Tag Archives: Righteousness

God’s People, part 128: Taxes

Read Luke 19:1-10

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Later, as Jesus left the town, he saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at his tax collector’s booth. ‘Follow me and be my disciple,’ Jesus said to him.”  (Luke 5:27 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.

001-lumo-jesus-matthewPart 128: Taxes. Everybody’s favorite subject, right? Taxes are just a bowl of jiggly, cherry flavored joy (aka JELLO). Everybody loves paying taxes nowadays and so it is really hard for us to understand why anyone in the ancient world would hold a grudge against tax collectors, right? If you haven’t picked up on it yet, I will let you know that I am totally being sarcastic here.

In U.S. American history alone, there are ample examples of our bitter hatred of taxes. In fact, it is safe to say that taxes played a huge role in the British Colonies rebelling against England and forming the United States of America. They fought against major tariffs and/or taxes placed on things like stamps and tea, without any representation from the colonies. In other words, the crown decided to raise taxes, and did so without any consideration for the people in the colonies. They had no one appointed to represent their needs to the King.

In Jesus’ day, taxes were even more despised than they were in the days of the American Revolution. Why? Because of the system of taxation they wre forced into. Under Roman occupation, the Romans “employed” local people to collect the taxes that were due to them. These tax collectors were not actually paid by Rome; rather, they were expected to collect what was due Rome and it was completely acceptable and expected that they would raise what was owed to compensate themselves for their services. You heard me right. If someone owed $1,000 for the year in taxes, the tax collector might charge $2,000. They would give Rome its $1,000 and keep the other $1,000 for themselves.

Keep in mind, these tax collectors are locals. What that means is that the tax collectors in Judaea were other Jews making a killing off of the backs of their own people, for the benefit of themselves and the Roman government. Thus, tax collectors were not a popular group of people by any stretch of the imagination. That is what makes Jesus’ acceptance of Levi (aka Matthew) and Zacchaeus so shocking.

On top of Roman taxes, the people also had to pay a Temple tax, local government taxes, military tax (and drafts), customs taxes, import and export taxes, toll bridges, crop/harvest taxes, sales taxes, property taxes, as well as special taxes where there was a war, a building project or campaign to fund. For the common person, these taxes became burdensome and added to the oppression they were experiencing.

With all of this context, it is important for us to note that while the tax collector was hated by most people, Jesus chose to include them in his ministry. He invited them into a new service, a service of giving rather than collecting. His willingness to see the divine in them broke through. His willingness to love them and treat them with dignity, broke through their hearts and sparked in them transformative change.

This should challenge us. Who are the “rightfully despised” in our communities? Who are the people who have earned a bad name for themselves and how do we show them Jesus? How do we bring the Christ who loves them and calls them to experience transformative grace in their lives? Are we willing to see such people as Christ sees them, or will we let our disgust stand in our way? Let us not forget that, ultimately, we’re no more righteous than those people. In fact, we’re less righteous when we think we’re above or better than them. Christ calls us all to humility and to grace.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent.” – Jesus of Nazareth (Luke 5:32 NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, humble me and help me to see all people through your eyes. Amen.

God’s People, part 70: Obadiah

Read 1 Kings 18:1-16a

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“The eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.” (2 Chronicles‬ ‭16:9a‬ ‭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.

img_0916Part 70: Obadiah. Right now, having read this series up until this point, one might be drawing the conclusion that the northern Kingdom of Israel was filled completely to the brim with wickendness. But that is neither fair, nor would it be accurate. As with any nation, there are good and faithful people within it and there are wicked and unfaithful people within it. What we need to keep in perspective is the fact that the writers who were writing against Israel, were trying to show how wayward the kingdom was from God; however, they do not spend much time on highlighting any faithfulness, barring a few.

Still, not everyone in Israel bowed to Baal, and there are a few who are lifted up as perfect examples. One such person was named Obadiah, not to be confused with the prophet by whom the eponymous Biblical book was written. In 1 Kings 18, Obadiah is revealed to be what is known as a majordomo, or someone who speaks on behalf of and takes charge for another person. He was in charge of the king’s palace and the king’s affairs.

