Tag Archives: pride

God’s People, part 102: Nebuchadnezzar II

Read Daniel 4

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“I, the Lord, will punish the world for its evil and the wicked for their sin. I will crush the arrogance of the proud and humble the pride of the mighty.” (Isaiah‬ ‭13:11‬ ‭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 102: Nebuchadnezzar II. If you know your history, or payed close attention to the past devotions as of late, you are probably wondering why there would be a devotion on Nebuchadnezzar II, the fierce and mighty king of Babylon. Up until this point, I have covered the major Biblical characters (and some minor ones) who were a part of the Hebrew People. I have addressed kings, for sure, but they were Hebrew kings from either the northern Kingdom of Israel or the southern kingdom of Judah.

So, why now am I choosing to focus on a Gentile king, a king who was not born under the Torah (aka the Covenantal Law of God)? I didn’t write about Pharaoh or the king of Philistia or any other Gentile king; so, why now write about Nebuchadnezzar II? He wasn’t one of God’s people, right?

Well, if by “God’s people” one means a descendent of one of the tribes of Israel, then he or she would be correct in saying that Nebuchadnezzar II was not one of “God’s People”; however, he was one of God’s people in that he is a part of the human species, created by God in God’s holy image, just as we all are. What’s more, Daniel reveals that Nebuchadnezzar fulfilled God’s plan whether he realized it or not. While God would have never chosen for Judah to be conquered and exiled, God worked through their sinfulness a plan for redemption and reconciliation. Nebuchadnezzar was a part of that plan.

The Babylonian king was a fierce and ruthless man, full of power, authority, and ego. He conquered lands and removed the ruling classes into exile, destroyed their religious institutions, and left only the insignificant and poor behind. This was done so that there would be no resistance to his rule, because the only ones who were left behind were the ones who were in no position to resist his rule.

If you recall, Nebuchadnezzar beseiged Jerusalem after the Jewish king double-crossed him. The seige lasted for 18-30 months and was most brutal. He eventually took the city, captured King Zedekiah and had the king’s children murdered before him prior to gouging his eyes out and taking him back to Babylon to live in a dungeon until he died. Also, among the people he exiled to Babylon were Daniel and his three friends, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (aka Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego).

Nebuchadnezzar was a prideful, egotistical ruler. It is this king that spared Daniel because he proved to be a useful interpreter; yet, on the other hand, he condemned Daniel’s friends to burn alive in a fiery furnace for refusing to bow down and worship the king. He also ignored Daniel’s warning to humble himself and submit to the will and authority of God most High. As a result, he brought the judgment of God down upon himself.

This king, this powerful and mighty warrior, found himself in a very humbling set of circumstances. He became mentally ill and delusional, wandering the wilderness within Babylon like a wild animal, and grazed on grass while groveling in the dirt and dust. This mental illness lasted for seven long years, until the moment where Nebuchadnezzar humbled himself and acknowledged the power and authority of the one True God. Upon doing so, his kingdom was restored back under his control.

What is important to understand about Nebuchadnezzar is this, all authority in heaven and on earth exists in God almighty. There is no human, no matter how powerful, that deserves credit for what they have done. When our leaders and our rulers credit themselves for what they have done to make their nations and this world better, they are puffing themselves up above God and making idols of themselves. Worse still, they are leading countless others into idolatry, into giving the leaders the credit and the worship as opposed to God. This should be challenging to us all in that it should remind us that no human, whether leader or not and whether it be ourselves or not, should receive the credit and prasie that is due our God. Let us take that warning to heart and adjust our hearts if need be.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

Jesus Christ is Lord of all and nothing can, nor will, trump Christ’s authority. Follow Christ, not the current world order.

PRAYER

Lord Jesus, help me to put You first in all that I do so that I may steer clear of idolatry. Amen.

God’s People, part 88: Zedekiah

Read 2 Kings 25:1-26

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“But Zedekiah did what was evil in the LORD’s sight, just as Jehoiakim had done.” (Jeremiah 52:2 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.

