly being the kind of arbiter of true justice he thought he could be. Why? Because he was human and his understanding of justice was subjective. What’s more, absolute power corrupts absoltuely.

While he was able to successfully take the throne from his father, his success was extremely short-lived. In yet another tragic turn in the Davidic saga, Absolom ended up killed in battle by Joab, King David’s general. Thus, the one who saw himself the arbiter of justice, met his bloody end while hanging from his hair, caught in the branches of a tree. This, in essence, was yet another competitor for the throne that David had removed, and it solidfied Bathsheba’s push to secure the throne for her son Solomon.

In today’s time, we see people crying out for justice at all turns, and there is nothing wrong with that. With that said, we also see people acting out in all sorts of harmful, non-constructive and injust ways, all in the name of justice. This world has gone mad with the taste of blood, and it basks in blood baths in order to satiate it’s lustful desire for self-sought, vigilante “justice”. Many in the church have fallen into this deathtrap and, regrettably, many Christians sound more like Absolom than they do Jesus.

The challenge for us is to pull back and examine our hearts. Are we truly seeking justice? Are we seeking out God’s justice, the kind of justice that seeks repentance, reconciliation and redemption? Are we seeking justice and LOVING mercy? Or are we setting ourselves up as God…as the arbiters of our own brand of justice? If the latter, we are heading dangerously toward the demise of others and, in the end, our own demise as well. Let us be peacemakers, and let us be a people who stand for God’s justice for all people. Let us be guided by the true Arbiter of Justice and live that out in our lives.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

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

PRAYER

Lord, you are the Arbiter of Justice. Guide me in your justice so that I may seek to live justly, love mercy and walk humbly with you. Amen.

God’s People, part 58: Tamar

Read 2 Samuel 13:1-22

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, an endless river of righteous living.” (Amos‬ ‭5:24‬ ‭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 58: Tamar. The last few months of 2017 went down with a barage of sexual harassment and/or misconduct charges against many prominent and powerful people. People in the upper eschalon of Hollywood, movie stars, politicians and others were outed as having wrongfully forced themselves (in one manner or another) on others because they had the power to do so. Thus, the #metoo movement was born, where countless women across social media shared their experiences with having been subjected to sexual harrassment/assault/misconduct.

What’s more, it didn’t stop with the secular world. Not long after #metoo exploded into our collective conscience, so did #churchtoo. In this social media tag, many Christian women recounted their experience with such abuse within their churches. Some of the sharing was of actual sexual abuse, and some of it was not of abuse within the church, but how the church helped to shame and silence victims of such abuse. Both are egregiously wrong and shameful.

Of course, with such abuse came push back over the length of time between the accusations. “Why did she wait 20-30 years to bring this forward,” skeptical/cynical people countered. Yet, at the heart of this is a fundamental sin we find ourselves falling into. We forget that victims almost always remain silent because they feel shamed by others around them, shamed by the very act of sexual abuse itself, and intimidated by the people who preyed upon them…people who are often in positions of power and authority. Would you report being abused if you knew it was going to cost you even more abuse than the original abuse itself did? Be honest.

Unfortunately, the #metoo and #churchtoo movements are not pointing to anything knew. Sexual abuse and misconduct happen all the time. The citizens of Sodom wanted to rape the male guests of Lot…and Lot was going to offer those evil people his daughters in the place of his guests (#themtoo)! Rape and sexual assault is reported all throughout the Bible and none in more detail than in the case of Tamar, who was raped by her half-brother Amnon.

Perhaps, looking at the account of Tamar’s rape will help us understand why female (and male) victims often remain silent. Tamar reported her rape to her brother Absolom who became, naturally, very indignant over the assault. He wanted justice for his sister, though he told her to be quiet (probably for he safety), and brought the accusation to his father, David, the King.

What did David do to Amnon, his firstborn and heir to his throne, to punish him for his crime: NADA. ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. The Bible says he was angry, but remained silent and did nothing to punish Amnon, his firstborn. What that betrays is the fact that David played politics and put power above justice. #tamartoo. This, unfortunately, is an evil that women have had to endure from time immemorial.

