Isaiah 24:1-13 – Dehumanization Pollutes the Earth

The Lord is going to turn the earth into a desolate wasteland.
He will mar the face of the earth and scatter the people living on it.
The same will happen to people and priests,
male slaves and masters,
female slaves and masters,
buyers and sellers,
lenders and borrowers,
debtors and creditors.
The earth will be completely laid waste and stripped
because the Lord has spoken.

The earth dries up and withers.
The world wastes away and withers.
The great leaders of the earth waste away.

The earth is polluted by those who live on it
because they’ve disobeyed the Lord’s teachings,
violated his laws,
and rejected the everlasting promise.
That is why a curse devours the earth,
and its people are punished for their guilt.
That is why those who live on the earth are burned up,
and only a few people are left.

New wine dries up, and grapevines waste away.
All happy people groan.
Joyful tambourine music stops.
Noisy celebrations cease.
Joyful harp music stops.
People no longer drink wine when they sing.
Liquor tastes bad to its drinkers.
The ruined city lies desolate.
The entrance to every house is barred shut.
People in the streets call for wine.
All joy passes away,
and the earth’s happiness is banished.
The city is left in ruins.
Its gate is battered to pieces.

That is the way it will be on earth among the nations.
They will be like an olive tree which has been shaken
or like what’s left after the grape harvest. (God’s Word Translation)

A lot of people shy away from biblical passages, like today’s Old Testament lesson from Isaiah. Too negative, not enough positivity.

Like it, or not, Isaiah 24, along with many other texts of a similar vein, exist in Holy Scripture. And I insist we must pay attention to such texts of doom and gloom. For if we only choose to deal with the encouraging and inspirational texts of the Bible, we will have a severely truncated faith which will not stand in the hard times.

The voice I offer, however, isn’t a beat-you-up tone. I seek to have a pastoral voice that upholds the best of biblical ethics and human dignity. 

Because every person (and I do mean every person) on planet earth is created in the image and likeness of God, each individual human being is a person of worth and deserves respect and kindness.

People do and say terrible things every day. Because of that reality, it doesn’t mean God’s image has left or taken a vacation, or that someone deserves a pejorative label which stigmatizes and ostracizes them from the human family. 

For the Christian, the supreme ethic of life is love. We hold to the Great Commandment: Love God and love neighbor. All other commands of Holy Scripture hang on the commands to love, upheld by Jesus himself.

Jesus answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and the most important commandment. The second most important commandment is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ The whole Law of Moses and the teachings of the prophets depend on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40, GNT)

It is because of the presence of God and Love that difficult biblical texts occur in Scripture. When people, in God’s image, defile that image through oppressing fellow image-bearers and turning from commands to live ethically and lovingly in the world, God has something to say about it. And we get texts like today’s from the prophet Isaiah.

Therefore, we must all ask ourselves if we are loving others in this world as intended by our Creator and Redeemer. 

We routinely hear, through social media posts, political pundits, religious prognosticators, and daily interactions around the water cooler, opinions laced with profound hate, disrespect, and misunderstanding.

Whenever disasters occur – whether yet another act of gun violence, a natural calamity, or economic ruin – there are a host of stories which surround them all. Some of those stories are heartwarming tales of people rushing in to bring comfort, solace, and support. And there are far too many stories of abject fear, ignorance, and calloused behavior directed at others, even victims, with selfish and misguided tools of wrath.

There is such a constellation of issues and problems to unpack and deal with in this world that I do not nor cannot even begin to try to do such a task. I only want to bring a small bit of light to the shadows of the human heart which inevitably tries to dehumanize others who do not agree with his/her opinion and group-think.

For example, there is no lack of people who persist in dehumanizing LGBTQ individuals and gay communities.  One man told me recently, in a matter-of-fact manner, that the Orlando, Florida shooting from 2016 was most likely a judgment from God upon homosexuals because of our government’s straying from godliness. 

Those in LGBTQ circles are quite familiar with this kind of speech. To label it correctly: It is hate speech – dehumanizing speech – the kind of attitude and talk which pollutes the world and raises the hackles of a holy and loving God. 

When people of any particular kind of group, whether gay or straight, Democrat or Republican, Christian or non-Christian, are verbally (and actually) mowed-down like animals, it is because they are being looked at as nothing but animals, or monsters, or anything but a human being.

