Tag Archives: Mercy

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 91: Jonah

Read Jonah 4

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“As the crowd pressed in on Jesus, he said, “This evil generation keeps asking me to show them a miraculous sign. But the only sign I will give them is the sign of Jonah.” (Luke‬ ‭11:29‬ ‭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 91: Jonah. Thus far, we have covered the major prophets prior in the Hebrew Scriptures; however, before we follow the people of Judah into the Babylonian exile, there are several more prophets and/or figures we should pause to look at. One of them is a prophet who is very well-known because of the grandiosity of his story; however, with that said, very little is known about this prophet as a whole.

The prophet I am referring to, of course, is Jonah. In fact, scholars debate whether Jonah was a real prophet or not. There is, of course, an obscure reference to a prophet named Jonah in 2 Kings: “Jeroboam II recovered the territories of Israel between Lebo-hamath and the Dead Sea, just as the Lord, the God of Israel, had promised through Jonah son of Amittai, the prophet from Gath-hepher” (2 Kings‬ ‭14:25‬ ‭NLT‬‬).‬‬

This leads me, and others, to believe that the book of Jonah was based the historical prophet mentioned in that book. Of course, the fact that there might have been a prophet named Jonah does not mean that the accounts in the book of Jonah were word-for-word historical. Jonah lived in the 8th century BCE, while the book was written somewhere between the 5th and the early 4th centuries BCE. The book itself is written in the style of a satire or a parody, and it may have been poking fun at a faction within Jewish society who were pushing for separationism. This faction believed that the wrath of God befell people who disobeyed them, destroyed wicked cities, and that God’s mercy was not given to people outside the Abrahamic covenant.

If this viewpoint sounds familiar, it should because it was the viewpoint of a faction that was on the rise around the post-exilic time period the book of Jonah was written. That faction became known as the Pharisees and they were pushing for strict observance of Jewish Law (Torah) and separation from Gentile culture. There very name means “set apart”, or “separated”. Jesus of Nazareth, like the author of Jonah, would go on to challenge this group and so would the earliest Christians who ended up seeing Jesus’ death and resurrection as being the opening of the Abrahamic covenant to all of the people of the world.

But as for the prophet Jonah, as detailed in the book, most are familiar with his story. He was commanded by God to go to Ninevah and proclaim God’ wrath upon the city. At first he refuses and heads in the opposite direction, running away from God’s call. After being swallowed by a giant fish (not necessarily a whale), and after having stayed in its belly for three days, Jonah is spit up on land and reluctantly goes to Ninevah.

Having proclaimed the destruction of the city to its people, Jonah witnessed the Ninevites repent en masse. He then realizes that God had heard their repentance and, in an act of mercy, chose not to destroy the city. This angered Jonah, who believed that the city ought to be destroyed for he does not believe that the repentance was enough. In protest, Jonah stormed out into the wilderness and refused to eat or drink anything. He sat there and waited for God to destory Ninevah. When that failed to happen, he hoped to die in the wilderness since the LORD was showing mercy, rather than venegful wrath, toward the Ninevites. God did not allow Jonah to die, which further frustrated and angered him.

Jonah’s attitude counters the attitude Christ taught us to have toward our enemies and toward our culture as a whole. Yet, with that said, we see many “separatists” in the Christian today. These people would have Christians separate themselves from the “secular” culture in order to remain “set apart” and holy. Such people push people to buy exclusively from Christians, to listen exclusively to Christian music, to burn their secular CDs and to disengage from secular culture. Such people, sadly, are not learning from Jonah or from Jesus.

While we should not be joining in with the “wickedness” of the secular culture, we should also not be disengaging it. The challenge for us is to enter back into the model practiced by the earliest Christians. This model of evangelism engaged the culture and utilized it in a way that pointed to Christ and brought glory to God. Those who read Life-Giving Water’s devotions know that I often use secular culture as a springboard to Jesus Christ and the divine call placed upon all of us. Let us learn from Jonah and, instead of separating ourselves, let us engage the secular culture for the glory of Christ.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

The sign of Jonah, prophesied by Jesus of Nazareth, was both a prophesy of Jesus death (in the belly of Sheol) and resurrection, as well as a prophesy that God was going to show great mercy through Christ to all the world, Jewish and non-Jewish alike. That was the sign God was going to give the self-righteous Pharisees and others who thought that only they were deserving of God’s grace.

PRAYER

Lord, help me to not only acknowledge you are merciful toward me, but help me to model your compassionate mercy to others. All who repent are forgiven. I praise you Lord! 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 25: Joshua

Read Joshua 1

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Now if Joshua had succeeded in giving them this rest, God would not have spoken about another day of rest still to come.” (Hebrews 4:8 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.

