Tag Archives: Sin

God’s People, part 130: God’s Curse

Read John 9:1-11

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“’You were born a total sinner!’ they answered. ‘Are you trying to teach us?’ And they threw him out of the synagogue.”  John 9:34 (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.

Shame_God's CursePart 130: God’s Curse. You may be wondering why all of the lead up to the New Testament? Why am I not just diving in and not hitting the major characters like I did with the Old Testament? Good questions. I did not lead up to the Old Testament because that Scripture is inherently Jewish which is the foundation for Christianity. No one assumes otherwise when reading it. The texts give the context of ancient Judaism without me really having to do any sort of lead up to it.

With that said, I am leading up to the New Testament because people typically read that as inherently Christian and NOT Jewish at all. That is a huge mistake, and so the lead up is hopefully providing the very Jewish context as a backdrop for the Gospels, Epistles and Apocalypse that make up the New Testament. Believe it or not, the New Testament is a collection of mostly Jewish writings. A few of the authors were actually Greek; however, the majority of it was written by Paul who was formerly Saul, a Jewish Pharisee. Others New Testament authors, such as the authors of Matthew, Mark, and John were members of the Jewish Diaspora.

So, here’s some more context of the world in which Jesus and the early Jesus movement lived and ministered in. Jesus, and eventually his apostles, were known for the healings they performed. In the modern imagination, we see all sorts of awesome images dancing through our heads. Cute little children being raised from the dead. Paralyzed people walking again. The blind being able to see. Those sick with contagious diseases being cured of their ailments. And we envision Jesus kicking demon butt galore as he exorcised them from helpless people.

In reality, people who were ailing from paralysis, blindness, contagious diseases, premature death, or demon possession were considered to be suffering due to being under God’s curse. What does that mean? That means that they had done something to really tick God off. After all, God would not curse a person who is faithful to God, right? If one is suffering it has to be because they did something to deserve the suffering.

If it was not due to something they did, it was also thought to be possible that they were paying the price for their parents sins, or perhaps the sins of their grandparents, or great-grandparents. You get the picture. God rewards the good and punishes the bad. In order for healing to take place, if it ever could, one would have to repent and get right with God. Then God, and GOD ALONE, would heal the person. The healing would be a sign of God’s forgiveness and favor falling upon the healed person.

While this is a bit simplistic of an explanation, I believe it is helpful enough in giving us the wider, broader context of what is happening in Jesus’ miracles. It also gives the broader context as to why Jesus’ opponents reacted to his healings in the way that they did. The challenge for us is to reflect on our own view of suffering. Do we believe that people who are suffering somehow deserve to be? Do we view their faith as not strong enough, their prayers not exhaustive enough, and their lives not holy enough to be blessed by God? Or do we abstain from judgment and seek out the Christ who says, “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins, this happened so the power of God could be seen in him.”  (John 9:3 NLT)

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Is it easier to say ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up and walk’?” – Jesus of Nazareth (Luke 5:23 NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, help me to not look with scorn or judgment at other people. Amen.

God’s People, part 115: Haman

Read Esther 3

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Then Harbona, one of the king’s eunuchs, said, ‘Haman has set up a sharpened pole that stands seventy-five feet tall in his own courtyard. He intended to use it to impale Mordecai, the man who saved the king from assassination.’ ‘Then impale Haman on it!’ the king ordered. So they impaled Haman on the pole he had set up for Mordecai, and the king’s anger subsided.” (Esther‬ ‭7:9-10‬ ‭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 115: Haman. By now, I am sure, you are aware that Haman is the bad guy of the story in Esther. He was the one who plotted to have all the Jews killed and to have a special gallows built to hang Mordecai on. We also know, ultimately, that Haman’s plot backfired in the worst possible way, thanks to the faithfulness of Queen Esther to her people. She braved the possibility of being executed in order to do what was just and righteous.

With that said, let us take a look at Haman anyway. It is easy to demonize someone as the “bad guy”, because it makes them something different than “us”. It allows us to place all of the blame on the evil “straw man”, as it were, and to avoid reflecting on ourselves and how we too fall prey to such tendencies.

