Tag Archives: Mercy

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.

 

Ixnay the Cliché

Read Micah 6:1-15

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the LORD, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.” (Amos 5:15)

highway-to-gloryThe end justifies the means. That is a cliché that I think is predominant in our society and/or culture. The end justifies the means. All we need to do is turn on television and watch any of a plethora of television shows, all we need to do is to go to the theater and watch any given movie and we will see a whole lot of that cliché being played out. We see heroes compromising their values in order to bring about some supposedly better end…and using any means necessary to make that happen.

Beyond television shows and movies, politicians will often use any means necessary to bring about what they believe to be a better end. Politicians who cut people down and use political action committees to destroy the reputation of their opponents, simply because they believe they’d make the best leader. Businesses who look at the bottom dollar as the end goal and use whatever means necessary in order to make the bottom dollar work out in favor of the company. Often times, the means to attain that end involves coldly getting rid of people and treating employees as expendable numbers, rather than being compassionate and not treating people as if they are expendable.

We also see this cliché play out in our communities. We see our government take people’s homes and property away, declaring it as eminent domain, in order to better commercialize and bring more money into a town and/or region. We see people who will cut people off on the road to ensure they’re not going to be late getting to work, or to a play, or to the nearest roadside coffee shop. I have even witnessed people cutting around funeral processions in order to avoid getting stuck in those situations.

The point here is this, in order to live by the cliché of “the end justifying the means,” we have to ultimately compromise our character and our moral code. The cliché certainly, and explicitly, announces that. The end justifies the means. That is really a nice way of saying the following: while normally taking this action would be deemed bad and/or immoral, it is okay to do so here because, in the end, things will work out for the better. The end justifies the means. Whatever means it takes to reach the end is justified by virtue of the end that is trying to be reached.

The end justifies the means…or does it? When we look to Scripture we see a ton of examples as to how the end never, ever justifies the means. David is, perhaps the most compelling and obvious of people to look at in this regard. David would do just about anything to be king, and once he became king he did just about anything to keep himself and his family in power. He slept with Bathsheba and to avoid scandal had her husband killed. He offed his political rivals with shrewd and shady expediency, looking as if he had nothing to do with it. He knew he was God’s chosen king and that God was going to establish his kingdom forever, and he let that go to his head. As a result his kingdom, his reputation, his power, and his entire family came crashing down.

Not only does the end never justify the means, the reality is that often times the means changes and/or destroys the end. What’s more, the means changes and/or destroys us in the process. Let us not be a people who justify any and every means to reach an end. Let us not be a people who justify evil by the end we are trying to reach. Remember that our call, first and foremost, is to live justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God, regardless of the end. In fact, there should be no other end but that, and that end will dictate the means. Live justly, love mercy, walk humbly. It’s simple, it’s honest, and it’s the narrow way that leads to God’s Kingdom.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets. “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” – Jesus, the Christ (Matthew 7:12-14)
PRAYER
Lord, I want to follow you in all that I do. Lovingly hold me accountable to your way and steer me clear of sin and evil. Amen.

Just Imagine

Read Zechariah 7:9-14

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“No one can know a person’s thoughts except that person’s own spirit, and no one can know God’s thoughts except God’s own Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 2:11 NLT)

Different_Shoe_DayOne of the things that God has gifted me with is the ability to imagine myself in other people’s situations, to have empathy, to have compassion and, as a result, to have a broader understanding of a situation because I was able to see mutliple sides and/or angles. This is something that comes rather natural to me and, because of that, I can be a rather sensitive person. Through the years, I have learned to manage my sensitivity so that it works for me and not against me; however, more often than not, my being sensitive has been an asset and not a curse.

Growing up there were times, even for me, where it was hard to see outside of my own circumstances. For instance, when people would make fun of me or bully me, it was hard to see past being bullied and made fun of. In those times, my mom would impart a wisdom that sticks with me until this very day. She used to tell me, “Todd, you don’t truly know what someone is going through until you’ve walked a mile in there shoes. You don’t know what is going on to cause people to be the way they are. You don’t know what is going on in their home lives. You don’t know what kind of hurt is built up inside.” She would go on, “Not that what they’re doing is right. There are other ways to handle hurt and pain, but they are choosing to lash out at you and, no doubt others. So pray for them, Todd. Pray that they may be healed from whatever is hurting them.”

Those words still resonate in me to this very day. In fact, when I look around I see a world filled with people who are lost in their own situations and circumstances. Most people don’t know how to put themselves in another’s shoes, they don’t take the time to think about why someone is behaving the way they do or saying the things that they say. There is always more to a story than one side. We are very adept at knowing OUR SIDE of the story; however, we so often fail at seeing any other side but OUR SIDE.