JoshuaPart 25: Joshua. Joshua is a very strong character in Bible, in fact, he may be one of the strongest. Sure, there is Samson; however, Joshua is displayed with little to no weaknesses, whereas Samson is filled with weaknesses a plenty. But we’ll discuss Samson at a later time. Joshua was the protégé of Moses. He was the son of Nun, born a slave in Egypt before the time of the Exodus.

Almost immediately following their escape from Egypt, selected Joshua to be the leader of a militia group and was put in charge of fighting and defeating the Amalekites in Rephidim (Exodus 17:8-16). Quickly, Joshua became Moses’ right-hand man. It was Joshua, and Joshua alone, who ascended Mount Sinai with Moses to accompany him as he communed with God “face to face” and received God’s vision for the Israelites in the land of Caanan, as well as received The Ten Commandments.

He ended up becoming the leader who took over for Moses, the one who led them to enter into Canaan and conquer the lands from the native peoples inhabiting it. He led with an iron fist, so to speak. He was a general, a warrior, and a conqueror and he had much blood on his hands.

While Joshua was most definitely a person of strong faith, and one who was faithful to God, he also was someone who saw things only in black and white. You were either for him or against him. You were either Hebrew or not Hebrew, which also translated to you were either allowed to live and flourish in the Promised Land, or you were slaughtered and killed. Even when one looks at the story of Rahab, she proved to be for Joshua and the Israelites and so she was spared.

Upon one’s theology and understanding of God rests how one interprets Joshua’s leadership. Joshua believed that he had been appointed by God to take over from Moses, and he was instructed by God to not turn to the right or to the left from Moses’ teachings (Joshua 1:7). What followed was a campaign to ethnically cleasnse all of Canaan and to build a Kingdom of Israel. This involved the raiding of cities, towns and the countryside and resulted the deaths of countless men, women and children.

I am not writing this to debate, one way or the other, as to the reason or the justification for what Joshua and his army did. We live in different times and, no doubt, the Israelites were not going to be able to just knock on the doors of Jericho, expecting a welcoming embrace and gracious hospitality. Joshua was made leader and, in his leadership, he turned his band of nomadic desert wanderers to a unified army that conquered the land it had in its sights. From that land rose judges, kings, queens, prophets and, ultimately, the Messiah.

What I also know is that Jesus is the english transliteration of the Greek word name for Yehoshua, which is the name Joshua in English. In other words, Jesus (which is Greek) really was named Joshua. That is why the author of Hebrews compares Jesus to Joshua…or rather, the two Joshuas. Joshua, son of Nun, brought them into the land of Canaan where they could rest from their wandering in the wilderness, Joshua (aka Jesus) the Christ, brings us into the Kingdom of God.

Unlike Joshua, Jesus didn’t do this by military conquest, but through unconditional love, compassionate grace, and merciful forgiveness. Rather than slaying his enemies, Christ sacrificed himself and was slain by his enemies. Rather than conquering by the sword, Christ conquered THE ENEMY, by loving those who persecuted them even to the point of forgiveness and he conquered death by resurrecting from the dead into true life. One Joshua led to the other, no matter how imperfectly.

To play upon Joshua’s own advice, we need to choose this day whom we serve. Will we serve a black and white mentality? Will we serve the imperfect Joshua who conquered by the sword? Or will we serve the Joshua who died because he loved instead of hated, who rose so that we might rise to life in him, and who calls us to conquer evil through unconditional love and divine grace? Choose this day whom you serve.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The glory of Christianity is to conquer by forgiveness.” – William Blake

PRAYER
Lord, remind me daily that I am a servant of love. Let love be my ultimate campaign. Amen.

The Beatitudes, part 6: Mercy

Read Matthew 5:7

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6 NLT)

MercyIt’s not often I venture even remotely close to the world of politics because, most of the time, I find it to be completely fruitless and counterproductive. I have my opinions and others have theirs and, as a pastor, I am called to serve ALL people…not just those who are politically aligned with me. So I veer from getting political in terms of sharing who I do or don’t support.

With that said, as a pastor I am also called to be prophetic which means that I will speak on moral issues, even if they are political hot button topics, because that is what I am called to do. Jesus did the same thing. He didn’t lobby for this person or that, but he did address moral issues in ways that certainly had political implications and, unfortunately, ramifications.

Jesus’ beatitudes were no exception, especially when we look at the particular beatitude of mercy. As Christians, people love to claim the mercy of God as displayed through the redemptive act of Jesus’ death and resurrection. We love to hear stories on the news about acts of mercy being done. We love experiencing mercy, epsecially when we are going 60 in a 50 mph zone and the police officer lets us off with a warning. We love mercy when it makes us feel warm and fuzzy.