The question for us is this: are we going to allow these patterns to continue? Are we, as God’s people, going to follow after Abraham, Lot, David, Hollywood, Wall Street, Capital Hill, the White House, some church leaders, and others who have either sexually abused people and/or dismissed, silenced and shamed victims of sexual abuse (or any abuse in general)? Is our immediate, knee-jerk reaction going to be to defend the accused over and above the vicitm?

Don’t get me wrong. I understand that, in today’s hyper-sensitive and “quick-to-judge, jury, and destroy” world driven by a rabid media and social media, we need to be careful to let the facts of each case come out before making any final judgments toward anyone. It’s not justice to “burn a witch”, as it were, only to find out he or she wasn’t a witch. #salemwitchtrials.

With that said, we can’t allow justice to be obstructed by instantly calling the accusers liars and not allowing for the due process to work out on both sides. We can comfort people who are claiming to be victims, and work toward their healing, while not skewering and seeking the immediate demise of the accusers and their families. But we must not silence victims and perpetrate evil. We must defend the weak and take all accusations seriously. These are tough times to be navigating, for sure; however, God is just and always on the side of the oppressed, no matter who the oppressed is. #soshouldwebe.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

Absolom named his daughter “Tamar”, presumably in honor of his sister, whom he cared for and took into his own home following her rape. How can we bring honor, care and healing to victims rather than shame, apathy and irrevocable harm?

PRAYER

Lord, let our hearts be filled with justice and let that justice quell our cynicism, perceptions and quickness to judge and persecute (victims or otherwise). Prepare me, O Lord, to be a sanctuary, pure and holy, tried and true. Amen.

God’s People, part 48: The Boys

Read 1 Samuel 16:1-10

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“But when David’s oldest brother, Eliab, heard David talking to the men, he was angry. ‘What are you doing around here anyway?’ he demanded. ‘What about those few sheep you’re supposed to be taking care of? I know about your pride and deceit. You just want to see the battle!’” (1 Samuel 17:28 NLT)

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

HarryPotter-DursleysPart 48: The Boys. While there is not enough time, or text for that matter, for me to spend dealing with each of David’s brothers individually, we can certainly spend some time talking about them collectively. We certainly can gather the way they treated their brother just in the few verses that they show up in.

The fact of the matter is that it becomes clear that David, being the youngest, was the least privileged in his family. As the youngest, he would have only been given the scraps of the inheritance (if any at all). Chances are, with the amount of older brothers he had, David would have been on his own to make his way in the world. Certainly neither his father, Jesse, or his brothers seemed to pay him any mind. When Samuel asked to see David’s sons, Jesse brought all of them but David to the prophet.

In today’s Scripture reading, we can see that David’s brothers were no better. With his oldest brother, Eliab, being the spokesperson for the siblings, we can see the condescending (and even contentious) attitude the brothers have toward David. “What are you doing around here anyway,” Eliab demanded to know. “What about those sheep you’re supposed to be taking care of? I know about your pride and deceit. You just want to see the battle” (1 Samuel 17:28 NLT). Indeed, his brothers treated him much in the way that the Dursleys treated Harry Potter. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that David was sleeping in a closet in the family house.

It is amazing what privilege and jealousy, when mixed together, can do to the human spirit. Jesse’s boys had a chance to take David under their wing, to be a good and encouraging influence on him, and to share with him their status as Jesse’s sons; however, the boys did the opposite of that, evidently with the blessing of their father. What a shame.

It is no wonder, then, that God passes them by as the next in line to replace the wicked and wayward King Saul. It is no wonder that Samuel says to Jesse, “The LORD has not chosen any of these…are these all the sons you have?” (1 Samuel 16:10-11 NLT). Why would God choose people who were too privileged to see that God had given them everything they have? Why would God choose people who put themselves over and above God and who would discriminate against those they perceived as “less” than them?

The challenge for us is to evaluate our own hearts? Are we privileged in ways that others aren’t? Do we get treated differently than others because of our status in society? Are we of the “privileged” skin color, age, economic status, sexual identity, and/or gender, while others in society are not? Do we cherish this privilege in ways that cause us to resist others being able to share in the benefits we have? Do we resist social change to maintain the façade that we are “better” than “those other people”?

