Christianity 201

January 11, 2023

God is Always on the Side of the Marginalized

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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NRSVUE.Luke.18.1 Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my accuser.’ For a while he refused, but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’”  And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

We’re grateful for permission to occasionally share some of the excellent material crafted by Rev. David Eck, pastor of Abiding Savior Lutheran Church in North Carolina, at the website Jesus Unboxed.

This passage of scripture is always interesting to study, and I like the way David breaks down various layers of meaning. As always, click the title which follows to read this where it first appeared.

Unjust Judge (Luke 18:1-8)

Today’s gospel lesson is known as the Parable of the Unjust Judge. If it seems a little weird to you, go with that feeling. If it seems a bit schizophrenic in what it’s trying to teach us, go with that, too! This is one of those parables that needs a bit of deconstruction in order to discover what it’s trying to teach us. One of the easiest ways to do this, that works with any parable, is to treat it like an onion. Not in terms of scent, but in terms of layers!

Every parable has three layers. The outer layer is what I call the EVANGELIST LAYER. It asks the question “How did the evangelist understand the parable? What information did he put before it and after it that might give us clues regarding how he understands its meaning?”

The second layer is the JESUS LAYER. It asks the question “Who did Jesus intend to hear this parable? What situation or question was he trying to address?”

Finally, the third layer is the ROOT PARABLE. This is the pure story stripped of all layers of interpretation or context. We try to listen to it without prejudice or preconceived notions regarding its meaning.

The reason why today’s parable seems a bit weird or schizophrenic is because each of these layers is trying to teach us something slightly different. They are connected in some way, but they are sending a bit of a mixed message.

If I were doing a Bible study on this parable, we would look at all three layers in detail. But we don’t have that kind of time in the context of a sermon. So my plan is to jump to the root parable, and explore it thoroughly. Once we’ve done that, I’m going to go out a bit because there’s something in the Jesus layer that enhances this parable’s central meaning.

So, let’s begin with the story. Luke says once upon a time “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people.”

Just to make sure we heard this less than flattering description, Luke repeats it a second time, using the voice of the judge, who begins his sentence with “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone…”

Wow, needless to say Jesus is Not trying to say that God is like this judge. In fact, the opposite is true. This judge has horrible moral character. The only person he is interested in is himself.

To reinforce this description of the judge, Jesus introduces the character of a widow, who appears before the judge and asks for justice against those who are oppressing her. The assumption made here, is that her cause is just. She is, indeed, being oppressed.

Since Judaic law makes provisions for helping those most vulnerable in society, such as widows, orphans and resident aliens, it should be a no brainier for this judge to grant her the justice she seeks. However, as the story continues she comes before to this judge multiple times and he refuses to grant her the justice she seeks.

There is no doubt many of us can relate to this widow’s sense of powerlessness and desperation. Even if we haven’t experienced this personally, we’ve read story after story of people around the globe who are being marginalized and oppressed by those in power. I’m not going to list them all, because we would be here for a very long time.

Perhaps this parable is here to remind us, that this issue is nothing new. People in power are always tempted to abuse that power. Marginalization and oppression of the weak and vulnerable have always been with us as a species, and they always will be.

If we read the Bible from cover to cover, we will find countless stories of oppressed people who long for justice. Sometimes they get it. Sometimes they don’t. If we have ever been in this situation in life, These stories speak strongly to us. Their main point is to give us hope.

Believe it or not, there is some hope in this parable. The unjust judge finally gives the widow justice. But it’s not because he has a change of heart and becomes a good guy. He grants her justice because, to put it bluntly, she’s a pain in his backside. She is relentless in her appeals for justice. She refuses to give up hope that one day her pleas will be heard.

The unjust judge is very clear on this matter, as he says to himself, “Because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.” That’s hardly a transformative victory. The unjust judge is still a scoundrel, but he gives in because this oppressed widow does not give up. Did you hear what I said? He gives in because this oppressed widow does not give up.

Unfortunately, the English translation of this parable misses a humorous image in the story that helps us to appreciate it even more. In the original Greek, the unjust judge says “Because this widow causes trouble for me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not, in the end, give me a black eye by her coming.”

What Luke cleverly does is place this parable in the context of a boxing metaphor. His audience would picture this scrappy little widow coming at the judge with her dukes up, refusing to yield or be defeated. This humorous image is meant to inspire the audience. If we hear what the Spirit is saying to God’s people, it’s the message that we should never give up when we are fighting for a cause that is just and true. We should fight oppressive powers with every fiber of our being and refuse to give up in the face of injustice.

If that’s the meaning of this parable, then I do believe that will preach! It is the good news of Scripture that is reflected in the lives  of countless justice seekers throughout the world, including Martin Luther King Jr, Rosa Parks, Cesar Chavez, Harvey Milk, Susan B. Anthony and Nelson Mandela.

If we look to Jesus to set the example for us, we see many stories in the gospels of rejected and marginalized people whom Jesus welcomes with open arms. Yet, we also know that his sense of kingdom justice made the unjust judges of his world very nervous and angry. It ultimately cost him his life.

That is the price that some of us have paid, and will pay, when fighting for what is just and right in our world. This is the sobering truth. But the overall message of the root parable is to encourage us to put on our boxing gloves and keep coming at the oppressive powers of our world until they do what it right. We may not change their minds, but we can wear them down. Amen?

But now it’s time to expand the parable at bit and look at some of the Jesus layer. In the Jesus layer, he says something about the nature and character of God that those who fight for justice need to hear. If we go back to Matthew 17:22, we learn that Jesus is telling this parable to his disciples. Therefore, it’s meant for us. It’s an insider story. It’s meant to encourage and uplift.

What he says that we need to hear is “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to the chosen ones who cry to God day and night? Will God delay long in helping them? I tell you, God will quickly grant justice to them.”

The reason why this is important for us to hear is that it’s telling us God is always, ALWAYS on the side of the marginalized and oppressed. God hears our cries, God feels our pain, and is working behind the scenes to tip the scales toward justice each and every day.

We need to hear this because our default button when something goes wrong in our lives, is to wonder what we did to deserve this? “Why is God punishing me?” is a question I’ve heard more times than I care to recount. It’s a view of God as a punitive deity, who is ready to strike us down for the smallest of mistakes. It’s a view of God that tells us we’re oppressed because we’re lazy and we’re not fighting hard enough for what is rightfully ours. It equates God with the behavior of the unjust judge, and I’M NOT HAVING ANY OF THIS! And you should NOT HAVE ANY OF THIS!

To put it another way, God is more for us than we are for or against ourselves. God ALWAYS fights for justice. God ALWAYS stands in solitarily with the marginalized and oppressed. This, THIS should give us the inspiration we need to do the same. THIS should give us the moxie we need to keep putting on our boxing gloves, and going toe-to-toe with the unjust judges of our world.

Pick a battle, any battle, my dear friends! There are lots of causes to fight for these days. May we have the conviction to stand up to oppressive powers wherever they may be and demand that justice be served. AMEN!

Copyright ©2022 by David Eck – Used by Permission

November 10, 2022

Women Must Be Silent in Church: Is that Fair?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:28 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

As in all the churches of the saints, women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.

1 Corinthians 14:33b-35 (NRSV)

That doesn’t seem fair does it? That women must be silent in the church.

That these words of Paul strike us as being unfair is made evident by the way many Bible scholars try to explain these verses away. Some suggest, based on differing ancient manuscripts that a copyist added part of the wording in, so therefore the idea of women being silent in the church is not Paul’s idea, and so not really a part of the Bible. Others suggest that Paul is quoting the Corinthians, so the idea is really theirs, not his. Others suggest that we should look to the context, which we will turn to shortly. These suggestions exist because most scholars, most people in fact, hear these verses and think; that is not fair, that can’t be right.

If I were to suggest that women must be silent in our church I’d probably soon be out of work, but more importantly, I would feel like I was sinning somehow. Very few churches take Paul’s words here at face value and women’s voices are heard even in churches that attempt to be “biblical” by keeping women from preaching or teaching men.

Let’s face it, this is one of those places where what the Bible says we should do does not fit well with our gut reaction about what should be done. It strikes us as not fair, a matter of justice.

So what are we to do?

If we could read through the Bible tonight we could watch for something very important; God calls us to think of others and pursue justice.

In the Creation story, we are created in the image of God, which means many things, but since God is just, we are created to have a heart for justice. The law of Moses speaks of taking care of orphans, widows, and foreigners, which in that day meant taking care of the most vulnerable of society. The prophets often echo that call for justice and let’s not forget Micah 6:8:

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8 (NRSV)

We also find a movement toward justice in the New Testament with the new Christian communities breaking down class distinctions between Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female. We should note that in each of these couplings this would not bring to the ancient mind the joining into one of two equal but different groups, but rather of two formerly unequal groups, slave and free for example. This was a movement, not just of bringing classes together, but of overhauling the class system altogether and granting equal opportunity.

Now let us focus on women for a moment, We find a lifting up of the place of women in the New Testament beginning with the emphasis on monogamy. Polygamy automatically pushes toward patriarchalism whereas monogamy opens the door for equal partnership. There is also a push for a better day for women with the call for men to have better character. We can think of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and the call to not look at women lustfully, and so not to objectify women. Additionally, while some people take the words of Jesus on divorce in a very mechanical manner, his words push people to have better character, that is, don’t even think of using the divorce laws to legitimize adultery. Again, this was better for women. Jesus also challenged the roles of women with Mary being commended for learning with the disciples, men, rather than helping Martha in the kitchen. Then Jesus revealed himself first to a women, Mary, making her the first witness of his resurrection in a day in which women were not counted worthy as witnesses. Since an apostle was someone sent with a message, you can also make the claim that Mary was the first apostle, being sent to tell Peter and the disciples that Jesus had risen from the dead. Plus there is evidence in the New Testament of women being in leadership among the early Christians.