ZedekiahPart 88: Zedekiah. Zedekiah was the great-grandson of Josiah; however, he wasn’t even half of the king that his great-grandfather was. Following the death of Josiah, the third eldest son of the great king succeeded him. This certainly attests to the fact that Josiah must have seen him as being in line with his agenda and policies; however, Johoahaz reigned for only three short months before being deposed by the Eyptian Pharaoh Necho II, and was exiled to Egypt.

The Kingdom of Judah was given over to Jehoiakim, Josiah’s second eldest son. At first, he was a vassal of the Egyptian Pharaoh until Egypt was beseiged and conquered by King Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon. At that point Jehoiakim switched allegiance to avert the destruction of Jerusalem. As a part of the agreement, Jehoiakim paid a tribute from the national treasury, handed over Temple artifacts, and handed over some of the royal family and nobility as hostages to the ruthless Babylonian king.

Eventually, however, Jehoiakim switched his allegiance back to Egypt and sealed his own fate and the fate of Jerusalem. Jehoiakim died during the first Babylonian seige of Jerusalem and was succeeded by Jechoniah (aka Jehoiachin), Josiah’s grandson and Jehoiakim’s son. Three months later, fearing retribution from a possibly vengeful king, Nebuchadnezzar deposed Jechoniah and replaced him with his son, Josiah’s great-grandson, Zedekiah. It wasinto this treacherous and precarious situation that his reign began.

Zedekiah proved to be a head-strong young king who was determined on revolting against the great Babylonian king, which sealed his fate. It was during his rule that Jeremiah was prophesying. The great prophet’s counsel, and the counsel of the Zedekiah’s other advisers and family member, was to acquiesce to Babylon’s rule and spare Jerusalem and it’s people from certain disaster. Jeremiah’s message was that it was because of Judah’s sin and pride that they were in this predicament to begin with. The prophet counseled Zedekiah to humble himself and remain a vassal king of Nebuchadnezzar.

Zedekiah, on the other hand, had other ideas and he, following the example of his grandfather, allied himself with Egypt and revolted against the Babylonians. This, sadly, ended in Jerusalem being beseiged for two long years. The author of 2 Kings wrote: “By July 18 in the eleventh year of Zedekiah’s reign, the famine in the city had become very severe, and the last of the food was entirely gone. Then a section of the city wall was broken down. Since the city was surrounded by the Babylonians, the soldiers waited for nightfall and escaped through the gate between the two walls behind the king’s garden. Then they headed toward the Jordan Valley” (2 Kings 25:3-4 NLT).

The results were catastrophic. Babylon beseiged the city, meaning that they blocked anything and/or anyone from getting into the city, and they blocked anything and/or anyone from getting out of the city. That resulted in famine within the walls of Jerusalem, and people starving to death. Some resorted to cannibalism and, eventually, Jerusalem was so weak that Nebuchadnezzar could just waltz into the city and take it with very little resistance. Once he did, he slaughtered tons of people, took treasures out of the Temple, and leveled the Temple to the ground.

The priests, scribes, nobles and other prominent people were taken alive from Jerusalem and exiled to Babylon. Zedekiah took a secret escape route out of the city, but was caught by Nebuchadnezzar’s soldiers. They slaughtered his sons as he watched and then gouged out Zedekiah’s eyes. The deaths of his sons was the last thing, literally, that Zedekiah would see.

The challenge for us here is humility? Are we like Zedekiah, too proud to listen to painfully true advice, or are we the type of people who swallow our pride, listen to good advice, and make the necessary changes in order to avoid catastrophe? If we are the former, we can expect that we will, at some point, find ourselves humbled by the catastrophic unintended consequences of our pride; however, if we are the latter, then will be honoring God and following in the footsteps of Christ, who embodied humility. Let us all, by the power of the Holy Spirit, find ourselves walking in the footsteps of Jesus.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” – Jesus of Nazareth in the New Living Translation of Matthew 23:12

PRAYER
Lord, keep us humble so that we may not stumble on our pride. Amen.