These are not easy questions to answer, but honest answers they demand. Know this, our God is a just God. Our God is seeking those who are after God’s own heart, those who are humble before the Lord, and God humbles the proud and those who are resistant to the Holy Spirit. Will we ultimately deny and reject God’s authority, will we stand opposed to the work of the Holy Spirit by denying the righteousness (aka justice) of God? Or will we open our hearts to what God is doing in our midst and humble ourselves in righteous obedience to a most righteous, loving, and inclusive Creator God? The choice is ours.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
It is better to lose everything you have to keep the balance of justice level, than to live a life of petty privilege devoid of true freedom.” – Bryant H. McGill

PRAYER
Lord, I acknowledge that you are just and that your Holy Spirit is seeking to bring your just Kingdom into this world, where all are treated equally and where all share in the privilege of being your beloved Creation. Amen.

The Sermon, part 13: Giving

Read Matthew 6:1-4

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“[The righteous] have distributed freely, they have given to the poor; their righteousness endures forever; their horn is exalted in honor.” (Psalms 112:9 NRSV)

c0e196b99c81dec65d742efe7a2db1a5Now that we’ve gotten through the first third of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, we move into the next section, which is a series of instruction to Jesus’ disciple and followers. In this instruction, Jesus follows a formula of pointing out negatives which sit in juxtaposition with positives. In other words, Jesus points to the way that something should not be done, and then points to the way it should be done.

As with any of Jesus’ teachings, there is quite a bit to unpack to fully understand the teaching and its truth in our lives. In our text, Jesus instructs on how one should go about “almsgiving” or giving to charity. That Jesus instructs on this shows that giving was an important practice to Jesus, who was a first-century Jew. Also, Jesus was not the first to stress the importance of giving to charity; rather, Jesus’ teaching explicates the fact that almsgiving was an important part of the Jewish faith. It is a tradition that Jesus carried on, not one he created.

In verse 1, Jesus warns his followers not to do acts of “piety” publicly for the purpose of “being seen”, for there is no heavenly reward in that.  As a pastor, I have people who do things under the radar so that people do not know they did it. That is something I have always admired; however, there are some who judge others for being public about their acts of charity. That is unfortunate, because Jesus never prohibited public displays of charity. Think about it, Jesus himself displayed acts of charity in public.

What Jesus is warning against here is acts of charity that are done for the purpose of being seen. To do such is to for the wrong reason. Self-aggrandizing schemes are not righteous because they are self-serving. Such schemes have no concern for those being served, except the served bring esteem and honor to those serving. This has no place in the Kingdom of Heaven and bears no eschatological (end-time) reward.

Historically speaking, there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that people would blow horns when big donors gave money at the synagogue. It simply is not a Jewish practice, nor is Jesus’ use of the illustration a prescription against his own Jewish faith. Judaism did not promote self-aggrandizing schemes any more than Christianity does. In verse 2, Jesus utilizes the “trumpet” as a metaphor for self-aggrandizing, just like when we use the metaphor that someone is “tooting their own horn.”

Finally, verse 3-4 instruct Jesus’ followers on what “pious” giving is all about. What it comes down to is this: Where is your heart? Jesus emphasizes that one should be doing one’s duty to God, such as helping the poor, in a way that ONLY God sees. Again, not in the sense that one needs to be writing checks in a dark closet tucked away from the rest of the world, so that no one knows he or she is writing it; rather, it means that we should do what we do without seeking attention or approval from anyone BUT God. If people happen to see it, so be it. If they don’t, so be it.

If we are doing what is right for the right reason, chances are we won’t notice whether one sees it or not, because we will be too busy serving God. That is the kind of giving Christ is instructing us to partake in. Giving for the sake of giving, not for the sake of receiving. Giving for the sake of others, not for our own sake. Such giving, such righteousness, will sound the horns of heaven in celebration of the coming Kingdom of God. Such giving will reap eternal rewards!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Gain all you can, save all you can, and give all you can.” – John Wesley

PRAYER
Lord, thank you for your instruction on giving. May I learn to live by it. Amen.

