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Showing posts from August, 2017

After Pentecost Devotional - Day 64

Listen carefully to what you hear! The way you treat others will be the way you will be treated—and even worse.” Mark 4:24
This is Mark's version of Jesus' “Golden Rule.” Mark does not set up Jesus giving the more famous “Sermon on the Mount.” Instead, he takes an assortment of Jesus' sayings and places them in a unit as a summary of the things that Jesus taught over the course of his ministry. The initial setting for the passage is Jesus teaching on the shore of Lake Galilee, but we are not being led to believe that Mark is transcribing specific words spoken at a specific time. We would understand from Mark that Jesus repeated himself on many occasions. Mark is just giving us a smattering of those teachings.
While Jesus is talking about generosity, the CEV's translation provides a sense in which Jesus' words have a broader meaning. The specific context of the giving or treating others here is tied to a reciprocal action, ostensibly from God. The surface point here …

After Pentecost Devotional - Day 63

Rahab and her family had to stay in a place just outside the Israelite army camp. But later they were allowed to live among the Israelites, and her descendants still do.” Joshua 6:25
Israel always had difficulties relating to immigrants in their midst. This passage points to a time-limited issue in regard to becoming full participants within Israel. It also points to the fact that Israel did include Rahab, her family, and their descendants. This was a process, but it was a process designed for inclusion and welcome.
At first blush, they were kept just outside the Hebrew camp. They were not allowed full participation prior to a period of ritual purification. This purification process was likewise required of the Hebrews themselves who became ritually impure through contact with various elements that were a draw towards fertility cult worship. Certain foods, bodily fluids, and processes dealing with birth and death were so often deemed to hold power in relation to controlling the gods th…

After Pentecost Devotional - Day 62

Jesus finished by saying, 'People were not made for the good of the Sabbath. The Sabbath was made for the good of the people.'” Mark 2:27
I remember being told as pastor of a church in rural Virginia that I should not mow the grass on Sunday afternoon. Some people would consider it work and would be upset that the pastor of the church was mowing on a Sunday.
At the time, I bowed to the expectation, determining that it was not worth fighting over something so mundane. Perhaps, though, I performed a disservice to that congregation by allowing them to dictate what was appropriate activity for a pastor on Sunday.
I could have made a point of the fact that Sunday was a workday for me. I could have made a point of the fact that mowing my lawn had nothing to do with earning a living, which is what the Sabbath rest was about. I could have referenced Jesus' teaching about the Sabbath being a respite from the week's labor, trusting God's provision to be sufficient to allow me …

A Confederacy of Heritage?

No one really likes to be termed a hater. No one likes to be called names. No one likes to hear, "Your symbols, language, or culture are expressions of hate." As such, I hear people speaking of the Confederacy and its symbols as tied to a sense of history and heritage, not to hate. While I am pretty sure they are being honest in their comments, there is another side to this history and heritage. The Confederacy is part of my heritage, too. While there are positive elements to this Southern heritage to which I belong, there are far weightier matters in that heritage I find questionable at best. Among other things, the Southern Heritage in the Confederacy is... -A heritage of seceding from the Union over the desire to continue subjugating others; -A heritage of keeping "coloreds" "in their place"; -A heritage of saying, "We were justified in fighting against Northern aggressors telling us we could no longer hold people as property"; -A heritage of wh…

After Pentecost Devotional - Day 61

Moses did not give any land to the Levi tribe, because the LORD God of Israel had told them, 'Instead of land, you will receive the sacrifices offered at my altar.'” Joshua 13:14
In a non-agricultural society, we often fail to grasp the significance of land ownership in a setting like Ancient Israel. We understand income and wealth in regards to employment, business ownership, investments, royalties, and other financial instruments. We tend to grasp the concept of home ownership as an aspect of wealth, but that is not what is in play in this passage.
The Levites were expected to have houses in which to live. What they were not expected to do was hold ownership of agricultural fields for wealth production. Their income and sustenance were to rely upon the faithfulness of the people in relation to the worship and provision of Yahweh. The people at large had access to the production of wealth. The priests and Levites were to benefit from that production as the people worshipped an…

After Pentecost Devotional - Day 60

Jesus healed all kinds of terrible diseases and forced out a lot of demons. But the demons knew who he was, and he did not let them speak.” Mark 1:34
Sometimes we encounter passages and themes in the Bible that make us somewhat uncomfortable. We don't know exactly what to do with passages like this one in Mark, as we are rather determined to deny the existence of demons. Often as not, we want to consider that demons existed and acted in earlier times, but have somehow been left aside in our more advanced understanding of the world of God's creation.
Then Mark comes along and is determined to dash our expectations to the ground. He not only assumes that demons exist but describes Jesus speaking to them directly and even at times having them respond to his questions. Jesus goes on to cast out demons in several notable instances within Mark. All along the way, Mark takes pains to demonstrate that Jesus has the higher authority and power. The demons may not want to obey Jesus, but …

Bang on Some Metal, Let's Save the Sun!