When we read all this in the Bible, we recognize that God calls us to think of others and pursue justice.

There are, however, two problems that can trip us up in responding to that call.

First, we can make our expression of Christianity a strict following of what the Bible says rather than what the Bible says God is calling us to.

We can get so focused on what the Bible says, we miss what God has said. The writings of the Bible were collected together for us, but they were not originally written to us. The Bible is a long record of the relationship between God and humanity and we get to see people working out their response to Jesus in their day in the pages of the New Testament. If we miss that, we can actually end up with unjust practices. We might, for example, in our day enforce the rule that women should be silent when in Paul’s day there may have been some reason for he called for their silence. Perhaps the women were being disruptive to worship somehow. The context of Paul’s writing about orderly worship supports this. Women are not disruptive to worship in our day. Perhaps instead of calling for women to be silenced we should be asking for cellphones to be silenced. That may be the better application of Paul’s words today.

Second, we can make Christianity to be all about us and how we get to heaven, and miss the call of God to think of others and push toward justice.

Preoccupation with our own personal piety can mess with our concern for justice for others. We may think, for example, of the priest and Levite who passed by a man left for dead in the Good Samaritan story. Some suggest they passed by on the other side in an attempt to keep themselves ritually “clean.” And there is this:

And Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, “Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or not?” But they were silent. So Jesus took him and healed him, and sent him away. Then he said to them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a sabbath day?”

Luke 14:3-5 (NRSV)

This example from Jesus gives the interesting situation where to do the right thing for personal piety, in keeping the Sabbath, would be to do the wrong thing for the child. It would be unfair, it would not be following God’s call to think of others, to do justice. We all know this. It is interesting that when we so often ask “what would Jesus do,” here Jesus asks what we would do, knowing that we would do the right thing, we would break the rule and rescue the child.

Likewise, a preoccupation with our own sin can make us miss the sin in the communities we live in. We may focus on repentance from our own personal individual sins but miss repentance from systemic sins. As an example here in Canada, many well meaning Christians, who were perhaps considered very good Christians indeed, donated towards the residential school system thinking they were doing a good deed for indigenous children. Hindsight is 20/20, as they say, and many good Christians enabled bad ideas. With God’s call to think of others and pursue justice, we need our eyes wide open to what sins we might be enabling in our day. Perhaps we need our eyes open to the sin of sexism we would enable by calling for strict adherence to what the Bible clearly says about women in church. Let us instead hear the call of God to think of others and pursue justice.

While we have focused mainly on fairness toward women in this post, really we are thinking about justice in the next topic of our series “What Kind of Church.” In this series we have been considering the cultural statements of Open Table Communities and today’s is:

A Culture of Justice
We nurture a culture that actively seeks to dismantle barriers that prevent human Flourishing, while upholding and acting on standards of justice, such as; equality, equity, fairness, impartiality and goodness.

OPEN TABLE COMMUNITIES


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. His Thursday column here is taken from his website, Thinking Through Scripture where articles are taken from his weekly Sermons. He is also the author of Beautiful and Believable: The Reason for My Hope, which may be sourced wherever you buy books.

June 13, 2022

Fashioning Weapons into Agricultural Tools

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today we have another new author to introduce to you, although he has been writing online for a long time. Chuck Larsen is a U.S. pastor, and we discovered him when looking at search results for the phrase “they will beat their swords into ploughshares.” It seemed like a timely search in view of the grassroots desire for gun reform in that country, and I couldn’t help but think of social activist Shane Claiborne, who literally takes guns and fashions them into garden tools.

Chuck’s articles are shorter than some we run here, so there is also a bonus devotional for you as well. Clicking the headers (titles) below will take you to where they first appeared. The first is from 2011, the second is from last week and is part of a series in Genesis. If you’re reading this June 2022, simply visit the blog and read through.

Beat Their Swords Into Ploughshares

God has not only given us His absolute truth to guide our life by, but also has promised us a king who will one day apply that truth across the board for all mankind. This King and judge of all will be recognized by the entire world. He will come! He will establish His Kingdom and we will finally have peace. Micah 4:3-4 is a famous passage. Every soldier that’s ever walked a rice patty or stormed a beach, or pointed a rifle, or pushed a button longs for the fulfillment of this passage. Every mother who lost a son, every wife, every child whose husband or father didn’t return from battle gets goose bumps when they read this.

It says,

“He shall judge between many peoples, and shall decide for strong nations far away; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore; but they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid, for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken.”

This passage is also found in Isaiah Chapter two. It is inscribed on a stone wall facing the United Nations building in New York. Khrushchev saw a figurative fulfillment of the prophecy when he visited the John Deere factory near Des Moines, Iowa: The plant was built early in World War II for manufacture of machine-gun bullets. Today it produces farm implements.

Micah 5:2-4 is another famous passage. We often sing about it at Christmas time. It tells us about the Prince of Peace who will end war for all time.

It says,

“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, …And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth.

The next time I sing, “O little town of Bethlehem,” I’ll sing it with more meaning. “The Hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight!”

Chuck

“…his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6

Dust Thou Art!

In Genesis 2:7 we see more detail in God’s creation of our first ancestors. It says, “then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.”

Picking up on what Wenham said in his commentary that I quoted earlier, he adds to his comments on verses 5 and 6 and says more, “The writer flashes back to the situation before mankind was created on the sixth day (1:26–28) and describes a typical middle-eastern desert, which requires human effort to irrigate and make it bloom. It was from the clay of such an area that God, the great Potter, moulded the first man and breathed into him the breath of life. Through this traditional image Genesis implies that people are by nature more than material; they have a spiritual, God-breathed, element too.”[1]

Referring to the material aspect of man, “clay” or “earth” or more often “the ground,” Adam, the man, and Adamah the ground have an intimate relationship. Mangun says, “The word for man is adam, while ground is adamah, so the verse says that God formed adam from the dust of adamah.”[2] He then points out that other commentators insist that both Akkadian and Egyptian texts depict God forming man from clay like a potter. This is a familiar comparison in the Bible as well. One commentator even argues that this relationship is intentional. “God forming man here is intentionally evoking the image of a potter and clay.” Then he points out “The Hebrew word used three times in Gen 2 for ‘formed’ is the same word that describes the potter and his activity in Isa 29:16.”[3]

I love that verse. The English Standard Version follows the traditional translation and says, “Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, ‘He did not make me’; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, ‘He has no understanding’”? I like the New Living Translation better. It says, “How foolish can you be? He is the Potter, and he is certainly greater than you, the clay! Should the created thing say of the one who made it, ‘He didn’t make me’? Does a jar ever say, ‘The potter who made me is stupid’’?

It was a common practice for man, in repenting, to cover themselves with dust and ashes. I think the “dust” was symbolic of the acknowledgement of being the clay who has not right to question the potter. It took Job 40 chapters to wrestle with why bad things happen in the world to good people. After he and his friends exhausted all their puny ideas, God confronts them with questions they cannot answer. Job finally gets the point in Job 42:2-6 and says, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak.” Sometimes it’s good to remember that we are but dust.


[1] Wenham, Gordon J. 1994. “Genesis.” In New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, edited by D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, and G. J. Wenham, 4th ed., 62. Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

[2] Mangum, Douglas, Miles Custis, and Wendy Widder. 2012. Genesis 1–11. Lexham Research Commentaries. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[3] Mangum, Douglas, Miles Custis, and Wendy Widder. 2012. Genesis 1–11. Lexham Research Commentaries. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

May 26, 2022

Parable Shatters “Equal Pay for Equal Work”

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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NIV.Matt.20.8 “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

[click here to read the full story starting with verse 1]

Today we’re back for a second time with Brian Lothridge who writes at On The Way. You can read this where it first appeared by clicking the link below.

Called to Freely Give Grace

Everyone got paid the same. This story should mess with our notions of what is fair. Imagine if you were without a steady job, got up early to go to the market in order to be seen by someone hiring laborers, got picked at 6 a.m. and worked until 6 p.m. When it came time to get paid you stood at the end of the line and waited for your fair share. Those who worked one hour got paid the amount that you agreed to get paid earlier that day. So did those who worked three hours, six hours, and nine hours. But surely you should get paid more than all of them. That’s only right. And yet, here is the landowner giving you the wage you negotiated in the morning.

It’s not fair. Equal pay for equal work sounds fair. Equal pay for unequal work sounds unfair. And this is what the kingdom of heaven is like? Everyone gets an equal reward no matter when they come to the vineyard? What do we do with this?

Consider this: A day laborer did not have a steady job. Those who showed up at the marketplace seeking a job didn’t already have a job. However, they needed money. They had families to support just like anyone else. They needed the work. Hanging out in the marketplace all day would mean returning home that night to disappointed faces because you came with no food. Those who were chosen early were lucky. With each passing hour, the likelihood of finding work diminishes and so does your pay. So when someone shows up at noon, or three, or five and says, “I’ll pay you whatever is fair,” you take it because you need to feed your family. A denarius would have been a day’s wages, but if you get a late start you might expect to get paid less. However, you’d be willing to take what you could get later in the day.

How would you feel if you were the day laborer hired at noon, or three, or five and the employer paid you a full day’s wage? You’d be very happy. You’d be thankful for the generosity that means your family gets to eat for another day. You might feel a little awkward about the complaining that the workers hired first are doing. You might wonder if you really should accept this money. However, it’s not your place to refuse the generosity of the landowner and your family really needs to eat.

