Tag Archives: Sacrifice

God’s People, part 34: Jephthah

Read Judges 11

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
But I say, do not make any vows! Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ or ‘No, I won’t.’ Anything beyond this is from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:34a, 37 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.

1909 Jephthahs DaughterPart 34: Jephthah. Daughter, O daughter, wherefore art thou daughter? I wonder if you have even heard the name Jephthah before. He was, believe it or not, one of the major judges who rose up to deliver Israel from her enemies. He was a judge for a period of six years and was a great, great warrior. Yet, like all of God’s people, Jephthah was far from perfect.

The Bible indicates that Jephthah was the son of Gilead and a prostitute, who lived in the land of Gilead. Given the nature of a prostitute’s job, this might mean that his father was not named Gilead, but was unknown. In other words, his father could have been any one of the men of Gilead consorting with a prostitute. So, the great and mighty warrior’s story starts off with the detail that he was an “illegitimate child”.

Yet, this child (as all children are) was created and loved by God, and he rose up to defend his people against the Ammonites. With that said, he was reluctant to at first, because of the way he had been treated by his own people, the Israelites. Since his birth was scandalous, he was shunned and driven out of Gilead by the residents there. He was told he would have no inheritance in his father’s house. Again, his father might have been named Gilead, or this might be symbolic of not being welcome in his home town due to the scandalous nature surrounding his mother.

When asked to defend Israel against Ammon, Jephthah refused to do so unless they made him a permanent ruler over all the Israelites. The people, desperate for his help, vowed an oath under God to make him the permanent ruler. So, Jephthah agreed to lead the Israelites against the Ammonites. Scripture tells us that he was filled with the Spirit of God; however, Jephthah wanted to ensure victory and, in doing so, made a tragic and fatal mistake. He vowed that if the Lord would give him victory, he would sacrifice the first thing that walked through the front door of his house.

What a silly, silly vow. Why would he vow such a thing? Didn’t Jephthah know that the first thing that would walk through his door was his one and only daughter? This is, yet again, another one of more vile texts we find in the Bible, for Jephthah does indeed hold true to his vow to God and sacrifices (aka murders) his daughter. He lets her wander the hillside with her friends for two months but, following that, he sacrifices her.

The Bible is not clear as to whether or not God wanted such a sacrifice, or whether God wanted Jephthah to carry that sacrifice through. All we have is the vow that he made and the action that he carried out. With that said, God’s silence does not mean that this is what God wanted, let alone what God demanded. The reality is that people do all sorts of evil and sick things, and God does not come down out of the heavens (as was the case with Abraham) to stop them from carrying it forward.

The point of this story is not to take it literally and get hooked on the gory and horrific details. The point of is to learn something about ourselves in it. Had Jephthah trusted that the Spirit of the LORD was with him, he would not have made such a rash, foolish and ultimately tragic vow. Had he merely trusted in God’s presence, he would have simply led his people out to victory and won. Instead, by trying to secure his victory through bartering with God, he put himself and his daughter in a situation that should have never existed.

I believe that Jephthah should have never carried that vow out to conclusion, just as he should have never made the vow to begin with; however, he did what he did and we’re left horrified by the whole scenario. Let this be a reminder to us that we need not barter with God, as if God can be bought by our silly vows and promises. All God asks of us is to seek to live justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with the LORD, our God. The challenge for us is to be satisfied in our faith, to be satisfied with the assurance Scripture gives us of God’s presence in our lives, to be confident in the hope that GOD will not abandon us, and that salvation and deliverance will come. Why? Because God delivers and is faithful. Let us be faithful back to God and place our trust in the Holy Spirit within us.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Those that vow the most are the least sincere.” – Richard Brinsely Sheridan
 PRAYER
Lord, your Holy Spirit is within. Give me the assurance to trust in your presence. Amen.

The Categorical Imperative

Read Genesis 1:26-31; Psalm 23; Matthew 25:31-46

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.” (1 Corinthians 4:2 NRSV)

In the church and in the corporate world, the word “stewardship” often floats around congregations in the form of campaigns to raise “funds” for the mission and ministries of the church. As such, many people hear the word “stewardship” as just a church-speak for, “cough up some dough for us.” This particular perception has risen up as a result of the way stewardship has been discussed and handled in the church and corporate settings.

Yet, the word steward is used in other ways that point to the fact that, deep down, we know stewardship to be more than just monetary support. Back in the day, flight attendants were known as Stewards and/or Stewardesses. The steward, in the airline industry, is the person who cares for the needs of the customers boarded on the plane. They fetch pillows, bring food and drink, listen to and address issues specific travelers may be having, and they instruct people of safety procedures in case of an emergency. What’s more, in the event of an emergency, the steward risks their own safety in order to save lives and get people off of the plane (if it has been grounded). The role of a steward is the same on trains and ships as well.

