February 27 – Justice and Mercy

Matthew 7; Exodus 37:1-38:31; Proverbs 17

The belief that justice is blind is one of the foundational beliefs of America. The statue of Lady Justice holding scales to balance the evidence while sporting a blindfold stands outside many courtrooms in our country.  In many countries, once an accusation is made, it is the responsibility of the defendant to prove himself innocent. In the United States, we believe that a man is innocent until proven guilty. The problem for men like Lawyer Johnson who was convicted of murder in 1971, was the color of their skin. Johnson was convicted by an all-white jury for murdering a white man. He was retried and evidence pointed to the fact that he was not present at the scene. He was convicted again. Finally, a new witness who was found who testified that the killer was actually the state’s star witness against Mr. Johnson. His case was finally dismissed in 1982. Johnsons was convicted based in part on the strongest possible evidence that he was guilty: the color of his skin.

In the fight for equal rights the history of black people being convicted by all-white juries is overwhelming. Some, no doubt, were guilty. Many were innocent, but convicted because when it came down to the reliability of the witnesses, a black defendant had no credibility in the eyes of the jury. If a white person committed a crime against a black person, the odds were almost 100 percent that he would be acquitted. While our justice system is second to none in the world, we still have flaws of biblical proportions.  “Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent— the LORD detests them both.” (Proverbs 17:15)

The quality of justice is proclaimed throughout the Bible. God is a just God. He is a God of Justice. That concept permeates the Bible. The one, true God is set off against the capricious gods that many worshiped who played favorites and tormented innocent people for fun. This is not Yahweh. This is not the God of the Bible. Sure, God had a few favorites. He chose Israel as His people. David was considered a man after God’s own heart. When Israel sinned, though, God didn’t overlook their sin and the nation suffered for their sins. Finally, after years of injustice and sins against God and people, the nation was destroyed. David, even though he was a favorite child of God, sinned also. He suffered for his sins. He was granted grace and forgiveness when he repented, but he paid a high price for his sins. God loves justice.

We live in an unjust world, there is no doubt about that. Those who are rich and powerful are able to flout the law while those who have no power suffer under the law. The laws of our country are often contrary to the just laws of God. And yet, for all of God’s justice, He has provided a way to show mercy. Jesus Christ suffered the penalty for all those who were guilty in all times. His death on the cross paid the demands of God’s justice so that we can receive His mercy for the sins we are guilty of. The Bible is very clear on this issue: all people have sinned. No one is perfect. The penalty for sin is death: eternal death. But God, who is rich in mercy, accepts the death of Christ as a substitution for our penalty and offers mercy to all who turn to Him. I don’t know what the courtroom in heaven will look like, but I can imagine having the evidence weighed by an all-angel jury. They would have no problem convicting me until they realized that my defense attorney was Jesus who reminded them that He already paid the penalty for my sin. God loves justice, but His mercy triumphs for all who accept His forgiveness.

Lord, I am guilty of sin. I have failed You and continue to fail You. Thank You for mercy in Jesus Christ.

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February 26 – Treasure in Heaven

Matthew 6:19-34; Exodus 35:1-36:38; Proverbs 16

She was the world’s most successful female entrepreneur. She was eulogized as the first female self-made millionaire in America. Yet when she died, her net worth was slightly over half a million dollars. What happened? Madame CJ Walker, who rose from the cotton fields in the south to become the owner of one of the most successful businesses of her time realized that money wasn’t a goal, it was a tool. She used her wealth to help others, to mobilize the African-American community, and to fight against the evils of the society she lived in. Some people, in their pursuit of wealth, become slaves to the acquisition of money. Others use their wealth as a tool to make the world a better place.

Madame CJ Walker saw her wealth as a tool to make a difference in her world. It wasn’t what she kept that was important, it was what she gave away. It was what she used to make a difference. Money can be a real problem for many people. For some, their whole life revolves around making, spending, and keeping money. They become hoarders and misers. They won’t even use their money to make themselves comfortable. Dickens captured that attitude in the character of Ebenezer Scrooge. Jesus reminded us that all the treasures of earth will disappear and that our goal should be treasure in heaven. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:19-20)

The treasures of this earth are perishable. They deteriorate or fade away. Precious stones and metals like diamonds, silver, and gold become targets for thieves. To paraphrase an old joke, they are nothing more than building material in heaven. Jesus reminds us in His teachings that our goal is not material wealth, our goals should be an eternal treasure that lasts forever. That creates a conundrum for people who remind us that they’ve never seen a hearse with a trailer attached to hold one’s earthly goods. Societies that sought to leave their kings with treasures for the afterlife soon discovered that they did nothing more than create banks for thieves who would withdraw the treasures at will. What are these treasures in heaven? What are these treasures that last forever? The treasures Jesus is speaking about are the changed lives of people who come to know God because we are faithful in using the wealth God has given us to proclaim His kingdom.