The Sermon, part 13: Be Perfect

Read Matthew 5:48

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“You must remain completely loyal to the LORD your God.” (Deuteronomy 18:13 NRSV)

johnwesley
John Wesley preaching to the masses.

“But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48 NLT). Wait, what did Jesus just say? Did Jesus just tell his disciples, us included, that we are to be PERFECT? How can that be? Didn’t he, as the Son of God, know what Apostle Paul was going to write in Romans 3:23, “Everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard” (NLT)? Okay, I am being facetious here but, honestly, if all have sinned and no one is righteous, then how can anyone of us “be perfect”. It seems like either Jesus is out of touch or he’s a spiritual tyrant, demanding his “subjects” do the impossible.

In order to understand what is meant by this problematic command, “Be perfect”, we need to unpack our own understanding of the word “perfect” and the Western concept of “perfection” and juxtapose it with the Jewish understanding, which will give us a clew what Jesus was intending by this command. What makes interpreting Scripture difficult is that words often don’t translate perfectly from one language to the other, and this is a classic case of that.

Matthew, in writing Jesus’ words, is doing so in Greek. The Greek word for “perfect” is τελειος (pronounced tel’-i-os), meaning complete. This can be complete in terms of the completion of one’s tasks, it can refer to growth, as well as one’s moral character, among other meanings. The way this traditionally gets interpreted when the common person reads it in English, is that Jesus is calling for people to be morally perfect just as Gods is perfect. This misunderstanding causes frustration and/or it causes the reader to dilute the meaning to something less that what Jesus actually says.

Yet, it is important to note that, while Matthew is writing in Greek, he is pulling this word perfect from the LXX (the Greek compilation of the Hebrew Scriptures). The word “perfect” that Matthew is using can be found in passages such as Deuteronomy 18:13, which comes from the Hebrew word תָּמִים (pronounced taw-meem’). This word can mean “entire” (literally, figuratively, or morally). It can refer to integrity, being without blemish, being full, perfect, sincere, sound (as in sound judgment), undefiled, upright, and/or whole. One can see that, while the word “perfect” and “complete” do factor into both the Greek and the Hebrew words, there is a subtle, but important, difference between the two of them in terms of how to interpret them.

When looking at the context of Deuteronomy 18:13, one can see that being “blameless before lord” means to be “undefiled” in terms of following the Lord. Again, in context, the Israelites were being warned against only half-heartedly serving God and falling into the idolatrous practices of Gentiles, among whom they were living. So, in this context, the word is less speaking of moral perfection (in that one is morally “sinless” and, thefore, totally perfect in the sight of God), and is more or less calling God’s people into serving God wholeheartedly. In other words, don’t be tainted by the way the world does things; rather, be untainted and serve God wholeheartedly. Be wholly devoted to God, just as God is wholly devoted to you.

“You are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” This command, as you can see, is not demanding the impossible; rather, it is demanding what is due God: your whole heart! None of us are perfect, none of us are without sin, and Jesus is not demanding we try to attain perfection in that sense. Our Lord, is demanding that we devote ourselves wholly to God and be the antithesis to the WAY OF THE WORLD. With God’s help, we CAN and WILL attain such devotion.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Christian perfection, therefore, does not imply (as [some] seem to have imagined) an exemption either from ignorance or mistake, or infirmities or temptations. Indeed, it is only another term for holiness. They are two names for the same thing. Thus every one that is perfect is holy, and every one that is holy is, in the Scripture sense, perfect.” – John Wesley, Christian Perfection (Sermon 40.9)

PRAYER
Lord, set me apart and make me holy. Perfect me so that, in you, I am perfect. I want to serve you wholeheartedly and devote my life in your service, not the worlds. Amen.