I am not saying this to excuse or to take away accountability from those who are doing wrong. People need to be held accountable and action DOES need to be taken; however, I am saying this because people, far too often, react in negative ways based off of their internal emotions. We often fly off of the handle without giving even a moment’s pause to reflect upon what was done and what the appropriate response to it might be. We so often fail to ask the person why they are doing the things they’re doing and, even if we cannot ask them, we fail to pray to God for their well-being. What kind of world would this be if people started praying…seriously praying…before they acted? What kind of world would this be if people tried to put themselves in other people’s shoes?

Perhaps instead of being quick to judge communities for protesting police brutality, we might imagine ourselves as minorities and imagine what discrimination might be like. Perhaps instead of being quick to judge police for every shot fired, we might put ourselves in their shoes and imagine what being a police officer caught in a violent situation might be like. And those are just two examples pulled from current events. Just think of what this world would be like if people stopped judging, started praying, and allowed God to lead them in their against the circumstances that rise against them. Jesus of Nazareth did that. The Apostles did that. St. Francis did that. Dietrich Bonhoeffer did that. Mother Teresa did that. Mahatma Gandhi did that. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. did that. Those who have done such things have turned around, taken the appropriate course of action in their given situations, and have made a positive difference in our world. Just imagine what such a world would be like if we all started following their examples.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.” – Dalai Lama

PRAYER
Lord, fill me with your compassion and insight so that I am have understanding and act in accordance with justice and mercy. Amen.

Stoned

Read John 8:1-12

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“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 6:8 NLT)

Glass HouseOne of the most powerful testimonies to the kind of compassionate, merciful, forgiving nature that Jesus embodied, is the story of the adulterous woman who was brought to him as way of his opponents to test both his understanding of Scripture as well as his commitment to the Torah. Under normal circumstances, according to the Law of Moses, the law demanded only one thing: the woman must be stoned. Yet, with that said, these were not normal circumstance and the religious leaders were, indeed, setting a trap for Jesus.

First, it is important to note that while the Law of Moses demanded that adultery be stamped out (via stoning) of Israel, it seems that by the time of the prophets, there may have been a more merciful way of handling adultery: divorce. There adulterer was divorced, and shamed  before the whole community, as a way of both punishing and correcting the sin. This precedence is alluded to in Hosea 2, Isaiah 50, and Jeremiah 3…though the prophets themselves are referring to the adultery of Israel against God. Second, the Law found in both Leviticus 20:10 and Deuteronomy 22:22-24 requires that there be two witnesses that can testify against the adulterers, and that both adulterers (as it takes two to tango) be stoned if convicted of the crime.

The religious leaders believe that they have this Jesus, this simpleton from Nazareth, in a proverbial pickle. They couldn’t be further from the truth. Jesus answers to them, “Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone.” Well, who is without sin? Not one person could rightfully throw the stone at this woman after that. But not just because we are all, theologically speaking, sinners. The people trying to trap Jesus were found to be committing the sin by their not following the Law in a just manner. First off, if there were any witnesses to her act of adultery, they did not bring these witnesses to Jesus. For all Jesus knows, this woman could be falsely accused. Second, they did not bring the person she committed adultery with. If she had committed adultery, the Law is quite clear that both her and her illicit partner need to be stoned. Where was he? These religious leaders were sinning by the very act of handling the trial the way they did, and Jesus knew it…as did they!

What’s most important is that in the face of the rigidity of the law, Jesus opts for grace, for humility, for compassion and for mercy. How often do we, like the religious leaders, uphold the law in a way that favors us over others? But, by the very act of doing so, we bring the law down upon our own heads. While it is easy for us to stand above others we think are wrong, we are wrong by standing above others as their judge, jury and executioner. Christ has called us to live by the heart of law, which is living in right relationship with God and with each other. While adultery does not live into the heart of the law because it breaks the covenantal bond within the marital relationship, neither does holding others to a standard that we ourselves cannot, and do not, live by.

Here is what Jesus is telling us. If we are to receive love, let us love. If we are to receive forgiveness, let us forgive. If we are to receive mercy, let us be merciful. If we are to receive compassion, let us be compassionate. If we are to receive respect, let us be respectufl. If we are to receive justice, let us live justly. For to live by the law is to die by the law. If we want to receive the law and all of the consequences of not following it, then we are on the right path when we judge others, for we will be judged according to the same standard with which we judge. Let us ever be mindful of that as we continue to live out our lives in the name of our righteous, holy and just God.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“One who lives in a glass house shouldn’t throw stones.” – Unknown

PRAYER
Lord, help me to be loving, merciful, graceful, compassionate, just and certainly humble. Amen.

