Tag Archives: Wrath

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.

God’s People, part 91: Jonah

Read Jonah 4

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“As the crowd pressed in on Jesus, he said, “This evil generation keeps asking me to show them a miraculous sign. But the only sign I will give them is the sign of Jonah.” (Luke‬ ‭11:29‬ ‭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 91: Jonah. Thus far, we have covered the major prophets prior in the Hebrew Scriptures; however, before we follow the people of Judah into the Babylonian exile, there are several more prophets and/or figures we should pause to look at. One of them is a prophet who is very well-known because of the grandiosity of his story; however, with that said, very little is known about this prophet as a whole.

The prophet I am referring to, of course, is Jonah. In fact, scholars debate whether Jonah was a real prophet or not. There is, of course, an obscure reference to a prophet named Jonah in 2 Kings: “Jeroboam II recovered the territories of Israel between Lebo-hamath and the Dead Sea, just as the Lord, the God of Israel, had promised through Jonah son of Amittai, the prophet from Gath-hepher” (2 Kings‬ ‭14:25‬ ‭NLT‬‬).‬‬

This leads me, and others, to believe that the book of Jonah was based the historical prophet mentioned in that book. Of course, the fact that there might have been a prophet named Jonah does not mean that the accounts in the book of Jonah were word-for-word historical. Jonah lived in the 8th century BCE, while the book was written somewhere between the 5th and the early 4th centuries BCE. The book itself is written in the style of a satire or a parody, and it may have been poking fun at a faction within Jewish society who were pushing for separationism. This faction believed that the wrath of God befell people who disobeyed them, destroyed wicked cities, and that God’s mercy was not given to people outside the Abrahamic covenant.

If this viewpoint sounds familiar, it should because it was the viewpoint of a faction that was on the rise around the post-exilic time period the book of Jonah was written. That faction became known as the Pharisees and they were pushing for strict observance of Jewish Law (Torah) and separation from Gentile culture. There very name means “set apart”, or “separated”. Jesus of Nazareth, like the author of Jonah, would go on to challenge this group and so would the earliest Christians who ended up seeing Jesus’ death and resurrection as being the opening of the Abrahamic covenant to all of the people of the world.

But as for the prophet Jonah, as detailed in the book, most are familiar with his story. He was commanded by God to go to Ninevah and proclaim God’ wrath upon the city. At first he refuses and heads in the opposite direction, running away from God’s call. After being swallowed by a giant fish (not necessarily a whale), and after having stayed in its belly for three days, Jonah is spit up on land and reluctantly goes to Ninevah.

Having proclaimed the destruction of the city to its people, Jonah witnessed the Ninevites repent en masse. He then realizes that God had heard their repentance and, in an act of mercy, chose not to destroy the city. This angered Jonah, who believed that the city ought to be destroyed for he does not believe that the repentance was enough. In protest, Jonah stormed out into the wilderness and refused to eat or drink anything. He sat there and waited for God to destory Ninevah. When that failed to happen, he hoped to die in the wilderness since the LORD was showing mercy, rather than venegful wrath, toward the Ninevites. God did not allow Jonah to die, which further frustrated and angered him.

Jonah’s attitude counters the attitude Christ taught us to have toward our enemies and toward our culture as a whole. Yet, with that said, we see many “separatists” in the Christian today. These people would have Christians separate themselves from the “secular” culture in order to remain “set apart” and holy. Such people push people to buy exclusively from Christians, to listen exclusively to Christian music, to burn their secular CDs and to disengage from secular culture. Such people, sadly, are not learning from Jonah or from Jesus.

While we should not be joining in with the “wickedness” of the secular culture, we should also not be disengaging it. The challenge for us is to enter back into the model practiced by the earliest Christians. This model of evangelism engaged the culture and utilized it in a way that pointed to Christ and brought glory to God. Those who read Life-Giving Water’s devotions know that I often use secular culture as a springboard to Jesus Christ and the divine call placed upon all of us. Let us learn from Jonah and, instead of separating ourselves, let us engage the secular culture for the glory of Christ.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

The sign of Jonah, prophesied by Jesus of Nazareth, was both a prophesy of Jesus death (in the belly of Sheol) and resurrection, as well as a prophesy that God was going to show great mercy through Christ to all the world, Jewish and non-Jewish alike. That was the sign God was going to give the self-righteous Pharisees and others who thought that only they were deserving of God’s grace.