Some might object at this point and say this kind of practice disincentivizes workers to work hard. The workers hired first would learn the lesson that they can show up to the job late and earn the same amount of money. But do you not think the workers hired at 5 p.m. would have loved to have been hired earlier in the day? Do you not think they may have worked twice as hard in their hour because they were grateful about the work? And while it may not seem fair, the workers hired first got paid the wage upon which they agreed.

There are 140 million poor and low-income people in our country. In a nation that prides itself on being the best in the world and a nation that has some people saying it is a Christian nation, we often find that we are like those who cry out, “That’s unfair!” when poor people receive benefits. We don’t cry out when rich folk get bailouts and tax breaks or make out like bandits during a pandemic that has many of us reeling. We say, “They deserve it!” And to the poor, “Earn your keep and don’t complain.” Can you imagine Jesus holding such views?

I can’t. Especially given the nearly 2,000 verses in the Bible that talk about caring for the poor and downtrodden. Especially when Jesus says in his first sermon that he came to to preach good news to the poor and free the oppressed. Especially when right before our parable was told in Matthew Jesus tells a rich man, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

A truly Christian nation would figure out how to create an economy that shows love of God and love of neighbor instead of a love of money. A truly Christian nation wouldn’t have 140 million poor or low-income people because it would have figured out how to truly care for people. A truly Christian nation would understand that we all belong to each other and that we have been commanded to love God and neighbor. Instead, we have people in power trying to scare people away from the example and teaching of Jesus by using scary words like “socialism” and “radical left.” Instead, we have people trying to incite culture wars and say their beliefs are being persecuted.

It’s time for the Church to reclaim the radical teachings of Jesus and demand more just systems that will contribute to the common welfare of everyone. Remember, we call ourselves Christians. We may forget this at times but calling ourselves Christians doesn’t simply point to the club we belong to or the side for which we cheer. Calling ourselves Christians means that we are calling ourselves “little Christs.” That’s a big name with a big responsibility to act as little Christs both individually and collectively. The responsibility leads us to read the words of Jesus and figure out how we are to truly follow him in our time and place. It’s not to get caught up in the culture war or align ourselves with any one nation or political party. It’s to give allegiance to Christ and to the kingdom of God for which he gave his life.

Whether we identify with the laborers hired first, last, or somewhere in between, the exemplar in the story is the landowner, who is seen as generous or unfair, depending on your perspective. The landowner has made all the laborers equal. Even though they all put in different amounts of work, they all had to put bread on the table. That was their great equalizer. The landowner met the need they all had.

Isn’t that what God does for us? There is no earning our way into the kingdom of God. It’s all grace; it’s all a gift. There may be some people we see in the next life and wonder how fair it is that they are there when we did more and were faithful longer. And God will say, “Are you mad at my generosity? I gave you what we agreed upon, and I didn’t have to hire you at all.”

And if Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is near, and Paul says we are temples of the Holy Spirit, living stones of the temple that is Jesus’ body, should we not work for the kingdom of heaven here and now? Should we not strive to make a more just and equal society? Should we not grumble when the poor receive help but instead advocate for policies and advances that would lift them from poverty? Would that not bring us closer to a Godly nation?

What would it be like if we truly imagined the kingdom of God was among us? That is how Jesus lived his life. He hung out with tax collectors and sinners, healed the sick, spoke truth to power, and encouraged people to be who they were created to be. He lived as though the kingdom of heaven was here, even amidst the brokenness of our current reality. This is the task at hand for the church. If we truly want to be the church we are called to be, if we truly want to advocate for a nation that served as Christ served then we must be brave enough to be little Christs, treat the last as the first and the first as the last (making all equal), and speak truth to the powers that be in Washington, D.C. and in Albany and all the halls of power.

We are essentially called to be the managers of the vineyard. The landowner hired the workers and set the wage of grace and we get to dole it out. We are called to make sure everyone receives grace, whether they deserve it or not.

I challenge us to read this story anew this week as well as the chapter before it. Read the sermon on the mount in chapter 5-7. Spend some time in prayer with God and hear where God is calling you to act in the realm of creating the kingdom of heaven here on earth. What action can you take? Can you donate money or goods to charity? Can you volunteer with a charitable organization? Can you get to know the poor and advocate on their behalf? Can you write to your local, state, and federal representatives about a policy that will help people? Use the authority God has given you to spread the grace of God to all.

 

March 2, 2022

God Will Sort Out Our Enemies

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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This is our fourth visit with Rev. Tonia Slimm who has been writing very faithfully at blog Growing with God . A blogger after my own heart, there has been a fresh post on that site every day since September, 2015; and we’re talking original devotional studies; not the beg-borrow-and-steal approach that we take!

Clicking the header below will take you there, where a bonus music video awaits you.

God Deals with our Enemies – Isaiah 51:23

Isaiah 51:23 (NIV)

“I will put it into the hands of your tormentors, who said to you, ‘Fall prostrate that we may walk on you.’ And you made your back like the ground, like a street to be walked on.”

Isaiah 51:23 (MSG)

“I’ve passed it over to your abusers to drink, those who ordered you, ‘Down on the ground so we can walk all over you!’ And you had to do it. Flat on the ground, you were the dirt under their feet.”

****************************************

“I will put it into the hands of your tormentors, who have said to you, ‘Lie down so that we may walk over you.’ You have even made your back like the ground and like the street for those who walk over it.” -AMPLIFIED

“This strong drink is now to be taken from Judah and given to Babylon, so that it will stagger and fall. God is going to destroy Babylon as he destroyed Judah.” ~Bridgeway Bible Commentary

In yesterday’s text, we found God reminding Israel that their suffering was only for a time. Soon He would remove the cup of anger that He had given to them, and they had drunk deeply from.

“Your children have fainted and lie fallen in the streets, like a gazelle caught in a net.
Yahweh’s anger, the rebuke of your God, has overwhelmed them. So listen, you who are weak and wounded, who are intoxicated not with wine but with God’s anger. This is what your sovereign ruler,
Lord Yahweh, your God, the Mighty Defender of his people, says: “Look! I have removed from your hand the intoxicating cup that made you stagger. You will no longer drink from the bowl of my anger.”
-Isaiah 51:20-22 (The Passion Translation)

In today’s passage, God tells Israel He is about to pass that cup of anger on to their oppressors.

“And I will give that drink to those who abused and oppressed you—who ordered you, “Get down so we can walk all over you.” And your backs became the ground they walked on, the streets they passed by.” -(VOICE)

Adonai–Tzva’ot, God Almighty, the God who does the impossible, is able to humble the enemy. Consider how many times had God told Israel in the past that all they need do is be still, and allow Him to fight their battles? Case in point, Moses speaking to the Israelites:

“So I told you, “Don’t be scared! Don’t be afraid of them! You won’t have to fight this battle yourselves; the Eternal your God, who always goes ahead of you, will fight for you just as He did in Egypt—you saw Him do it! And here in this wilderness, all along the route you’ve traveled until you reached this place, haven’t you seen the Eternal, your True God, carrying you the way a parent carries a child? But you still don’t trust the Eternal your God, even though He always goes ahead of you as you travel and finds places for you to camp. In a pillar of fire by night and in a cloud by day, He always shows you the right way to go.” -Deuteronomy 1:29-33 (VOICE)

Guaranteed, this was not always the case, but once again, we do find God defending Israel in our text. Adonai–Tzva’ot, God Almighty, tells Israel that He will take remove this cup from their hands, and place it in the hands of their tormentors. The tables will be turned now, what Babylon had done to Israel, tormenting them, and abusing them, will now be done to them.

If you wondered about the truth of the abuse that is mentioned in Isaiah, wonder no more. Grogan tells us that this practice of Babylon, having people lie on the ground and walking across on their backs, is well documented.

“This “barbaric practice…is well documented in the ancient Near East, featured especially, but not exclusively, in Assyrian inscriptions” ~Geoffrey Grogan

This was a form of abuse that was intended to humiliate and bring suffering and affliction to people. Babylon had done this very thing to Israel, now God says it will happen to the Babylonians.

The time of Israel’s redemption has come. And the time for Babylon’s punishment is about to begin. If you wondered why God would punish Babylon for doing what He intended for them to do, it is because they carried out their assignment with the wrong attitude. They used and abused Israel. They took all the glory in their conquering of other nations, and never gave any of the glory to God.

