Tag Archives: Power

God’s People, part 124: Sadducees

Read Acts 4:1-22

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Then Jesus was approached by some Sadducees—religious leaders who say there is no resurrection from the dead.”  (Luke 20:27, 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.

SadduceesPart 124: Sadducees. The Sadducees were a group of people who existed during the Second Temple period in Jerusalem (516 BCE – 70 CE). They became prominent during the second century BCE and were among the sects of Judaism during a very divided time in Jewish history. The division stemmed around the Hellenization (e.g infiltration of Greek culture) of Israel under the Seleucid Empire.

While some groups, such as the Pharisees, thought one ought to separate themselves from Grecco-Roman culture altogether, the Sadducees worked to regulate relations with their foreign occupiers. This is not to say that the Sadducees promoted Helenization; however, their role was a political one as much as it was religious. They were of the high social class of Jewish society, they were the aristocracy, and they had much influence and power in Judaea.

This was epsecially true when the Romans conquered and occupied Judaea. Annas and Caiaphas were both members of the Sadducees. Annas was appointed to the position of high priest by the Roman governor of Syria, Quirinius. While not all priests and high priests were Sadducees, many of them were. They were responsible for maintaining the Temple and the life of worship. They performed rituals, sacrifices, and other duties related to the temple; however, they also served as politicians and judges.

They were on the Sanhedrin, the ruling Jewish Council, along with the Pharisees. They managed the state domestically, and represented the state internationally. They collected taxes, including collecting international tax from Jews living in other countries. They also equipped and led the Jewish army, and structured relations with the Romans. On top of all of those political roles, the Sadducees also mediated local and household complaints.

The Sadducees were a people of great prominence and importance. With control over the Temple and the worship life of the Jewish people, the Sadducees held a power that few Jewish groups in that time period had. They were an aristocratic sect that had utilized its status in ways that often benefited them to the detriment of the people beneath them. This angered many, and caused dissident sects like the Essenes and the Zealots to take matters into their own hands to usher in the Messianic age.

As we will soon see, this group would cross paths with the Christ, the anointed One of God, Jesus of Nazareth. The Messiah would not be impressed by their power, nor would he be afraid to hold them and others accountable for the way they abused the authority God had given them. This imminent confrontation would lead to the most dramatic and powerful events the world has ever seen.

The challenge for us is to remember the Sadducees and recognize our own desire for power, control, and authority. We ought to keep that desire in check and remember that it is God who is power, it is God who is in control and who has authority, not us.

Let us submit ourselves to God rather than try to bend God into submission. The latter will NEVER happen and will lead us to our own downfall, just as surely as the power hungry Sadducees went down with their Temple when the Romans finally came in and destroyed it along with the entire city of Jerusalem. Remember, to God be the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Watch out! Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” – Jesus Christ (Matthew 16:6, NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, I surrender all to you, and place all that have and all that I am in your hands. Amen.

God’s People, part 57: Amnon

Read 2 Samuel 13:1-22

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“So at Absalom’s signal they murdered Amnon. Then the other sons of the king jumped on their mules and fled.” (2 Samuel 13:29 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.

Jan_Steen_001God’s People, part 57: Amnon. We have discussed, at length, the character and person of King David. Now it is time that we turn our attention to some of David’s more prominent children. I will not go into nearly as much depth with them as I have with others, nor will I be bringing up David’s sins (for the most part) as excuses for what his children did. No doubt, David’s sins played their part and I think that is clear enough that I do not need to reiterate that point over and over again. The first son we will will look at is Amnon.

We do not know too much about Amnon, but that he was the eldest son of David and Ahinoam (who was the woman David married after leaving his wife, Michal, behind while fleeing from King Saul). The reality is that David was polygamous and had many wives who, in turn, had many children. If you think sibling rivalries happen in the nuclear, monogamous family, you can only imagine how much more challenging the family dynamics are in polygamous families such as David’s.