That is not all the Bible reveals about this man; rather, it is revealed that while he was employed by Ahab, the King of Israel, he was actually a devoted follower of the LORD. When Jezebel was waging a bloodbath persecution of any and all of God’s prophets, Obadiah was running an “underground railroad” of sorts. He hid 100 prophets of the LORD in two separate caves so that they would not be killed. On top of that, he supplied them with food and water.

Doing this, no doubt, came at great risk to him and, while the Bible does not specify this, it is not a stretch to think that the prophet Elijah had interactions with Obadiah during that time. What is clear is that Obadiah recognizes Elijah when he sees him. During that interaction, the prophet asks Obadiah to announce to King Ahab that he has arrived and would like to have a meeting with the king.

At first, Obadiah is reluctant because, up until this point, Elijah was elusive and was the only prophet that Ahab and Jezebel couldn’t capture and kill. Had Obadiah given the king an announcement that turned out to be not true because Elijah pulled a trick and fled the scene, it would have cost Obadiah his life. Elijah did give him the assurance he was looking for and, once he had it, he did as the prophet requested and brought the message to the king.

We don’t know anything else about this particular person other than what I described above; however, the story of Obadiah reminds us a couple of things about ourselves. Each of us has the potential to be puppets of the world; however, each of us also have the potential (and the call) to be followers of God. No doubt, following God comes with risk and potential consequences that can come at great personal cost; however, following God is the right thing to do. The challenge for us is this: will we take the risks to do what is right and follow God, or will we be the silent majority, complicit in our complacency. The choice is ours to make.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

The righteous in alignment with God’s justice.

PRAYER

Lord, guide me to choose what is right over what safe. Amen.

God’s People, part 48: The Boys

Read 1 Samuel 16:1-10

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“But when David’s oldest brother, Eliab, heard David talking to the men, he was angry. ‘What are you doing around here anyway?’ he demanded. ‘What about those few sheep you’re supposed to be taking care of? I know about your pride and deceit. You just want to see the battle!’” (1 Samuel 17:28 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.

HarryPotter-DursleysPart 48: The Boys. While there is not enough time, or text for that matter, for me to spend dealing with each of David’s brothers individually, we can certainly spend some time talking about them collectively. We certainly can gather the way they treated their brother just in the few verses that they show up in.

The fact of the matter is that it becomes clear that David, being the youngest, was the least privileged in his family. As the youngest, he would have only been given the scraps of the inheritance (if any at all). Chances are, with the amount of older brothers he had, David would have been on his own to make his way in the world. Certainly neither his father, Jesse, or his brothers seemed to pay him any mind. When Samuel asked to see David’s sons, Jesse brought all of them but David to the prophet.

In today’s Scripture reading, we can see that David’s brothers were no better. With his oldest brother, Eliab, being the spokesperson for the siblings, we can see the condescending (and even contentious) attitude the brothers have toward David. “What are you doing around here anyway,” Eliab demanded to know. “What about those sheep you’re supposed to be taking care of? I know about your pride and deceit. You just want to see the battle” (1 Samuel 17:28 NLT). Indeed, his brothers treated him much in the way that the Dursleys treated Harry Potter. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that David was sleeping in a closet in the family house.

It is amazing what privilege and jealousy, when mixed together, can do to the human spirit. Jesse’s boys had a chance to take David under their wing, to be a good and encouraging influence on him, and to share with him their status as Jesse’s sons; however, the boys did the opposite of that, evidently with the blessing of their father. What a shame.

It is no wonder, then, that God passes them by as the next in line to replace the wicked and wayward King Saul. It is no wonder that Samuel says to Jesse, “The LORD has not chosen any of these…are these all the sons you have?” (1 Samuel 16:10-11 NLT). Why would God choose people who were too privileged to see that God had given them everything they have? Why would God choose people who put themselves over and above God and who would discriminate against those they perceived as “less” than them?

The challenge for us is to evaluate our own hearts? Are we privileged in ways that others aren’t? Do we get treated differently than others because of our status in society? Are we of the “privileged” skin color, age, economic status, sexual identity, and/or gender, while others in society are not? Do we cherish this privilege in ways that cause us to resist others being able to share in the benefits we have? Do we resist social change to maintain the façade that we are “better” than “those other people”?