Yet, how many of us are challenged by it? How many of us seek to be merciful? How many of us truly hold “mercy” at the core of who we are. We like mercy, but we would rather prioritize justice over it. Just recently in his acceptance speech, Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump stated that he is going to be the “law and order” candidate. What he meant by that was that he was going to enforce the law and those who break the laws are going to meet swift and decisive justice.

He also said in another speech that Amercia “will be a country of generosity and warmth. But we will also be a country of law and order.” This statement bears the marks of the common understanding of mercy and justice. They are both important, but they are distinct and different, and justice trumps (pun not intended) mercy at the end of the day.

This isn’t just Donald Trump’s understanding of justice, but the world’s understanding. Justice trumps mercy and takes precedent over it. There are people in the streets protesting for social justice, which they absolutely should do; however, some of these protests have been violent because people are not feeling heard and they are feeling like they need to take justice into their own hands. Businesses have been burned down, cars blown up, houses and stores looted and destroyed, and lives lost because people are seeking a justice that seems to just NOT be coming…at least quick enough, if at all.

Yet the world’s understanding of justice is not representative true, divine, justice at all; in fact, it often only begets more injustice. First, God has called us to LIVE JUSTLY, meaning that God has called us to do what is right. God follows that up in Micah 6:8 with LOVE MERCY. To do justice is to love mercy. To do what is right is to be merciful. Being merciful is what is right in God’s eyes. Unlike what the world puts forth, justice and mercy are not distinct and separate from each other. God’s justice IS MERCY. Hence the redemptive work of Jesus Christ on the cross.

God is just and gives us JUSTICE, but not the “justice we deserve.” Rather, God’s justice for all is God’s mercy for all. We simply need to accept it and live by it. Remember, Justice is not THE LAW. Rather, the law is supposed to point us toward justice. Whether we uphold it through mercy or through force, that is it’s function. The world may tell us we need to enforce justice, God is telling us something completely different through Jesus the Christ, who unjustly died for the ones who put him on the cross…namely all of sinful humanity. God is calling us to LIVE JUSTLY, and uphold JUSTICE through acts of mercy and loving kindness. Those who do so, those who are merciful, are blessed and shall themselves receive mercy.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.” – Abraham Lincoln

PRAYER
Lord, teach me your merciful justice so that I may become merciful in all that I say and do. 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.

Wrath of God, part 5

Read Jeremiah 31:1-10

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

jer4-weeping-prophetJeremiah stood there in the midst of the city. Everything had been destroyed and burned to the ground. The houses were smoldering furnaces with smoke billowing to the heavens. Corpses were lying everywhere and the stench of decay filled the air. Jerusalem had her share of sorrows in the past, but they all paled in comparison with the Babylonian seige.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE CHRISTIAN MANIFESTO, Part 11: God’s Favor Realized

Read Luke 4:14-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE “And then [Jesus] told them, “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone.’” (Mark 16:15 NLT)

 Recently, a fellow colleague and friend of mine got into a conversation about the scripture passage I was preaching on at the church that I serve. The passage is Luke 4:14-21 and is on Jesus’ first recorded visit to the synagogue in Nazareth following his baptism and wilderness experience. In that passage, Jesus is handed the scroll of Isaiah and he opens it up to the following passage: “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, for He has anointed Me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the LORD’s favor has come.” Inspired by the conversation, I have decided to devote a series of devotions on this particular passage, which has become known as “The Christian Manifesto”.

Part 11: God’s Favor Realized. It’s truly hard to put the Christian story into perspective. By Christian story, I don’t mean the Gospel story of Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah, the Son of God. What I mean by “the Christian Story” is the story of the rise of Christianity. In the faith-based film, “Risen”, the filmmakers try to tell account of the Resurrection of the Christ, but they do so from the perspective of the Roman Tribune who led the legionnaires responsible for crucifying Jesus. While, I am not about to give away the film for those who may not have seen it, what is great about it is that it really shows the Gospel message coming into contact with Rome.

While the film doesn’t span but 40 days past the Resurrection event, the reality is that, in a relatively short amount of time (only 400 or so years), Christians went from a hunted group of outcasts to being funded by the Roman Empire. How did this happen? How was it possible that a rag-tag group of disciples of a peasant Jewish mystic rabbi would found what ultimately would become the largest of the world religions? How did the one crucified by Roman Empire become the one venerated by that same Empire in less than half of a millennium? Surely, God’s that is evidence of God’s favor realized, right?

