Devotions

Being Envious of the Wrong People

Psalm 37.1-2.

Do not fret because of the wicked; do not be envious of wrongdoers, for they will soon fade like the grass, and wither like the green herb. – Psalm 37:1-2

In our devotions, we are currently reading through the Daily Lectionary.

The Psalm of the day calls us to “not be envious of wrongdoers.”

The New Testament reading has a similar warning and call: “Do not love the world or the things in the world … for all that is in the world—the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches—comes not from the Father but from the world” (1 John 2:15-16).

Adding those two verses together, we are told to not envy those who desire the flesh, covet earthly riches, or pursue wrongdoing.

One of the lucrative businesses of the early 21st Century is being a photographer – actually a special kind of photographer, the paparazzi. On behalf of a culture that glamorizes riches, fame, superficial beauty, and blatant sexuality, the paparazzi chases gossip and scandal and many superficial celebrities. With this as too much of a cultural focus, is it any wonder that our culture is getting colder and colder, fading like grass in the dead of winter?

God doesn’t want his children to be fading, cold, or increasingly dead. Therefore, the Lord joyfully gives this advice: “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). Indeed, “those who do the will of God live forever” (1 John 2:17).

Delight in God. Do his will. Discover your heart’s desire. Sounds like the formula for better a lawn and a better life.

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who is lousy at

growing a beautiful lawn;

a better aim instead at

growing a beautiful life

 

 

 

Favoritism Can Be Poison

Genesis 43.30.

With that, Joseph hurried out, because he was overcome with affection for his brother, and he was about to weep. So he went into a private room and wept there. – Genesis 43:30

James, the brother of our Lord, said to the first Christians, “My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?” (James 2:1).

Last Sunday night in Bible Study with our youth, Mary Louise and I read James’ reflection on the poison of favoritism. And it prompted us to tell the story of Joseph – the context for our verse for today.

You know the story of Jacob and his sons, right? Jacob was a scoundrel. Favoritism probably prompted it. His father loved his twin – Esau, a manly (and very hairy) man. His mother loved the more genteel Jacob, and prompted the younger twin to steal the birthright from his seconds-older-sibling. (Favoritism in families can be poison.)

Esau was furious, and Jacob ran for his life. The young scoundrel wound up on Laban’s “farm,” fell in love with Laban’s daughter, and made a deal to work for seven years to win young Rachel’s hand in marriage. But Jacob-the-con-man got conned himself. Again favoritism reared his head. Laban favored marrying off his eldest daughter first, and Jacob was tricked into marrying Leah. (And then having to work seven more years for Laban before being allowed to marry his second wife – Laban’s second daughter – Rachel.)

But favoritism in families can be poison. The elder Leah – because of an act of favoritism – was married, but she was not really loved. Jacob loved Rachel – favoritism. But Leah was the one who could have the children. From Leah’s side, ten sons. And only then was Rachel able to conceive. Two sons were born. And guess who Jacob favored – his two sons from his most favorite wife. (Favoritism in families can be poison.)

Joseph doted on especially the elder of Rachel’s sons, Joseph. A symbol of this favoritism was the techni-color dream coat which Jacob gave Joseph. Joseph, in turn, acted sometimes like the spoiled brat he was being raised to be. God gave Joseph the ability to interpret dreams. A proud and condescending Joseph was only too glad to tell his eleven brothers about the eleven bundles of wheat (them) which would bow to the one upright bundle (him).

Favoritism can be poison. The ten sons of Leah plotted to kill their half-brother, Joseph. Fortunately, a caravan heading to Egypt just happened to be passing by at the moment of impending murder. Why kill your brat of a brother when you can get rid of him and make a profit, by selling him into slavery?

That’s how Joseph wound up in Egypt. His ability to interpret dreams allowed Joseph to rise in influence in Egypt, saving that powerful nation from famine. And desperate for food, Jacob’s sons came to Egypt begging. Joseph’s ten half-brothers wound up in front of the second most powerful man in Egypt – Joseph – whom they surely didn’t recognize.

Now, God had worked on Joseph’s heart. He knew that Jacob’s favoritism (and his own prideful behavior) had led the sons of the least-favorite-wife to get rid of the eldest son of Jacob’s most-favorite-wife. And Joseph – still unrecognized by this brothers – had only one question: What was the fate of the other son of Jacob’s most-favorite-wife? What, indeed, was the fate of Benjamin?

Joseph feared the worst. Could they have treated Benjamin with as much anger as they treated him? So he arranged for them to bring Benjamin to him. And “with that” – when Joseph saw Benjamin – “Joseph hurried out, because he was overcome with affection for his brother.”