Haman, according to the Bible, was a descendent of Agag, who was king of the Amalekites. If you remember, the Amalekites were the people that King Saul and King David wiped out in certain areas. So, even in his family history, there is bad blood there. The Jews were the enemies of Haman’s ancestors.

What’s more, it is also important to note that being an Agagite (a descendant of Agag) meant that Haman was NOT a Persian. He was yet a person who belonged to a land that had been conquered by Babylon and were now being ruled by Persia. Thus, Haman is a foreigner too. He, like Mordecai, had been promoted up the ranks to become an official in Persia. Not only was he an official, but he was the kings top official. He was the King’s right-hand man.

So, given the history between the Jewish and the Amalekites, it is no wonder that Haman has a resentment against Mordecai and the other Jews. What’s more, when you add in the fact that Haman and Mordecai were both foreigners competing against each other for political positions, we get to understand the conflict.

Piecing it together that way, makes sense of why Mordecai refused to bow and why Haman took such offense to it. Pride and tribalism seem to be at the heart of this conflict. There are other possible extra-biblical reasons as to why Mordecai refused to bow to Haman; however, given what we have to go on in Scripture, the obstinance that Mordecai showed Haman and the hatred that Haman had for Mordecai and his people, really begin to make sense.

In our country today, we see such tribalism taking route in the form of hyper-nationalism. Dare I say this, the kind of nationalistic rhetoric I have heard thrown out there as of late sets America up as almost an idol to be worshiped. Beyond the national level, I have seen tribalism grow among the peoples within this nations. Republicans vs. Democrats, whites vs. blacks, citizens vs. undocumented immigrants, heterosexuals vs. LGTBQ, etc.

Let us reflecton that. These divisions, these dichotomies are false in the eyes of God and they all lead us down the road toward destruction. Haman is a great and stark example of the destructive path that pride and tribalism lead us down. Let us begin to repent of the ways in which we have been falsely proud and tribalistic. Let us turn from our sins and run back into the arms of the One who created us all in the divine image.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“They will know we are Christian by our love, by our love. They will know we are Christian by our love.” — Fr. Peter Scholtes

PRAYER

Lord, help me to steer clear of immoral and unholy tribalism and pride. Amen.

God’s People, part 114: Mordecai

Read Esther 2

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Mordecai sent this reply to Esther: “Don’t think for a moment that because you’re in the palace you will escape when all other Jews are killed. If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?” (Esther‬ ‭4:13-14‬ ‭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 114: Mordecai. Continuing on from the last devotion, we are going to explore some of the key characters in the book of Esther. To quickly refresh you, you will remember that Esther was a Jewish girl who was taken out of the custody of her cousin, Mordecai, and placed into the king of persia’s harem. A harem was a separate living quarter for three groups of women in the royal palace: legal wives, royal princesses, and concubines.

The first two are pretty obvious, but people today might not necessarily understand what concubines are. Some people view concubines as promiscuous women who are of low moral character because they sleep around with married men; however, this is a false understanding of the concubine’s situation. In Perisa, along with other Middle Eastern cultures, a concubine was a person who was legally bound to the king for sexual purposes, but had lower status than wives. They were not merely mistresses who threw themselves before the king; rather, they had no choice for they were chosen to be in sexual service to the king. They were, in essence, sex slaves.

Mordecai was Esther’s cousin; however, he was much older than her and he adopted her as his own daughter after her parents died. Anyone with a heart can imagine how hard it was for Mordecai to see his loved ones pass and how his heart must have broken for Esther. At the same time, we should not over-romanticize it either. Extended family members were obligated, as pure their cultural and religious customs, to take care of the children of their deceased family members.

With that said, the Scripture implies that the relationship between Mordecai was a close one. In Esther 2:7, it says he raised her as his own daughter. Mordecai was clearly someone Esther had a great deal of respect toward and someone she listened to. It was, after all, Mordecai who convinced Esther to risk her life and go before the king uninvited to petition for the lives of her people. It was Mordecai who bluntly laid the reality of the situation before her in Esther‬ ‭4:13-14‬.