SON OF GOD: Holy Wednesday

Read Luke 20:41-21:4

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
Every day Jesus went to the Temple to teach, and each evening He returned to spend the night on the Mount of Olives. The crowds gathered at the Temple early each morning to hear Him. (Luke 21:37-38 NLT)

TempleWhen looking at Holy Week and trying to match what Jesus did according to the Gospels and trying to match it with each day of that week is a not as easy as one would think. We know that on Palm Sunday, a week before his resurrection, Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem on a donkey, surrounded by an energized crowd. We know that on that same day he went into the Temple. We know that the next day he went into the Temple as well. Depending on which Gospel you read, he either “cleansed the Temple” on Palm Sunday or on Holy Monday. We can guess that either Monday night or Tuesday night Jesus’ feet were anointed with expensive perfume.

We know that on Thursday night Jesus sat down with his disciples for the Passover Meal. We know that on that same very night he was betrayed and brought to the high priest’s house. We know that by Friday morning he had been found guilty of blasphemy and brought to Pontius Pilate to be tried for treason. It was on Friday that Jesus was eventually nailed to the cross and crucified. It was on Friday that Jesus died. From Friday afternoon to Saturday, Jesus was laid to rest in the tomb, and we all know what happens on Easter Sunday.

But what about Holy Wednesday? What happened on that day? The Scripture isn’t real clear. According to Luke, Jesus went to the Temple every day during Holy Week, to worship, to pray, and to teach. Every day, Jesus came to the Temple in order that he could speak truth to power and stand up for the people that the power was crushing. Every day, Jesus brought truth to those who did not want to hear it, for it meant that they would have to change their ways and start living according to the plan of God rather than their own plan. They would not have it. Every day Jesus came to them temple, he met opposition, derision, and people trying to trap him at every turn.

While we cannot know exactly what the Son of God did on Holy Wednesday, we have every reason to believe that Jesus was in that Temple speaking truth to power. We Christians believe, in light of Christian Scripture, that our very bodies are Temples that are meant to be kept holy and pure. We are meant to act as living sanctuaries, bringing hope, healing, and wholeness to those in desperate need of it. The Son of God is within that Temple, this very Holy Wednesday, speaking truth to power. Will you listen to his cry for justice, mercy and humility? Will you align your plan with God’s plan? Or will you oppose, deride and ignore Jesus’ cry? Sit in silence and reflect on the Son of God’s call for change upon your life and allow Holy Wednesday be the day you begin to rebuild your Temple in God’s image.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you? God will destroy anyone who destroys this temple. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.“ – The Apostle Paul of Tarsus (1 Corinthians 3:16-17 NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, I realize that I am to be a pure and holy Temple, and that I am called to bear witness to the hope, healing and wholeness of God. Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and renew a right spirit within me. 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.

Where is the Justice?

Read Romans 12:15-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Indeed, the LORD will give justice to his people…” (Deuteronomy 32:36a, NLT)

ferguson-free-hugIn 1999, Mel Gibson starred in “Payback,” which was a 1950’s style crime-thriller directed by Brian Helgeland. I say “1950’s style” because it had Mel Gibson narrating his own story in the kind of way you’d expect to see on the classic police television show, “Dragnet”. The only twist is that Gibson’s character “Porter” is not a police officer, but a petty criminal who ends up being double crossed by his former partner-in-crime and his estranged wife. You see, Porter had cheated on his wife who later, to get back at her philandering husband, joined forces with his partner to plot against him. They shoot him (with the intent of killing him) and steal $70,000 from him…money that he, no doubt, stole from someone else.

To make a long story short, and to do so in a way that does not spoil the gritty fun (or perhaps experience is the better word) that the film is, Porter sets out to payback (hence the film’s name) those who did him wrong. He wages a bloody and intense war on his former partner, on his estranged wife and, eventually, on the crime syndicate that is protecting them. By the end of the film you can’t help but wonder what justice, if any, was done. With that said, it totally satisfies the inner need to see the “bad guy” get his in the end. Of course, porter is a “bad guy” who is getting even with other “bad guys.” This is played up in the film’s slogan, “Prepare to root for the bad guy.”

There are times in our life when we feel we have been wronged by our family, our friends, our neighbors, and other people. In those moments, we often cannot help but feel anger and the desire to get back at such people. Even when we are not seeking to get back at them ourselves, we wish that things would happen to them to “teach them a lesson.” We use terms like karma to express our wish for fate to slap them right where it counts and, if possible, allow us to be there to witness the moment it happens. I know that even while driving down the road, I have prayed that the person who cut me off would pass a police officer and get pulled over. I am sure I am not the only one who has prayed such a prayer.