PRAYER

Lord, help me to not only acknowledge you are merciful toward me, but help me to model your compassionate mercy to others. All who repent are forgiven. I praise you Lord! Amen.

Fulfilled: Holy Tuesday

Read Isaiah 49:1-7

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matthew 23:28 NLT)

When we read the Gospels, we get a sense that Jesus saw himself as a savior of his people. We can see how he he lived, how he taught, and how he ultimately took on the role of God’s suffering servant. We see that he claimed not only to be a teacher or a prophet, but that he was the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. What’s more, Jesus claimed to be one with, and the same as, God Almighty, the great I AM.

His disciples not only believed, but were transformed by their relationship with Jesus and, in turn they helped tranform the world. Jesus’ views were not only his own, but ones steeped in his Jewish beliefs and his understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures. Each day this week, let us look at the prophetic connection between Jesus and the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible.

AngryJesusHoly Tuesday. On Palm Sunday, Jesus rode into Jerusalem being hailed as the King of the Jews. He went into the temple and upset the peace by overturning the tables of the money changers. No doubt, this act had both the Temple priests and the Roman leadership looking intently on this individual…this “prophet.” He was showing himself to be a trouble maker.

By Monday, Jesus he began antagonizing the Temple leadership, as well as the teachers of religious laws (known as the Pharisees). He taught in parables that called the leaderhsip out for their hypocrisy. He proclaimed that hey was the the stone that God declared to be the cornerstone and decried the priests and the teachers fo religious law for rejecting him. He certainly did not win many of the priests and Pharisees over on Holy Monday.

On this day, Holy Tuesday, Jesus’ teachings took a sharp and dramatic turn. Instead of teaching in parables, he called the Sadducees and Pharisees out directlty. “The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach.” (Matthew 23:2-3 NLT). Calling them hypocrites, Jesus levied a series of seven accusations against the religious leadership. “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you cross land and sea to make one convert, and then you turn that person into twice the child of hell you yourselves are!” (Matthew 23:15 NLT)

Jesus called the leadership out on perverting the law for their own gain. He likened them to “whitewashed tombs”  that look pristine and beautiful on the outside, but are filled with bones and the dead on the inside. His words cut through them and caused their hatred of him to grow to an all-time high. They were already trying to find a way to eliminate him; however, after this display, they were even more determined.

Jesus did not stop there either. He went on to predict that the temple would be destroyed and began to share with his disciples that the world was going to experience a whole lot of darkness before it would see the light of God. Jesus lamented over Jerusalem, for its refusal to accept him and the message of God who had sent him. He lamented, “And now, look, your house is abandoned and desolate. For I tell you this, you will never see Me again until you say, ‘Blessings on the One who comes in the name of the LORD'” (Matthew 23:38-39 NLT)!

All of this a profound fulfillment of what was written in Isaiah 49:1-7. Jesus’ words were, indeed, “words of judgment as sharp as a sword.” On Holy Tuesday, Jesus was like a sharp arrow in God’s quiver. He was being loosed on the people who were supposed to be witnessing to the glory and love of God but were, instead, basking in their own status and glory to the detriment of God’s people.

Of course, it is easy for us to read this and point fingers at the religious leadership in Jesus’ time; however, Christians believe in the “priesthood” of all believers. That we are all called to bring people to a relationship with Jesus and represent God’s love in the world. The question is, are you doing that? Are you living into the call that God has placed on your life as a believer? Are you exonerated by Jesus, or his sharp words cutting through with convicting truth? I think we all can acknowledge that there is room for us to grow and transform. I pray that we all open our hearts and be transformed by Jesus’ words in fulfillment with what Isaiah prophesied, “You will do more than restore the people of Israel to Me. I will make you a light to the Gentiles, and you will bring My salvation to the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6 NLT)

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Love does not always come in hugs and flowery words, but as words that cut like a sword through the aspects of ourselves that enslave us and bring us down.

PRAYER
Lord, thank you for loving me enough to tell me the truth. Continually guide me and lead me back to you and your Kingdom. Amen.

