Acts 12:20-25 – Don’t Be Worm Food

Herod had been furious with the people of Tyre and Sidon for some time. They made a pact to approach him together, since their region depended on the king’s realm for its food supply. They persuaded Blastus, the king’s personal attendant, to join their cause, then appealed for an end to hostilities. On the scheduled day Herod dressed himself in royal attire, seated himself on the throne, and gave a speech to the people. Those assembled kept shouting, over and over, “This is a god’s voice, not the voice of a mere human!” Immediately an angel from the Lord struck Herod down, because he didn’t give the honor to God. He was eaten by worms and died.

God’s word continued to grow and increase. Barnabas and Saul returned to Antioch from Jerusalem after completing their mission, bringing with them John, who was also known as Mark. (Common English Bible)

Accountability is important. People need to be held to a clear, right, and just standard of attitude and behavior – especially when they mess with the food supply.

Herod Agrippa Is Worm Food

The King Herod in our New Testament story today, known as Herod Agrippa, was a grandson to Herod the Great. Simply put, King Herod Agrippa was a self-absorbed jerk. Although he only reigned four years, he was something like a modern day evangelical huckster. Herod knew how to turn a phrase and play on the emotions of people to get what he wanted while keeping up appearances with both the Empire and the Jewish people.

Yet, despite or because of his eloquence and power, Herod was vain and ruled for self – and neither for God nor country. So, he was stricken by God and died an unpleasant death. The connection is clear: Herod used the food people depended upon as a means of controlling the politics of the region, so God hit him directly in his intestines with a complete lack of control over his own body.

Just as Herod was an unwanted agent manipulating the food supply for his own ends, so the king received some unwanted guests in the form of worms. In the ancient world, when any ruler used food to control the people, there were individuals and families who ended up starving to death. For Herod, the worm turned, it was he who died.

Jesus Is Gospel Food

The swift judgment from God was both a rebuke to Herod’s personal kingdom building, as well as a means of protecting the fledgling church from severe persecution. With Herod Agrippa off the scene, the Apostles could freely move with regularity (pun intended) and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.

Paul, Barnabas, and Mark were able to go on a missionary journey. Nothing can thwart God’s good news and sovereign intentions for humanity – especially not an upstart demigod king who, as a Jew, knew better than to go rogue and mess with people’s food.

The church is to give literal and spiritual food – following the footsteps of their Lord Jesus who said:

“The bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world…. I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty…. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven so that whoever eats from it will never die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh…. I assure you, unless you eat the flesh of the Human One and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in them. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me lives because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. It isn’t like the bread your ancestors ate, and then they died. Whoever eats this bread will live forever.” (John 6:33-58, CEB)

God’s purpose and intent is to provide sustenance. Divine retribution is likely to happen when puny humans try and play their power games, putting entire people groups at risk for starvation. Jesus came to this earth for the provision of food that will nourish to eternal life.

The Lord will provide. God shall ultimately topple all systems of repression which deny people basic life needs. Almighty God seeks to eat away, like an intestinal worm, at contemporary political regimes and oppressive governments which put people in impossible situations of trying to fend for themselves.

Jesus is both Bread and Judge. Christ came in his first advent bringing food for the hungry. There is a time coming when he shall return in his second advent to bring the worm – good news to the suffering, and bad news for the ones who create the suffering.

Be encouraged with the spiritual reality that Christ brings spiritual sustenance and eternal life. And be assured that he knows the condition of all people and will extend grace or judgment with sage wisdom.

Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart, especially the hearts of political authorities, that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace so that everyone’s need for food is met, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Psalm 11 – Fight, Flight, or Faith

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The Lord is my fortress!
    Don’t say to me,
    “Escape like a bird
    to the mountains!”
You tell me, “Watch out!
Those evil people
    have put
    their arrows on their bows,
and they are standing
in the shadows,
    aiming at good people.
What can an honest person do
    when everything crumbles?”

The Lord is sitting
in his sacred temple
    on his throne in heaven.
He knows everything we do
    because he sees us all.
The Lord tests honest people,
but despises those
    who are cruel
    and love violence.
He will send fiery coals
and flaming sulfur
    down on the wicked,
and they will drink nothing
    but a scorching wind.

The Lord always does right
    and wants justice done.
    Everyone who does right
    will see his face. (Contemporary English Version)

Part of the human condition is that we will eventually take the brunt of someone’s poison darts. And it’s scary. In our state of fear, and sometimes panic, will we fight, flight, or faith?