The apple does not fall far from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

We must come to grips with the fact that every person killed on this planet is a destruction of God’s image. And we are not the judges of whether any loss of life is God’s judgment, or not. To make any sort of claim to knowing this is, at best, extreme hubris, and, at worst, germinating the seeds of a future holocaust of killing. 

Whenever any one person or group places a superimposed label upon another person or subculture of people of being monstrous, hateful, and undeserving of justice, then that person or group must come to grips with their own poverty of spirit and embrace the real love which Jesus has demonstrated and offers. And, if they don’t, they ought not be surprised when their tree gets shaken by God, or even cut down and thrown into the fire.

No matter what side one falls on, there is no biblical precedent or place to dehumanize another person or group of people, period. 

Christians and churches, especially, need to stop acting and reacting to the parts of culture and society they don’t like and start living and loving like Jesus by building relationships with a broad spectrum of groups and individuals.

It falls to the faith communities of this land to initiate love and to live above hate speech. And the onus is on Christians to model a supremely loving ethic toward all people.

I admit that many Christians do not have a good track record on this. And I further admit that I have observed an eerie silence from far too many of them in the face of great human tragedy, as if nothing of particular consequence has happened. 

This post is a very small and meager attempt on my part to offer something of the loving Christ to others. For, the church is nothing at all, if it isn’t all about Jesus and his gospel of grace.

Gracious Father, lead us from death to life, from falsehood to truth, from despair to hope, from fear to trust. Let peace fill our hearts and our world. Let us dream together, pray together and work together, to build one world of peace and justice for all, through the One who made peace possible, Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit reign as one God, now and forever. Amen.

Psalm 82 – Help Others, Without Prejudice

“The Thankful Poor” by Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1894

God takes his place in his own assembly.
He pronounces judgment among the gods:
“How long are you going to judge unfairly?
How long are you going to side with wicked people?”

Defend weak people and orphans.
Protect the rights of the oppressed and the poor.
Rescue weak and needy people.
Help them escape the power of wicked people.

Wicked people do not know or understand anything.
As they walk around in the dark,
all the foundations of the earth shake.
I said, “You are gods.
You are all sons of the Most High.
You will certainly die like humans
and fall like any prince.”

Arise, O God!
Judge the earth, because all the nations belong to you. (God’s Word Translation)

“My dear friends, pay attention. God has given a lot of faith to the poor people in this world. He has also promised them a share in his kingdom that he will give to everyone who loves him.”

James 2:5, CEV

God’s mercy and grace is what makes the world go round. God’s attention to people who possess little to nothing is what upholds the earth from being consumed with judgment.

An absence of grace in people is offensive to God. An uncharitable spirit, indifferent to those in need, will eventually face the crushing weight of God’s glory upon them.

The psalmist is uncompromisingly clear on divine imperatives for humanity: defend the weak; protect the rights of the poor; rescue the needy; and deliver them from unjust power. That’s what God does. And that is what we are to do, without prejudice.

When I was growing up, our family dog was named “Sam.” Sam loved being on the farm. One time he tussled with a skunk. I could barely get close enough to clean him up because he stunk so badly. 

Favoritism toward those with means over those who don’t, stinks, and God has a hard time getting close to us when we show partiality to others. And the Lord is going to clean us up when he smells the stench of discrimination on us. 

Showing favoritism to some over others is evidence that the dog is running away from the bath of grace. In order to develop relationships and interact with people the way God wants us to, we must be free from prejudice.

No matter how you slice the Bible, God cares about persons trapped in poverty. The poor are important to the Lord. 

When Jesus began his earthly ministry, he pointed people to the words of the prophet Isaiah.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has chosen me to bring good news to the poor.” (Isaiah 61:1; Luke 4:18) 

In the Old Testament, there are seven different words for the “poor” because poverty was such a pervasive reality (and still is across the world!). The range of meanings includes those who are poor because of laziness; those born into poverty; being poor because of inhuman oppression or slavery; simple beggars; and the pious humble poor. 

These spiritual poor persons are the Hebrew “anawim.” (pronounced “on-a-wheem”) The anawim are humble persons caught in grinding poverty, having no choice but to put their trust in God.