God’s People, part 81: Hezekiah

Read 2 Kings 18-20; 2 Chronicles 29-32

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Hezekiah welcomed them; he showed them his treasure house, the silver, the gold, the spices, the precious oil, his whole armory, all that was found in his storehouses. There was nothing in his house or in all his realm that Hezekiah did not show them.” (Isaiah 39:2 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.

King_Hezekiah,_clouthed_in_sackcloth,_spreads_open_the_letter_before_the_LordPart 81: Hezekiah. I love the story of Hezekiah. For me it proves that God is at work at all times and in all places. Hezekiah is evidence that no matter what, God can and will break through to the hearts that are open to God. Hezekiah is proof that “guilt by association” is nothing more than a logical fallacy. Just because one is born to a father or mother who is wicked, unjust and swayed by evil, does not mean that one will automatically go down that road.

King Hezekiah was the son of King Ahaz who, as was discussed in the last devotion, was a wicked king who followed the ways of evil, rather than following God. Ahaz was also proof that just because one has good parents does not mean that one will end up being good or righteous. Let’s call the stories of Ahaz and Hezekiah to be ancient myth-busters.

I am not sure how Hezekiah came to be in relationship with God, having a parent like his dad. Let’s not forget that his dad made his “first-born” son “pass through the fire.” As was mentioned in the last devotion, there is debate as to what that means. The most common interpretation, and the one that the New Living Translation goes with, is that his sacrificed his first-born son to the Canaanite god Molech by burning him. That would mean that Hezekiah would have been the second-born son and next in line for the throne.

With that said, it could also mean that he put his first-born son through a pagan initiation rite involving fire, dedicating him to the god Molech. If that was the case, Hezekiah would have been that son. Either way, Hezekiah clearly grew up detesting the ways of his father and found his faith in YHWH, the God of his ancestor David.

What that meant is that Hezekiah had all of the shrines and idols throughout Judah destroyed. He brought the people of Israel back to the one, true God by strictly enforcing that the worship only the LORD and that they do so only in the LORD’s Temple. He also thought ahead and began to work for the safety of Jerusalem. When Assyria conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and exiled many of its leaders, King Hezekiah had already begun fortifying Jerusalem, ensuring that the city would be harder to take.

That is not to say that the king was perfect, after all, he was a human being. Isaiah recorded that the king was visited by envoy from the Babylonian Empire. He was so flattered by the visit that he let it go to the place of vanity and began to show off all of his wealth and power to the visitors. This, of course, got fully reported back to the King of Babylon. That empire would be setting its sights on Jerusalem and would eventually conquer her.

The challenge for us is this: even when we are following God, we are still not immune from sin and vanity is the sin, along with pride, that tends to get us when we least expect it. Let us not worry about what people think of us. Let us not boast so that people can think we are all that and a bag of chips; rather, let us be humble and remember that the only One we need to please is God. The challenge is to LOVE GOD and to keep our vanity at bay so that we can serve God and others in LOVE and in TRUTH. Humanly speaking, this may be impossible, but with God, all things are possible. (Matthew 19:26).

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves; vanity, to what we would have others think of us.” – Jane Austen

PRAYER
Lord, steer me away from vanity and shelter me in humility. Amen.

God’s People, part 78: Uzziah

Read 2 Chronicles 26

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Asa was the father of Jehoshaphat. Jehoshaphat was the father of Jehoram. Jehoram was the father of Uzziah.” (Matthew 1:8 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.

Rembrandt van Rijn, 1606-1669; King Uzziah Stricken with Leprosy (?)Part 78: Uzziah.  Uzziah, as he was known to the author of 2 Chronicles, or Azariah as he was known to the author of 2 Kings, was king in the ancient kingdom of Judah. He was 16 years old, if you can imagine that, when he became king. The first 24 years of his reign he shared as co-regent with his father, King Amaziah. The remaining 28 years following his father’s death he ruled as the sole king of Judah. Thus, King Uzziah was ruler of Judah for a total of 52 years. Quite a reign for a king in the ancient world.