“But I will put that terrible cup into the hands of those who tormented you and trampled your souls to the dust and walked upon your backs.” -(TLB)

“There will be a reversal of circumstances for them when He gives the cup of stupor of bowl of wrath into the very hands of those who dished it out, so that what they did to others now happens to them. What the King of Assyria and his people did to the people of God is now done to them.” ~Avraham Gileadi 

In the book of Exodus, God told Israel that if they would obey Him, then He would be an enemy to their enemies. God said:

“If you are obedient to his voice and follow all of My instructions, then I will be an enemy to all of those who are against you, and I will oppose all those who oppose you. When My messenger moves ahead of you and leads you to the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites, and Jebusites—I will annihilate them.” -Exodus 23:22-23 (VOICE)

Throughout Scripture God reminds us that He will deal with our enemies. He promised that He would avenge us. Take a look at what Paul wrote to the Romans:

“Do not retaliate with evil, regardless of the evil brought against you. Try to do what is good and right and honorable as agreed upon by all people. If it is within your power, make peace with all people. Again, my loved ones, do not seek revenge; instead, allow God’s wrath to make sure justice is served. Turn it over to Him. For the Scriptures say, “Revenge is Mine. I will settle all scores.” -Romans 12:17-19 (VOICE)

We would do well to learn this lesson that Solomon tried to teach his son:

“Do not rejoice and gloat when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad [in self-righteousness] when he stumbles, or the Lord will see your gloating and be displeased, and turn His anger away from your enemy.” -Proverbs 24:17-18 (AMP)

Let us take into consideration something that God said to Jeremiah:

Eternal One (to Jeremiah): Hear me, Jeremiah: I will make you strong in these trying times to accomplish My good. I will make it so your enemies ask you to pray for them in times of disaster and suffering.” -Jeremiah 15:11 (VOICE)

Our job is to pray for our enemies, and let God avenge us. Finally, consider what Jesus told His followers to do when it came to how they should treat their enemies. Jesus said:

“If you’re listening, here’s My message: Keep loving your enemies no matter what they do. Keep doing good to those who hate you. Keep speaking blessings on those who curse you. Keep praying for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, offer the other cheek too. If someone steals your coat, offer him your shirt too. If someone begs from you, give to him. If someone robs you of your valuables, don’t demand them back. Think of the kindness you wish others would show you; do the same for them. Listen, what’s the big deal if you love people who already love you? Even scoundrels do that much! So what if you do good to those who do good to you? Even scoundrels do that much! So what if you lend to people who are likely to repay you? Even scoundrels lend to scoundrels if they think they’ll be fully repaid. If you want to be extraordinary—love your enemies! Do good without restraint! Lend with abandon! Don’t expect anything in return! Then you’ll receive the truly great reward—you will be children of the Most High—for God is kind to the ungrateful and those who are wicked. So imitate God and be truly compassionate, the way your Father is.” -Luke 6:27-36 (VOICE)

“We may not be able to prevent other people from being our enemies, but we can prevent ourselves from being enemies toward others.” ~Warren Wiersbe

My friend, let us be careful of how we are treating those who call themselves our enemies. Our job is to pray for them, and allow God to deal with them, and their sins against us. Vengeance belongs to the Lord. Your job is to follow the example of Jesus, and love your enemies. By doing so, you are heap burning coals on their heads, and the LORD will reward you for doing the right thing.

“Prayer is the great engine to overthrow and rout my spiritual enemies, the great means to procure the graces of which I stand in hourly need.” ~John Newton

My Prayer:

Adonai–Tzva’ot, God Almighty, help me to love my enemies, just as you have loved me. When they strike out, intentionally hurting me, remind me that vengeance is yours, not mine. Help me to do what is right, according to your Word. Help me to follow the example of my Savior, who did not retaliate, but He was kind and compassionate towards those who hurt Him. I lift these hurting souls up to you, Lord, and ask that you reveal yourself to them. Help them to see their need for you in their lives. Heal their hurting hearts, Lord. Let them come to an understanding of their deep-seated need for a Savior. Amen.

August 17, 2021

A Post-Truth World

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:27 pm
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This is our third time highlighting the thoughts of Geno Pyse, who writes at Geno Pyse and the Proclamation. He is the author of 16 books (!) including Christian Reflections in a Deflecting World. Click the header which follows to read this there, and also note the links at the end of this article to a recent two-part series.

Whatever Happened to Truth?

There was a time when truth was more valued. This isn’t to say people didn’t ever lie, but is was a shameful thing to be considered a liar. There was a time when, for many, a handshake was a good as one’s word. Today, many people’s word is as useless as a flimsy handshake.

The Bible says a lot about truth. We are told in Proverbs 23:23, “Buy truth, and do not sell it; buy wisdom, instruction, and understanding.” To buy, here, does not mean to purchase but to acquire, to obtain. Just as in the case when Jesus tells the church in Laodicea, “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen” (Rev. 3:18). The Lord was not telling them to purchase what only He can give, but to receive, to trade in, to obtain what He is graciously willing to give.

But do we see much desire for truth today? Is not our day much like Isaiah’s, a time when, “Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands far away; for truth has stumbled in the public squares, and uprightness cannot enter” (Isa. 59:14)?

Deception is considered a valuable tool and virtue to many politicians, the press, and education system. Oh, they will not necessarily openly declare this, but they don’t need to. Many have built their entire careers on lying and “bending the truth.” The press has, for many years now, been propagating instead of journaling. The education system feels no shame in “reconstructing” history, and very few are compelled to examine the actual writings of our forefathers to glean truth.

Even much of the populace is fine with being lied to, as many applaud those doing the lying . Lies, deception, and twisting truth is acceptable if these will accomplish the desired goal. I’ve observed such behaviors even among some who profess to be followers of Christ. Underhanded tactics and turning a blind eye, acting as if Christ condones such deceptive polity done in His Holy name.

Jesus declares, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), and of the Father’s word, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). Yet, how many who profess His name so easily chuck the truth, lest it offends or makes one feel uncomfortable. Sadly, very few pastors are willing to preach the whole counsel of God (truth), lest they lose popularity or members of their congregation. So many parishioners simply want to be encouraged and patted on the back, not to be convicted and challenged so that they might become better persons. And many churches are endorsing ideologies that are grounded in falsehood, but again, the compromise of truth is deemed acceptable if it supports their desired goal.

The jettisoning of truth, however, comes with a cost. We are left with only cargo containing falsehood, and God is not to be found in what is false or deceptive. The Bible warns, “Let no one deceive you in any way. For [the day of the Lord] will not come, unless the rebellion [i.e., the apostasy] comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed” (2 Thes. 2:3).

Before the Antichrist ever comes onto the scene, there will first be a great apostasy—a departure from solid, orthodox faith.  This must be so, for there must be a populace ready to embrace this false, deceptive, evil messiah. This great deception will come as a consequence, and judgement, of people’s trampling of truth for the embracing of falsehood and unrighteousness.

“The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thes. 2:9-12).

We must not think unrighteousness merely includes rapists and murderers. No, but it includes religious people—even those who call themselves “Christian”—but who do not love the truth but believe and take pleasure in what is contrary to the truth.

So, what has happened to the truth? It has not gone anywhere. People can choose to abandon truth, but it can never truly be escaped. It might be beneath people’s feet and trampled with the dust, but no further. But make no mistake, when God comes for this priceless jewel and takes it away from a world that’s unworthy of it, how dreadful when all that’s left for the world is the fool’s gold it had so loved, embraced, and cherished.


Here are the links I promised you in the introduction:

Also here’s an article you might find helpful:


Ed. Note: One line from today’s devotional that really jumped out at me was “The press has, for many years now, been propagating instead of journaling.” In other words, manufacturing the news instead of reporting it. We need to be especially discerning in terms of where we get our “truth.”

May 24, 2021

The Blood that Speaks of a Better Covenant

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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It’s been six months and we are happy to return to the writers at Our Living Hope. If you’ve got the time, click the link to the blog and spend some time with some really well-written devotions. The blood of Christ is a theme worth exploring. As central as this theme is to our atonement and redemption, sometimes it’s hard to find material, so you’re encouraged to read this type of writing every time the opportunity presents.

The Blood of Jesus

“to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel”. Hebrews 12:24.

Abel’s blood spoke for Justice, Christ’s blood spoke Justification. Abel’s blood cried out in the pain of injustice of sin, the blood of Jesus cried out for the forgiveness of sins. Abel’s blood said one’s right and the other is wrong, Christ’s blood testifies all sinned and fell short of the glory of God, Abel’s blood brought in condemnation, the blood of Jesus brought in salvation. The blood of Jesus speaks a better word says the scriptures, since the new covenant with Jesus as the mediator offered much better sacrifice than that of Abel, a perfect sacrifice for the righteousness of many.

Forgiveness is the higher form of justice and love is the core of the law, showing the other cheek is not a choice to be insensitive to truth, it is giving space for transformation, since truth tolerates better than lies do. Jesus said ‘Love your enemies’, and ‘Pray for those who persecute you’. He knew that ‘Eye for an Eye can make the whole world blind’, somebody must forgive and accept, so that all might see. One man’s justice can be other man’s injustice, but forgiveness doesn’t have alternatives. Love can cover multitudes of sin, even the sins of others, the one’s who have willfully sinned against us. It is the reason Jesus cried out from the cross when the greatest injustice was committed by mankind, the highest form of justice was mightily shown, he responded ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’. It was the heart of God revealed to prophet Jonah ‘How can I destroy the one’s who do not know the difference between the right hand and the left’.

“And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar”. Matthew 23:35.

Does the righteous blood which cries out for justice matters still ? Yes, it does. It shows the presence of sin and injustice and the need for transformation. What is the role of justice under the new covenant of justification? The cry of justice under the blood of Jesus is not to condemn but to convict the world of sin and righteousness, and inspire to seek the truth (John 16:8,13). It prompts and directs humanity of it’s higher call. Justification doesn’t undermine justice, but inspires all towards more perfect justice and truth, it demands accountability by offering credibility. But even when justice fails, love and forgiveness will never fail, since even through pain it has the possibility of peace, as it agrees with the blood of Jesus and the spirit of Christ. It gives a vision to walk towards a better future, it gives hope of a better tomorrow. It shows the need for also seeking forgiveness.

As much as the new covenant asks us to forgive, it also reminds us to seek forgiveness. The demands of justice is to inspire not only to seek forgiveness from God, but also towards fellowman, and create pathway towards a higher conscience in the community. It is the reason even though Justification is free through faith, it has the demands of seeking forgiveness! The blood of Jesus not only washes us from sin, but also seeks the acceptance of the presence of sin, and leads us in to the paths of righteousness offering us the spirit of truth. Righteousness is not possible apart from being sensitive to justice. Holiness is greater than righteousness, and Holiness is the righteousness of God.