God’s People, part 75: Gehazi

Read 2 Kings 5:15-27

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows.” (1 Timothy 6:10 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.

3393-largePart 75: Gehazi. The story of Naaman is one of the greatest examples in the Old Testament of the gracefulness of God. There was a man who was technically not one of God’s people, meaning that he was not under the Jewish covenant with the one, true God, yet he sought out the help of God through the prophet Elisha. In doing so, in humbling himself, God cleansed Naaman of his lebrosy.

Such an experience would, obviously, be life changing. 2 Kings tells us that Naaman went with all of his accompanying party back to Elisha and declared, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel.” He also proclaimed, ” Then Naaman said,  “From now on I will never again offer burnt offerings or sacrifices to any other god except the LORD.” (vv. 15b, 17a).

This is the power of God through those who effectively witness to God’s love and merciful grace. Because of Elisha’s faithfulness in caring for an enemy, that enemy became a brother in the LORD. Naaman made one other request of Elisha. While he would only ever worship the LORD God of Israel, he still needed to show loyalty to his king. He asked if God would pardon him for bowing before the King. Though this is technically a sign of worship, as much as it is a sign of loyalty and respect, Naaman’s heart was set on worshiping the LORD and not his king. God knows the hearts of people. Elisha’s response was conciliatory. He said to Naaman, “Go in peace.”

How awesome the grace of God is! God knew Naaman’s heart and was not going to force Naaman to disrespect his king over a technicality. The overjoyed Syrian commander wanted to give Elisha a gift; however, Elisha refused to accept one. His work was not for payment, but in service of the living God. Unfortunately, that sort of humility and selflessness fell on deaf ears and a hardened heart with Elisha’s servant, Gehazi.

Gehazi was angry over his master not accepting the gifts. He vowed to chase after Naaman and get something from him. Upon reaching Naaman, he made up a lie about prophets arriving as guests and that Elisha was in need of 75 pounds of silver to entertain and care for them. Naaman, of course, was overjoyed to help and gave Gehazi twice the amount he asked for.

Once he returned home, Gehazi hid the money in his house. Yet, God knew what he had done and, as it turns out, so did Elisha who had a vision of him committing the crime. Unlike Naaman, who had humbled himself, Gehazi was proud and full of greed. He was not acting like the servant of God that he was called to be. As a result, Gehazi ended up contracting leprosy. His skin became crusty white, as snow.

Stories of God’s wrath always make us uncomfortable, probably because we all know that we all fall short of God’s glorious standard (Romans 3:23); yet, it is important to realize that whether Gehazi had gotten leprosy or not, his actions poisoned his soul and led him far from where God was calling him to be. The challenge for us is to not dismiss accounts of the wrath of God because they makes us uncomfortable, but to let them cause us to reflect on our own lives, on where we are and where we ought to be. Are we, God’s servants, living up to the purpose God has for us, or are we selling out to our base nature and giving in to other spirits, voices and temptations? Let us strive to be like Naaman and avoid, like the plague (pun intended), the way of Gehazi.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“God’s judgment is not like man’s judgment. It is not a suspension of His Love but an extension of His Love. His justice is always righteous, so His judgment is always Love.” – Criss Jami

PRAYER
Lord, help me from following my base nature and turn my heart back to you. You have created me, apart from sin. Remove my sins and renew me, once more, as your servant. Amen.

The Beatitudes, part 4: The Meek

Read Matthew 5:5

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For the wicked shall be cut off, but those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land…But the meek shall inherit the land, and delight themselves in abundant prosperity.” (Psalms 37:9, 11 NRSV)

theteacherJust when one thought Jesus’ teaching couldn’t be anymore in left field then they already were, he took it up a notch. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” Most people today, when they read or hear that, have to be puzzled as Jesus’ message here. The meek will inherit the earth? Really…the meek? As in the gentle? As in the mild? As in the nonviolent? They will inherit the earth? Really?

Surely that is not our common experience is it? In an age where meglomania seems to be the key quality to be a world-dominating leader, in a time when groups are beheading and burning people in order to take over land, in a world where violence seems to be the only repsonse to everyone’s problems, it is very hard to picture the meek getting anywhere but six-feet under and long forgotten.