We live in a world that sees REVENGE as justice. When things don’t go our way, when life seems to be unjust and no one seems to care that it is, we feel that we are then justified to take things into our own hands and exact our own brand of justice. In Ferguson, MO, for example, many protesters turned into rioters when they discovered that no charges were going to be brought against Officer Darren Wilson. As a result, a grieving family had to witness their son’s name being frivolously used to incite riots, store owners and community members alike stood helplessly as they watched their neighborhoods burn to the ground, innocent and peaceful protesters ended up having to endure tear gas and no doubt were fearing for their lives, and police officers had to put their lives on the line to try and keep the situation under control! Where’s the justice in all of that? The fact of the matter is that our own brand of “justice” is often not justice. Revenge is not JUSTICE, revenge is wrong and it solves nothing. All it does is create more victims.

If you want to see God’s justice, take a look at the picture for this devotion. It is of an officer who, in the midst of protests in Portland, Oregon over the Michael Brown case, hugged a twelve year-old boy who was crying because he saw the world around him falling a part. He was feeling the weight of the grand jury’s decision and was concerned about police brutality toward young black kids such as himself. In response to seeing the boy crying, the officer asked him what was wrong and, when the boy told him, he asked if he could have one of the “FREE HUGS” the boy’s protest sign was advertising.  JUSTICE is LOVE. JUSTICE is MERCY. Justice is KINDNESS. While the world around is often UNJUST, God is calling us to LIVE JUSTLY, to LOVE MERCY, and to WALK HUMBLY with God. That doesn’t mean that we sit back and let the innocent get trampled over; rather, that means that we peacefully and lovingly stand in solidarity with the oppressed without falling victim to the urge to GET BACK at the oppressor. LIVE JUSTLY and inspire others, through actions of peace and love, to join you in doing the same.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Social justice cannot be attained by violence. Violence kills what it intends to create.” – Pope John Paul II

PRAYER
Lord, help me to spread JUSTICE through peaceful actions of LOVE, MERCY, and COMPASSION. Amen.

What Really Matters

Read Amos 5:21-24

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied. God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” (Matthew 5:6-7, NLT)

Like a RiverToday is Black Friday, a day when much of America is seemingly out shopping in preparation for the largest gift-giving season in the world. The day became known as “Black Friday” because businesses were said to go from being in the “red”, meaning they owed more than they brought in, to being in the “black”, which means that their revenue exceeded what they owed. It is no wonder then that Black Friday has become Big Business’s happy holiday as billions of shoppers spend their money on Christmas gifts.

In the wake of the violent riots that broke out this week in Ferguson, Missouri, however, there is no doubt that this year black Friday may be seeming a little more trivial than it normally does. Of course, it really always seems trivial to many people, and rightfully so; however, as smoldering smoke rises from chain stores and “mom and pop” shops alike in Ferguson, it is perhaps time for us to pause and reflect on the things that actually matter. No matter where we fall in our understanding surrounding the death of Michael Brown this past summer, the fact remains that this country is still suffering under the injustices of the past that keep resurfacing to haunt us.

It’s unfortunate that it takes the death of an eighteen year old, the ruination of the lives of a police officer and his family, and the destruction of an entire community for people to see that we aren’t out of the water yet when it comes to the racial tensions that divide us as a nation. We so often try to bury the past and busy ourselves with trivialities in order to go about our lives “unaware” of the injustice that surrounds us. Again, I say that without making a judgment call about the particular case in Ferguson.

As I sit here and write this, I am shedding tears and praying prayers for Michael Brown’s family who are so torn with grief over the loss of a son, a brother, a nephew, a cousin, and a grandchild. I am also shedding tears and praying prayersfor Darren Wilson and his family as they, too, are caught in all of this. I am shedding tears for the black communities, and minority communities, who have endured a system that is skewed against them because of their race. I am shedding tears and praying prayers for police officers and first responders who go to work, and put their lives on the line everyday, only to be put in situations where they have their decisions scrutinized by people who are not in harm’s way or forced to make those decisions. There are a lot of tears to go around.

As we reflect on Ferguson and the larger issues that are facing our country, let us see where we all fit into the picture. Let us realize that we too have a part to play in all of this. Will we be a part of the effort to sweep our past under the carpet, or will we be a part of the long, and often painful, process to work toward HOPE, HEALING, and WHOLENESS. God has called us to be a people who seek to live justly, who love mercy, and who walk humbly with God. The question is, for each of us, are we willing to answer God’s call?

My ultimate prayer is that justice and mercy will simultaneously flow like a river. That people will take the hard steps to work together in order that we may truly, one day, call each other brothers and sisters. I pray that God will use each of us as vessels that not only bear witness to the presence of God in our communities, but also that bring God’s hope, healing, and wholeness to them as well! The time has come for us to drop the trivial pursuits and start working toward what really matters: justice and mercy!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

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

PRAYER

Lord, allow both justice and mercy to flow like a river through us and into our communities. Amen.