Tag Archives: kindness

The Beatitudes, part 4: The Meek

Read Matthew 5:5

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For the wicked shall be cut off, but those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land…But the meek shall inherit the land, and delight themselves in abundant prosperity.” (Psalms 37:9, 11 NRSV)

theteacherJust when one thought Jesus’ teaching couldn’t be anymore in left field then they already were, he took it up a notch. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” Most people today, when they read or hear that, have to be puzzled as Jesus’ message here. The meek will inherit the earth? Really…the meek? As in the gentle? As in the mild? As in the nonviolent? They will inherit the earth? Really?

Surely that is not our common experience is it? In an age where meglomania seems to be the key quality to be a world-dominating leader, in a time when groups are beheading and burning people in order to take over land, in a world where violence seems to be the only repsonse to everyone’s problems, it is very hard to picture the meek getting anywhere but six-feet under and long forgotten.

Yet, Jesus gave the multitude surrounding him the beatitude, or blessing, for the meek. Surely, this crowd must have thought Jesus to be completely outside of  his head. While there are many differences between Jesus’ world and ours, there is absolutely zero difference when it comes to the meek and what they inherit. The meek inherit subjugation and, if they’re lucky, death under oppressive and tyrannical rulers.

While it is true that this was the reality for the meek in Jesus’ day, just as it is in ours, Jesus’ audience had a contextual advantage to understanding Jesus’ message in a way that mostly eludes us. Any of Jesus’ Jewish audience would have automatically recognized that Jesus was not making this beatitude up out of thin air, but was turning what was a quote from the thirty-seventh Psalm into a blessing for the meek.

In order to understand what Jesus is saying here, we need to have a better understanding of what is being said in the Psalm 37. Though it is claimed as a Psalm of David, it was more likely written to people who were captive in Babylon, following the Babylonian exile. In verse one, the Psalmist tells his readers to not fret over the wicked. They may have won the battle, but not the war. The Psalmist’s advice to the reader is to trust in the Lord and do good. Those who do will inherit the land. What’s more, “refrain from anger, and forsake wrath. Do not fret—it only leads to evil” (Psalm 37:8 NRSV).

This of course leads us to the extra verses quoted in the “Also in Scripture” section above. Fretting leads to anger, which leads to wrath. Wrath is often violent and evil. The wicked (aka “evildoers”) shall be cut off from the land, but those who wait upon the Lord, those who are meek, will inherit the land. In this context, of course, the land is Judah. The people exiled in Babylon long to go back to it, but the Psalmist says that will only happen through trusting and waiting on God to deliver them.

Jesus, as mentioned above, is specifically quoting this Psalm; however, the “land” he is promising is no longer Judah, itself, but a renewed Earth that will come along with the Kingdom of God. The meek will inherit, in essence, the Kingdom of God. Of course, the word “meek” doesn’t just mean gentle, kind, soft-spoken, and peaceful. The word “meek” also implies humility and/or the knowing of one’s place in respect to God and neighbor. More importantly, “meek” implies a submission to God’s reign. It is through such humble submission that one will inherit the earth.

While the world dictates that violent, brute force is the only way to inherit the Earth; Jesus taught that, in fact, that only secures one’s demise in the end. The only way to inherit the earth is to submit to God’s reign and be transformed by the Kingdom of God within. Once one submits to God’s reign over one’s own life, they have inherited the Kingdom of God within them and will live there lives as embodiments of the Kingdom of God in the world. Eventually that Kingdom of God will triumph over the evil, and the evildoers, and the meek will truly inherit that renewed and heavenly Earth. The question for us all is this: are you meek? Do you submit to God’s rule over your life, or do you submit to the rule and the ways of the world? I pray for God’s guidance for all of us as we begin to truly examine ourselves in spirit and in truth.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
God has two dwellings; one in heaven, and the other in a meek and thankful heart.” – Izaak Walton
PRAYER
Lord, I submit to your reign in my life. In my meekness, I seek your ways and not the worlds. Amen.

Wrath of God, part 6

Read Ephesians 2:1-11

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” (Matthew 9:13 NRSV)

4456579If you have been reading this series of devotions on the wrath of God, we have certainly been dealing with a subject that most people avoid like the pestilences found in Egypt and Revelation. With good intentions perhaps, many clergy steer clear of talking about the wrath of God so as to not “scare people off” and/or because they themselves are uncomfortable with the topic. The very clergy who organized the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) have often focused on the “happy” and/or “positive” images of God, only to skip over many of the wrathful images.