Yet, Jesus gave the multitude surrounding him the beatitude, or blessing, for the meek. Surely, this crowd must have thought Jesus to be completely outside of  his head. While there are many differences between Jesus’ world and ours, there is absolutely zero difference when it comes to the meek and what they inherit. The meek inherit subjugation and, if they’re lucky, death under oppressive and tyrannical rulers.

While it is true that this was the reality for the meek in Jesus’ day, just as it is in ours, Jesus’ audience had a contextual advantage to understanding Jesus’ message in a way that mostly eludes us. Any of Jesus’ Jewish audience would have automatically recognized that Jesus was not making this beatitude up out of thin air, but was turning what was a quote from the thirty-seventh Psalm into a blessing for the meek.

In order to understand what Jesus is saying here, we need to have a better understanding of what is being said in the Psalm 37. Though it is claimed as a Psalm of David, it was more likely written to people who were captive in Babylon, following the Babylonian exile. In verse one, the Psalmist tells his readers to not fret over the wicked. They may have won the battle, but not the war. The Psalmist’s advice to the reader is to trust in the Lord and do good. Those who do will inherit the land. What’s more, “refrain from anger, and forsake wrath. Do not fret—it only leads to evil” (Psalm 37:8 NRSV).

This of course leads us to the extra verses quoted in the “Also in Scripture” section above. Fretting leads to anger, which leads to wrath. Wrath is often violent and evil. The wicked (aka “evildoers”) shall be cut off from the land, but those who wait upon the Lord, those who are meek, will inherit the land. In this context, of course, the land is Judah. The people exiled in Babylon long to go back to it, but the Psalmist says that will only happen through trusting and waiting on God to deliver them.

Jesus, as mentioned above, is specifically quoting this Psalm; however, the “land” he is promising is no longer Judah, itself, but a renewed Earth that will come along with the Kingdom of God. The meek will inherit, in essence, the Kingdom of God. Of course, the word “meek” doesn’t just mean gentle, kind, soft-spoken, and peaceful. The word “meek” also implies humility and/or the knowing of one’s place in respect to God and neighbor. More importantly, “meek” implies a submission to God’s reign. It is through such humble submission that one will inherit the earth.

While the world dictates that violent, brute force is the only way to inherit the Earth; Jesus taught that, in fact, that only secures one’s demise in the end. The only way to inherit the earth is to submit to God’s reign and be transformed by the Kingdom of God within. Once one submits to God’s reign over one’s own life, they have inherited the Kingdom of God within them and will live there lives as embodiments of the Kingdom of God in the world. Eventually that Kingdom of God will triumph over the evil, and the evildoers, and the meek will truly inherit that renewed and heavenly Earth. The question for us all is this: are you meek? Do you submit to God’s rule over your life, or do you submit to the rule and the ways of the world? I pray for God’s guidance for all of us as we begin to truly examine ourselves in spirit and in truth.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
God has two dwellings; one in heaven, and the other in a meek and thankful heart.” – Izaak Walton
PRAYER
Lord, I submit to your reign in my life. In my meekness, I seek your ways and not the worlds. Amen.

Wrath of God, part 5

Read Jeremiah 31:1-10

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I—yes, I alone—will blot out your sins for My own sake and will never think of them again.” (Isaiah 43:25, NLT)

jer4-weeping-prophetJeremiah stood there in the midst of the city. Everything had been destroyed and burned to the ground. The houses were smoldering furnaces with smoke billowing to the heavens. Corpses were lying everywhere and the stench of decay filled the air. Jerusalem had her share of sorrows in the past, but they all paled in comparison with the Babylonian seige.

The Temple was in ruins and not one stone remained on top of the other. The holy place of God was a ransacked pile of rubble, laid to waste by the gentile Babylonians. The survivors were left without their Temple, without their homes, without the property, and without anyone of their spiritual leaders. King Zedekiah, his cabinet of advisors, his family, his priests and all of the leaders and their families were all exiled from Jerusalem and taken back to Babylon as spoils of the war. The future of Judah, the future of Jerusalem, were uncertain.

Jeremiah stood there that day, having been released from the prison by order of the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II. He was imprisoned by King Zedekiah for speaking out against the corruption of the King and the king’s government. Nebuchadnezzar had him released because word reached him that there was a prophet who prophesied in Babylon’s favor. Jeremiah stood there, horrified at the site of the utter and complete destruction, and he wept.