Fight, Flight, or Freeze by Qieer Wang

If you have ever received a nasty email based on half-truths and accusations; stood dumbfounded as someone hurled misinformation and criticism at you; and/or experienced the victimization that comes from slanderous and gossiping tongues, then the psalmist knows exactly how you feel. 

Cobbling together a hasty email response, full of anger and vitriol, only sucks us into the person’s evil ways. Metaphorically punching someone in the face for their slap to your face is how the demonic realm handles offenses. Fighting back with an equal or greater force is diametrically opposed to the way of Jesus in loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us.

Then, there is the response of taking flight from the nastiness. Indeed, it sometimes seems as if good people are always getting swallowed whole by unjust words and behaviors directed squarely at them. And it doesn’t help when the downers among us stroll along and give us their unhelpful fatalism about how there is nothing we can do and how nothing will ever change.

To be the target of evil speech or malevolent actions is, at the least, unsettling, and, at worst, can bring years of struggle, depression, and inability to serve. Yet, there is someone who sees it all, and that someone will address the wrong. We have an option beyond fighting back in anger or fleeing altogether in fear. We can trust God.

“Pray, and let God do the worrying.”

Martin Luther

The Lord sits aloft, overseeing all, and knows everything humanity does and says. God always does right and wants justice done. Everyone who shares a divine sense of what is right and just will see God’s face. God will act because the Lord abhors and despises those who are cruel and enjoy violence.

It’s not a good idea to get on God’s bad side. The way to flare God’s anger is by possessing an acerbic tongue; relishing in verbal violence; and, having no remorse about any of it. Because God loves people, God hates evil. The righteous are to take solace in the truth that God really does see the harm done and is in a position to do something about it. Like the psalmist, we seek the Lord. The Lord fights our battles.

Whenever we are harassed and the ungodly give us a hard time, the psalmist isn’t just offering some nice religious platitudes such as, “Just let go and let God,” “Everything works for the good of those who love God,” or “It’s okay, you’ll be in heave someday.”

In another context, maybe those statements are helpful. But being in the teeth of the wicked, all is not okay. As much as some folks try to sanitize an evil situation with rainbows and butterflies, the evil is real, and it’s there. The truth is that everything is not okay. The earth is filled with violence, malevolence, oppression, injustice, and systemic evil. The psalmist knows this, all too well.

Humble yourselves under God’s power so that he may raise you up in the last day. Throw all your anxiety onto him because he cares about you. (1 Peter 5:6-7, CEB)

Today’s psalm is reminding and assuring us that the Lord is aware of what’s going on and will most certainly do something about it. God will act to punish the wicked and deliver the Lord’s people. There may not be peace this present moment, yet it will not always be this way. We shall behold the face of the Lord.

“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”

Corrie Ten Boom

The Lord is a righteous judge. Justice is the foundation of God’s throne. God sees the entire spectrum of humanity and can make a right assessment of people’s thoughts, intents, words, and actions. We, however, cannot. Therefore, it is most necessary for us to put our trust in a Divine Being who cares about right and wrong and has the power to act with justice.

Whenever we are hemmed-in through the schemes of diabolical persons and are powerless, there is always the choice to trust in the Lord. In the hands of God rest the outcome of every life on earth. And it will be a just and right rendering.

Trust in the Lord and do good. Seek peace and pursue it. We might struggle mightily on both the inside and outside – our hard circumstance might not change immediately – yet God is the One who will vindicate the just person when the time is right.

You are never alone. May the Lord be with you always.

God of justice, look at the state of your servant and act on my behalf. Do not let evil prevail. Thwart the ungodly so that they can no longer do any harm. Amen.

Matthew 5:10-12 – Blessed are Those Who are Persecuted Because of Righteousness

Painting by Hyatt Moore

“You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.

“Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort, and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even! —for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble. (The Message)

No matter our vocation or avocation, what we do, or don’t do, what we say, or don’t say, we will not avoid insult and persecution. Just ask Jesus.

The issue is not if we will suffer but why we suffer. The Apostle Peter devoted his first epistle to helping Christians deal with their suffering. He made his point clear about suffering: 

If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. (1 Peter 4:15-16, NIV)

That’s Peter’s way of saying, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness.”  We will endure abuse, in some form, from others. So, let’s make sure it’s for being characterized by Christ’s Beatitudes, and not for being obnoxious.

Christ’s followers take up their cross and share with him in the world’s hatred directed toward us. This kind of living is blessed and receives the approval of God.

What is persecution?

Persecution is not only physical abuse. It is also verbal abuse, ridicule, slander, discrimination, and generally making one’s life harder just because of a commitment to Christ. Persecution is not necessarily a sign of doing something wrong. It could be that something right is being done. 