Both 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles state that Uzziah had ruled Judah well and that he had “what was right in the sight of the LORD.” The Chronicler (aka the person/people who wrote 1 and 2 Chronicles) wrote that the king followed the instruction of a spiritual menor named Zechariah, not to be confused with the prophet who wrote the eponymous book in the Hebrew Scriptures. According to the Chronicler, Zechariah imparted the visions and deep respect of the LORD to the king.

While this spiritual mentor lived, Uzziah sought the guidance of God through Zechariah. He declared war against the Philistines, the Arabs of Gur, and the Meunites. He was able to get the latter group to pay Judah an annual tribute in order to maintain peace. As a result of this, he had become a very powerful and influential king the his fame spread to even Egypt. His army was massive, his fortifications were improved upon, and Judah was a force to be reckoned with.

As a result, the king’s pride and ego grew with his power and fame. This should not be surprising for it is nothing new. His pride and his ego led to his ultimate downfall. He wrongfully entered the sanctuary of the LORD, where only the high priest was permitted to enter, and personally burned incense on God’s altar. The high priest, along with eighty other brave priests, called him out on his egotistical sin. They told him to get out of God’s sanctuary, but the king was furious and refused to listen.

As a result, he broke out with leprosy, an infectious skin disease that rendered him unfit to rule, unfit to live in the palace, and unclean (which would have banned him from the Temple altogether). His son, Jotham of Judah, took over as “co-regent”. Though his father was still seen as king to the end of his life, it was his son who really began to rule at that point onward. Uzziah’s pride got the best of him; however, he was still one of God’s chosen kings and one of God’s people. The proof of this would come approximately 738 years when, as Matthew records, Uzziah’s descendant was born. That descendant, of course, was Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah, the Son of God.

Let us learn a lesson from King Uzziah. We, who are God’s people, find ourselves empowered by the Holy Spirit when we are open to the guidance and the presence of the LORD. With that said, when we allow our pride and/or our egos to take the place of God, we can find ourselves facing unintended consequences for our corrupted hearts and actions. Those consequences are brought on by ourselves; however, they do not remove us from the grace, the love, and the ultimate mercy of our Lord and Savior. Let us be a people who, rather than go down the hard road of unintended consequences, keep our egos in check and remain fully dependent on our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes [people] as angels.” – Saint Augustine

PRAYER
Lord, humble me and fill me with your Holy Spirit so that I may grow in my dependence in you and rely on your guidance to lead me to where you are calling. Amen.

God’s People, part 60: Adonijah

Read 1 Kings 1:5-10

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 14:11 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.

Macbeth_illustration14_001Part 60: Adonijah. The story of Adonijah much reminds me of Jesus teaching about humility in Luke 14, just prior his telling of the Parable of the Great Feast. In that teaching he warned the gathered people to not sit in the places of honor, but at the lowest place at the table. In doing so, one would avoid being dishonored by being asked to move to a place of lower status in front of all the people at the table and would, more than likely, be honored when the host asks one to move from the lowest place to a place more prominent.

Jesus’ words are wise and they are not meant merely as a “play it safe rather than sorry” suggestion. Jesus is, rather, guiding those who will be taught by him to not think too highly about themselves. Humility, simply, is knowing one’s place. It is not self-denigration; however, it is not self-engrandizement either. While Jesus’ teaching refers to social status, his wisdom is regarding Spiritual Humility. Such humility recognizes that none of us are better than “the least of these” because, from the least to the greatest, we are all God’s created children.

If only Adonijah had been given those wise and timely words. It’s never easy being less than the eldest brother in the royal family. Only the eldest could be the heir to the throne. Only the eldest could one day be king, unless the eldest died. Even then, Adonijah was not second eldest but third eldest. He was third in line. He could pretty much bank on NEVER being the King, not because he was unqualified (as he could not think of anyone more qualified than he was) but because of circumstance.