“If only they had listened,” he thought to himself. “If only they had turned from their wickedness, from their corruption, from their greed, they would have avoided all of this. How many innocent lives had been destroyed by the evil perpetrated by those who refused to live justly, who refused to love mercy, and who refused to walk humbly with their God?

But as sad Jeremiah was that day, he was not without hope for he knew that God was not the God of eternal judgment but the God of endless and ever abounding grace! God would not abandon the people of Judah, but would be working to bring them home and to restore them back to the people they were created to be. God would be showing them forgiveness and working toward reconciliation. This was not so just in spirit and in truth, but through the leadership of those who were still open to God’s wisdom and guidance; through the leadership of people like Jeremiah and those who followed him.

What is important for us to gather from Jeremiah and the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians is that GOD is not the GOD OF WRATH, but the GOD OF GRACE. When looking at the wrath of God, ask yourself this question: Is God reigning wrath down on the people? Even if it is being articulated that way by the Biblical authors, is that really what is going on? Or is the wrath of God, properly speaking, the natural consequences to the evil that people perpetuate? People may get away with being wicked for so long, but eventually (as the phrase suggests), “every dog has its day.”

What’s even more important to glean from this narrative, is that while we do often bring the wrath of our actions down upon our heads, God never gives up hope on us. God is always forgiving us, always working to restore us back to a place of righteousness, and always working to reconcile us with God and with our neighbor. In wrath, in the natural consequences of our sinful and evil actions, there is still GREAT HOPE. Today’s challenge is to see the hope in the consequences we, and the world, are facing today and to begin to be God’s mouthpiece for the proclamation of the Good News of God’s reconciliation and restoration!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The work of community, love, reconciliation, restoration is the work we cannot leave up to politicians. This is the work we are all called to do.” – Shane Claiborne

PRAYER
Lord, help me to not only seek justice, but to seek reconciliation for myself and for others. Amen.

Wrath of God, part 4

Read Genesis 19:1-16

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Do to [Babylon] as she has done to others. Double her penalty for all her evil deeds. She brewed a cup of terror for others, so brew twice as much for her.” (Revelation 18:6)

fall-of-babylon-640x426It was on Thursday, Sepetember 13, 2001 that the late Rev. Jerry Falwell carried a conversation with televangelist Pat Robertson regarding the worst terrorist attacks in U.S. history just two days earlier on 9/11. He said, “The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularise America, I point the finger in their face and say, ‘You helped this happen.'”

Wow! Go ahead, read that quote again. Let it sink in. Did God really send terrorists, or “allow terrorists to succeed” in killing nearly 3,000 people (most of whom were not abortionists or ACLU members, many of whom were not gay or lesbian, and most of whom were not pagans) because such people are fighting for the secularization of the country? Does God really operate in such a morally questionable way? This is the type of stuff that make the Bible and, in particular, the wrath of God so hard to navigate while trying to be a responsible theologian.

I am not quoting the late Rev. Falwell to judge him; but to continue to address the wrath of God and how that operates in the Biblical narrative. First, I would like to state that God’s wrath is almost always poured out upon nations (with some exceptions). Rev. Falwell’s line of thinking that God could be pouring judgment and wrath upon America is certainly not unfounded in a literal interpretation of Scripture. In Exodus, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Jonah, and many others we see God actively calling nations out for their wickedness and we see God’s wrath poured out on them for their wickedness. In Revelation, we see God’s wrath being poured out on the beast, which represents the Roman Empire.

But the question is, what angers God so much that God’s wrath boils up and over? Time and time again, when we look in the Bible, we see that what God despises the most, what sets God off in anger and wrath, is injustice! When the privileged abuse their power for their own gain, when those in power lord it over those who are powerless, God gets angry. When people are oppressed, enslaved, mistreated, disregarded, impoverished, forgotten, manipulated and/or exploited, God is incensed.

Even in the instance of Sodom and Gomorrah, the wrath was the result of all of the men of the city trying to rape the very messengers God sent to warn the cities. While rape involves a sexual act, it is more of an abusive act of power than it is one of sex. And God destests such injustice. God’s wrath on Sodom and Gomorrah was not over consensual homosexuality, as it is often misinterpreted, but rather about the kind of moral depravity that the entire city was consumed by…to the point that its citizens would rape and have their way with strangers and aliens, just because they could!