All that Amnon is really known for is the terrible and horrifying sin he committed against his half-sister Tamar. Being David’s eldest son, Amnon was set to be the heir of his father’s throne. He had everything going for him and, I can imagine, felt a good sense of entilement given his status as heir to the throne.

Amnon, according to the Bible, was lusting after his half-sister Tamar. His desire for her grew into an obsession, and eventually he acted out on his lust. His friend helped him devise a plan to pretend he was ill and request that Tamar be the one to serve him food and care for him while he was sick. Once that request was granted, Amnon made his sexual advances toward her, which Tamar rebuffed.

Amnon would not be told no, as is the case with predators, and he raped his half-sister. Once he had his way with her, he sent her away from his room and refused to have any dealings with her, let alone any sort of relationship. This act of evil brought shame to the entire family and left Tamar completely scarred and broken. The Bible states that she never recovered from it and, seeing his sister completely destroyed in body and in spirit, Absalom sought out and enacted vengeance against Amnon. He waited two-years to complete the deed, but he eventually had Amnon put to death in order to avenge his sister.

This story is an extremely relevant one, as allegations of sexual misconduct, harassment, and rape are coming out of the woodwork against politicians, business people, clergy, church members, and Hollywood stars alike. Rape is nothing new; however, it is one of the most egregious and evil acts that one could ever commit against someone else. Rape has nothing to do with sex, nor does it have anything to do with hormones.

Rape has to do with power. Amnon did not rape Tamar because he had the hots for her (which would alone was sinful given that she was his half-sister); rather, he raped her because he could. Because he wanted her and she wasn’t going to tell him otherwise. With him, as with all rapists, it came down to power. He had it, she didn’t, and he was going to show her that she had no business telling him no.

What’s more, rape need not have to be committed sexually at all. We can rape people in more ways than just sexually. We can rape them emotionally, as well as spiritually. Rape is an act of dominance, of power, where we take what is not rightfully ours to take…because we can. Because we want it. Because we put ourselves over and above the other. How many of us have been guilty of this? How many of us have sought to exert our power over others in ways that are, in effect, raping them?

I know, I know. This is not a comfortable topic; however, with the amount of rape being had out there, it is a topic we ought to be reflecting on. We are called to love people, not manipulate them. We are called to honor and respect the divine dignity in all people, not rape them and rob them of it. Let us be a people who are challenged by what we see going on in the media and respond in a self-reflective and honest way, by repenting of our sinful and/or evil actions to our Lord Jesus Christ, and by allowing Christ to transform us into agents of the Kingdom of God and of reconciliation.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“How can we excuse David from the sin of Eli; who honoured his sons more than God?” – Rev. John Wesley

PRAYER
Lord, turn me away from my selfish need for power and control. Steer me away from being a manipulator so that I may not walk the pathway of Amnon, but that of Jesus Christ. Amen.

God’s People, part 56: Bathsheba

Read 2 Samuel 11

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“and Jesse the father of King David. And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah…” (Matthew 1:6 NRSV)

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.

bathsheba-icons-of-the-biblePart 56: Bathsheba. Now we get to the character of Bathsheba. For the first part of the story she was treated little more than a prop to get us from the widely celebrated King David to the largely scorned and scrutinized King David. She was a literal prop in that David objectified her and lusted after her in order to fulfill his own self-indulgent, sexual whims. She was also a literary prop used to expose the selfish, cowardly, tyrannical, despotic side of David.

Following being named in 2 Samuel 11, the scene where David sees her bathing on a roof and being summoned to David’s room, she is not named again until after her first child with David died. In that time, she is merely referred to as “Uriah’s wife” or “the woman”, and is not given much of a character to develop; rather, she is utilized in a way that continually points to David’s sin. Much like in real life, Bathsheba is yet another person abused and silenced by those in power.