Thomas à Kempis (1380-1471) wrote what has become one of the best-selling Christian books of all-time, The Imitation of Christ. Thomas had the right perspective on the subject of persecution:

“Sometimes it is to our advantage to endure misfortunes and adversities, for they make us enter into our inner selves and acknowledge that we are in a place of exile and that we ought not to rely on anything in this world.  And sometimes it is good for us to suffer contradictions and know that there are those who think ill and badly of us, even though we do our best and act with every good intention.  Such occasions are aids in keeping us humble and shield us from pride. When men ridicule and belittle us, we should turn to God, who sees our innermost thoughts, and seek His judgment.

Therefore, we should so firmly establish ourselves in God that we have no need to seek much human encouragement. It is when a person of good will is distressed, or tempted, or afflicted with evil thoughts, that they best understand the overwhelming need for God, without whom we can do nothing. While enduring these afflictions they take themself to prayer with sighs and groans; they grow tired of this life and wish to be undone in order to live with Christ. It is in such times of trial they realize that perfect security and full peace are not to be found in this world.”

Insult, negativity, and verbal abuse can trip us up and discourage us. It doesn’t feel good to be disliked. Trouble and conflict is something most of us would like to avoid, as much as possible.

We might be able to steel ourselves for a large persecution against denying Christ and would be willing to die a martyr’s death to hold on to our faith. Yet, conversely, we may:

  • Crumble in a heap if we think someone is mad or displeased with us.
  • Worry that our lives will get complicated and difficult if we uphold the righteousness and justice of God.
  • Be afraid of others who might think bad of us if we showed mercy by standing with the unpopular person or if we actively and overtly engage in peacemaking.
George Reeves in The Adventures of Superman (1952-1958)

It is the “small” abuses which can cause us so much grief. We are determined to stand tall when the bullets of blatant, oppressive, and systemic persecution comes. Then, when the gun is thrown at us, we may flinch, duck, and fret over one person being upset.

Back when I was a kid, I watched old reruns of the original Superman television series. In more than one episode, Superman stood tall and faced the person peppering him with bullets. Then, when the bullets ran out, the villain threw his gun at Superman, who then promptly flinched and ducked the gun!

It is not our job to ensure that everyone is happy – it is our business to do God’s will and to embody Christ’s Beatitudes. Our calling as believers in Jesus is not to worry about what people (including family) are going to think if we live a humble, righteous life of mourning over the world’s sins, exhibiting a meek and gentle spirit, standing for grace when others want blood, refusing to defile our hearts with impure thoughts and actions, and standing up to do something about the injustice around us.

How and why do respond to persecution?

            The proper response to persecution is joy! There are two reasons why we can face persecution and come away glad instead cringing and discouraged:

  1. Because being characterized by the Beatitudes of Jesus brings heavenly reward. Show me a person who puts all their eggs in the earthly basket, and I’ll show you a person who is never satisfied and constantly unhappy. Show me a person who lives to please God and pursues the blessing of Christ, accepting any flak from others, and I’ll show you a person who is inwardly rejoicing that they are a Christian, loved by God, and counting it a privilege to suffer for the Name of Jesus. (Acts 5:27-29, 40-42)
  2. Because we are in good company. God’s people throughout history have endured the same kinds of sufferings and received a Christian purple heart award. We are not just to face persecution with a stoic, grind-it-out mentality, but with rejoicing! (Hebrews 11:36-40)

Who does the persecuting?

            The ones who persecuted the prophets were religious folks. I wish I could say the worst persecution I ever received was from evil people who live ungodly lives. However, the most insult, hardship, and slander I have ever endured has come from the lips and the efforts of people who claim the name of Christ. The reason abuse happens is because there are people not characterized by the Beatitudes of Jesus, so they become the persecutors, instead of the persecuted. 

            All the sufferings and hardships of Jesus, all the persecution he faced did not come from the world, but from his own people, including a person from his inner circle of disciples. Although the church, throughout its history, has done immense good, it also has had a chronic problem of shooting its wounded.

Far too many people have adopted a legalistic form of righteousness that focuses on outward conformity and myriad rules and regulations. Abundant grace is needed. Not judgment.

Conclusion

If we are persecuted, let’s make sure it is because we are advocating for others who need mercy and are facing injustice; addressing the brokenness of this world through specifically Christian lenses; and desiring the applause of heaven.