One of the many hats I have worn over the last dozen years is that of a healthcare interpreter. It has granted me the opportunity to help people navigate the strange system of care in this country, but it has also allowed me some snippets of insight into the lives and perspectives of other people and cultures. Often as not, I have had the opportunity to be regaled with various stories from life in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and other places.
One of those patients for whom I have interpreted started telling me a story about growing up in rural Mexico as a descendant of Toltec, Olmec, Maya, and other indigenous cultures. Let's call him Victor. Victor did not have the luxury of a standard education, even if he were able to study beyond what his parents had done.
The family was surprised one day by a solar eclipse. Their traditional understanding of an eclipse was that the moon god and the sun god were battling and the sun needed to win in order to continue with its ta…

After Pentecost Devotional - Day 59

'Neither,' he answered. 'I am here because I am the commander of the LORD’s army.' Joshua fell to his knees and bowed down to the ground. 'I am your servant,' he said. 'Tell me what to do.'” Joshua 5:14
We like to think of God being on our side when we should be thinking of our being on God's side, instead. It's more than semantics, it's about purpose, direction, and priorities. We want God to back up our plans, our purposes, our dreams, and our ambitions. We consider that we want what is best and are able to envision what God must want. Whether we recognize it or not, we want God to serve us like a jinn in a lamp. We want God to get us out of each tight spot and resolve our all of difficulties. We want God to obey our wishes and designs.
In the process, we lose sight of our claims regarding the identity and character of God. It is the Almighty of Hosts, Yahweh, whom we want to bow to our understanding and purposes. We would instruct this sam…

After Pentecost Devotional - Day 58

I immerse you with water, but he will immerse you with the Spirit of the Holy One!” Mark 1:8
Traditionally, we use the term baptism in our translations of the New Testament, but the term simply means to immerse. On the other hand, it can indicate being joined with someone or something. We also tend to use the phrase in English, “Holy Spirit” as an entity somehow separate from God, yet the phrase in Greek might be better rendered, the “Spirit of the Holy One.”
Our traditional take on this verse simply does not do justice to the meaning John the Baptist had in mind. He was making a distinction between an outward symbol of being converted and being placed in direct contact and relationship with God's Spirit.
Being immersed or anointed with God's Spirit was something always reserved for the prophets. It was a special relationship, but it was also generally viewed as a temporary experience of God's presence and associated blessings. The Spirit was known to come upon a prophet to …

After Pentecost Devotional - Day 57

Someday your children will ask, “Why are these rocks here?” Then you can tell them how the water stopped flowing when the chest was being carried across the river. These rocks will always remind our people of what happened here today.” Joshua 4:7
Throughout the Bible, memory is an important concept. The Old Testament lays plenty of stress upon remembering God's deeds throughout the history of the people. There were festivals of many sorts to re-enact various aspects of Yahweh's history of redemption. We have seen the important place Passover held in fashioning the nation and calling each new generation to consider themselves personally redeemed in the experience of each year's observation.
At various times, however, memory was not centered around a festival of celebration. It was, however, brought out and stimulated through cairns of stones, as we see in today's passage. Memorials can serve significant purposes to remind us of our past and God's dealings with us thr…

After Pentecost Devotional - Day 56

They saw him and worshipped him, but some of them doubted.” Matthew 28:17
Doubts are a part of life. We are pretty good at doubts, and often as not they are good things. They serve to help us question what is before us and check the information we are given as to its validity. Doubts allow us to ponder, consider, and avoid jumping to conclusions on the basis of too little information or the vagaries of an emotional response. On the other hand, we don't want to remain in a position of doubting. It is not an appropriate destination, even while it can serve to guide us to the places we need to go.
We don't exactly know what led these disciples to doubt, nor what they were doubting. John gives us some hints, but he does not spell it out as clearly as we might want. There is some question of whether they recognized Jesus, as there are various passages of Jesus after the resurrection in which the disciples did not recognize him. It may be that they were still trying to wrap their min…

After Pentecost Devotional - Day 55

'We're sure Yahweh has given us the whole country,' they said. 'The people there shake with fear every time they think of us.''” Joshua 2:24
Fear is a powerful motivator. Politicians have known this for long ages. They have used it to control and manipulate populations. They have used fear of the unknown, of strangers, of imagined dangers of some kind or another. On the other hand of the equation, we find Caleb offering a perspective of faith: confidence in Yahweh's provision in the face of uncertainty.
It would have been much easier for the people to remain trapped in their fears over the unknown. After all, that is what had occasioned the generation of wandering in what we call the wilderness. It was the known quantity. They had experienced Yahweh's provision in that period of wandering, but Joshua wanted to take them into a new experience, one which would require Yahweh's provision to work in a different manner.
In the meantime, the peoples of Pale…