But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”. Amos 5:24.

The Lord’s coming is called the day of judgment for a reason. And how important is that day. The one who justifies all, will sit and seek justice. Even when the justice is denied through human systems, no one can escape the final judge. He cannot be bribed, threatened or wooed. He will judge fairly according to everyone’s deeds. We also fear him and act justly.

“For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” Hebrews 10:30.

Today conflicts are arising across, and it arises because everyone feel there is presence of injustice. There can be peace if forgiveness goes before and justice follows it. Forgiving the past and seeking a just and fair call for the future. No human system can offer perfect justice, but it cannot be an excuse if only all are willing to seek the truth.

The greater hope is that the blood of Jesus still intercedes for our forgiveness and transformation, and Abel’s blood looks on with hope.

“The incentive to peacemaking is love, but it degenerates into appeasement whenever justice is ignored. To forgive and to ask for forgiveness are both costly exercises. All authentic Christian peacemaking exhibits the love and justice – and so the pain – of the cross.”. -John Stott

Prayer : Heavenly Father, we pray for those who persecute us and help us to love and bless our enemies. May we forgive as well seek forgiveness. Let your spirit keep the lantern of justice and righteousness in our souls. Amen.

Bible Reading: Amos 4

April 16, 2021

Current Events Remind Us We Need Jesus

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Sin in this world is nearing critical mass
– from today’s article

Today another new writer to highlight for you. Bernie Lyle blogs at Musings from an Idle Mind. Because this just posted a few hours ago, I encourage you to click the header below and leave comments at his site.

Broken

O LORD, You are my God. I will exalt You, I will praise Your name, For You have done wonderful things; Your counsels of old are faithfulness and truth.

For You have been a strength to the poor, A strength to the needy in his distress, A refuge from the storm, A shade from the heat; For the blast of the terrible ones is as a storm against the wall.

He will swallow up death forever, And the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces; The rebuke of His people He will take away from all the earth; For the LORD has spoken. And it will be said in that day: “Behold, this is our God; We have waited for Him, and He will save us. This is the LORD; We have waited for Him; We will be glad and rejoice in His salvation.””
‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭25:1, 4, 8-9‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

Broken

There are days when I don’t want to get out of bed. The world we live in is irretrievably broken

I watched the last moments of the life of a thirteen year old boy, shot by a Chicago policeman. It was the tragic summing up of many evil moments, that came together to destroy a young life.

There was an older twenty-one year old who fired shots, who allegedly passed the weapon to the young boy so he himself wouldn’t be caught with the gun. Charges are less for juveniles, and it is common practice for criminals to use them.

There was a chase down an alley, with eternity bearing down. The boy tossed the weapon in an opening in a fence, raised his hands as he turned toward the officer. Eternity invaded as the adrenaline and the inertia of the moment, propelled finger against trigger and a life ended. It is going to be a long, painful, spring and summer.

We will hear the multitude of justifications and condemnations, along political lines, as pundits spout off on what happened. There will be riots, mostly peaceful protests, that seem to consume the nation. In the end all will be more broken, and still people will die.

In the midst of it all, there will be one all consuming truth: we need God more than ever.

Isaiah 25:1 entering my eyegate this morning as I prepared the meme for my church. It was a refreshing sight, as God invaded the sadness in my flesh and reminded me of His sovereignty. I felt compelled to worship. Our God is beyond the brokenness of this present world. Because I have been forgiven, I have a reality that is not fixed in the here an now, but eternally powered and my future is Heaven.

Sin in this world is nearing critical mass, as down is up and up is down. All people are being affected, as lost and saved alike entertain ideas that are evil. The sin that has broken our planet, is spreading like a virus, as people go about doing what they think is right in their own eyes.

There seems to be little consciousness of the evil that is being perpetuated, or any concern for the long term consequences. We have become a society of reactors, seemingly shocked when unintended consequences come.

“But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!”
‭‭II Timothy‬ ‭3:1-5‬ ‭NKJV

We are in those days.

We need Jesus!

All the brokenness that we are seeing should be prompting us to go forth and preach the Gospel. It is only the transforming power of the Holy Spirit that change things. It is the transformation of each individual heart, of each individual mind, to help us to see as God sees.

Instead, we are drawn to political and march about finding no solutions.

The biggest problem that is infecting humanity, is our tendency to not see the human in front of us. We miss the creature just like us. We see only opposing forces, dehumanized. We have become a nation and world full of targets, and shooters, taking aim at each other as the evil one picks us all off.

For those of us who are in Jesus, we must stand apart from all the strife and be faithful to share the Good News of Jesus, who went to the cross, died for the sins of all mankind, was buried and rose again. We must endeavor to love across the battle lines.

It can easily seem as though the Gospel message will not be heard as our world is loudly careening to the abyss. There is so much noise!

People are consumed and distracted, just as the evil one intended. He knows his time is short, but we must be about the Father’s business. Souls are in the balance.

“I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”
‭‭II Timothy‬ ‭4:1-5‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

In these dark times, I must keep looking up, focusing on Jesus. I cannot fix this world, but I know that Jesus will. He is coming again. There are so many things happening in our broken world.

“Then he said to me, “These words are faithful and true.” And the Lord God of the holy prophets sent His angel to show His servants the things which must shortly take place. “Behold, I am coming quickly! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.””
‭‭Revelation‬ ‭22:6-7‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

Come Lord Jesus!

https://www.allaboutgod.com/the-roman-road.htm

 

February 22, 2021

Reaping Where You Did Not Sow

Titus 1:7

Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless–not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain.
(NIV)

dollar signNot wanting to overstate this, but in the past year we’ve watched as people who were stewards of ministry organizations, including those responsible for the finances of those same organizations, have proved themselves to be less than good stewards of what well-meaning donors had entrusted to them. Some have shown themselves, in their other endeavors to be “pursuing dishonest gain.”

This should not be. The ESV version of today’s verse says, “For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain.

In a world of capitalism, there is a sense in which person “A” is exploiting person “B” by way of their possession of a scarce resource or a unique talent. My plumber or electrician (both Christians who have been very fair with us over the years) have skills and abilities that I do not have and the KJV scripture reminds us that “the workman is worthy of his hire.” (NIV/NLT: deserves his/their wages/pay.)

When found out, we sometimes expect God will just step in and seize control of the situation, but sometimes he allows things to go unchecked. One of the more interesting articles here at C201 is a 2014 one called “Why Did Jesus Allow Judas to Manage the Petty Cash?” Matt Perman wrote,

Why did Jesus let Judas carry the money bag during his ministry, knowing in his omniscience that he was stealing from it (John 12:6)? One blogger humorously points out “one is tempted to offer the Lord some consulting on good stewardship.”

But then goes further,

…If it’s surprising that Jesus would have let Judas carry the money bag, it should be even more shocking that he let Judas be an apostle at all. For the task of going out and preaching the gospel, which Judas participated in, is even more significant than carrying the moneybag.

(Now you want to read the whole article, right?)

While we’re reminiscing about previous articles, a 2013 article from (re)Versing Verses which we called “Two Different Measures” looked at this verse:

You must have accurate and honest weights and measures, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you. Deuteronomy 25:15 NIV

and noted:

The Lord detests dishonest scales, but accurate weights find favor with him [Proverbs 11:1]. This is a matter of integrity, and often it’s so easy to gain a little here and there that we tend to do it naturally and think of it as harmless. It isn’t harmless though. It harms your integrity. The Lord frowns on it. It incurs the Lord’s wrath – For the Lord your God detests anyone who does these things, anyone who deals dishonestly [Deu 25:16]. Let us learn to be honest and have integrity in small things and big things alike.

How do I know if my “gain” is “unjust”? A page at Knowing Jesus provides some scriptures to help us make the call. (They have 12 key verses, I added #3 and #7)

  1. It has come about through violence. “So are the ways of everyone who gains by violence; It takes away the life of its possessors.” Prov. 1.19
  2. It is achieved through misrepresentation and lies. “The acquisition of treasures by a lying tongue Is a fleeting vapor, the pursuit of death.” Prov 21.6
  3. It is accomplished through trickery and deception. “The LORD detests the use of dishonest scales, but he delights in accurate weights.” Prov 11.1
  4. It exploits the poor. “He who oppresses the poor to make more for himself Or who gives to the rich, will only come to poverty.” Prov 22.16
  5. It exploits done by others. “As a partridge that hatches eggs which it has not laid, So is he who makes a fortune, but unjustly; In the midst of his days it will forsake him, And in the end he will be a fool.” Jeremiah 17.11
  6. It involves not properly paying staff or contractors. “Woe to him who builds his house without righteousness and his upper rooms without justice, Who uses his neighbor’s services without pay and does not give him his wages” Jeremiah 22.13 also “Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord” James 5.4
  7. There are underlying, unjust motives. “All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the LORD.” Prov. 16.2

I think the word “pursues” is not to be overlooked in this phrase as well. See resources on this at OpenBible.info.

  1. It exhausts you. “Don’t wear yourself out trying to get rich. Be wise enough to know when to quit. Prov. 23.4
  2. There is never contentment. “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5
  3. It can cost you your soul. “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” Mark 8.36 also Luke 18.25 “For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.
  4. It may cause you to neglect the poor. “Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse.” Prov. 28.27
  5. It will divide your loyalties. “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Prov 16.13
  6. Achieving it may be elusive or temporary. “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” Luke 12 18-20
  7. It can leave you miserable. “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” Rev. 3:17

Growing up in the church founded by Dr. Oswald J. Smith, people were encouraged to invest their money, time and talents in world missions with this motto,

You can’t take it with you, but you can send it on ahead.