God has a lot to say about such persons because they are near and dear to the divine heart. Old Testament law was quite clear about how to treat the poor. 

Poor persons will never disappear from the earth. That’s why I’m giving you this command: you must open your hand generously to your fellow Israelites, to the needy among you, and to the poor who live with you in your land. (Deuteronomy 15:11, CEB)

Do not cheat poor and needy hired servants, whether they are Israelites or foreigners living in one of your towns. Each day before sunset pay them for that day’s work; they need the money and have counted on getting it. If you do not pay them, they will cry out against you to the Lord, and you will be guilty of sin. (Deuteronomy 24:14-15, GNT) 

The mistreatment, exploitation, and inattention to the poor, the anawim, was the chief reason God sent prophets to Israel. 

Listen to this, you who rob the poor
    and trample down the needy!
You can’t wait for the Sabbath day to be over
    and the religious festivals to end
    so you can get back to cheating the helpless.
You measure out grain with dishonest measures
    and cheat the buyer with dishonest scales.
And you mix the grain you sell
    with chaff swept from the floor.
Then you enslave poor people
    for one piece of silver or a pair of sandals.

Now the Lord has sworn this oath
    by his own name, the Pride of Israel:
“I will never forget
    the wicked things you have done! (Amos 8:4-7, NLT)

Instead of being generous to the poor and allowing them to forage for grain at harvest behind the harvesters, they kept “those people” away from the fields so that they could turn a profit at every little bit they could. And God thought it all stunk to high heaven.

Bear in mind, only the poor in spirit will enter the kingdom of heaven. The real issue is humility that demonstrates grace to people who cannot offer you something in return. 

It’s easy to be merciful to people who will turn around later and scratch your back. It’s altogether a different thing to be humble, gracious, and generous to those you know cannot give anything back to you.

God cares about the condition of our souls and not the balance of our bank accounts. 

Inattention to the needy only betrays a heart far from the Lord. God does not judge people on face value and the state of their finances, and neither should we.

The only way to rid ourselves of the stench of showing favoritism is to receive the cleansing bath of God’s mercy in Jesus Christ. The shampoo of grace is available, that is, if we will let God apply it. God is the expert in:

  • Turning people from only associating with those they are comfortable with, to lovingly reaching out to people very different from themselves
  • Changing people from the stinking thinking about what they can continually obtain and consume, to people who are loving and generous with their words and their physical resources
  • Putting to death a proud spirit that looks to get ahead and accomplish an agenda by any means possible, to giving new life through humble repentance.

Ministry to the poor is a non-negotiable for the Christian and Christ’s Church. 

Beyond mere dispensing of benevolent funds, the poor also need relationships, connections, resources, and a chance to give back in ways they can contribute. That’s just part of being attentive to them and extending basic human respect and dignity. 

How do you or your church show their concern for the poor in your city and/or region?

Almighty and most merciful God, we remember before you all the poor and neglected persons whom it would be easy for us to forget: the homeless and the destitute, the old and the sick, and all who have none to care for them. Help us to heal those who are broken in body or spirit, and to turn their sorrow into joy. Grant this, gracious Father, for the love of your Son, who for our sake became poor, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Ephesians 4:1-6 – Realizing Unity and Peace through Humility

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (New International Version)

In the economy of God, unity isn’t a privilege but a necessity. Unity is not an ancillary or side issue to the real work of the Church and the Christian life; it is very much at the center of Christianity. 

Christians have been fashioned through the Holy Spirit into a single harmonious religious community of redeemed people, called to exemplify a counter-cultural presence in the world. 

There is a solid theological reason for this: God is one. Just as the triune God exists as one deity in three persons, so the church is to reflect God’s image through its unified oneness.

Although unity has been accomplished through the finished work of Jesus on the cross, the practical implications must be daily worked out. This is why we are to strive, or to put significant effort into, having unity. 

Simply getting along outwardly with someone or some group, while inwardly harboring animosity toward them, is not unity. Just because two people are not at each other’s throats does not mean there is peaceful unity. 

Unity only occurs when the Body of Christ works together in its diverse gifts toward a common goal of knowing Christ and making him known… with humility.  