The Sermon, part 11: Fifth Antithesis

Read Matthew 5:38-42

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Anyone who injures another person must be dealt with according to the injury inflicted—a fracture for a fracture, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Whatever anyone does to injure another person must be paid back in kind.” (Leviticus 24:19-20 NLT)

embracingtheevildoer-passionofthechristContext, context, context shall be the prescription of the day. Anyone who reads these devotions knows that I believe context is key in properly undestanding anything. So it is here, in Jesus’ fifth antithesis, which hyerbolizes the Hebrew Scriptures, mixing it with conventional wisdom in order to show the extreme reversal in the Kingdom of God.

To start off, there is absolutely no command in the Torah or anywhere in the Hebrew Scriptures for one to hate his/her enemy. With that said, there are plenty of instances where it is said that God hates evildoers and, using conventional wisdom, it would follow that if God hates evil doers then so should God’s children. Right? Well, according to Jesus while God is no fan of evildoing, God also does not believe that fighting evil with evil is the way to go.

In order to make a point of this, Jesus utilizes three examples, of which I hope some context will shed light on. In Jesus’ world, the right hand was the power hand. The left hand was the hand that one used to wipe themselves following doing “their business”, it was the hand that was seen as being the “unclean” hand for the obvious reasons. Thus, in Jesus’ culture, you didn’t shake with your left hand, you didn’t eat with your left hand and, for sure, you didn’t punch with your left hand. Well, you didn’t if you intended to knock someone out.

With that said, if one’s right cheek is being hit, than one must assume that, in this culture, that was a backhanded blow. More of an insult than something that would produce real injury. Jesus’ response is that if one insults you in a stinging way, that you should turn the other cheek and invite injury as well. This isn’t because Jesus loved getting injured or that he wanted to see his followers get injured, but that the Kingdom of God embraces the evildoer rather than retaliates.

The second example is a court case where the court decides that one must give the plaintiff his/her “shirt”, which was really a long nightshirt-like main garment, as settlement for a law suit. Jesus commands his followers to not only give the shirt, but also his/her cloak as well. Of course, If one did that they would be standing in the courtroom COMPLETELY NUDE! This isn’t meant to be taken literally, per se, but shows that God’s call for embracing the “evildoer” goes far beyond the requirements of the law (Exodus 22:25-26).

For the third example, Jesus utilizes was a political reality in his time period. It was legal for Roman soldiers to demand that a person show them the way to where they were going, as well as even carry some of their stuff for a specified distance. In fact, Simon of Cyrene was ordered to carry the cross of Jesus during his belabored march to calvary (Matthew 27:32). Jesus states, once again, that the Kingdom of God embraces the evildower not through retaliation, but by doing for the evildoer even more than what is required by the law.

This may all seem quite a bit confusing; however, it is important to understand that Jesus sees the Kingdom of God (or the Kingdom of Heaven, which is used synonomously) to be the complete antithesis to the Kingdom(s) of this world. To retaliate, to seek vengeance, to be violent is not God’s way but the world’s way. To put it more starkly, retalition/vegneance/violence IS SATAN’S DOMAIN and completely antithetical to the way of God. Yet, it must be said that EVIL is NOT absolute and God’s Kingdom will win against it.

How, you might ask? By embracing those who do evil against you, by loving them and, who knows, by potentially winning them over with God’s love. Even if that is not the end, God is defeating evil because, in those who refuse to participate in evil, LOVE IS CONQUERING. The idea is this, evil can only win in our lives if we choose to participate in it.

The question going forward is this, how seriously do we take Jesus on this? Do we, like Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Pfc. Desmond T. Doss and others, take Jesus seriously or do we have a line that we will NOT cross in follownig him? Will we embrace our enemies and those who do evil toward us, will we show them love in return for their hate, or will we fight evil with evil? This does not mean we should “cast our pearls before swine” (Matthew 7:6), as we will later see, nor should we go out of our way to be hurt by evildoers; however, if evil is done to you, what will be your response?

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“I couldn’t picture Christ with a rifle killing people.” – Pfc. Desmond T. Doss, U.S. Medal of Honor Winner, Conscientious objector.

PRAYER
Lord, help me to live as Christ taught me to live. Give me the strength to resist evil by embracing and loving the evildoer. Amen.