But who was Bathsheba? We know very little about her because her character goes largely undeveloped. Some have tried to suggest that Bathsheba’s bathing on a roof, in plain sight of the palace, indicates that she wanted to be “seen” and that she was complicit (at least) in the affair; however, the Bible does not write it in such a way that hints at her guilt. Instead, the Bible states that David “sent” (2 Samuel 11:3), “took”, and “lay” (verse 4). Bathsheba, who is only further objectified by the author as being “a woman of unusual beauty”, is shown to have acted passively or submissively to the king. The Bible states that she “came”, “returned” (verse 4), and “conceived” (verse 5).

The textual evidence, though scant, provides us with a fairly clear picture. David was the one who acted in authority and, naturally, Bathsheba did as her king commanded. Even if the relationship were consensual, King David’s act is nothing short of rape given the power differential between him and his subject. Yet, using the language it does, the Bible does not paint a portrait of consensual sex; rather, it tells the tale of a King whose power went to his head and who treated his subjects as playthings for him to indulge upon. What’s more, the Biblical author(s) never refer to the sin as Bathsheba’s sin or both of their sins. The Bible only ever refers to the sin as “David’s sin”.

Later in life, Bathsheba too finds herself wrapped up in power. Typically, in monarchies, the heir to the throne comes from the legitmate, first-born, male child of the King’s first marriage. Sucession, should anything happen to that child (as it did in the case of David’s eldest, Amnon), continues down that line to the the next oldest male child. Yet, Bathsheba gained great favor with the King, and she used that favor to ensure her son would become the next king of the United Kingdom of Israel and Judah.

Indeed, Solomon, her son, did end up taking over his father’s kingdom; however, that political manuevering came with a heavy cost. While David’s family was, no doubt, rocked by the scandal of David’s sexual relationship with Bathsheba, this particular act ensured that the fracturing of the Davidic family was complete. Two of David’s children openly rebelled against him (Absalom and Adonijah), and both ended up dead for it. The first was killed by Joab, King David’s general, and the latter was killed by Solomon. What’s more, without doubt, Bathsheba played a role in Adonijah’s death.

The reality is that, as we see, Bathsheba was a victim of David’s; however, as is sometimes the case, the abused ends up becoming an abuser. Bathsheba learned to play the game of power once that power was given to her. She learned how to politically manuever so that her son, and with him her legacy, would out live David and his former wives. How many times have we been victims of psychological, emotional or physical abuse, only to eventually find our own actions mirroring that of our abusers? Perhaps some of us have, and others have not, but we all have the ability to fall into the same power trap that Bathsheba found herself. Let us be mindful of that and turn to God to help us avoid those pitfalls.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace.” – Jimi Hendrix

PRAYER
Lord, help me to avoid the pitfall of power, and to rely only on your power. Amen.

God’s People, part 33: Abimelech

Read Judges 9

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“‘Wasn’t Abimelech son of Gideon killed at Thebez by a woman who threw a millstone down on him from the wall? Why would you get so close to the wall?’ Then tell him, ‘Uriah the Hittite was killed, too.'” (2 Samuel 11:21 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

AbimelechPart 33: Abimelech. One would think that the son of a faithful follower of God would, him or herself, rise up to be a faithful follower of God. That would seem to be the natural progression, right? We tend to learn our behaviors, our beliefs, and our very identity from the ones who raised us up, right? Isn’t that the conventional wisdom. Even if we stray a little, and we all do, we are still products of our parents, right?

While there is truth to the above, the fact remains that not everyone turns out like their parents. In fact, if God is our parent, none of us have turned out like God. We are sinners, we are broken and we tend to let our brokenness get in the way of the love of our Creator. If that is true on the macro-level, then it is also true on the micro-level. As much as our parents would love nothing more than for us to become like them, at least the positive and good aspects of them, and they would want nothing more than for us to show others the love they had for us.

