Tag Archives: Wilderness

God’s People, part 35: Barren

Read Judges 13

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
The LORD took hold of me, and I was carried away by the Spirit of the LORD to a valley filled with bones. (Ezekiel 37:1 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.

Desert_Background_with_TreePart 35: Barren. As I am sure you have seen in this series, thus far, I like to shake things up a bit. The heart of this series is about looking at individuals in the Bible and showing them to be just like us: human beings prone to error, yet saved by the grace of God. Yet, from time to time I have decided to show the people of Israel as a whole, to pinpoint how sinful society (which is made up of sinful people) can truly be, with the hope that you, the reader, can reflect on how our society mirrors theirs, as well as the part we individually play in that.

Here is such a time. As we approach the well-known, exciting persona that is Samson, it will prove beneficial for us to pause and look at his parents, Manoah and “his wife.” Once again, we will notice that “his wife” doesn’t really have a name. That is not because she didn’t actually have a name, but because the author didn’t seem to think that “her name” was all that important. On the other hand, Manoah is named, which shows the patriarchal bias at work in this author’s writing.

In that time, and in that culture, the lineage was traced through the man and not the woman. So, as can be seen here, the woman was barely mentioned if not totally left out of the equation. That is not to say that the woman had no place in the family, or that women were looked down up on by their husbands or anything like that. I do not want to overstate things. All that is being said is that the society as a whole did not favor the woman equally and, in terms of lineage, traced the family tree through the father.

What’s more, all societies treasure productivity. From childbearing to work, societies look toward its people to produce in every sort of way. It is what keeps a society thriving and pushing forward. Without production, a society, in time, would die. But societies, unfortunately, put so much pride in those who “produce” that they become neglectful (at best) or damning (at worst) of those they deem to be unproductive. What’s more, societies will hone in on one area lacking productivity over and above all of the productivity going on elsewhere.

Such was the case with Manoah and his wife. It was automatically assumed that if a woman could not get pregnant, it was because she was barren. That was the bias that existed in Manoah’s culture. Despite that truth, both the husband and the wife were left in shame and bewilderment when there was no productivity in childbearing. Society, heavily valuing productivity, would look with scorn and judgment on those who could not produce chidlren, as being under God’s curse and as a shame. Of course, by “society”, I am not just meaning religious leaders, town elders, villagers and/or townsfolk, but also family and extended family.

So, it is not hard to imagine the joy that both Manoah and his wife are feeling when they learn that they will, indeed, conceive and produce a child. They both are willing to do whatever God wants of them, and whatever God wants of the child, in order to thank and praise God for such a glorious blessing. In the end, God would be blessing far more than just two eager parents in the birth of Samson.

While this story seemingly has a happy ending, there is a dark sadness that casts its shadow over it. Instead of being valued and encouraged in the ways they may have contributed aside from childbearing, the society was structured to shun, mock, judge and condemn people who could not have children. Again, when I say society, I do so fully recognizing that societies are made up of individual people. Knowing this, how do we contribute to people getting shunned, mocked, judged, and condemned in our society. In what ways does our society inform our own biases, and how do we allow those socially constructed biases to hurt and destroy others? Honesty is the only way we will be reflective enough to allow God to change us.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Putting societal values over and the love of God and neighbor results in a barren people who possess barren souls.

PRAYER
Lord, open my eyes that I may see. Change my heart, making it more and more like yours. Amen.

The Great Achilles

Read Joel 12-17

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Though the LORD is great, He cares for the humble, but He keeps His distance from the proud.” (Psalms 138:6 NLT)

tumblr_o5dqzbrhat1rqqedro1_1280Just last night, I decided to sit down and watch the three hour sixteen minute epic director’s cut of the film, “Troy”, starring Eric Bana as Hector, Orlando Bloom as Paris, Diane Kruger as Helen of Sparta/Troy, and Brad Pitt as the great warrior, Achilles. The film itself is a wonder to watch. It is epic in every sense of the word. The sets are amazing and huge in scale. One can’t help but feel like you are back in the 50’s watching a Cecille B. Demille flick, with far superior special effects and action sequences! If you haven’t seen it, check it out. I do recommend the Director’s Cut, which adds an extra half hour of footage on to the film.

For those of you who may not be familiar with the story of the Trojan War, though that is honestly hard to imagine, I will briefly and loosely sum it up for you. The most famous of the accounts of this story is found Homer’s epic poem, “The Illiad”. Basically, the story is about a forbidden romance gone bad. In Sparta, a city in the kingdom of Mycenae, a land that was believed to be founded by the Perseus (of Medusa fame), Princes Hector and Paris of Troy were negotiating at peace deal between King Agamemnon and Troy.

Unfortunately, Paris (who was more of a lover boy than he was a diplomat) fell in love with Helen of Sparta who was married to the brother of the King. Once the peace agreement was made, Hector and Paris sailed away for Troy; however, little did Hector know that Paris kidnapped Helen to take her back to Troy with him. As you can imagine, that put a quick and bitter end to the fledgling peace agreement that had just been reached the day before. The result of Paris’ unscrupulous act was a ten year war that King Agamemnon waged against Troy to defend his brother’s honor (and, let’s be honest, to subject another city under his rule).

This is where Achilles comes in. Achilles was a warrior who had a tenuous relationship with King Agamemenon (at best) and who fought for the king on many occasions. His mother, prior to his deciding to go fight for the king against Troy, had warned Achilles that he would either live a safe life and die unknown, or he would fight and die young, but be remembered for all time. Without getting into the different mythologies of Achilles, he was known for being the greatest of warriors and was widely seen as having no vulnerabilities. Choosing noteriety over safety, the egotistical Achilles decided to fight against the Trojans. That proved to be a costly choice for the brave warrior.