God is never impressed by our material wealth. In the parable of the sheep and the goats we see that God recognizes works that help others: feeding the poor, clothing the naked, caring for the sick among others. He doesn’t limit that service to those with great wealth; He calls us to be accountable for the wealth we have whether it is a lot or a little. Thieves and moths can’t destroy or steal a life that is changed forever because we introduce them to the forgiveness and mercy of God. Making that kind of difference in the lives of others will be our treasure in heaven. Ultimately, though, our greatest treasure in heaven will be the fact that we are there and we are with our Lord forever. When it comes to material wealth, many will ask, when we die, how much we left. The answer of course, will be “all of it.” The greater question should be, “What did he (or she) gain?” May God help us all that the answer be “the joy of heaven.”

Oh Lord, it’s so easy to focus on things in this world: the latest, greatest, and newest things to give pleasure. Remind me that all that I have should be used to gain treasure in heaven.

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February 25 – Humble Service

Matthew 6:1-18; Exodus 33:1-34:35; Proverbs 15

There is an old saying that amazing things can get done if you don’t care who gets the credit. There are some people who make sure that they are in every camera shot around, making sure that their name is associated with every success in a movement. Then there are people who do the work. The Civil Rights Movement as a whole was about doing the work. Some great leaders arose and were recognized. One great leader, recognized by very few, was Dorothy Height. Height worked actively to bring about understanding between black women and white women. She counseled American leaders. She focused on the need to include African-American women in society. She didn’t seek the limelight, she sought results. Her influence made her one of the most important figures in the Civil Rights Movement, even though most people have never heard of her.

We all want credit for those things we do, and to be honest, sometimes it hurts when we aren’t recognized for our contributions. We clap for other people who receive recognition in our chosen field, but underneath, there may be an undercurrent of resentment. “I should have gotten that recognition,” might be one of the thoughts. Sometimes I am tempted by the old saying that “he who toots his own horn, gets it tooted.” As the resentment builds and the desire for recognition grows, the words of Jesus cut through the fog of self-aggrandizement. “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 6:1)

As Jesus continued His Sermon on the Mount, He looked at this issue of humility. There are some people who want credit for everything. Jesus pointed out the absurdity of this attitude in three different areas: giving alms, praying, and fasting. One of the religious practices of the Jews was giving alms to people who couldn’t work. Most people who gave just dropped a coin in a box in front of the person. Some, however would make a big show of their giving, making sure that everyone around saw that they were giving and getting credit for being generous. When some people prayed, they made sure that others knew that they were praying and wanted all eyes on them – because they were religious leaders and should be listened to. Fasting was another practice. Some of these gluttons for attention wanted everyone to know that they were fasting and disfigured their faces to draw attention to themselves. Jesus put it simply: they wanted people to notice and they got their reward. They received no benefit from God for their actions.

Righteous acts, whether they be religious acts like Jesus used as examples here or other acts designed to help people in a godly way, may draw the attention of others, but they should never be done for that attention. They should all be done to honor God. The point Jesus was making in His sermon was that you can seek the honor of men or the heart of God. If you seek the honor of men, you will get it. That honor is temporary. If you seek the heart of God and are obedient to Him, you will discover that the rewards you get are permanent as your heart and attitude are changed forever. You will see much more happen to advance the Kingdom of God as long as you don’t worry about getting applause from people for all you do.

Lord, remind me that I am called to be Your servant. Let all that I do be done to advance Your kingdom. Let me be satisfied in my service as I see lives changed and people drawn to You.

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February 24 – Two Cheeks

Matthew 5:21-48; Exodus 30-32; Proverbs 14

It was the mid-1940’s. Baseball was still a “white man’s game.” Oh, the old Negro leagues existed, but the Major Leagues did not have any black players. Branch Rickey, president and general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers searched for a player who could break that color barrier. When he interviewed Jackie Robinson, he asked Mr. Robinson if he could face the racial attacks without taking the bait and retaliating. Robinson asked “Are you looking for a Negro who is afraid to fight back?” Rickey responded that he wanted someone strong enough not to fight back. When Rickey asked if he could do it, Robinson responded by noting that he had two cheeks.