Now, was that favoritism too? It could have been. The bond between Joseph and Benjamin was surely strong. But I think a different emotion filled Joseph. He realized that the dynamics in his dysfunctional family had dramatically changed. The ten angry half-brothers no longer had hatred in their hearts. They’d seen the effects of grief on their father – distraught over Joseph’s apparent death – and now took care of Benjamin, in spite of a favoritism that was surely still being poured on the youngest.

Compassion was new in this family, and Joseph would soon act with great compassion on his brothers who had once been enemies.

Favoritism is poison – while compassion, forgiveness, and intentional unity are deeply healing. James calls for that in the church. Genesis shows us why.

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who probably

deserved to be thrown

in a bit and sold

by this brothers

(The oldest who

surely acted superior

now and then)

Burdening Others or Loosening Burdens

Luke 11.46.

And [Jesus] said, “Woe also to you lawyers! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not lift a finger to ease them. – Luke 11:46

God gave his people a path to a better life. It was called the Law and included the commandments.

Wait! Do you think of laws as a path to a better life? Well, life is better when we’re not killing one another – commandment 6. Children’s upbringing is more secure and families are more likely to stay intact when parents aren’t committing adultery – commandment 7. And God’s people were more likely to live long lives when they observed cleanliness laws (avoid contact with bodily fluids) and Kosher laws (avoid the diseases that can grow in unrefrigerated pork).

But … what God created as good had become a burden. For example, through the Sabbath, God created a rhythm of balance, rest, and health. But by the time of Jesus, the gift of Sabbath had been saddled with so many regulations, that a supposed day of peace had become the most burdensome day of the week. Human regulation by human regulation, God’s people were being oppressed by what was otherwise a gift.

To the legalists of his day – the Jewish scribes and lawyers – condemnation was bluntly proclaimed by Jesus: “Woe … to you … For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not lift a finger to ease them.”

No matter who we are or what era we live in, there are people who violate God’s command gift of life. Our job is not to heap legalism or condemnation on people. Our job is to walk beside them and help them carry their load.

That doesn’t mean we condone sin! That doesn’t mean we loosen what God has made clear. No! What it means is that we help people find Jesus. He’s the one who changes hearts … not us! We invite them to the Savior. We encourage relationship and celebrate their successes. If they ask us what we think about a sin, we’re honest. We don’t twist the truth or wink at sin. But … even if they ask, we spend much more time loving the person and discussing our own inabilities to fulfill the Law … which becomes a perfect transition to discussing our need for a Savior.

Truth.

Love.

Personal Transparency.

Need for a Savior.

That’s what I hear in this simple passage.

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who prefers

to not talk about the

sins of others (“them”),

but to address “our” sin

and our mutual failures

which lead to our mutual

need for our Savior

God Works Through Unexpected People

Ezra 1.1.

the Lord stirred up the spirit of King Cyrus of Persia so that he sent a herald throughout all his kingdom … “Any of those among you who are of [God’s] people—may their God be with them!—are now permitted to [return] to Jerusalem in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord ” – Ezra 1:1-3

Israel had been in exile for 70 years. Now the time of Israel’s consequence for their rebellion had come to an end.

And the question is: What did God do to bring his people home?

The answer: He spoke to a foreign king. Indeed, God worked powerfully through an unbeliever – Cyrus of Persia!

A fascinating character study is on how God also used Nehemiah in this process. Nehemiah, a Jew, had lived his entire life in exile. Jerusalem had never been home. Nevertheless, his heart was troubled when he heard of the horrible conditions of his people’s home city. So Nehemiah prayed and prayed. “O Lord … who keeps covenant … I now pray …, confessing the sins of the people of Israel …Remember [your] word … ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you … but if you return to me … I will gather [you back] … O Lord, let your ear be attentive to [my] prayer … Give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man!” (Neh 1:5-11).

Nehemiah had no comprehension of what he might do to help Jerusalem, but with his prayers, he was faithfully battering God’s heart … and readying his own heart for an action that seemed utterly beyond him. But Nehemiah was cupbearer to King Cyrus, and one day Cyrus noticed his downcast nature – not an ideal trait for a servant before a potentially capricious king. But Cyrus noticed Nehemiah. And Nehemiah – heart readied – made a big request: “Why should my face not be sad, when the city … of my ancestors … lies waste … If it pleases the king … I ask that you send me to Judah … so that I may rebuild it” (Neh 2:3-5).

Here’s the point:

  • Nehemiah did what he could do. He prayed. He listened. He confessed his sins. He readied his heart of action. And then he was bold when an unbelievable opportunity – a “God-moment” – presented itself. That’s one: Nehemiah did what he could do.
  • Part two: Is that through prayer, he was trusting God to do only what God could do – change the heart of a foreign king! Think about it, Cyrus was letting part of his workforce leave Persia – virtual slaves – to go rebuild an enemy nation. Only God could do that!