While the Trojans did end up losing Troy in the end, Achilles lost his very life after being shot through the heel (in some accounts) by an arrow loosed by Paris. In the long war, Achilles defeated and killed Hector, he helped lead the Mycenaeans win the Trojan war; however, he also overestimated his own strength and invincibilites and paid with his life for it. Once shot in the heel, Paris was able to kill the immobilized warrior. The hero did die young and remembered for all time, just as his mother warned him.

The parallel for us is pretty obvious. We often see ourselves as above being destructable. We do things as we do them, and we don’t give it much thought. We think that the way we live our lives is perfectly fine because “it hasn’t hurt us yet”; however, if we take anything away from the great Achilles, is that we all have our vulnerabilities. When we sin, when we steer away from the path God put us on, we expose ourselves to the arrows of death awaiting to hit us in the most unexpected and painful of places.

Lent is a forty day period where we are called to reflect on our lives and on the areas in which we need to tear our hearts (Joel 2:3), do a U-Turn, and head back to God.  It is a time where we should be reflecting on our sinfulness and where we should be looking to God, as Jesus did, to help us overcome and rebuke our temptations. Rather than letting our egos get the best of us, as Achilles did, we should seek to be dependent on God and humble in accepting the changes God is calling us to make. I pray that, as you journey through Lent, that you will abandon the way that the great Achilles took. I pray that you will humble yourself before God and repent (do a U-Turn). Don’t let your pride best you, don’t let it expose your heel; rather, in humility, be led to the great fountain of life that is Jesus Christ in which all of you, including your vulnerabilities, may be washed clean!

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

PRAYER
Lord, help show me my Achilles’ heel so that I may discard of it, abandon my pride, and turn to you as my refuge and my strength. Amen.

Be Gone!

Read Matthew 4:1-11

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“If you make the LORD your refuge, if you make the Most High your shelter, no evil will conquer you; no plague will come near your home.” (Psalms 91:9-10 NLT)

melaToday is Ash Wednesday, which kicks off the Lenten journey. Lent is, so to speak, a time in the wilderness. It is a time to fast, to pray, and to reflect on the sin we find ourselves enslaved to. What’s more, it is also a time for us to be take the journey with Jesus from the wilderness to the cross. Yet, we cannot make that journey without being prepared for it.

That is what the wilderness is all about. It is about time away from the trappings of the world. It is about time away from those things that make us comfortable. It is about time away from those things we long for in order that we might draw closer to God and be prepared for the transformation God is continually working within our hearts. Lent is a time for changing one’s heart and doing a U-Turn in order to head back in the direction God is calling us.

In the Scripture, we see Jesus enter into the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights, the exact length of time of the Lenten season. During his stay in the wilderness, it is written that Jesus underwent a series of temptations from the devil. To be exact, we read of three specific things that Satan was tempting him and the exact ways in which he responds back to the devil.

First, Satan tempts Jesus with his physical needs. He suggests to him that he simply command the stones on the ground into loaves of bread. This does not seem to be an unreasonable suggestion. After all, why would God wish for Jesus to die of starvation in the wilderness? Surely, God did not send Jesus out there to die. Jesus, of course, does not fall for this temptation but responds by quoting Scripture, Deuteronomy 8:3 to be exact. Jesus rebukes Satan by reciting and upholding God’s Law!

This does not deter Satan, however, and so Satan takes the game up a notch. As we find out, Jesus is not the only one who knows Scripture. “Throw yourself from this high place”, Satan challenges Jesus. “For as the Scriptures say, ‘God will order his angels to protect you. And they will hold you up in their hands so that you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.” Here Satan is quoting Psalm 91:11, but Jesus is not fooled for Satan is taking the verse out of context.

If one reads the Psalm, it is clear that those who make GOD their refuge have nothing to fear for God will protect them. Putting God to the test is NOT making God one’s refuge. Thus, Jesus rebukes Satan a second time, once again quoting God’s Law that is is not cool to put the Lord God to the test (Deuteronomy 6:16). Finally, Satan promises Jesus to give him all of the power and possessions of the world if Jesus will only bow down and worship him. Fat chance. It is at this point that Jesus gives Satan the strongest rebuke yet: “Be gone! The Scripture says, ‘You must worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’”

In Jesus’ wilderness temptations, we can see how temptation works in our lives. We can allow our physical needs to become temptations to stray from God. We can allow our own interpretations of Scripture to allow us to stray from God. We can also allow our desires, our hopes, our fears, and our ambition to steer us away from God. Like the snake in the garden, tempation slithers into our lives in the most subtle, but deceitful of ways. On the surface things seem fine until we find ourselves being constricted by the sins coiled around us.

With that said, Jesus’ wilderness experience we can see how to respond to the temptations that ensnare us. The truth is that Satan and/or the tempations we suffer only have the power that we give to them. If we are in a relationship with God, if we know what God commands of us through Scripture and through being a part of the community of God (aka the church), then we know the difference between God’s Word and our temptations.

This Lent, instead of giving up trivial things, take up Studying Scripture. Take up worshiping in a faith community that reflects the love and grace of God. Join in on small covenant groups with people who will nurture you in your faith and hold you accountable to growing in it. Begin to take your Spiritual needs seriously, and seek first the Kingdom of God and God’s righteousness. It is then that you will realize that you have been given power over your temptations and that, through Jesus Christ, you can command the devil to “be gone” from your life! I pray that this Lent you spend your time preparing to move from the wilderness of temptation to the cross of eternal love, grace and redemption!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“If any of you wants to be My follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow Me.” – Jesus the Christ in Matthew 16:24 NLT

PRAYER
Lord, help me cast away my temptations to live my life fully in you who are my refuge! Amen.