Mordecai was no doubt petrified and in a panicked state his words, no doubt, came off forcefully. What he was asking her to do was to go on a possible suicide mission by breaking the courtly codes of conduct for a queen. The queen was not permitted to come uninvited before the king when he was conducting royal business in the court. To do so meant death unless the king favored his wife and accepted her reasoning. Esther believed that she had fallen out of favor with the king, that he was bored with her, and so to go before him most certainly meant death.

Mordecai, on the other hand, had just been informed of a royal decree, sent out under the authority of the king, permitting Persians to kill any and all Jews. This happened as a result of the King being tricked by his evil advisor, Haman. So, Mordecai didn’t have time to mince words and he let the queen know that saving her own life in this moment would most certainly mean death for them all in the next.

With that said, it is also important to note that Mordecai was directly responsible for egging on Haman and causing him to lash out in such a wretched and evil way. Haman worked in the king’s court as an official and all the officials were expected to bow and show respect to Haman, who was the king’s chief official. Mordecai refused to do so. Not just once, or twice, but time and time again, day after day. His reasoning for not bowing in respect to the chief official, evidently, was that he was Jewish. Of course, there’s no law against showing respect to a king or an official, so long as you are not “worshiping” the official as a god, but Mordecai refused to budge and, consequently, so did Haman who was as proud as he was arrogant. The end result was that Haman, who was evil, plotted to have all Jews killed in spite of Mordecai’s defiance.

Perhaps Mordecai had good reason for not bowing, or perhaps he simply did it pridefully because he wasn’t going to be seen as inferior to Haman. It’s hard to say because the author leaves the explicit reason out. Mordecai’s defiance, however, begs us to question our own motivations when we are being defiant. Not all defiance is good, not all defiance is bad; however, defiance does lead to unintended consequences and because of Mordecai’s unwillingness to compromise and follow protocol, the very lives of his people were put into unnecessary jeopardy. Thankfully, Esther was able to expose Haman’s evil and justice one out in the end; still, let us reflect on our own pride (whether Mordecai was prideful or not) and how our unwillingness to budge can be harmful to others.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Anger is the enemy of non-violence and pride is a monster that swallows it up.” —Mahatma Gandhi

PRAYER

Lord, help me to evaluate myself honestly and humble myself sincerely so as to not bring harm, if possible, to those around me. In Christ, all things are possible. Amen.

God’s People, part 109: Ezra.

Read Ezra 9

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“So on October 8 Ezra the priest brought the Book of the Law before the assembly, which included the men and women and all the children old enough to understand.” (Nehemiah 8:2 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.

 ““”” Part 109: Ezra. What’s important to understand is that the people we have been discussing the past several devotions are connected to each other in personal relationship and/or in historical circumstance. In the case of today’s subject, Ezra was personally connected to Nehemiah. Born in Babylon during the Babylonian Captivity, Ezra had never been to Jerusalem, nor did he ever lay eyes on Solomon’s Temple before it was destroyed. In other words, Babylon was all Ezra knew.

So we can imagine the excitement, as well as the fear, that ran through Ezra as he returned back Jerusalem. What’s more, he could not have possibly realized what challenges would have been awating him in Jerusalem. It is imporant to note that Ezra was not among the first to arrive in Jerusalem, nor was he among those who dealt with the struggles of rebuilding the Temple or the wall; rather, he was a part of the second wave of Jews who returned.

It is important to note that Ezra-Nehemiah were originally one book that ended up getting split up. Though we have yet to discuss Nehemiah, by the time Ezra returned to Jerusalem Nehemiah had already built the wall and Ezra wrote, “[God] revived us so that we could rebuild the Temple of our God and repair its ruins. He has given us a protective wall in Judah and Jerusalem” (Ezra 9:9). Thus Nehemiah was among the first wave to return and Ezra returned following him and his leadership on the wall construction project.

Ezra, on the other hand, played another important role in this historic moment for the people of Judah. When he returned, he noticed people were not living as God had commanded them. Some of the Jewish people who originally returned had married into non-Jewish families and were beginning to be led astray. That and the struggles of rebuilding the Temple and reclaiming Jerusalem had proven to set back progress of reestablishing God’s people in their homeland.l

Ezra, ever mindful of the cost of sin having spent his whole life up to that point in a foreign land, called the people to strictly observe the Torah and its laws. Obedience to God’s law, Ezra argued, would keep Judah from falling back into sin and into the threat of destruction. Being lax and not obeying God was not an option. He read to them the Torah and enforced the observance of the law. Ezra’s focus on strict observance of the Jewish Law would eventually become the focus of another group of Jews called the Pharisees.