In yesterday’s blog post on Ephesians 1:17-19, I laid down the challenge of praying chapter one’s prayer daily for two weeks. To up the ante on the prayer, try doing it with another person in the church. Having a common unity of purpose in mind and heart through prayer is a beautiful thing. 

In fact, if there is to be any sort of church revitalization, personal renewal, and national revival, it will begin in the prayer rooms of unified believers who share a common love for God and neighbor, a similar attitude of humility and gentleness, and a shared commitment of showing patience toward others.

This is the way of unity and peace. And it requires a great deal of effort to unpack these gracious spiritual gifts which have been mercifully given to us.

Unity is at the center of the earliest ecumenical creeds of the Church. The early church fathers (and mothers) wisely discerned the great importance of a unified faith and striving toward peace with all believers.

We believe in one God,

            the Father, the Almighty,

            maker of heaven and earth,

            of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,

            the only Son of God,

            eternally begotten of the Father….

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,

            who proceeds from the Father and the Son….

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.

            We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. – The Nicene Creed

There is one Father, not three fathers; one Son, not three sons; one Holy Spirit, not three spirits.

And in this Trinity, no one is before or after, greater or less than the other; but all three persons are in themselves, coeternal and coequal; and so, we must worship the Trinity in unity and the one God in three persons….

Although he is God and man, he is not divided, but is one Christ.

He is united because God has taken humanity into himself; he does not transform deity into humanity.

He is completely one in the unity of his person, without confusing his natures.

For as the rational soul and body are one person, so the one Christ is God and man. – The Athanasian Creed

Since God is one, we are to be one people. This is the path of peace. One God. One people. There cannot be unity and peace apart from humility.

Invalidating a person’s feelings or thoughts does no one any good. It happens because of pride and a profound lack of humility.

Imagine going to see a doctor who turns out to be arrogant. He doesn’t really listen to you. He just gives a quick exam and offers his diagnosis with a regimen of more pills to take. You’re left sitting there while he’s off to another patient, colonizing another person’s mind and emotions with his expertise.

I’m not giving doctors a hard knock. I know many physicians, and they do wonderful compassionate work. Yet, it’s likely that you, like me, have had that occasional experience of the doctor, all full of themselves, having all the right answers on your pain and situation.

You may have also had the unfortunate experience of having a pastor, therapist, or counselor assess your situation with little information and even smaller compassion. Like writing a script for pills, they give you a few Bible verses and tell you to quit sinning and live obediently.

If pride and arrogance are the original sin, then the remedy to that malady is humility. No matter who we are – whether doctors, pastors, laypersons, patients, or whomever – we are meant and designed by our Creator God to live a humble life.

Humility is the cornerstone to the unity and peace we desire. Jesus said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3, NIV)

The door of God’s kingdom swings-open on the hinges of humility. The Apostle Paul, seeking to follow his Master Jesus in his teaching and humility said:

“Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” (Colossians 3:12, NLT)

Basic human kindness with one another is grounded in humility.

The beauty of a humility-based existence is that multiple people discover together how to grow, thrive, and flourish in a situation where it isn’t currently happening. Breakthroughs occur in the soil of humility when all voices are heard and given weight.

We live with the confidence of the Psalmist:

“God leads humble people to do what is right and teaches them the way.” (Psalm 25:9, GW)

In the end, it’s a common commitment to exercise humility which realizes unity and enjoys peace.

May it be so, to the glory of God and for the sake of the world.

Blessed Holy Trinity, the God whom I serve, may your church on earth be one as you are one. I pray our unity of love and purpose will transform individuals, churches, organizations, systems, and the entire world for the glory of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Proverbs 2:1-5 – Have Common Sense

My child, you must follow
and treasure my teachings
    and my instructions.
Keep in tune with wisdom
and think what it means
    to have common sense.
Beg as loud as you can
    for good common sense.
Search for wisdom
as you would search for silver
    or hidden treasure.
Then you will understand
what it means to respect
    and to know the Lord God. (Contemporary English Version)

“Common sense is not so common.”

Voltaire

Sometimes it seems as if common-sense has taken a vacation or gone into quarantine.

We may even be in some sort of common-sense crisis or pandemic.