Of course, there are some clergy and some Christians who ONLY focus on the wrath of God. These Christians often sit on their perches like hawks, looking down on whom they can throw the Bible at and whom they can warn of hellfire and damnation. Unfortunately, these Christians (and not the Scriptures) are largely responsible for scaring people off and for the bad image that God has received throughout the years. Equally as unfortunate, the silence of responsible theologians on the subject of God’s wrath have also served to be a detriment to the image of God because in the silence the unsilent extreme have been given an unfettered platform to define God through their theology.

It is because of the outspokenness of the Christian extreme and the silence of the more responsible Christian majority that anti-theists, and a growing number of people in our world, have come to reject God and some have even deemed religion to be an evil that the world needs to be rid of! For example, prominent anti-theist Richard Dawkins has written, “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” He also has written, “Religion is capable of driving people to such dangerous folly that faith seems to me to qualify as a kind of mental illness.”

Of course, while I respect Dr. Dawkins’ opinion, one could say that his simpleton, straw-man, and heavily skewed understanding of religion can and has led to dangerous folly as well (e.g. any communist nation, take your pick). So, in light of all the terrible things happening in this world, some of them indeed happening in the name of God and/or Allah, I have found it necessary to talk about God’s wrath and I feel is it fruitful for all people to wrestle with what “the wrath of God” really is.

For me, it can be summed up in this manner. The God we worship is the God who created all that is out of love and a desire to be in relationship with that creation. As such, it pains God to see creation suffer and it angers God to see creatures do harm to other creatures. God’s anger can be felt burning in the souls of humans as they witness suffering as a result of sin and evil. That anger is heard in the voices of those who protest against the injustices in the world. I would even say, dare I say it, that God’s anger can be heard through Richard Dawkins whose opinion has formed out of a disgust with religiously motivated ignorance and evil.

God’s wrath, on the other hand, is not something that GOD is bringing upon people! I want to make that clear. Yes, the Bible has articulated it that way, for sure! Yes, people tend to understand it that way; however, that understanding is also countered in the same Bible by the reality that the wrath that was experienced was brought about by the wickedness of humans. God does not punish, nor does God need to. Humans, far too often, punish themselves. Their wickedness brings destruction upon themselves and, unfortunately, upon the innocent as well.

Our God, on the other hand, is grace, mercy, compassion, justice, forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration. Our God, through prophets, humanitarians, and good Samaritans alike, is actively working to bring about hope, healing and wholeness in the world. God’s wrath is spoken through the voices of prophets, but the consequences are the result of human wickedness and NOT God.

The good news in all of this is that we serve a God who is EMPATHETIC to our suffering, a God who stands in solidarity with those suffering, rather than an aloof God who simply does not care God who simply doesn not exist. Like Elijah, like Isaiah, like Jeremiah, let us call upon our God in times of distress that we may be given strength to voice God’s anger and wrath, as well as God’s grace, forgiveness and reconciliation, to those who have strayed into wickedness.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The hallmark of intelligence is not whether one believes in God or not, but the quality of the processes that underlie one’s beliefs.” – Alister McGrath

PRAYER
Lord, help me to have the strength to speak against injustice, rather than remain silent. Amen.

FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT: Kindness

Read Galatians 5:22-26

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Never let loyalty and kindness leave you! Tie them around your neck as a reminder. Write them deep within your heart.” (Proverbs 3:3 NLT)

In his letter to the church in Galatia, the Apostle Paul is writing to a community that is divided over the issue of male circumcision: should new Gentile followers of Jesus be counted as a part of the Jewish covenant without being circumcised, or should they have to be circumcised just as all of the Jews are circumcised. Being that Christianity at the time wasn’t a religion, but a sect of Judaism, this was a VITALLY IMPORTANT question. While Paul is opposed to making Gentiles be circumcised, he also is against divisive behavior regardless of which side it is coming from. In response to this division, Paul describes to the Galatian church what he calls, “The Fruit of the Spirit.”