Yes, I am writing this a bit tongue-in-cheek; however, it is clear that Adonijah thought pretty highly of himself and he was quite thrilled (I mean, who wouldn’t be?) when his two eldest brothers died and were no longer in his way. It was Adonijah chance to rise up and take the throne for himself! He would be the one in power and could rule the kingdom!

The only problem with that comes in one word: SOLOMON. Because of his love for Bathsheba, David had declared that he willed for Solomon to be his heir. So, rather than rightfully taking the throne, Adonijah actually stages a coup and tries, like his brothers before him, to usurp David’s kingdom. As can be seen in the scriptures, it doesn’t go well for Adonijah. In the end, he fled for his life and was temporarily spared only to be killed by Solomon once he assumed power.

Adonijah could have served a great purpose for God. Who knows what God had in store for him; however, the corruption of his father and brothers spread to him and he sought power and authority rather than God. As a result, he ended up cutting what ties may have been left with his half-brother Solomon and betraying his father’s trust. All that did, in the end, is lead to his demise. The question for us is this, how do we allow our earthly ambitions to get between us and our God-given purpose? Be challenged by that question and seek out God’s will over your own!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels.” – St. Augustine

PRAYER
Lord, protect me from becoming proud so that I might be honored to serve you in the exact ways you created me to. Amen.

God’s People, part 53: King’s Pride

Read 2 Samuel 7

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“But God said to me, ‘You must not build a temple to honor My name, for you are a warrior and have shed much blood.’” (1 Chronicles 28:3 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.

Eugène_Siberdt_-_The_Prophet_Nathan_rebukes_King_DavidPart 53: King’s Pride. I am hoping that by now we are seeing the complexity of King David. We’ve seen the best of humanity in him, seeing him step up in faith and face giants. We’ve seen his skill as a commander, his faithfulness as a friend, his humility, his artistry and musicianship. We have also seen the worst of humanity in him. We have seen how manipulative he could be, how deceptively he could operate behind the scenes, how politically motivated he was, how over-the-top ambitious he was, and how he would stop at nothing, including murder, to get what he wanted.

On the one end, David was a person after God’s own heart, on the other end he was a person that acted in ways that were far removed from God’s heart. It also would not be fair to David to not mention that he was repentant for the sin of his sexual relationship with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah, the Hittite. So, today’s scriptures may seem a little harsh on the part of God, right?

All David wants to do is build God a temple, a house for the God of Israel to dwell. What is so wrong with that? Why would God not allow David to move forward with such a “glorious” endeavor meant to inspire all of Israel to hold God in awe and worship the Creator of all things. Didn’t David admit to and repent of murdering Uriah? Why did God then throw the fact that David had “blood on his hands” at him. Doesn’t God forgive and forget?

As far as David’s repentance of the Bathsheba/Uriah scandal and murder, yes, he had repented; however, he did so only reluctantly after being caught, shall we say, with his pants down. Yes, David was humbled by the prophet Nathan, and did allow humility to win the day in his response. Yes, he did eventually accept responsibility for his actions.

But that is just one of a plethora of David’s sins. Let’s not forget that this is the man who killed, then circumcised, 400 Philistines “for God”. Okay, they were in war and killing is a part of war, but circimcising the dead? Really?!?! Let us not forget that David is the one who seemingly was offing his political opponents, and then executing the ones who carried out the orders in order to “save face” and put on a good, calculated, political show. Of course, as has been mentioned, it takes a bit of reading between the lines to see this, and there is nothing explicitly said in the Bible that shows David doing this; however, there is reasonable suspicion here.

This is the man who married a woman for political motivations and then abandoned her and married someone else, even though he was still married to her. This is the man who loved to hear the crowds cheering his name as the victor and savior of his people. I could go on and on regarding David’s flaws. The question we have to aks ourselves is this, was David repentant of all of those things? Did the Nathan scolding change David’s heart completely, making him acknowledge and repent of all of his sins?