There are other examples of stewardship as well. Rather, than belabor the reader with a million examples of stewardship, it is more important to point to the definition of what a steward is, in order to better grasp the concept of stewardship. A steward is a person how cares for the needs of other people, organizations, events, and/or places. Thus, stewardship is the ethos that embodies the responsibility of caring for those needs, which absolutely includes the management and planning of resources. With that said, let us not simply limit resources to money. Google defines a resource as, “a stock or supply of money, materials, staff, and other assets that can be drawn on by a person or organization in order to function effectively.”

In other words, stewardship is the embodiment of managing and planning resources, whether those resources are monetary, material, human, natural, or any other resource. Being a good steward is about managing those resources well; however, this sounds more corporate and less spiritually worded. In terms of being Christian and living out our Christian faith, being a good steward means taking good care of all that God has given us and making proper use of the resources God has given us. If we don’t share our resources with others, we are not being good stewards, and the same is true if we neglect, abuse, misuse, or mismanage the resources shared with us.

Thus, to be a good steward, spiritually speaking, we must recognize that ALL THINGS are FROM GOD. Our money, our natural resources, our real estate and property, our congregation members (in the case of churches), our staff members (in the case of corporations and/or organizations), and all other resources are from God. If we do not recognize the divine value within each of the non-living resources, and the divine presence and/or image in all living resources (especially in humans), then we are not embodying the ethos of good Stewardship. We cannot abuse/neglect the environment, be misers, and/or see our congregation members, our staff, our friends and family as expendable means to an end, and still call ourselves good stewards, let alone stewards in any sense of the word.

This latter part is often overlooked in stewardship talks and campaigns and, yet, is the most important part of stewardship. PEOPLE MATTER and are to be valued. LIVING BEINGS are ends unto themselves and never should be seen as a means to an end (to summarize Immanuel Kant’s Categorical Imperative). So, today I challenge you to start evaluating your stewardship and start working toward being the best stewards you can be. That is what it means to be disciples of Christ, that is what it takes to truly follow Christ and uphold Christian values. STEWARDSHIP IS VITAL. Be good stewards and work to user in God’s Kingdom on Earth.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Live your life as though your every act were to become a universal law.” – Immanuel Kant
PRAYER
Lord, forgive me for when I’ve used people as a means to an end. Help me to treat people as divine persons and not tools. Amen.

SON OF GOD: Good Friday

Read John 19

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
When the Roman officer who stood facing Him [heard His cry and] saw how He had died, he exclaimed, “This man truly was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39 NLT)

2014-NIUE-AUGUSTUS-FEATUREUp until now, it might not be clear why I entitled this series of Holy Week devotions, “Son of God.” I mean, sure, I am writing about Jesus of Nazareth who is known by billions of Christians to be the “Son of God.” That much is self-evident; and sure, I am writing about the activities, suffering and death of “the Son of God” because it is Holy Week and that is when billions of Christians celebrate the last days of Christ. But, other than that, why entitle this SON OF GOD?

What most people don’t realize is that the title, “Son of God”, was not held exclusively by Jesus during his lifetime. There was another person who was known to the world at the time as son of god and his name was Tiberius Caesar, just as Augustus Caesar was before him. Because Julius Caesar was divinized following his assassination, Augustus (whose birth name was Octavian) took on the title divi filius, aka son of the divine one, aka son of god. When Tiberius succeeded Augustus, he took on the same title, as did the Caesars that followed him. And, honestly, who was going to argue with them. They were truly the most powerful men in the known world and to argue their divinity with them was to order your own death.

When Jesus’ followers, and later the Gospel writers, started hailing the peasant carpenter from Nazareth as “the Son of God,” this instantly put him in immediate competition with Caesar, who did not take kindly to such competition. What’s more, Jesus wasn’t being called the equivalent of divi filius; rather, he was being called the equivalent of Dei Filius, which put him above the son of a deified mortal and made him the Son of the immortal God. Also, this Jesus claimed that being the Son of God meant conquering people with love and truth, as opposed to Caesar’s way of conquering people with fear and force. It was on this day, nearly 2,000 years ago, that this peasant Nazarene came face to face with the Roman Empire. It was on this day, nearly 2,000 years ago, that the Son of God challenged another son of god. It was on this day, nearly 2,000 years ago, that LOVE and brute force crossed paths in such a dramatic way that the world would never forget it. While brute force may have won the battle, three days later it totally lost the war!

On this Good Friday, we are being called by the Son of God to reflect on the ways we oppose walking the path of LOVE. How often have we tried to force our way on others? How often have we put ourselves above the Son of God through our thoughts and through our actions? Christ is calling us to search our hearts and our souls. The Son of God is calling us to acknowledge his Sonship, his divinity, and his Lordship over our lives. The Son of God is calling us to abandon our ways for his ways, and he is calling us, at all costs, to return to the pathway of LOVE. While this is not always easy, it is what the Son of God calls us to do and his death on the cross is a reminder to us all of the extent to which he was willing to go in order to see that pathway through. The Christ on the cross is waiting for us to join him in his mission.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give His life as a ransom for many.” – Jesus of Nazareth (Mark 10:45 NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, precious Son of God, thank you for your sacrifice. Stir up in me a sacrificial love that reaches far and wide to those in need around me. Amen.