Let us not fall into the moral tar pit of judgment toward people who are different than us in sexual identity, in gender, in political affiliation, in ideology, or in any such thing. That is the pathway of sin and, ultimately, can lead to evil (e.g. Orlando Massacre). When reflecting on God’s wrath, we must understand the heart of God. The Bible makes it clear to us, over and over again, that God detests injustice in all forms, and God’s heart is with the downtrodden and the oppressed and that God’s wrath comes against the SYSTEMS that work their hardest at keeping the oppressed “in their place.”

The question for us is this, does God’s anger burn through us at the injustice we see toward all who are oppressed and/or discriminated against? Or do we align with the SYSTEM in its discrimination? Do we fight for all to be treated equal in the system and under the law, or do we want to keep the under-privileged in their places so that we can hold on to our privilege and power? Reflect upon this and allow the conviction of God to stir up honest answers to those questions, for honest answers lead to heavenly transformation.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“If everyone howled at every injustice, every act of barbarism, every act of unkindness, then we would be taking the first step towards a real humanity.” – Nelson DeMille

PRAYER
Lord, help me to see the injustice that I perpetuate so that I may eliminate it and fight against it in the world around me. Amen.

Wrath of God, part 3

Read Jeremiah 6:1-19

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let Me. And now, look, your house is abandoned and desolate.” (Matthew 23:37-38 NLT)

Destruction_of_JerusalemJeremiah looked at his beloved Judah, and his beloved Jerusalem, and all he could feel was his anger, his rage toward what it had become. Coming from the tribe of Benjamin, Jeremiah was born in a priestly family and was called by God to be a prophet. Though reluctant at first, Jeremiah soon found that he could not turn away God’s call, for it burned like a wildfire within him.

Jeremiah was called to be a prophet around a year after King Josiah reformed Jerusalem and banned any form of idol worship. The king had tried to bring Judah back to a true and pure worship of God and he established the Temple of Jerusalem as the ONLY temple that God could be worshipped in. Following his death in a battle at Megiddo against Egypt, Judah quickly returned to its wicked ways.

The people of Judah and Jerusalem fell back into idol worship as a result of weak and corrupt leadership. The leaders themselves were corrupt politicians, greedy, murderous, and totally lacking the moral and ethical compasses needed for true leadership. The desparity between the ruling class and the poor grew wider and wider and the shepherds (aka the leaders) of God’s people were more or less wolves in disguise. They weren’t caring for or protecting the people, they were milking and raping them of all they had. What’s worse, the priests and religious leaders were corrupt as well, and supported these elitist, tyrannical rulers with the authority of their religious office. By doing this, the priests were explicitly giving the rulers “God’s blessing” to continue in their corruption.

This incensed Jeremiah. He was furiously beside himself and could not contain the fire that was raging inside. “I’m filled with the Lord’s rage,” Jeremiah shouted, “and am tired of holding it in” (Jeremiah 6:11). In the suggested reading, one sees Jeremiah go through an entire rant about how angry God is and that God would not sit idly by and do nothing in regard to the wickedness of Judah. God was going to bring wrath upon their heads. Their cities would be leveled. Their people would be exiled. Smoke would be seen from miles to remind everyone of what happens when you stray and embrace wickedness. Jeremiah’s rant is harsh, and much of it is spoken as being the very words of God.

Outside of the context, it is very easy for us to read that and take the words literally. In fact, some Christians do believe that God is an angry God who punishes the wicked for their wrong doings. They even wrongfully use such words in judgment against groups of people they disagree with, labeling them as “wicked” and blaming catastrophic events on their wickedness.What’s more, anti-theists will often point to such verses as a reason that religion needs to go. And it is no wonder why, what kind of perfect God throws such temper-tantrums and wipes out entire peoples.

Yet, let us not lose sight that this is Jeremiah speaking. He may be doing so on behalf of God, but he is not God. Let us also not lose sight that Jeremiah is extremely angry, and rightfully so, at the corruption and injustice of Judah’s leaders. It’s not all that different from the anger many are feeling today at the corruption of our American leaders and the injustice that is spreading throughout our land. Jeremiah is, quite frankly, ticked off at this and, rightfully, is pointing out that God is really, really angry too. In fact, God’s anger is what is fueling his anger!