While we cannot judge David’s heart, God can and we see the answer in God’s response: “You must not build a temple to honor my name. You are a warrior and have shed much blood.” It seems that God did not feel David’s heart was where it ought to be, and that the temple was more an exercise of David’s pride than it was an endeavor to bring God’s glory. After all, great kings are often known by their magnificent buildings, and the temple went down as Solomon’s (David’s son) crowning achievement. What’s more, let us not forget, also, that God’s response to David happened prior to his murdering Uriah, not following it.

The point of this is not to pick on David, but to learn from him. David’s pride knew no bounds and God knew the real intent for David to build a “home” for God to live in. Here’s the thing, can any building made of stone and wood house the Lord of all Creation? Of course not. Besides, the only home God requires is the human heart. If all the people of the world opened their hearts to God…now that WOULD bring God glory. Let us learn from David that our pride is our worst enemy when it comes our relationship with God and with others. Let us lay aside the king’s pride, and adorn ourselves with the humility of the Good Shepherd!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels.” – Saint Augustine

PRAYER
Lord, I hand my pride over to you and seek to serve you in humility. Help guide me to fulfill this prayer. Amen.

God’s People, part 44: Saul

Read 1 Samuel 15

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
Saul groaned to his armor bearer, ‘Take your sword and kill me before these pagan Philistines come to run me through and taunt and torture me.’ But his armor bearer was afraid and would not do it. So Saul took his own sword and fell on it.” (1 Samuel 31:4 NLT)

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

The BiblePart 44: Saul. Well, we come to yet another character in the Bible that people think they know pretty well. Right? We who grew up in the church, we know who that nasty, no good, wicked, egotistical, jealous, power-crazed, heavy-handed King Saul was. There’s no need to discuss him, right?

He was that king who promised to follow God and then didn’t follow through. He was the king who refused to do as God instructed, but went his own way. He was the one who, though anointed by God, he led like he was in league with the devil.  He was an inefficient leader, one who became increasingly paranoid, who murderous in his paranoia and, let’s face it, the dude totally tried to kill the epic, rockin’, swave David. What is up with that?

Well, to be honest, David really wasn’t as rockin’ or swave as people give him credit for. Epic? Sure. But that discussion is for another time and place. In this devotion, we are dealing with Saul and, as much as we would like to view Saul as the villain, he really is more of a tragic hero. Do you know what I mean about that, he is the hero that has it all going for him, the guy who was on the rise until his character flaw got the best of him and he came crashing down, taking others (including his family) with him.

Let us not forget that, when the people rejected the judges, God led Samuel to discover and anoint Saul as their king. Saul was God’s child, God’s chosen leader, and had the potential to be a great king. I am sure that Saul had really good intentions on the way in too; however, you know the phrase: the power went to his head.

Instead of leading by example and pointing the people to be faithful in their relationship with God, instead of ruling God’s people in a holy manner, Saul became more concerned with establishing and solidifying his reign and his dynasty. Instead of taking no prisoners, as God commanded of him and the Israelites, Saul not only took prisoners of war but he took them as slaves.

In fact, it was that disobedience that caused Saul to fall out of favor with God. One might want to have pity on Saul because he chose to keep the King alive (which would seem like an act of mercy); however, he did so only for his own gain, not because he had any sort of benevolent heart within him. He didn’t spare anyone else but the king who he could display as his war trophy.

What’s more, we need to understand that the Amalekites were not good actors, but were attacking the Israelites and trying to eradicate them. A ruler is supposed to do what is in the best interest of his/her people, and keeping one’s people safe and ensuring their survival is at the top of the list. Yet, in his disobedience, Saul showed that all he really cared about was his own vainglory and popularity.

In the end, Saul was rejected by God and he further fell into the abyss from that point on. David was chosen to be the next King (more on that later) and that literally drove Saul mad. He spent the rest of his years chasing after David in order to kill him so that his sons could maintain the throne, and he ultimately failed. Saul, once the hero of his people and the first king of Israel, died defeated in battle along with his sons, his armor bearer, and his entire army.