FruitOsp_KindnessFRUIT OF THE SPIRIT: Kindness. I once heard a comedian tell a joke that truly resonated with me. While I don’t remember which comedian it was, there was a definite truth behind what he was saying. The joke went something like this. “The other day I needed coffee and so I stopped at the local convenience store to pick up coffee. The cashier was rather rude to me as he clearly didn’t feel like working that day. That really irked me and set me off. I paid for my coffee, got back in my car and drove off. I just could believe that guy, I fumed to myself as I hit the gas pedal. Some lady got in the lane in front of me, so I angrily honked my horn at her and proceeded to pass her. She, clearly upset, gave me the middle finger. And that’s how it happens folks. You see, that woman in her anger wasn’t paying attention and got into an accident with the car in front of her and died. That rippled to her family, and then rippled to the friends of the family, it ended up rippling to through the town, the state, the country and eventually found its way to the Middle East. Right now, another war has broken out as a result of a rude cashier.”

While this is certainly hyperbole and clearly exaggerated for humor’s sake, there is a measure of truth in there. We are often so caught up in our own worlds that we forget that there are others around us that have feelings too. We get irritated, frustrated, angry and we are ready to scream at the whole world to let them know just how bad our days, our lives, and/or our world is! Eventually, our bad attitudes end up affecting other people in negative ways. All that ends up doing is spread negativity around a world that is filled with negativity.

Acting in such ways is not bearing the fruit of the spirit. The spirit is not irritable, it is not mean, it is not nasty. The Spirit is, rather, kind and loving and compassionate. I have heard it said that “nice stinks.” But that is not true. Being nice…being kind…is the fruit that the Holy Spirit nurtures within us. We can be honest with people, we can hold people accountable for things in order to build them up into better disciples; however, we can do all of that with kindness in our hearts and in our words.

I am not naive to think that we can always be kind. I do recognize that there are times when NOT being kind might be called for; however, by and large, kindness rocks and I find that if you are kind to others they will more often than not be kind back. Lead by example and be kind to others. Show them what it means to have the love of God in your heart and win them over with the kindness the Holy Spirit has planted in yours. In that way, you will be not only bearing the fruit of the spirit, but you will be planting new fruit in the lives of others.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.” – Lao Tzu

PRAYER
Lord, pour into me your gentle spirit and fill me up with your loving kindness. Amen.

15 Ailments of the Church #3: Becoming Spiritually and Mentally Hardened

Read John 11:30-45

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.” (Matthew 14:14 NRSV)

compassionateHandsHappy New Year everyone! Today is New Year’s Eve and we are less than a day away (depending on where in the world you are) from the ball dropping and the partying stopping. Out with the old, in with the new. People will, no doubt, lament about how terrible this past year was and they will, no doubt, being cheering on the advent of 2015 with high hopes and expectations. Of course, they will do the same next year just like the did the same last year. Well, rather than raising a toast to triviality, I thought it would be good to look at Pope Francis’ third of fifteen ailments of his curio. As I have stated, I think it is a prudent exercise to expand the ailments to the universal church, which I have taken the liberty of doing.

Ailment # 3: Becoming Spiritually and Mentally Hardened. The church is called to be the body of Christ. It is called to be the representatives of Christ and Christ’s mission in the world. One of the key words that most, if not all, people would use to describe Jesus Christ, is compassion. In the Christian Scriptures, it refers to Jesus “having compassion” on people at least eight times depending on the translation (Matt. 9:36; 14:14; 15:32; 20:34; Mark 6:34; 8:2; Luke 7:13; 15:20 NRSV). With that said, there is evidence of Jesus’ compassion even beyond the use of the word compassion. Jesus wept for his beloved Jerusalem (Matthew 23:37; Luke 19:41) and he also wept at the loss of his friend Lazarus and had compassion on Lazarus’ sisters, friends and family (John 11:35). He had compassion on the sick, the dying, the demon possessed, the sinners, the differently abled, and even on those who opposed him. Yes, Jesus was compassionate.

With that said and out there, why does Christ’s church fail to live into the compassion of their Lord? If we are the body of Christ, why aren’t we filled with the compassion of Christ? Too many times I have witnessed, and sadly been a part of, an incompassionate church. The infighting, the politics, the gossip, the judgmentalism and the slander within churches bear witness to a corrupt and lost organization rather than a living and life-giving organism. Are we the body of Christ, or are we organized Christianity? Are we organic, able to adapt with change and circumstance. Able to feel emotion and be moved with compassion, or are we organizational and bound by unbending rules and regulations?