With that said, Jeremiah also provides us words that permit us to interpret this text more responsibly. He words it that way but also proclaims, “Listen, all the earth! I will bring disaster on My people. It is the fruit of their own schemes, because they refuse to listen to Me. They have rejected My word” (Jeremiah 6:19 NLT). In other words, God’s wrath is ultimately the natural and often unintended consequences of evil and wickedness having their effect upon a people who have brought such consequences upon themselves.

As we will see later on, God does not just display wrath but also mercy, forgiveness, redemption and reconciliation. Yet, I do not want to put the cart before the horse. Today’s challenge, then, is for us to reflect on God’s wrath. Reflect on the wickedness in our own hearts, the wickedness in the world, and the evil that is carried out on a daily basis. Reflect on the natural consequences of such wickedness and evil. Read the suggested reading, feel God’s and Jeremiah’s pain, and reflect upon it. Allow it to pierce your heart and move you to change as well as turn you into an agent, a prophet, of change.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“This is the very worst wickedness, that we refuse to acknowledge the passionate evil that is in us. This makes us secret and rotten.” – D. H. Lawrence

PRAYER
Lord, help me to move away from wickedness and injustice and to speak out against it as well. Amen.

Wrath of God, part 2

Read Genesis 4:1-16

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“So the LORD was sorry He had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke His heart.” (Genesis 6:6 NLT)

broken-heartIn the Beginning, God desired to create a world in which God could raise and nurture all of creation. So God set about in that Creation and saw all that was created as divinely good. Finally, God decided to make a creature that would be fashioned in the very image of God. In God’s image (imago Dei), human beings were created and set apart from the rest of Creation.

Now, humans were not set apart so that they could feel superior to God’s creation, for God loved all of Creation; however, God hoped to have a special relationship with humans, a mutual relationship that would be founded on the love of which God created them. God gave them everything they could ever need, and God made sure that they were cared for and nurtured.

Created in God’s image, humans had sharp intelligence and were filled with the creativity of their Creator. They were filled with compassion and a profound sense of their connection with the rest of Creation, so much so that they first people began name the creatures God created and began to be there caretakers, just as God was the care takers of them. Thus, they were living into that very image in which they were Created. To God, everything seemed perfect.

Unfortunately, humans quickly grew to resent their dependence on God and they became bored and complacent in their relationship. Like young adults seeking their independence from their loving parents, they first people chose to do things their own way and to make their own way in the world. They sought out their own wisdom and disregarded the wisdom God had already given to them. They ignored the warnings of God and, as a result, humanity fell into a state of sin. Whether this was a good thing or a bad thing is up for debate. Perhaps this was the final step of Creation, where humans could “fully mature” and could now choose for themselves to have a loving and mutual relationship with God. Perhaps, this was more of a fall than a blessing as humans began making poorer and poorer choices. Or, as I have come to understand it, it was a little of both.

Regardless, overtime humans when from being in a loving, mutual relationship with God to being in a tenuous, and often dysfunctional relationship with God. This was sadly reflected in the dysfunctional relationships that began to plague the relationships humans had with each other. Patriarchy started to develop, where men saw themselves as better, superior, and in control of women. Brothers rose up against their other siblings out of competition and jealousy, murdering their siblings in cold and sadistic blood.

All of God’s creation began to suffer as a result of this terrible imbalance in the world God had created. People started owning animals, owning land, owning other people, ruling those they conquered, and killing all who stood in their way to attain absolute power. The green fields, the deserts, the streams, ponds and oceans went from pure to running red with the blood of the destruction humanity was reigning upon the earth!

God, seeing the terrible turn that creation had taken, began to grieve so deeply that God began to question why God even created anything at all! God’s grief moved from questioning to remorse and that remorse grew into anger. God was angry that Creation had fallen into such a state of disrepair. God was angry that humans were killing humans, that they were denying their divine connection to Creation, and that they were denying their divine connection to and relationship with their Creation. In that deep anger, God also found compassion, and set out to redeem this Creation that had become so tragically broken!