While it is easy for us to look at Saul as villain, how much harder is it to see ourselves in him; however, is he that different from us? Have we not been chosen by God to reflect the true king, Jesus Christ? Have we not also, time and time again, let our own vainglory (aka excessive pride in ourselves and our achievements) stand in our way? Have we not sought to take control away from God so that we can be in control? Have we not lived our lives with the motto, “my kingdom come, my will be done”, which is the antithesis of the Lord’s Prayer?

Each of us has missed the mark in one way or the other, just like Saul did. The challenge is to repent and turn back to God, rather than letting our desire to be God bring us to our own demise. Repent, profess Jesus as your Lord, and be filled with love, grace, and the God-given power to transform this world through and through.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” – John Emerich Edward

PRAYER
Lord, help curb my pride and remind me of the need to humble myself before you. I am not Lord, you are. Forgive me. I accept your Lordship over my life. 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.

15 Ailments of the Church #1: Immortal, Immune, and Indispensable

Read Galatians 1:1-12

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“You will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand only through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe.” (Romans 11:19-20 NRSV)

FaceOfGodWell, it is Christmas Eve. It is the day that Christ was born. It is the day that you are probably expecting to find a writing on the little baby Jesus, silently asleep on the hay; however, that baby is never quite as quiet as we would like him to be. We often wish we could keep Jesus in his infantile form, right where we would like him, so that we can continue on doing the things as we have been without any questions or cause for self-reflection. But to bring you that silenced baby would be to NOT bring you Jesus.

Just the other day Pope Francis I gave a speech addressing a list of what he called “ailments of the curia.” The bishops and cardinals were not all too pleased to hear that list as it was directed at them, but it is a list that needs to be brought forward. It is not just a valid list for the administrators of the Holy See, but is a list that the Church as a whole could benefit from examining. So over the next seven and a half weeks, I will be addressing those 15 Ailments of the Church.

Ailment # 1: Feeling immortal, immune, or indispensable. Over the last 1500 or so years, the Church has been the center of community. The church had a say in all of communal life, from politics to family life, the church was the driving force behind it all. In times of celebration, in times of need, in times of confusion, in times of war, and in times of peace, people relied on the Church for support. As a result, the Church grew to a place of prominence, a place of pomp, and a place of power. It grew to see itself as immortal, immune and indispensable. As such, it bred a culture in which its leaders and its laypeople began to believe that their faith worldview and their church institution and themselves were indispensable and immune from the need to self-examination.

But that Church has since found itself wanting. A Church that once thought itself indispensable is finding less and less people seeking it out. In times of need, times of confusion, times of war, and times of peace, people are simply going elsewhere! Yet the attitude of indsipensiblitly is still prevelant in the church and still prevelant among its members. Within every church are the people that would see themselves as the “pillars” of the church. Such people see themselves as indispensable, as immune to accountability, and immortal. I wish I could get a dollar for everytime I heard the phrase, “this is my church.” What’s worse is that those who think themselves to be indispensable often view and treat others as though they are dispensable.

I tell you the truth, the Church is NOT yours! Nor is it mine! The church doesn’t belong to the United Methodists, the Presbyterians, the Evangelicals, the Baptists, the Roman Catholics, the Lutherans, the Episcopalians, or any other denominations! Behold, the Church is the body of Christ and, as such, belongs to Christ! We are not immune to accountability, nor are we immortal gods who can hold ourselves higher than anyone else, either within the church or outside of it. Remember that Christ is with those on the fringes and Christ is the voice of the silenced, the oppressed, the disenfranchised, the neglected. Christ lived the life of one who was viewed to be dispenisble, and he resurrected from dispensibility into immortality. Remember that God exalts the humble and  humbles the proud. Today’s challenge is for you to humble yourself and live your life as a part of Christ’s exalted body, equal with all of the other parts. Don’t forget that you, too, were grafted into this tree of faith and that a grafted branch can just as quickly be removed. Christ calls us to humility on this Christmas Eve.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:12 NRSV)

PRAYER
Lord, I humble myself before you. Gift me with the ability of self-reflection so that I may grow in your love and grace. Amen.