Abimelech was the son of the very faithful judge, Gideon. He was brought up by the man who saved Israel from the Midianites (the very people of Moses’ wife) and others who were trying to come in and conquer them. What’s more, Gideon set the people of Israel back on a course of honoring and loving God their Creator. So, one would think, that Abimelech would certainly follow in his father’s footsteps.

Not so, instead of being a humble yet bold and just warrior like his dad, Abimelech was power hungry, cruel and greedy. Instead of being the sheepdog herding the sheep for the Good Shepherd, so to speak, Abimelech was murderous, unjust, and a snake that sought to divide and conquer. Following his father Gideon’s death, he conspired with his mother and her family and he murdered his half-brothers who were his father’s heirs. He didn’t stop there either; rather, not being satisfied to be a judge, he proclaimed himself king and ruled over Israel for three years. Understand this, up until this point only God was the king of Israel. Thus, Abimelech put himself above God and stole the throne.

This is a challenging and most uncomfortable devotion because it causes us to look at ourselves and ask some pretty uncomfortable questions. How many of us are like Abimelech? How many of us have take what is not rightfully ours? How many of us have schemed against others, and even murdered them in our hearts with our anger and bitterness toward them? How many of us have put ourselves and our own selfish desires above God, dethroning our Creator of much due glory, allegiance and/or loyalty?

The challenge for us is to be honest in answering those questions. Do we want to end up like Abimelech, sealing the fate of our own destruction because we are too ambitious, too greedy, too power hungry, and too clueless to see the sinful harm and the evil we are doing? Or will we, like Gideon and others, rise above our shortcomings in humility as well as humble service to the one, true Ruler of our lives. This is only an answer we can individually come to, and I pray you do.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Nearly all [people] can stand adversity, but if you want to test a [person’s] character, give him [or her] power.” – Abraham Lincoln

PRAYER
Lord, put me in a place of humility so that I may see you are the one with the power and I am the one who submits to it. Let me fully put my trust in you and you alone. Amen.

WORKS OF THE FLESH: Licentiousness

Read Galatians 5:13-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, He will show you a way out so that you can endure.” (1 Corinthians 10:13 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 works of the flesh.”

FieryLWORKS OF THE FLESH: Licentiousness. Paul now moves onto licentiousness. Now, this is not a word that gets tossed around too often now-a-days. If you are like me, you’re probably scratching your head asking, “Licentiousness? What on God’s green earth is licentiousness? What does it mean to be licentious?” If you are like me, you will probably end up Googling the word, and there you will find out that to be licentiousness means to know no bounds, to lack in moral restraints, especially sexual restraints. Human sexuality, when expressed in healthy ways, is one of the most beautiful thing shared between two people; however, when one abuses sexuality and uses it as a means for a selfish end (whether that end is power or pleasure), then human sexuality takes on an ugliness that God never intended for it.

As with fornication, however, the word licentiousness need not only apply to human sexuality. More generally, as mentioned above, licentiousness means to know no bounds, to lack moral restraints. To be licentious is to be a person who acts on impulse, to be a person who seeks to bring oneself pleasure without any regard of the other. To be licentious is to live in an unrestrained way to the detriment of friends, family and/or community. As such, licentiousness is the epitome of self-indulgence, of a life that thinks it has no limits, of a person who could careless about anything but what satisfies the boundless hunger for pleasure and power.

The truth is that we very much live in a licentious world, a world that tells us we can have anything we want, that we can be anything we dream of, and a world that tells us that there are no limits to what we can do or accomplish. What’s even more sad, is that many Christians and Christian leaders propagate such a message to their followers. The Gospel, for such people, gets relegated to obtaining prosperity and earthly success. When we buy into the message of this world, when we begin to believe that there are no limits for us, we begin to be filled with the spirit of licentiousness.

