Showing Partiality

"You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors." - James 2:8-9 Partiality here means treating some persons better than others. It means loving some neighbors and not loving others. It means allowing our prejudices to interfere with expressing God's love for all persons regardless of gender, race, orientation, language, accent, status, wealth, zip code, nationality, citizenship, education, employment, health, denomination, party, clothing, affiliation, or preferences. It means being just as accepting of the ones who sit in our pew, the ones who camp out on the sidewalk, the ones who signs our paycheck, the ones who cut us off in traffic, the ones who send us greeting cards, the ones who clean the bathroom, the ones we call our heroes, the ones who enforce the law, the ones who share our faith, the one…

Lenten Devotions - Day 40

“When the two women ran from the tomb, they were confused and shaking all over. They were too afraid to tell anyone what had happened.” Mark 16:8

Fear is a powerful motivator. It so often controls our actions, even when we know there to be a better way of doing. Fear is often irrational, but at times it is the very rational aspect of fear that keeps us from living according to faith.

Mark’s gospel originally ended with this verse. Apparently, the text was changed by editors and copyists to reflect the fact that the resurrection story did get told. They wanted the text to speak more of Jesus’ resurrection than as Mark had ended his narrative. It made for an uncomfortable ending, after all. The women go to the tomb, find Jesus, then slip away quietly in fear. Mark’s is a brilliant literary device. It is effective. It stirs our emotions. It makes us question the women, but also ourselves. Too often, however, we read the text as those early editors, seeking a reinforcement of the message …

Lenten Devotions - Day 39

“I, Yahweh All-Powerful, have something to say to you priests. Children respect their fathers, and servants respect their masters. I am your father and your master, so why don't you respect me? You priests have insulted me, and now you ask, ‘How did we insult you?’ You embarrass me by offering worthless food on my altar. Then you ask, ‘How have we embarrassed you?’ You have done it by saying, ‘What’s so great about Yahweh’s altar?’ But isn’t it wrong to offer animals that are blind, crippled, or sick? Just try giving those animals to your governor. That certainly wouldn't please him or make him want to help you. I am Yahweh God All-Powerful, and you had better try to please me. You have sinned. Now see if I will have mercy on any of you.” Malachi 1:6-9

Malachi makes an interesting point about our treating God differently than we treat the government. In one sense, perhaps it is more accurate to say we treat them the same. We are loath to pay our taxes, yet we pay them to avoid…

Lenten Devotions - Day 38

“Friends, when I came and told you the mystery that God had shared with us, I didn’t use big words or try to sound wise. In fact, while I was with you, I made up my mind to speak only about Jesus Christ, who had been nailed to a cross. At first, I was weak and trembling with fear. When I talked with you or preached, I didn't try to prove anything by sounding wise. I simply let God's Spirit show his power. That way you would have faith because of God's power and not because of human wisdom.” 1 Corinthians 2:1-5

It is tempting to reduce the gospel and a life of faith to what we can accomplish with our gifts, talents, and strength. It is easy to style our church work after the manner of the business community, as we look for scientific models, procedures, and tested strategies for growing a church, building a denomination, or adding numbers to membership, attendance, and financial giving. While there is some validity to all of this, Paul points to something greater than strat…

Lenten Devotions - Day 37

“So once again, I, Yahweh All-Powerful, tell you, ‘See that justice is done and be kind and merciful to one another! Don't mistreat widows or orphans or foreigners or anyone who is poor, and stop making plans to hurt each other.’ But everyone who heard those prophets stubbornly refused to obey. Instead, they turned their backs on everything my Spirit had commanded the earlier prophets to preach. So I, Yahweh, became angry and said, ‘You people paid no attention when I called out to you, and now I'll pay no attention when you call out to me.’” Zechariah 7:8-13

A common refrain in the Passover Seder meal is “we were once foreigners in Egypt, but God rescued us with a mighty hand.” It is a reminder to include the poor, destitute, and otherwise needy in our celebration of God’s provision and blessing. Caring for widows, poor, foreigners, and orphans was a standard Ancient Near Eastern estimate of one’s righteousness. This concept was not limited to the people of Israel, but unders…

Lenten Devotions - Day 36

“Peter and John answered, ‘Do you think God wants us to obey you or to obey him? We cannot keep quiet about what we have seen and heard.’” Acts 4:19-20

Even in ministry, there are times when one is called on to place some other concern ahead of faithfully serving God. There are institutions to protect; there are donors one should not upset; there are issues the general public is not prepared to discuss or understand. There are concerns over paying homage to history, tradition, and heritage that may contradict the teaching of Scripture or the mission of Christ Jesus for the church. There are hot-button issues of society that to addressing stirs up a hornet’s nest of controversy. It is tempting to go along with the flow—to allow the swell of public opinion or the direction of institutional heritage sweep us along in its current.

This is somewhat the situation Peter and John faced. They did not consider themselves as preaching a new religion, breaking off from Judaism. Jesus was, after a…

Lenten Devotions - Day 35

“Someday, I, Yahweh, will cut a tender twig from the top of a cedar tree, then plant it on the peak of Israel's tallest mountain, where it will grow strong branches and produce large fruit. All kinds of birds will find shelter under the tree, and they will rest in the shade of its branches. Every tree in the forest will know that I, Yahweh, can bring down tall trees and help short ones grow. I dry up green trees and make dry ones green. I, Yahweh, have spoken, and I will keep my word.” Ezekiel 17:22-24

Ezekiel’s words spring from the perspective of the Babylonian exile. Israel had been dispersed under the Assyrians and Judah had found itself deported to Babylon. Zedekiah, king of Judah had signed a treaty with Babylon, swearing to it by the name of Yahweh. He had then broken the treaty, seeking alliance with Egypt to protect Judah from Nebuchadnezzar. What had once been a people under the great kings, David and Solomon was now a captive remnant bowed under the sway of Babylon.