These are not easy questions to answer, but honest answers they demand. Know this, our God is a just God. Our God is seeking those who are after God’s own heart, those who are humble before the Lord, and God humbles the proud and those who are resistant to the Holy Spirit. Will we ultimately deny and reject God’s authority, will we stand opposed to the work of the Holy Spirit by denying the righteousness (aka justice) of God? Or will we open our hearts to what God is doing in our midst and humble ourselves in righteous obedience to a most righteous, loving, and inclusive Creator God? The choice is ours.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
It is better to lose everything you have to keep the balance of justice level, than to live a life of petty privilege devoid of true freedom.” – Bryant H. McGill

PRAYER
Lord, I acknowledge that you are just and that your Holy Spirit is seeking to bring your just Kingdom into this world, where all are treated equally and where all share in the privilege of being your beloved Creation. Amen.

The Sermon, part 13: Giving

Read Matthew 6:1-4

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“[The righteous] have distributed freely, they have given to the poor; their righteousness endures forever; their horn is exalted in honor.” (Psalms 112:9 NRSV)

c0e196b99c81dec65d742efe7a2db1a5Now that we’ve gotten through the first third of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, we move into the next section, which is a series of instruction to Jesus’ disciple and followers. In this instruction, Jesus follows a formula of pointing out negatives which sit in juxtaposition with positives. In other words, Jesus points to the way that something should not be done, and then points to the way it should be done.

As with any of Jesus’ teachings, there is quite a bit to unpack to fully understand the teaching and its truth in our lives. In our text, Jesus instructs on how one should go about “almsgiving” or giving to charity. That Jesus instructs on this shows that giving was an important practice to Jesus, who was a first-century Jew. Also, Jesus was not the first to stress the importance of giving to charity; rather, Jesus’ teaching explicates the fact that almsgiving was an important part of the Jewish faith. It is a tradition that Jesus carried on, not one he created.

In verse 1, Jesus warns his followers not to do acts of “piety” publicly for the purpose of “being seen”, for there is no heavenly reward in that.  As a pastor, I have people who do things under the radar so that people do not know they did it. That is something I have always admired; however, there are some who judge others for being public about their acts of charity. That is unfortunate, because Jesus never prohibited public displays of charity. Think about it, Jesus himself displayed acts of charity in public.

What Jesus is warning against here is acts of charity that are done for the purpose of being seen. To do such is to for the wrong reason. Self-aggrandizing schemes are not righteous because they are self-serving. Such schemes have no concern for those being served, except the served bring esteem and honor to those serving. This has no place in the Kingdom of Heaven and bears no eschatological (end-time) reward.

Historically speaking, there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that people would blow horns when big donors gave money at the synagogue. It simply is not a Jewish practice, nor is Jesus’ use of the illustration a prescription against his own Jewish faith. Judaism did not promote self-aggrandizing schemes any more than Christianity does. In verse 2, Jesus utilizes the “trumpet” as a metaphor for self-aggrandizing, just like when we use the metaphor that someone is “tooting their own horn.”

Finally, verse 3-4 instruct Jesus’ followers on what “pious” giving is all about. What it comes down to is this: Where is your heart? Jesus emphasizes that one should be doing one’s duty to God, such as helping the poor, in a way that ONLY God sees. Again, not in the sense that one needs to be writing checks in a dark closet tucked away from the rest of the world, so that no one knows he or she is writing it; rather, it means that we should do what we do without seeking attention or approval from anyone BUT God. If people happen to see it, so be it. If they don’t, so be it.

If we are doing what is right for the right reason, chances are we won’t notice whether one sees it or not, because we will be too busy serving God. That is the kind of giving Christ is instructing us to partake in. Giving for the sake of giving, not for the sake of receiving. Giving for the sake of others, not for our own sake. Such giving, such righteousness, will sound the horns of heaven in celebration of the coming Kingdom of God. Such giving will reap eternal rewards!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Gain all you can, save all you can, and give all you can.” – John Wesley

PRAYER
Lord, thank you for your instruction on giving. May I learn to live by it. 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.