As Christians, we may feel the temptation to ask how this is all relevant to us. We are not longer bound by the law, right? It is true that through Jesus we have been freed from the letter of the Law; however, in and through Jesus we begin to live into the fulfillment of the law. In other words, Jesus works the heart of the Law (LOVE) in us and calls us to put that LOVE on display toward others. Are we open to the work of Christ through the Holy Spirit? Do we remain faithful to him and the LOVE that he has called us to? Ezra, if nothing else, challenges us to reflect on our loyalty and faithfulness to Jesus Christ who is the fulfillment of God’s Law.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“By faithfulness we are collected and wound up into unity within ourselves, whereas we had been scattered abroad in multiplicity.” Saint Augustine

PRAYER

Lord, I submit myself to you. Forgive me my trespasses and give me the strength to be faithful. Amen.

God’s People, part 103: Belshazzar

Read Daniel 5

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I am the LORD your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery. You must not have any other god but Me.” (Exodus 20:2-3 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.

Rembrandt_-_Belshazzar's_Feast_-_WGA19123Part 103: Belshazzar. In our last devotion, we discussed King Nebuchadnezzar II’s reign and how pride got the best of him. He had great potential. He was a brilliant tactician, a leader with vision, and a ruler that all of the surrounding nations feared. He was, indeed, the “first king” in his dream of a great statue. He was the golden head, the first and the greatest of the kings that the statue represented.

Yet, Nebuchadnezzar had a huge ego and allowed it to get the best of him. He believed that it was HIS power and authority that was to be feared and made the people worship the very ground he walked on. Thus, God allowed him to be humbled and reminded of who was the TRUE AUTHORITY over heaven and earth. Once the king was humbled and came to that realization and place of repentance, he was restored back to his place of authority.

Belshazzar was not of the same ilk as Nebuchadnezzar. He ruled in place of his father, Nabonidus, during his father’s prolonged abscense from the city. While he was technically king in his father’s absence, he never assumed the titles or ritual functions of kingship. Still, while his father was  not around, the crown prince Belshazzar acted as regent and in charge of domestic matters. One of the things he tried to do in his father’s absence was overseeing temple estates and renting out temple land, as well as working to restore the top position of the Babylonian god Marduk of which his father had demoted in favor of the Babylonian moon goddess.

This insight helps us to understand Belshazzar’s actions against the Jews in Babylon. The Bible tells us that the crown prince (the author of Daniel refers to him as “king”) had the plundered cups and plates of the Jewish Temple used for one of his parties. Such an act, according to Jewish law, would defile the sacred cups of the Temple. Belshazzar did not heed that warning and a message was inscribed on the wall by a ghostly, disembodied finger. It read: “Mene, mene, tekel, and Parsin”, which loosely translated to mean that the king had been judged by God, that he  was found wanting, and that his days were numbered and his kingdom would be divided.

That very night, per the Bible, Belshazzar was killed by Darius the Mede who was conquering the city on behalf of King Cyrus of Persia. Whether these events are exactly historical is beside the point; rather, what is important is the point the narrative is conveying to us. The author of Daniel wants us to know that putting other things before the LORD is a defilement of God and will lead to our destruction.

This may sound harsh; however, there is much truth in it. It is not that God is harsh or cruel, but that when we put ourselves above God we do things that end up harming others. Such actions bear unnatural consequences that ultimately come back to bring us down in the end. In our world today, there are plenty of Christians who have made an idol out of their government and its leaders. These Christians have not only put Christ second to these human leaders, but they have distorted Christ and the Gospel message to make the Gospel conform to their worldly ideologies. Woe to such people who use God as a means to their own wicked end. Let us be challenged to subject our ideologies to God’s measure, rather than subject God to the measure of our ideologies.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The art of government is the [organization] of idolatry.” – George Bernard Shaw

PRAYER
Lord, help me to lay my idols to rest. You are LORD of lords and KING OF kings, and you in you alone do I place my trust and my allegiance. Amen.