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who likes the phrase:

work as if it all depends on you,

and pray as if it all depends on God

 

 

 

 

The Tongue is a Fire

Psalm 120.1.

In my distress I cry to the Lord … “Deliver me, O Lordfrom lying lips, from a deceitful tongue.” – Psalm 120:1-2

Do you remember the old phrase, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”? We’ll come back to that in a moment.

First, word can actually hurt – badly enough that God dedicated 10% of his 10 commandments to stopping the destruction power of false witness and lies. In the book of James, we are told that “the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! Indeed, the tongue is a fire … a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:5-8). The tongue is often an instrument of murder – not literal murder, but a thousand little (but real) cuts that gradually drain life from a brother or sister. It can be absolutely destructive.

Nevertheless, we’re living in a hypersensitive era that seems to have totally forgotten the old “sticks and stones” wisdom. People are too regularly triggered by words and alternate ideas. And the question is … “Why?”

Today’s Psalm gives us a clue. Word’s hurt because they question our identity and destroy a reputation. But … that’s only if we define ourselves in the eyes of the world or in our own self-estimation. When we fully embrace that we are children of God and define ourselves based on His gracious estimation of us, then we are immune (or at least more immune) from false evaluations of the world. Instead of wallowing in insecurity, we can embrace the powerful truth that we are Princes and Princesses – children of the Most High King. When we embrace a heaven centered reality – instead of earthbound worries – we no longer have to justify ourselves. Why? Because we are justified through God’s grace.

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who seeks to adopt

the mantra of the Psalmist,

“In my distress, I call

To the Lord …”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Measures Your Consequences?

Jeremiah 13.25.

This is your lot, the portion I have measured out to you, says the Lord, because you have forgotten me and trusted in lies. – Jeremiah 13:25

Sorry!

I’d prefer brighter verse, but we’re mired for the moment in Jeremiah, and Jeremiah is surely not the happiest of Scriptures. (But at least it’s more cheerful than Jeremiah’s second book — Lamentations.)

My favorite simple way of describing what happened to Israel and Judah was that God’s people rebelled … but God in his grace called them back. Nevertheless, they rebelled again … so God in his grace sent prophets – again and again – trying to woo them back. Nevertheless, God’s people continued to rebel. They hardened themselves against God’s grace, refused to listen to the prophets, and “trusted in lies,” instead. God was active, present, calling, wooing, occasionally challenging, but they, in a sense, had basically “forgotten [God].” So God took his hand of protection off. This allowed calamity to overtake Israel and Judah. Babylonians and Assyrians overran them.

The coming consequences, says the Lord, are the “portion I have measured out to you.” That’s surely true. But I think the consequences we receive are also the portion we have measured out for ourselves. Accidental or not, we tend to reap what we sow.

That’s the bad news — not only in this verse, but in this segment of Jeremiah. But in this verse, I also see a remedy. If “trust[ing] in lies” (which leads to “forg[etting God]”) is at the root of our problem, then trusting in God and relying upon his truth are the key to … remembering God … finding blessing (instead of curses) … and rediscovering hope.

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who wants

his rememberer

to be better than

his forgeterer

 

 

 

What’s Clogging Your Ears?

Jeremiah 13.17.

if you will not listen, my soul will weep in secret for your pride – Jeremiah 13:17

One of the chief jobs of a prophet is to warn. One of the chief jobs of God’s children is listen to the warnings. And the job of a prophet would be much more fun, if God’s people did their job … and listened.

But, as you might guess, too many chose not to listen to Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the rest. Why? One reason was pride. Humans tend to do what humans want to do. We tend to set our own standards of right and wrong. We pick and choose spiritual messages based on our own desires. The ancient Israelites acted this way … and so do we.

How much do you and I really know about Jeremiah’s calls that still have relevance today? How much do we really know of the Gospels and Epistles?

Perhaps your problem isn’t pride. If you’re reading this, you’re trying! Learning. Seeking. Following. Nevertheless – at least if you’re like me – busyness is swallowing much of your devotion. And then we’re tired … and when we’re tired, it’s easier to not prioritize faith and devotions. And it becomes a cycle. Busyness begets tiredness … which begets inattentiveness … repeat.

And what’s the result? God secretly weeps. He loves you. He forgives you. But this saddens him. He desires intimacy with you. But how many of us are too far away?

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who wants

to weep as I write this

… and maybe that’s

the start

 

 

Jeremiah 13.17.