Wrong. While that historical tidbit is totally awesome and exciting for historians and theologians such as myself, it is more or less evidence of how politics can often take unexpected turns (just look at our current political climate) and that sometimes the most unlikely group can end up benefiting (sort of) from that. But when we look at the Christian Manifesto, we see that God’s favor was not coming to set up a religion, or to create yet another religious “establishment”; rather, God’s favor was falling on those who were poor, captive, blind, and oppressed, as well as to those who choose to bring that favor to them.

Who are the people to which God’s favor is extending to? The answer is simple, to all of the people of the world! For God created us all, God loves us all, and God (in the form of Jesus Christ) sacrificed it all so that we may be free from sin, death, and the things that hold us down, burden us, possess us, oppress us, blind us, enslave us and destroy us. Whether we are poor or rich, whether we are oppressed or the oppressor, whether we are blind or think we can see, whether we are poor in spirit or rich in self-righteousness (not a good form of wealth, by the way) God’s favor is upon us. We just need to realize it, accept it, turn from the things that keep us from it, and share it with everyone in our lives, in our neighborhoods, in our towns, in our states, countries and world! It takes you, yes YOU, for God’s favor to be realized. Fulfill the words of the Christian Manifesto, “that the time of the LORD’s favor has come.”

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

As Christians, we should witnessing to Christ’s love by standing against oppression and evil in whatever forms they take.

PRAYER

Lord, raise me up into a representative of your love, your grace, your justice and your compassionate mercy. I pledge myselfyou’re your manifesto of hope, healing, and wholeness. Amen.

All Authority

Read Luke 9:1-5

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.” (Matthew 7:20, NLT)

magic_gateway_wallpaper_by_jerry8448d4nyul6For those of us who are Christian, how easy it is for us to call ourselves people of faith, right? We often set ourselves apart from the “non-believing world.” We often separate ourselves from those who “don’t believe” and/or those who “don’t have faith” and see ourselves in an “us versus them” kind of way. I am not pointing this out in order to point out Christians in a way that is different from any other human religion, institution or group. All humans see their group in an “us versus them” kind of way. That is, whether fortunately or unfortunately, the human condition.

What I am trying to point out, however, is that Christians do see themselves as being people of faith. I am pretty sure that all Christians, everywhere, would agree with that statement. Yet, in my own observance, many Western Christians (in American especially) do not live out their faith with much conviction. Sure, we are good at being convicted about certain things. I mean, many Christians will flip over backwards to tell you how we’ve fallen from God’s glorious standard (Romans 3:23), how Christ’s death was God’s plan to save us from our sins and close the chasm that lay between us and God, and that all we need to do to be saved is to say the sinner’s prayer (whatever that is) and accept Jesus into our hearts. Once that has been done, we are saved and no longer a slave to sin and death (Romans 8:1-2); what’s more, once we’ve been saved nothing can ever separate us from the love and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 8:38-39).

We are convicted to tell you that part of the Gospel story, but that is just about where our conviction ends. As a result, Western Christianity is rather shallow and completely skips over the ACTUAL end of the Gospel. Being forgiven of our sins is only a part of the Gospel story…and it happens to be the beginning of it, not the end. You see, anyone who has read any part of the Hebrew Scriptures could figure out we’re sinners and that God is working to forgive us of our sins. It’s not like God wasn’t forgiving sins before Jesus. Yes, Jesus sacrifice for us and the salvation that sacrifice brings is a part of the Gospel story, but not the whole of it; rather, when we accept Jesus and his atoning sacrifice, we also accept the authority Christ has given us.

What authority you ask? The authority to represent Christ in the world. We have been the authority to fight against injustice and oppression, the authority to care for and bring healing to the sick, the authority to be present with the lost, the depressed and the lonely. We have been given authority over the powers of darkness and over the inner demons that try to take us and others down. To accept Christ’s forgiveness, to attain salvation in Christ, is to accept the authority that Christ is giving us over such things. But that’s not the end of it either. Once we’ve accepted Christ, and Christ’s authority, we being sent out by Christ into the world proclaiming the arrival of God’s Kingdom. In other words, we are to proclaim to the world that the day of equality, social justice, mercy, compassion, peace, love, and God’s presence has finally arrived. This is exactly what Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was doing when he spoke to the nation at the Lincoln Memorial. It was Mother Teresa was doing in Calcutta, India. It was what Bonhoeffer was doing in Nazi Germany. This is not an activity reserved for a few who are called; rather, ALL CHRISTIANS ARE CALLED to go out into the world and proclaim the Gospel. All Christians have been equipped with spiritual gifts to do such.