In other words, you can invest it in the Kingdom of God (“where moth and rust do not corrupt“) and where it lasts.

Someone else also shared with me that

The main thing that Bible teaching has against money is that it perishes with use.

A 2015 C201 post, “Proverbs on Poverty…and Riches” contained a number of scriptures on this (unfortunately without references) and ended with this one:

Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint. Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle.

So while we may have determined we have not pursued dishonest gain, we need to be careful we haven’t become caught up in pursuing gain itself.

January 5, 2021

God, Sin, and Successive Generations

Today we’re continuing with a theme we looked at yesterday.

Exactly one year ago we introduced you to Bible teacher Joanne Guarnieri Hagemeyer and her blog Grace and Peace. (Learn more about her personal story at this about page.) She’s currently offering detailed articles about the Gospel of John and also the Minor Prophets and also has a recent 3-part series about Elijah. Good reading; highly recommended! Click the title below to read this one at source.

Who Does God Punish?

“Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.”

Isaiah 30:18


I think we call it the Fall of Humankind because the first humans were at the pinnacle of human experience, where everything was good, their relationships were healthy and filled with love, their work was satisfying and productive, their resources were ample, the world was their oyster, and their spiritual communion with God and each other was full.

Then, in a moment it seems, darkness fell from the serpent and the tree and the fruit, straight into their souls. Then, they fell, too. They fell from life to death, from glory to condemnation, joy to sorrow, harmony to conflict, satisfaction to suffering.

Here we are today, in this mess. Untold millennia later, we are still in that mess God described in Genesis 3. They fell from their great height, and it seems, ever since, their generations, including you and me, have been born down here in the rubble of their broken lives.

Genesis 2 and 3 is written with something of the sense of Rudyard Kipling’s “Just So” stories, in that, at least on one level, it explains why things are the way they are today.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I do see inspiration as the Holy Spirit active within the person writing. Still, the person can only write from what they otherwise know. A Stone Age author cannot speak of iron utensils, though the Spirit may give a vision of such. The best the Stone Age person might be able to do is use images and metaphors from their culture to try to describe the strange thing revealed to them.

That does make us wonder, though, about the accuracy of representation, as it is limited by current culture and language.

So, inspired, believing, but…let’s be careful about what we mean by accurate.

For instance, take a look at these two passages from the Bible, laid side-by-side.

I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me

The word of the Lord came to me: What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge”? As I live, says the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. Know that all lives are mine; the life of the parent as well as the life of the child is mine: it is only the person who sins that shall die.

From our 21st Century, Western Hemisphere, Hellenized culture and education, linear thinking, fact-based logical standpoint, there seems to be an inherent fallacy here. Either God does, or does not, punish the children for the parent’s sins. Can’t have it both ways.

I do accept the dilemma as distressing. It does seem to point to inaccuracy, and even seems to be contradictory, lending some strength to the biographical, subjectively written view of scripture.

But, what if we spread out a little bit, into the context of the passages? Can we retain a more autobiographical view of scripture? What if we read back a few verses, let’s say, in Exodus 20?

Then, we discover God is talking about something very specific: the worship and reverencing of God, over and above anything/one else. If we read forward one more verse, to verse 6? We find something strange, a promise to show steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love God and keep His commandments.

Trying to parse this out in a real family becomes challenging! If I love God, and follow His commandments, then He promises to show steadfast love to a thousand of my generations. But, what if my children do not love God, nor follow His commandments? Which vow will God now keep? The vow of verse 5? Or the vow of verse 6? So, there must be more going on here than contractual clauses in a covenant, even with an Biographical view.

To begin with, let’s lay the groundwork of the context.

Idols: A probable reading of this passage views idolatry as the central dysfunction of a humanist worldview. That would include, I’ll posit, anything we turn to give our lives meaning and purpose, joy and satisfaction, or even escape, that edges God out from the center. If paired with Paul’s explanation in Romans 1, then worshiping any other god than God results in futile thinking and senseless, darkened minds, claiming to be wise, but becoming fools. What kind of person would that be like? What would their home and family be like?

Jealous God: The word is qanna’ and when used of God means God’s protective love of His people.

Punishing children for the iniquity of parents

This phrase is a bit trickier. What is actually being said here is that God will “visit” the “iniquity” of the “fathers” upon the “children.” That is a little different than what “punishing” might convey.

Iniquity: The word is `avon [from Strong’s], perversity, depravity, iniquity, guilt, or punishment or consequence of/for iniquity

Fathers: The word is ‘ab [from Strong’s], father of an individual, of God as father of his people, head or founder of a household, group, family, or clan, ancestor, grandfather, forefathers — of person of people, originator or patron of a class, profession, or art, of producer, generator (fig.), of benevolence and protection (fig.), term of respect and honour, ruler or chief (spec.)

Children: The word is ben [from Strong’s], a son (as a builder of the family name), in the widest sense (of literal and figurative relationship, including grandson, subject, nation, quality or condition, etc., (like father or brother), etc.)

the thousandth generation: Again, this one is a bit tricky. The word is ‘eleph and it means a thousand as a numeral (to thousands), or as a company, such as a company of soldiers under one leader. It’s nice symmetry to say “third and fourth generation” and then to say “the thousandth generation,” but it might not mean exactly that.

I’ve underlined the meanings I have long held are intended for this text, and put together, I hear God saying,

“Do not look to anything else for your sense of meaning and purpose, for your sense of belonging, for your source of wisdom, truth, love, joy, satisfaction, or to meet your (felt and true) needs. This is idolatry, a dysfunction so profound that I will cause the consequences of it to be experienced in your whole household, every generation living there.”

To a head of household, this meant the corrupting not just of their own natures, but that of their lineage, from child to grandchild to great grandchild, all living within their compound, and under their leadership.

“If you look to Me for your source for all these things, I will amply supply through my steadfast love to all in your company, however many are in your household. (A thousand being a symbolically large number.)

To a head of household, this meant the experience of God’s steadfast love to every person, even beyond the family, to the servants and others coming within the breadth and reach of their household.

You and I experience to this day the consequences of our parents’ decisions. Addictions, alcoholism, financial decisions, where to live, what schools were chosen, family traditions, a sense of right and wrong, the list goes on and on. Those have a generational affect, for good or ill. I can well imagine how the saying God took issue with through Ezekiel came into being!

Because, it seems an untruth had seeped into the truth of what God unveiled in Exodus 20. The untruth, apparently, extrapolated God’s statement to mean that children had to pay for what their parents did, perhaps even with their lives. God cleared this up by stating in the strongest and most exhaustive terms that each person will be judged on their own merits alone, not on the merits of their parents (or anyone else).

The way I see it, there is no contradiction between these passages. Both accurately and consistently reflect the heart of God while at the same time illustrate how easy it is to misunderstand scripture, or take it to places it was never meant to go.

January 4, 2021

Justice Always Prevailed

Today’s featured author is someone I know personally, and we last shared his writing here exactly one year ago. Eric Wright is the author of both fiction and non-fiction Christian books, and is also a former missionary to Pakistan and former local church pastor. This appeared on his blog Country Inspiration. Learn more about his books at this link. Click the header below to read at source.

Where is the God of Justice?

A woman is killed by a drunken diplomat who flees so he cannot be prosecuted. A poor tenant farmer in Pakistan is cheated from his share of the crop by his landlord. “The whole of recorded history is one great longing for justice.” (Rushdoony) Atheists deny the existence of God by pointing to the apparent lack of justice in the world. They are not alone. Biblical prophets lamented the lack of justice, but without disbelieving in God. The martyrs under the throne of God cry out, “How long?”

Habakkuk complained to God, “Justice never prevails” (Hab. 1:4). Malachi wrote, Where is the God of justice?(Mal. 2:17). In Psalm 73, Asaph wrote about how his heart was grieved and embittered by the arrogance of the wicked who plan evil and scoff at heaven. “My feet had almost slipped…when I saw the prosperity of the wicked” (Psalm 73:1,2).

Asaph found an answer to his cry for justice in understanding that the wicked live in a slippery place. There is a cosmic moral law of cause and effect. Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows” (Gal. 6:7). The very first Psalm declares, “The wicked are…like chaff that the wind blows away”.

In Psalm 73 Asaph saw the terrible end of the unrepentant wicked. They face everlasting fire in hell. “The wicked shall be turned into hell. All the nations that forget God” (Ps. 9:17 KJV). A cursory look at history reveals that justice delayed in not justice denied. Think of the judgement of Sodom and the whole earth during the Flood. As prophesied, Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome all perished in terrible judgement. Think of Hitler, Stalin, Idi Amin, Pol Pot, Papa Doc Duvalier, and on and on to this day. The fall of cruel and proud men is terrible. No one will escape the justice of God!

Not everyone reaps in this life the evil they sow. 1 Tim. 5:24 explains: the sins of some men are obvious, reaching the place of judgement ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them”.…only to be revealed in the final judgement.

Still, we may cry out, “Why Lord do you delay your justice?” Let us learn from Asaph. After crying out to God about the prosperity of the unjust, he realized that he had missed the first step in dealing with injustice. A search for justice must begin in our own hearts.