See if you can hear the Beatitudes in what the Apostle Peter, had to say about persecution:

For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. (1 Peter 2:19-21, NIV)

Be like-minded and sympathetic. Love one another. Be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. For,

“Whoever would love life
    and see good days
must keep their tongue from evil
    and their lips from deceitful speech.
They must turn from evil and do good;
    they must seek peace and pursue it.

 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous
    and his ears are attentive to their prayer,
but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” (1 Peter 3:8-12, NIV)

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. (1 Peter 4:12-14, NIV)

May you know the blessing of solidarity with Christ through the afflictions of this present life.

Psalm 101… Again

King David, by Unknown artist, c.14th century B.C.E.

I will sing of loyalty and of justice;
    to you, O Lord, I will sing.
I will study the way that is blameless.
    When shall I attain it?

I will walk with integrity of heart
    within my house;
I will not set before my eyes
    anything that is base.

I hate the work of those who fall away;
    it shall not cling to me.
Perverseness of heart shall be far from me;
    I will know nothing of evil.

One who secretly slanders a neighbor
    I will destroy.
A haughty look and an arrogant heart
    I will not tolerate.

I will look with favor on the faithful in the land,
    so that they may live with me;
whoever walks in the way that is blameless
    shall minister to me.

No one who practices deceit
    shall remain in my house;
no one who utters lies
    shall continue in my presence.

Morning by morning I will destroy
    all the wicked in the land,
cutting off all evildoers
    from the city of the Lord. (New Revised Standard Version)

Routine and repetition might seem tedious and boring. However, they are indispensable. People are designed for doing, saying, and thinking the same things over and over again. Habits help to press what is most important into our minds, our speech, and our behavior.

Transformation and change aren’t accomplished through sheer willpower. It happens through the small daily decisions of life. A mere ten minutes, dedicated specifically to a particular task each day, has the power to completely alter our lives.

The biblical psalms, read every day, out loud, through singing and praying, can bring an inside-out metamorphosis which can serve us for a lifetime. To help remind us of this, I sometimes include the psalm readings in my blog reflections two, even three, days in a row.

The Revised Common Lectionary is a method of reading through the Bible in a three-year cycle (Year A, B, C). Rather than reading the Bible from cover to cover, the Lectionary follows the seasons of the Christian Year (Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost and Ordinary Time).

The advantage to reading the Bible with daily assigned texts from the Old Testament, Psalms, and the New Testament is that the reader has an opportunity to follow the life of Jesus through the course of a year. For a Christian who wants to grow in discipleship, the Lectionary is a helpful way of getting to know Christ better.

Another benefit of following the Lectionary readings is that they can be read slowly in about ten to fifteen minutes. This affords the opportunity to spend time reflecting and thinking about how the Bible applies to our life today. Since the daily readings relate to one another from various places in the Bible, it is a helpful way of keeping in mind the whole of Scripture.

The daily readings of the Lectionary revolve around the Sunday readings. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday readings reflect on the Sunday texts. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday prepare for Sunday. This has the obvious advantage for making Christian worship a special experience.

The purpose of the Lectionary is to encourage Bible reading, a well-rounded understanding of the Bible’s contents, as well as provide a good foundation for prayer. The Lectionary is meant to be a devotional reading of the Bible which draws people closer to God.

A consistent feature of the Revised Common Lectionary is that the same Psalm is read three days in a row. There is a reason for that. Psalms are meant for more than reading. They are also designed for prayer, singing, and worship.

Since I spiritually dwell a lot within the psalter, I have written out my own translation of many of them. I encourage you to read the following version out loud as a prayer to God….


God almighty, I will sing about your committed love and the exercise of your justice;
    and I will make music to and for you.
I have committed myself to wise discernment so I can walk in the way of integrity;
    so when will you come and help me?
    I will, with your assistance, establish integrity in my own home.
I refuse to set goals on worthless things which add no value to my life.
    I despise the actions of deviant and deceitful people,
    and I will not let their crud stick to me.
My mind and heart won’t go down that crooked path,
    for I will have nothing to do with the deeds of darkness.
The person who slanders another behind their back –
    well, just know, I will not put up with it!
The person who is full of themselves and looks down on others –
    believe you me, I will not tolerate it!

My eyes are fixated on pursuing trustworthy persons,

    and I will surround myself with them.

The person who walks in the way of integrity –

    for sure, will be my friend and confidant.
There is absolutely no room for deceitful hypocrites within my household,
    nor for any two-faced liar; they won’t be around me for long!
Every morning, without fail, I will practice justice,
    I will make it so evil persons cannot survive around me,
    effectively cutting-off troublemakers from your holy place.
Amen.