Rather than licentiousness, Christ is calling you to give up the hunger to be limitless. Ironically, that hunger to be limitless is deceptive, for the more one strives to be limitless the more limited in their sinful licentiousness they become. True limitlessness can only be found through the power of restraint. The licentious seek power; however, true power is restraint. The person who lives in God is the person who knows and embodies restraint. The person of restraint is not one who deprives his or her body of what it needs but, rather, the person of restraint avoids the temptation to be limitless in obtaining what he or she lusts after; in that avoidance, the person avoids being a slave to his or her lust. Christ is calling us all to drop the licentiousness of this world and to embody God’s divine power of restraint. The power to do so is God’s gift to you.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“It is his restraint that is honorable to a person, not their liberty.” – John Ruskin

PRAYER
Lord, show me the power of restraint that lies within me so that I may use it wisely and stand in firmly in that power. Amen.

15 Ailments of the Church #7: Being Rivals or Boastful

Read Matthew 20:20-29

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-5 NLT)

1304abandonedThe discples had been traveling for days in order to get to their destination. When they arrived at the upper room, they sat down at the table and Jesus began to speak. “Blessed are you, my disciples, for you know just how powerful I am. You love me and recognize that I am the most AMAZING person to have ever walked on earth, let alone water, and so I leave you with these rules. Only you twelve are ordained to do ministry, to lead the flock, and to carry on the life of the church. When you unanimously decide who will succeed you, only my power will transfer onto them, and from them onto their successors. Everone else is to listen mindlessly to you and have blind faith in what you say. If anyone disagrees with you, crush their opposition as harsly as you can.”

Ailment #7: Being Rivals or Boastful. I bet you are puzzled right now! You are probably thinking, “There is no way on God’s green earth that Jesus said the things that he’s written above!” If so, you are right. The above words are NOT Jesus’ words; however, they are the words that the institution of the Church convey to people, both the faithful and the unfaithful alike! Again, the Pope was addressing this to his Curia; however, this is not exclusive to the Roman Catholic Church. This is a church-wide reality. Every denomination is rife with rules, regulations, and stipulations on what is reserved solely for the upper eschalon of the church, for the clergy, and for the lay people. And within the laity, certain people have more “rights and privileges” than others.

Before I go on, I must put this caveat out there. Not all rules, regulations or stipulations are bad. As clergy, I understand why it is important for the church to weed out those who don’t have the gifts and graces for pastoral ministry from those who do. It’s not so much to say that one is called and the other isn’t; however, it is the church’s way of both affirming that all are called and helping to discernt to what each person is called. Not everyone is called to be a bishop, or an elder, or a deacon, or a treasurer, or a committee chair person. Yet, all are called to be ministers in their own right and the church should helping all Christian to discern where their gifts and graces are.

Often times, though, the church gets in it’s own way when it comes to that discernment. Often times, it crushes the Spirit rather than giving it room to move. Often times the church gets caught up in power plays and power struggles and abandons the Spirit altogether. This happens at the denominational level, at the local church level, and at the individual Christian level as well. The only thing that this does is cause rivalry and division in a church that is supposed to be united in its mission to follow and serve Christ.

Today’s challenge for you, individually, is for you to reflect on the following questions. Have you been giving room for the Spirit to move, or have you been crushing the spirit under petty and oppressive rules, regulations and/or stipulations. Have you been claiming the power of God, or boasting in your own powers and abilities? Are you following Christ or are you following yourself? Are you helping to discern the Spiritual gifts and graces of others, or are you deceiving them to think that they NEED you in order to be followers of Christ? These may be tough and painful questions to ask yourself; however, they are questions each of us, as Christians, should be asking of ourselves. Like Jesus, we should be empowering people with the spirit, not hoarding what isn’t ours to hoard anyway. Remember you are empowered by the Spirit to empower others through the Spirit and that in this empowerment, not false power, lies the LIFE of the church!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“What it lies in our power to do, it lies in our power not to do.” – Aristotle

PRAYER
Lord, allow me to give up whatever power I think I may have, in order to be empowered by the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.