He cried, “when my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant” (Ps. 73:21,22). He came to understand that he had failed to keep his heart pure and free from bitterness, anger and self-righteousness. Jesus taught, “Blessed are the poor in spirit…the pure in heart.” Instead of being self-righteous we need to realize that “there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not (Eccl. 7:20, KJV). That includes us.

After confessing his bitterness, Asaph remembered what he had forgotten. Although a victim of injustice, he had forgotten that, I am always with you: you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you…God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps 73:23-26). The only way to live in an unjust world is to walk daily in fellowship with God. And to remember that if we have found mercy at the cross, Jesus walks with us and will never leave us. That is why he came at Christmas.

If we are to walk with God, we must understand God’s treatment of the unjust. We must remember that justice delayed is not justice denied. Delay reveals the weeping heart of God who longs to hear the repentance of the wicked in order to offer them mercy. This was Jonah’s complaint with God. He didn’t want to go to Nineveh of offer mercy, so he fled. But when he did preach in Nineveh and they repented, Jonah was angry. Why? He wanted Nineveh destroyed. He complained to God, I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity” (Jonah 4:2).

Clearly, like Jonah, we need a heart change toward the unsaved even those especially unjust. In Romans 2:4-6 Paul warns people to not ignore or despise God’s patient kindness and tolerance.

Sigh. So many of our problems with life are due to our impatience. God is a holy and just God. But he is also merciful and longsuffering. We need to trust him. He alone knows the Day of Judgement.


Facebook: Eric E Wright Twitter: @EricEWright1 LinkedIn: Eric Wright

July 30, 2020

Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will Be Done

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

Do our prayers sound like the Lord’s prayer? Notice I am not asking if we pray the Lord’s Prayer itself, but rather if our prayers reflect it. Jesus did not say “pray this,” but rather “pray in this way.” Do our prayer requests sound like the requests found in the Lord’s prayer?

In twenty-three years as a pastor, having received many prayer requests, and having attended many prayer meetings, the number one prayer concern that has shown up is for good health. This is not surprising as health is so important. Surprising, however, is that though Jesus was known for healing many, many people, when he taught us to pray, he did not teach us to pray for good health!

What are the first prayer requests Jesus put before us to pray about?

hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.

Matthew 6:9-10 (NRSV)

We may find that our prayers often begin from a self-centred place. Indeed we might not even feel like praying until something happens to us that causes us to go looking for help. It is not wrong to pray out of our needs, for the Psalmists often do, therefore we are in good company. We cannot pray, however, as Jesus taught us to pray and stay in a self-centred place. When we pray as Jesus taught us to pray, we learn to focus on God and God’s agenda for the world.

What does that agenda look like? What does it look like when God’s will is being done? The Bible teaches us what life in the Kingdom looks like. Let us take just two examples:

I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Amos 5:21-24 (NRSV)

In the kingdom of God, people experience justice and righteousness. Far too many empires have been marked by the opposite.

Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

Matthew 25:34-40 (NRSV)

In the kingdom of God, even those considered as “the least” are valued and helped. Far too many empires have oppressed their people rather than helped.

We sometimes have a negative reaction to the idea of a “kingdom.” We want democracy! In Bible times, however, a kingdom was considered a good thing, a safe place. You did not want to find yourself on your own, defenseless against marauders who lusted after your possessions, your land, and your family members. You wanted to belong to a people who could stick together and be stronger together. It was even better if the people you belonged to had a good army, and a good king. The king of a kingdom was supposed to take care of the people and ensure their safety. In fact kings in ancient times were often referred to as shepherds.

In the Kingdom of God, people are taken care of. God is our shepherd. There is a good king indeed, one who is concerned for the welfare of his people.

We cannot pray as Jesus taught us to pray and stay in a self-centred place. We will focus on God’s kingdom and the good king’s love for all kingdom people. We will focus on others, and God’s concern for them.

If there is a focus on self here as we pray ‘thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” it is on how we might be part of the problems of this world, rather than the solutions. It is on how we might be supporting the empires of this world, rather than advancing the Kingdom of God. Let us consider these words from the Apostle Paul:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:2 (NRSV)

There is a word for being transformed in one’s mind: repentance. The New Testament Greek word behind our English word “repentance” literally means to have a change of mind.

Did you know that repentance can become self-centred? It becomes self-centred when our line of thinking is nothing but “I repent so that I can go to heaven.” Such assumes that the greatest problem to be solved is the disruption in my relationship with God, which will negatively impact my future. It is all about me.

Repentance runs much deeper than that. It is not just about negative consequences of sin for ourselves. Let us read again the passage from Amos above and consider how the injustice and unrighteousness was negatively impacting others. Let us read again the passage from Matthew 25 above and recognize the potential for positive and negative impact on others. Repentance is part of a growing relationship with God, yes, but it is also about leaving behind the old ways of empire and their negative consequences in the lives of others, to live instead in God’s kingdom ways, which have positive consequences. Repentance is not just about me getting to heaven, but about God, through me, making life a little more heavenly for everyone around me.

When we pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” we will want to be aware of the old empire ways which harm others. When we do go to a self-focused place, we will consider if we are living in old empire ways, we will consider our impact on others. We do not want to stand in the way of God’s coming kingdom. Far from standing in the way of the experience of God’s kingdom, we will be ambassadors for God’s Kingdom.

Jesus became for us the ultimate example of living out the prayer, of becoming the answer to the prayer for God’s kingdom to come and God’s will to be done. Jesus’ life was an example of helping people, until of course his kingdom principles got him into trouble with the empires of the world, the Jewish leadership, and the Roman leadership, each trying to protect their own interests, each seeking to advance their own agendas. Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, on the night he had to decide between fighting the bullies, or flight from them, said “not my will, but thy will be done.” He chose the cross.

At the cross we saw how things work on earth. We saw how empires work. We saw the best man the world has ever known beaten up, mocked, and crucified as empires tried to hold onto their power. At the cross we also saw the ultimate example of things happening on earth as they do in heaven. We saw, and still see today, God’s love and grace overwhelming the powers of hatred. At the cross we saw an answer to the prayer “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” As we learn to pray that prayer, we will learn to pick up our cross and follow.


Clarke Dixon is a Canadian pastor. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service. Read more of Clarke’s writing here each Thursday, or at the source, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon. (Or should that be ‘shrunken sermon?’)

June 14, 2020

Racism: When You Lose Your Privilege

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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Years ago a popular Christian magazine, The Wittenburg Door (deliberately misspelled with a ‘u’ instead of an ‘e’) decided to conduct an experiment involving the magazine itself.

The entire issue was reproduced from hastily photocopied draft copies. As readers opened their mail, they saw a note saying they could have printed more ‘good’ copies from the completed magazine, but the full print run they had done had already been sent out to other subscribers.

Of course, there were no ‘good’ copies. Everyone received the same issue with the same note, and people were irate. A 1986 article in the South Florida Sun Sentinel explains:

An avalanche of outraged mail followed that issue, [Mike] Yaconelli chortles. “They took the bait. A lot of them ranted about how they didn’t want second best. They found out what it means to be discriminated against.”

Oh yes, I forgot to mention: It was a special themed issue on racism.

We can say that we’re wanting to see a world with a level playing field, but where inequities exist, we are often comfortable with that, provided we’re the ones on the upper tier.

This 6-minute video from The Bible Project shows how humans care so much about equality and justice:

This is part of the crisis in the Book of Jonah. The prophet is fairly certain his message will be rejected, since the Ninevites are described mostly in terms of their depravity. When fishy circumstances result in him having to deliver his prophetic word, he realizes his worst case when they actually accept.

In terms of Justice, their deliverance from destruction puts them and himself on a level playing field, but he’s not happy with that outcome because he doesn’t view them as worthy, or as equal, and would have been happier with their destruction.

It’s interesting to see the description of the Ninevites:

NIV.Jonah.4v11 And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left…

That’s quite a description. Most translations follow that pattern. But we also see:

  • innocent children (GNT)
  • people in spiritual darkness (LB/NLT)
  • childlike (Message)
  • do not know right from wrong (NET/Message)

Given that description, the texts from The Bible Project video tell us to:

NIV.Prov 31v8 Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
    for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly;
    defend the rights of the poor and needy.

NIV.Jer.22v3 This is what the Lord says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.

NIV.Ps.146v7 He upholds the cause of the oppressed
    and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free,
    the Lord gives sight to the blind,
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down,
    the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the foreigner
    and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
    but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.

We do this out of our response to what God has done for us. The video notes that

God’s response to humanity’s legacy of injustice is to give us a gift, the life of Jesus. He did righteousness and justice and yet he died on behalf of the guilty. But then God declared Jesus to be the righteous one when he rose from the dead. And so now Jesus offer his life to the guilty so they too can be declared righteous before God, not because of anything they’ve done but because of what Jesus did for them.




For more on the subject of racism as it applies to the U.S. in particular, you might want to check out this 17-minute video history lesson by Phil Vischer which is introduced at this link.

June 9, 2020

Jesus and the Kingdom: Matthew 5

I was really hoping at some point this month to share an excerpt from Skye Jethani’s new book, What if Jesus Was Serious? (Moody Press) and review it on my other blog, but after several attempts, it was not to be.

Still you can see some aspects of where I think he was heading in a 9-day reading plan that was posted at Bible.com several years ago. To read this click this link, and then cycle through the 9 days of devotions from The Sermon on the Mount along with the powerful hand-drawn images that Skye also uses in the new book. (These excerpts are from days 3-6.)

Skye speaks with a unique authority among Evangelicals, and the timeliness of these excerpts was not overlooked as I tried to decide what to include. See also the information below for the With God Daily Devotional, or click this link.

by Skye Jethani

IF JESUS WAS SERIOUS . . .THEN HEAVEN IS ALREADY HERE.