This is, obviously, just the beginning of the narrative of God we find in the Bible. This is just the Genesis, if you will. I fully admit that lots of theological questions pop up in regard to how a perfect God could create a world that went so tragically wrong. I also fully admit that there is no answer out there that fully satisfies those types of questions. But this narrative shows us that God’s reaction to the evil in the world is not unlike ours and that our righteous anger over the brokenness of this world comes from that divine image of God within us. Let us reflect on that for today, and in the days ahead, just as surely we will reflect on the evil that is currently and consistently plaguing this world.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.” – William Blake

PRAYER
Lord, help me to see the world, in its brokenness, through your eyes. In my anger, help me to discover the compassion from which it stems and allow it to fuel me to be even more compassionate. Amen.

Wrath of God, part 1

Read 1 Kings 21:1-29

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
God is a righteous judge, and a God who has indignation every day. (Psalms 7:11 NRSV)

lightning-storm-at-sea-wallpaper-2Anger. It is a natural response to things that not only “upset” us, but things that shake us to our very core. We as humans get angry at a lot of different things for a whole host of different reasons. We get angry when we experience injustice, when we lose loved ones, when we aren’t validated, when we feel out of control, when we feel threatened, and when we are stuck in a world of uncertainty.

I am not referring to petty anger, I am not referring to someone getting “mad” because they didn’t get their way, or because they missed their favorite show, or because their best friends suddenly became super annoying. I am not referring to any sort of petty, temper-tantrum, stubborn anger that wells up out of self-absorption.

Rather, I am referring to the deep, gutteral, extremely emotional, often times physical reaction our souls, minds, and bodies have to the evil in the world that surrounds. This week we do not have to look far or wide to get a sense of what I am talking about. The mass shooting that took place in an LGTBQ nightclub in Orlando, Fl and claimed the lives of 50 people is such an example.

When I first heard of the shooting in the early morning of Saturday, June 12th, I was at first deeply saddened and, if I am honest, a bit numb. How many times are we going to have wake up to hear that more people have been shot, stabbed, and/or maimed? How many times are we going to see images of bloodied, frantic, and devastated people in our streets? While there has always been violence in the world, and in United States, this is not the country or world I remember growing up in.

Of course, others in our country have a far different and more painful memory of the past than I do. Plenty of people in our country have experienced violence and discrimination against themselves because of their race, their gender, their sexual orientation, their age, and their ability. The more I thought about the mass shooting, those suffering as a result of it, and those suffering throughout our country and world because of senseless violence and hatred, the more angry I became.

I am angry that people perpetuate the evil of hatred, of bigotry, and of violence. I am angry that our politicians keep perpetuating an evil divisiveness in their rhetoric toward one another. I am angry that we, as human beings, fail to see the humanity, and the divine image, in one another. I am, pardon the phrase, pissed off that my children have to live in perpetual anxiety of the world around them…that their innocence is gone forever. I am angry.

Most people can accept that I am angry. People get angry, right? That is normal and natural, and the anger above is called for. But what about when we talk about God getting angry. That begins to make us uncomfortable doesn’t it? I recognize there is a flipside to this, but for now I will stick with this side of the topic. For those of us who are in the mainline tradition of Christianity, we get very uncomfortable talking about God’s anger and/or the wrath of God.

Perhaps it is because we have seen evil wrought in the name of God. Perhaps it is because we have heard egregious theology from the mouths of Christians that explain natural disasters, diseases and terrorist attacks to be the wrath of God on a “Godless nation.” Whatever the case may be, we find it challenging to except a God of anger, judgment and wrath.

Today, I beg you to pause and reflect on this. What is the alternative? At what cost do we avoid paying attention to the anger and the wrath of God? Would we prefer an apathetic and aloof God that is disconnected from the painful and horrible realities of evil in the world. The fact that we have a God who DOES get angry, who DOES seek to weed out injustice (aka wrath), means that we have a God who is passionately in love with us, who is actively grieving with those who are in grief, who is actively hurting with those who are hurt, and who is actively seeking to put an end to ALL evil, sin and suffering! Instead of ignoring God’s anger and wrath, let’s deal with it and try to gain a responsible understanding of it.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
There’s nothing wrong with anger provided you use it constructively.
PRAYER
Lord, teach me to trust that, even in your anger, you ARE LOVE! Amen.