The urge to fight back when we are wronged is strong. When someone does us wrong, we want to show them how wrong they are. We want them to know that we are so strong that we don’t have to take that kind of treatment. Psychologists talk about a “fight or flight” syndrome and the natural inclination in dealing with people who mistreat us is to want to fight. Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson realized that this instinct would lead to failure in their work to integrate the Major Leagues. What they turned to instead, was the teaching of Jesus. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” (Matthew 5:38-39)

The law limited retaliation to punishment that was similar or the same in instances where people were wronged. When someone injured you, you couldn’t retaliate by killing them. This was a major advancement in the law. Jesus blew that limited retaliation concept out of the water by saying, don’t retaliate. If they slap you on one cheek, give them the other cheek to slap as well. The logical question might be, “suppose they slap that other cheek, then what?” The teaching of non-retaliation still applied. If you are reading this and thinking that Jesus wouldn’t have made a good American, you’re right. We want to fight for our rights at the drop of a hat. When someone treats us wrong, we will defend ourselves. If necessary, we’ll dig up some lawyers and battle it out in the courtroom. I have my rights and I will not be denied! Think, though, how many legal battles, even victories, result in other people drawing closer to God. Ultimately, my goal is to lead others to know Jesus Christ. If that’s my goal, I would rather suffer personal disgrace and proclaim the gospel than to win victories that keep people away from God.

It all comes down to that relationship with God. One of the startling revelations the gospel makes to people in America is that it’s not “all about me.” Our society is individualistic to a degree that people in other nations don’t understand. The message to be willing to endure disgrace for the sake of the gospel reminds us that we have obligations to others. We may fight for their rights as human beings. We are not called to protect our own reputations in the face of oppressors. Everything that people did and said that smacked of racial oppression to Jackie Robinson was wrong. By turning the other cheek and not responding to them, he cleared the way for other African-Americans to advance in baseball and in society as a whole. May I learn that lesson from Jesus as exemplified by Mr. Robinson as I share the good news of Jesus Christ with a lost and dying world.

Oh Lord, so many people don’t know or understand the gospel. Let the focus of my life be on sharing Your mercy and grace and not on winning each battle that comes my way.

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February 23 – Making Peace

Matthew 5:1-20; Exodus 28:1-29:46; Proverbs 13

For some reason, peacemaking and persecution go hand in hand. I don’t know what it is about peacemakers that troubles so many in our society. Not many people would come out and proclaim how wonderful war is, but when people seek to make peace, they become targets in society. Congressman John Lewis was a leader in the Civil Rights movements in the 60’s. He was involved as a freedom rider: a group of black and white people who would commit what some thought was the unpardonable crime of sitting together on public transportation. This action was met with violent resistance. In one of the most famous (infamous) moments of the fight for equal rights, Congressman Lewis led a march from Selma to Montgomery to protest for voting rights. They were met with tear gas and billy club swinging state troopers. That day is known as Bloody Sunday and Congressman Lewis received a skull fracture as part of his injuries.

The non-violent protests of those who sought to bring peace among all people eventually won out in the legal sense, although we still have a long way to go before there is true peace among all people. Even today, people will persecute those who seek to bring or enforce peace. The persecution may not be as intense as it once was, but there are still those who think they are superior to others by virtue of the color of their skin. In today’s world, we are still called to be peacemakers. The battles may not be the same, but the virtue is. In today’s world, we will still face persecution for making peace, but make peace we must. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:9-10)

Jesus knew something about political peacemaking. He lived in Jerusalem under Roman occupation. The land seethed with revolutionary ideas. If Jesus had spoken the word, there were thousands of people who would have joined Him in overthrowing the boot of Roman tyranny. Yet Jesus counseled that His followers carry the Roman soldiers’ burdens twice as far as the law prescribed. Did Jesus know how to make peace? His disciples included a tax collector who collaborated with and worked for the Romans as well as one of those who had sworn to kill Romans and collaborators. Yet they walked in peace. The result of Jesus’ peaceful methods and teaching was to invite persecution from the religious leaders.

Part of the reason for that persecution, though, was that Jesus sought to teach people how to have peace with God. He taught that you can’t be at peace in the world if things aren’t right with God. When you look at the leaders of the Civil Rights movement, it’s amazing how many had a pastoral background. Once they were right with God, they sought peace in the world. People who are angry at everything may get their way, but they will never have peace in this world. Our first responsibility in peace-making is to lead people to be at peace with God. If you want to be a peace maker, share the gospel of Jesus Christ. Let people know that they can be forgiven. Let them know about God’s forgiveness, mercy, and grace. The strange thing about all this is that this will bring about persecution. In some countries, it may invite physical harm. Here in the United States, the injury may come in other ways. To those of us who seek to follow Jesus, His response is still the same: blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are you when you are persecuted for righteousness sake. Today, let the world know that you are a child of God; today, stake your claim in the Kingdom of Heaven by seeking to make peace not matter what the consequences.