The church as a whole has become too much like the world. We have grown numb and have lost our ability to feel. We look at the poor with disdain. We look at “criminals” with eyes of judgment. We separate ourselves from “sinners” and treat them as unworthy of God’s grace. We look at each other with contempt as we compete to be the best and the biggest and the most loved and the most followed. We position ourselves in ways that falsely elevate us to the right and left hand side of God, all the while turning a cold shoulder and a blind eye to the “least of these” our brothers and sisters.

Today’s challenge is for us to regain our compassion. You are not great, you are not good, you are not more special than anyone else. In fact, apart from God, you are nothing. Each week, we Christians praise God for being our savior and for having compassion on us sinners. If we are to truly be grateful for God having compassion on us, should we not have compassion on others? Christ is calling us to warm up, to have heart, and to weep for those who are in need. In fact, don’t just weep…but turn your tears into positive and constructive action. Pray for the church, yourself included, that we may begin to heal from this aliment of being Spiritually and Mentally hardened.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Compassion is more than just an emotion; rather, it is an inner reaction to circumstance that results in an outward action for change.”

PRAYER
Lord, fill me with your love so that I may be moved to be a person of compassion. Amen.

Strawberry in a Cup

Read 2 Kings 4:8-17

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2)

strawberry-03This past Thursday through Saturday, my family and I went down to Wildwood, NJ in order to attend the Greater NJ Annual Conference in the United Methodist Church. This is an annual meeting of clergy and lay delegates from each of the churches in the conference get together in order to vote on church legislation, worship, join in the commissioning and ordaining of new ministers, and fellowship. So, every year, my family and I make the three and a half hour trek to Wildwood in order to take part in the conference.

As most know by now, I abstain from eating any meats, dairy and eggs. Eating out can be pretty rough no matter where I go, because most restaurants have not given much thought to alternative lifestyles. Often times, I will end up getting a salad and I usually have to tell them to hold about 3-5 ingredients in order to make the salad vegan.

As you can imagine, Wildwood is not the most vegan-friendly place. It is a shore town and that equates to all the foods I used to love but no longer eat. Things like seafood and board walk food is common place at Wildwood, but vegan fare is not. So it takes my family and I a while to find restaurants that we all can eat in…restaurants that offer options for us all.

On Thursday evening, we ended up going to a restaurant called Tavern on the Bay that advertised brick oven pizzas, two for $25 dinner specials, and other great sounding things. When we got there I ordered a grilled veggie pizza and some seltzer water and was content to be eating something other than a salad. It was delicious.

When it came time for dessert, I knew I was out of luck. There was just no way they were going to be able to accommodate me, because the desserts they offered were laden with cream, eggs, and other non-vegan ingredients. Actually, I was quite okay with that because I don’t tend to eat to many sweet things anyway. After all of the desserts were delivered, however, our waitress came out with one more…a plump and succulent strawberry in a tiny serving cup.

When I saw it, I was taken back. I couldn’t believe she did this on her own. I hadn’t asked for a dessert, nor even hinted at wanting one. With that said, this waitress had compassion on me. She saw that I was going without a dessert while everyone else was eating one, and she took it upon herself to get me a strawberry in a cup.

While that isn’t a whole lot and most people dismiss the though of ordering a single strawberry in a cup, that didn’t matter to me. I was so thankful for that single strawberry that my reaction to it was as if I had received a whole bushel of strawberries. The truth is that acts of hospitality, no matter how small, make a world of a difference in people’s lives. This woman, through the strawberry in a cup, showed me radical hospitality.

Jesus also calls us to be bearers of radical hospitality. We are called to show that hospitality to people, no matter how small of a showing it might be. Remember that the tiniest of seeds turns into the largest of trees. So it is with hospitality. Even the smallest of acts will blossom within the hearts of those who receive it. So, be hospitable. Be compassionate and find your strawberry in a cup, whatever it actually might be, and give it to someone in need of some love!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

The word ‘hospitality’ in the New Testament comes from two Greek words. The first word means ‘love’ and the second word means ‘strangers.’ It’s a word that means love of strangers.

PRAYER

Lord, present me with ample opportunities to show hospitality and continually remind me of my need to rise up to every occasion! Amen.