Perhaps we are emoting when we should be thinking. Maybe we’re thinking when we ought to be feeling. It could be we’re doing both or neither. Whatever the heck is going on, it’s a bunch of gobbledygook that isn’t getting us anywhere.

Much to my sadness, many Christians brazenly splash their ignorance across large swaths of social media. It’s not surprising that more and more people want nothing to do with the Church nor Christianity. 

Common sense does not necessarily imply any great quality of mind or intelligence; it’s common, not extraordinary.

We need some sound practical discernment for common everyday matters.

What shall we do?

I propose we liberally inhale the biblical proverbs – because suspicion, gullibility, extreme vitriol, and downright stupidity now characterize vast sections of our world, especially in the so-called intellectual West. In the wise sayings of the Proverbs, we shall find that:

Humility and reverence are the beginning of wisdom.

A teachable spirit is of more value than any amount of money or physical resources.

Developing the life of the mind is of critical importance.

Every good thing in life comes through blood, sweat, and tears – and doesn’t just fall into your lap.

Prayer matters.

Ultimate control belongs to God.

There is peace in being comfortable with mystery.

Knowing God helps us pursue the right questions, rather than always trying to have the right answers.

Becoming more self-aware creates greater awareness of God and others.

Smart choices come from both mental learning and practical action.

The mind can be clouded and untrustworthy, and the heart can be desperately wicked; the gut, however, is always right.

Mentally overthinking and researching things to death can disconnect us from a good old fashioned sage response.

Our own personal view is just that; it isn’t necessarily the best or right perspective.

Feedback, advice, consultation, and collaboration are necessary, not optional.

Perfection isn’t the goal.

Proverbs aren’t ironclad promises; they’re short pithy statements of experiential truth.

Observation and listening are valued by God as the primary means of gaining understanding.

Most things in life are both/and, not either/or.

We all have two ears and one mouth. There needs to be twice as much listening as talking.

We must go hard after wisdom.

“Common sense is genius dressed in its working clothes.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Having experience makes all the difference.

Action and reflection go hand-in-hand.

It’s okay to be afraid. It’s not okay to let fear stop us from action.

Simplicity and complexity are not necessarily antithetical.

Complete control is the glory of God. Self-control is the glory of humans.

“Common sense is the knack of seeing things as they are and doing things as they ought to be done.”

C. E. Stowe

If we are going to raise our voices about something, then let us shout loudly in prayer for some basic wisdom and common sense from God. Any common fool can be won over by a podcast rant or get sucked into some blogger who vehemently damns everyone opposing his views. 

The wise believer, however, will humbly cry out to God for the wisdom to live well and make good decisions with both mind and mouth.

May it be so to the glory of God.

All-wise and everlasting God:

You know the number our of hairs and determine our days.

You hang the stars and feed the sparrows.

You open doors no one can shut and shut doors no one can open.

Surely, we can trust you when the time comes for making big decisions, or for that matter, any decision. We need your sagacity and discernment for all things. We will trust you for generous wisdom, straight paths, and peaceful hearts.

Blessed God:

We plan, seeking you to order our steps.

We pray, asking you to bend our prayers toward your benevolent purposes.

We seek counsel, counting on you to direct our words and actions more than trying to please someone else.

We search the Scriptures, looking to know Christ better.

It’s not our decisions, but yours that make all the difference. 

Gracious God:

Free us from the paralysis of analysis. We confess we are often more concerned with the perfect decision that impresses everybody, rather than being a righteous person.

Free us from idolatry. We confess we are often more concerned for our reputation than saying and doing what is right, just, and fair.

Free us from living in fear of disapproval. We confess we are often people-pleasers, rather than God-pleasers.

Free us from cheap and easy solutions to complex problems. We confess we often want speedy outcomes to our difficulties, rather than seeking to learn everything we can from the circumstances you give us.

Free us from continually second guessing ourselves and not trusting our gut. We confess that we often ignore the still small voice of wisdom within.

Sovereign God:

No matter the situation or the relationship, we affirm that your will and way for us is supreme.

Give us the desire and means of acquiring your will for all things.

Make us more and more like Jesus, even as we trust you for the opening and closing of doors that are in front of us.

May we live to your glory – Father, Son, and Spirit – the Holy Trinity we serve. Amen.