God’s People, part 99: Ezekiel

Read Ezekiel 2

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear.” (2 Timothy‬ ‭4:3‬ ‭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.

img_1078Part 99: Ezekiel. The prophet Ezekiel is one of the most influential prophets in the Old Testament, especially in Christian Theology. All that we know about the prophet comes from what what was written of himself in his eponymous book of prophecy, which records six of his prophetic visions.The prophet in the book is identified as Ezekiel, son of Buzi, a priest. Thus, Ezekiel was born into a priestly lineage. His visions began when he was 30 years old.

In his visions, Ezekiel is referred to as “son of man” and he is in direct dialog with God, who “appeared like a man” and was seated on a throne. Recognizing it was the LORD, Ezekiel fell prostrate, face down to the floor. Then the voice of the LORD spoke out to him and told him that he was to go to the people of Israel and warn them of all that God was going to show him. The reason he had to “go” to the people of Israel was because he was the first wave of exiles that were taken when Babylon deposed Jehoiachin as king and replaced by Zedekiah. Thus, at the time of his visions, Ezekiel was living in exile in Babylon on the bank of the Kebar River.

In his visions, he is shown the destruction of Jerusalem and the destruction of God’s Holy Temple. He is shown many of the inhabitants of the city and surrounding area being destroyed by a foreign invader. There was much bloodshed and much horror throughout the city. On top of that, Ezekiel also prophesied that the surrounding nations that had tormented Israel throughout the centuries would also be destroyed. Those nations included the Ammonites, Moabites, Edomites, Philistines, the Phoenecian cities of Tyre and Sidon, as well as Egypt.

Of course, Ezekiel’s prophecy also had a promise of redemption as well. God was allowing these things to happen to a wicked people who had long forgot their God, evidenced by their corruption, oppressive regimes, and execution of injustice. God promised that, one day, Jerusalem and the Temple would be rebuilt and the glory of the LORD would return to be with God’s people forever.

As is usually the case, the people were too outraged at Ezekiel’s message despite the hopeful message. God warned him of this, “You must give them my messages whether they listen or not. But they won’t listen, for they are completely rebellious!” (Ezekiel‬ ‭2:7‬ ‭NLT‬‬) Indeed, God was right, the did not listen. Ezekiel spent his prophetic career incessantly prophesying and acting out the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple; however, the rulers and leaders ignored his warning and opposed him for speaking out.

The truth is that people in power don’t like to be told that what they are doing is wrong. Instead of listening to God’s prophets and messengers, they tend to put forth their own prophets and messengers who falsely counter the truth in order to maintain the status quo. To people in power, the truth of God’s Kingdom is inconvenient because it means that they no longer get to be on top. In the Kingdom of God, all people will be on equal footing and a level playing field, for all people were created equally and are loved equally by God.

We see this resistance to truth in our own day and age. Just recently, the United States of America’s Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, used the Apostle Paul’s words in Romans 13:1 to justify the enactment and enforcement of the evil, cruel, and harmful policy of separating children from their parents. These people are not only immigrants crossing our borders illegally; rather, many of them have legal asylum status. With the Church (e.g. Roman Catholics, United Methodists, Presbyterians (PCUSA), Southern Baptists, and even the Rev. Franklin Graham) rising up against this policy, Sessions misused Scripture to justify what he and the adminstration are doing. This not the first time politicians have wrongly quoted that Scripture to justify their evil, for it was that Scripture and others that long kepts black people enslaved.

Let us, right now, remember that God sends prophets for a reason. The prophets’ words may be harsh sounding, they may pierce like daggers and feel ungracious; however, they are absolutely words of grace meant to give us pause and guide us to repentance when we are wrong. If we humble ourselves and heed the warnings given to us, we will avert many of the destructive consequences of our sins; however, if we don’t repent and give our lives over to God through Jesus Christ our Savior, we are destined to face an eternal God who knows our hearts and knows the vastness of our sins. Let us, in the name of Jesus Christ, repent and stand up for justice so that all may know the glory of the LORD.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

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

PRAYER

Lord, help me to be humble and honest about my sins. Forgive me, in Jesus name, and strengthen me to stand up for righteousness and justice. Amen.