JESUS REFERS TO HEAVEN regularly in the Sermon on the Mount, including in the opening sentence: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” What is the kingdom of heaven? If we misunderstand what Jesus meant by this phrase, then we are likely to misunderstand the whole sermon— and probably Jesus Himself.

First, the kingdom of heaven is not the church. Some assume a local congregation is a “church” but collecting all the churches together is what constitutes God’s “kingdom.” But that is not what Jesus meant.

Second, the kingdom of heaven is not where God’s people go after death. Jesus was not speaking about the afterlife in the Sermon on the Mount. In English, the word heaven carries all kinds of supernatural and spiritual meanings, but the actual word used by Jesus was plural (literally, heavens) and more like how we might use the word skies to describe the atmosphere. The air isn’t a distant realm; it’s all around us. Likewise, Jesus used the word heavens to speak of the nonphysical, invisible, but very present realm where God dwells.

It is the realm where God rules and evil is powerless. Jesus announced that this kingdom was now “at hand,” meaning it is within our reach. The kingdom of the heavens has broken into our world, and a new way of life is now possible. In the Sermon on the Mount, therefore, Jesus is unveiling a new ethic for those who belong to a new kind of kingdom that is not of this world.

IF JESUS WAS SERIOUS . . .THEN WE WILL MAKE ROOM TO CRY.

IS THE CHRISTIAN LIFE only for happy-clappy people? Where are the doubters, the grievers…? While a church pastor years ago, I read a popular book at the time advocating for the best way to operate a church. The author insisted that all weekend gatherings be called “Celebrations,” and he said the tone of these gatherings should always be upbeat, energetic, and focused on the victorious Christian life. (It’s difficult to read a book that makes your eyes roll as much as that one did.)

The problem with this nonstop celebration model, apart from being inauthentic, is the way it ignores the example found in the Bible. The book of Psalms, for instance, served as the prayer book and worship liturgy for God’s ancient people. It’s the prayer book Jesus and His disciples would have used in their worship. Psalms includes many songs of celebration, but there are even more prayers of lament, complaint, and even cries for justice. “How long, O Lord?” is a frequent prayer in the psalms, and it shows that the human-divine relationship has many dimensions. Ancient worship, it seems, could be celebratory, angry, mournful, repentant, or contemplative. So why do we think our worship should only be one dimensional?

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn.” This addresses those who are experiencing grief, but it can also include those who mourn alongside others in their pain. Where do we make space for this legitimate part of the Christian life to find expression in our communities? We must not fall into the delusion that God has called us to a perpetual state of ever-increasing happiness. Jesus reminds us that God is also with us when we mourn, and because this is a broken world mourning is to be expected. But we do not weep as those without hope.

IF JESUS WAS SERIOUS . . . THEN WE WILL TRUST GOD MORE AND POLITICS LESS.

WHO ARE THE MEEK and why will they inherit the earth? First, we must understand Jesus’ context and how His audience would have heard this statement. The word translated as “earth” can also be translated as “land,” which is probably a better reading. Throughout the Bible, the relationship between God and His people was linked to the promised land. Faithfulness to God meant they could dwell in the land in peace, but unfaithfulness to God meant losing the land and being forced into exile.

Centuries before Jesus, the Jews had returned from exile to the promised land, but they did not fully possess it. The Romans, who were pagans and idolaters, ruled over the land, which was unacceptable and humiliating to the Jews. In a sense, they were still in exile because they remained under the thumb of a foreign power.

This provoked a growing number of Israelites to become Zealots—violent revolutionaries. To the Romans, the Zealots were terrorists. To many Jews, they were freedom fighters. The Zealots believed in using the world’s violent ways to achieve what they believed were God’s goals. Their goal was to “inherit the land” by force. By announcing that the meek were blessed and would “inherit the land,” Jesus was condemning the tactics of the Zealots. He was proclaiming that it was not the powerful, violent, or angry who will accomplish God’s purposes, but the gentle, peaceful, and those who put their trust in Him rather than the sword.

This is an important reminder for those of us living in a divided land where everything has become politicized between “us” and “them.” Like the Zealots, we can be tempted to use the world’s ways—coercion, power, and fear—to “take back the land” for God. Instead, Jesus calls us to put such things aside and discover the power of God available through meekness. It is by trusting the Lord and the meekness of His ways, not through the sword of politics, that the land is won.

IF JESUS WAS SERIOUS . . . THEN A DESIRE FOR JUSTICE SHOULD BE AFFIRMED.

“IT’S NOT FAIR!” With three kids, I hear that a lot in my household. Although the phrase is often misapplied—a fact my wife and I point out often to our apparently persecuted progeny—it does not diminish the strength of their instinct for justice. We all carry a sense that the world is not what it ought to be, and we also have a profound desire for this wrongness to be made into rightness—or what the Bible calls “righteousness.”

The word is often used to describe a properly ordered relationship between God and His people. Violating this relationship makes one unrighteous, while faithfulness to God results in a declaration of one’s righteousness. The word, however, carries a much broader meaning. It can also apply to right relationships between people, between the government and the governed, and between humans and creation. That’s why the same words often translated as “righteousness” in the Bible are also regularly translated in English as “justice.”

…Jesus affirms our longing for justice: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice/righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” He equates the soul’s desire for justice with the unrelenting physical desire for food and water. It is an inescapable aspect of our human condition, and He promises that it will be quenched. We can be assured that, in time, God will set all things right. The desire that God placed in our hearts will ultimately be satisfied. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”


Again, a reminder that these are excerpts from the middle section of a 9-day reading plan and are missing very helpful illustrations. To read the whole sequence, starting at Day 1, click this link.

Longtime readers here will also remember that for several years we carried a link in the sidebar for Skye’s With God Daily Devotional. It can land in your in-box daily for as little as $3 per month. Go to this link to learn more.

 

 

April 21, 2020

We Live Our Lives Both as Offended and Offender

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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This is our third time visiting The Serener Bright written by Ian Graham, pastor of the church Ecclesia, located in West Trenton, New Jersey. As always, bless our contributors with some traffic by clicking the headers which appear below these introductions to read at source.

Psalm 35: Enemy Intelligence

If you’ve ever felt like the world is aligned in a conspiracy against you, Psalm 35 is for you. David doesn’t so much write as he shouts protests:

They hid their net for me without cause
    and without cause dug a pit for me,
may ruin overtake them by surprise—
    may the net they hid entangle them,
    may they fall into the pit, to their ruin.   (7-8)

For many of us, we read Psalm 35 and feel like telling David, “Look, man, you’re just having a bad day, the lady who told you you need two forms of verified ID at the DMV is not a cosmic enemy plotting alongside Satan to ruin your life.” Our modern way of naming enemies is by establishing who’s in our camp and who’s not. The people on the other side of the spectrum are the bad, nefarious people while those within our state borders are given the benefit of good faith and good intentions.

Psalm 35 affirms our suspicions that enemies are a part of life. David doesn’t call role, naming these individuals but he identifies them by their injustice and their glee when troubles befall him:

Ruthless witnesses come forward;
    they question me on things I know nothing about.
 They repay me evil for good
    and leave me like one bereaved.   (11-12)

David promises that he will delight in the Lord and rejoice in his salvation (v. 9), but these unnamed enemies glean their joy from sorrow in David’s life (v. 15). They are mockers, slanderers, engaging in the verbal pornography of gossip and secretly fist-pumping when they get a report that something ill or painful has befallen David (vv.15-16).

You may or may not be able to name people in your life who fit this description. Psalm 35 is acknowledging that this is the way of the world, a way of conflict and alienation. This leads us to the second way that Psalm 35 bears witness to us in how we are to live and move in a world fraught with enemies.

Notice how David responds to the presence of his enemies. He does not lash out in anger and righteous retribution. He goes to great length to describe his own innocence, even noting how when he got updates on those who now mock him, when he heard that they were in anguish, he mourned alongside them, as if he were grieving the loss of his own mother (vv. 13-14). We love nothing more in our society and in our stories than when a person, a people, or an entity get what’s coming to them. We say yes and amen to vindicating vengeance either by the law or other means. But David doesn’t become a vigilante for his own victimhood.

Rather, David prays to God. He acknowledges that God is his judge and deliverer. David opens with the plea:

Contend, Lord, with those who contend with me;
    fight against those who fight against me. 
Take up shield and armor;
    arise and come to my aid. 
Brandish spear and javelin
    against those who pursue me.
Say to me,
    “I am your salvation.”   (1-3)

David knows that he is imperiled because of his enemies but he also knows that only the Lord can release him from their snares. He foreshadows what the apostle Paul will instruct the Roman church to do in Romans 12vv17-19:

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

Jesus will tell those listening that they are not simply to refrain from vengeance, they are to love their enemies. Psalm 35 is a long way from the way Jesus will unmask our true enemies (sin and death) but it gives us a way to live in the world that is often contentious, where people wittingly and unwittingly often live as our enemies.

But in light of Jesus’ teachings, Psalm 35 leaves us with a much more haunting question. Jesus says, don’t look at the speck of sawdust in your neighbor’s eye while ignoring that there is a 2 X 4 sticking out of your own eye (Matthew 7). Jesus compels us to reread Psalm 35 asking ourselves not simply how have we been wronged by others, but how have we, ourselves, been an enemy to others? You see, we live our lives as both offended and offender, and the witness of Jesus declares to all, there is grace for both—forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who have trespassed against us (also, providentially, Matthew 7).

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