Of course, this will not make Christians the most popular people in a world that wants to keep the have-nots in their places. Yet, if we are truly convicted in our beliefs, if we are truly a people of faith, then we will bless those who hear and accept the proclamation of God’s Kingdom and shake the dust off of our feet when it comes to those who refuse to. The latter is not intended to be our judgment against them; rather, Christ is telling us to leave the opponents of God to God and is calling us to focus on those who would ally themselves with God and with the arrival of God’s Kingdom of hope, healing and wholeness. The question for us is this, how convicted are we? How much faith do we possess. God knows what tree we are by our fruit.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
It is much easier to call oneself “a person of faith” than it is to ACTUALLY live a life of faith.
PRAYER
Lord, strengthen me and continually work in me so that I may move beyond my fear and accept the authority you have given me. Amen.

The Gospel Truth

Read Luke 20:9-19

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
He replied, ‘My mother and brothers are those who listen to God’s word and do it.’” (Matthew Luke 20:9-19 CEB)

copy-of-jesus-faceIf I were to walk into any given church, or up to any random person, and ask them what the heart of the Gospel message is, I would more than like receive something like the following: “The Gospel message is that God sent his one and only Son, Jesus Christ, into the world so that he could be the perfect sacrifice for our sins. Because Jesus was perfect and without sin, he became the spotless lamb led to the slaughter in order that he may die the death we deserve in order that those who believe in him might be atoned to God and saved.” This is the, in essence, the modern, popular Christian understanding of the heart of the Christian Gospel. Jesus came to die so that we might live.

Yet,  when you read the Gospels themselves, we find that Jesus dying as a sacrifice for our sins is just a part of the Gospel story. It is not the whole of it. Yes, Jesus’ death and resurrection are vitally important to Christian theology, Christology, and the Gospel message; however, only so when it is told in the context of the other components that we find in the Gospel. When those components are missing, what we end up is with a skewed, inaccurate portrait of the purpose of Jesus of Nazareth, as well as a skewed and inaccurate portrait of God’s purpose for sending Jesus, the Christ.

While it is certainly true that Jesus’ death and resurrection has brought about salvific and transformative atonement from our sins, to only tell that part of the story does an injustice to the life and the teachings of the Christ. In fact, it not only does a disservice, but it completely ignores Jesus’ life and teachings altogether, as if they are simply secondary and/or non-important. Yet, was Jesus’ life and teachings trivial? Was his life and teachings secondary, just a necessary back-story to his ultimate death and resurrection? If that is the case, if Jesus’ teachings are trivial and secondary to the work of salvation in the world, then why go down the route of teaching and preaching at all. The Gospel writers could have simply just had Jesus proclaim that his the messiah and the son of God, have people reject that, have him crucified, died, buried, resurrected and be done with it.

But that is not what the Gospel writers did. Rather, they included the whole of Jesus’ life and they dedicated most of their time on Jesus’ teachings. For them, the person of Jesus of Nazareth and his teachings were both as integral to God’s salvation plan as his death and resurrection were. Jesus came, not to die, but to bring TRUE LIFE into the world. To show them what God means by LOVING GOD and NEIGHBOR. Jesus came to set the example and to personally deliver the beginnings of God’s reign in the world. But, like Jesus’ own parable of the wicked tenants suggests, some of those in the world to whom the father sent the son (e.g. the Romans, the politicians, some of the religious leaders, etc.), rejected his identity, as well as his authority, and tried to eliminate him.

That plot, though, ultimately failed; rather, what happened was that God made the greatest good EVER come out of both the life and the death of Jesus. Instead of remaining dead, Jesus resurrected and now sits in power and authority in a complete union with God. Those who believe in him have found the power of redemption, as well as the transformative presence of the Holy Spirit and the perfecting grace of God in their lives. They are not saved, but are transformed and are living out their FAITH in real and tangible ways.

The challenge for us is this, don’t be misled by a lopsided and misguided Gospel. Jesus wasn’t born merely to die. What kind of God would scheme up that kind of plan? Rather, Jesus was born so the he might LIVE in the world and that through him we might attain TRUE LIFE. Even in the face of evil, and even when finding himself in the valley of the shadow of death, Jesus perservered and triumphed over death because in him was a presence greater than death…the very presence of GOD. Through our belief in Christ, through our following his example as detailed in the Gospel, and through his death and resurrection, we have found REDEMPTION and have been placed on the narrow path that leads to life. Let’s start walking it.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“We cannot have the fruits of the gospel without its roots.” – Joseph B. Wirthlin
PRAYER
Lord, I open my heart to the truth of your Gospel. Perfect me in it and set me a part a witness to its power. Amen.