Oh Lord, I live in a world at war that piously proclaims a love for peace. Help me to be a peacemaker today. While I don’t seek persecution, should it come, let me respond by continuing to make peace.

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February 22 – When Temptation Comes

Matthew 4; Exodus 25-27; Proverbs 12

Temptation rarely shows up saying “Hey, I want you to do something you know is wrong and you’ll regret for the rest of your life.” Usually temptation shows up wooing us into doing something that would seem logical, given the circumstances. The temptation that many black leaders faced during the Civil Rights protests was to meet violence with violence. As racists attacked those marching for equal rights with clubs, dogs, and firehoses, among other things, it would seem natural to retaliate in kind. Andrew Young was one of the voices that called for non-violence in the face of physical oppression. “If we had started guerilla warfare in America’s cities, if we had given into terrorism in America, we could not have won but America could not have survived,” said Young.

It would be wrong to say that racism no longer exists in America. But it would also be wrong to say that the non-violence practiced by the Civil Rights leaders didn’t have a positive effect on our culture. Racism still exists, but because leaders didn’t give into the temptation to retaliate and meet violence with violence, our society, as a whole, condemns racism. When we refuse to give into temptation to accomplish godly goals through ungodly means, we grow stronger and the Kingdom of God benefits. Jesus had to deal with that kind of temptation. While fasting in the desert, Satan tempted Jesus to proclaim His kingdom in three different spectacular, but ungodly, ways. He refused. His final words before Satan left Him are important to us still today. “Jesus said to him, ‘Away from me, Satan! For it is written: “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.”’” (Matthew 4:10)

Every one of the temptations that Satan sought to divert Jesus with were valid expressions of Jesus as Messiah. None of them appeared to be designed to make Satan look good to the people. If Jesus had given into the temptations, everyone would have been flocking to Jesus. It’s important to remember that. What did Satan offer Jesus through his temptations? Satan began by dealing with the physical need of Jesus: turn the stones into bread and eat. Satan recognized the power of Jesus, but Jesus recognized that even more powerful for His ministry was the discipline of fasting. He then called on Jesus to make a spectacular entrance for His ministry: jump from the corner of the Temple so that all would see the angels protecting You. Jesus recognized that we should not test God and that His ministry was not designed to be spectacular, it was designed to be life changing. Finally, Satan offered Jesus an easy route to rule: bow down and worship me and I will make You Lord over all these lands. Jesus sent him packing – He knew the plan that would result in Him becoming the ruler of all those lands and it didn’t include Satan.

Temptations abound in our society today. How often do we read about men and women who have been arrested because they gave in to sexual temptations that were illegal and ungodly? How often do we see stories of people who are rich and famous falling due to financial irregularities or other sins? These temptations face us every day. It would be so easy to give in to gain physical gratification or financial status. How easy would it be to give in to temptation that would bring political power? As we face those temptations – especially those that might seem to give results that would bring honor to God by giving in, we need to remember those words of Jesus: “Away from me, Satan!” We need to accomplish God’s work in God’s way.

Lord, lead me not into temptation. When temptation comes, deliver me from evil. Let me always seek to accomplish Your will in Your way.

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February 21 – Coming First

Matthew 3; Exodus 24; Proverbs 11

The battle to destroy institutional segregation involved many people. Members of the African-American community focused a lot of their battles on desegregating education because they knew that increasing opportunities for education would open up opportunities. They also knew that children were less likely to have been taught to hate at an early age. Higher education was important too, and Clyde Kennard was working on his degree at University of Chicago when he needed to go home to Mississippi to help his mother. He sought to enroll in his local college and was rejected numerous times. He spoke out about the need to end segregation in education. This made the segregationists mad and they arranged for Kennard to be convicted of false charges. He died in prison from cancer. He was a forerunner to those who would eventually break the color barrier and a reminder of the shame of segregation.

It’s not easy being the person who prepares the way for the star. Offensive linemen are those people who never get noticed, unless they commit a penalty, but prepare the way for the running backs to score touchdowns…or at least gain yardage. Jesus had a forerunner – one who prepared the way for Him. John led the way for Jesus by calling on people to repent. He got out of the way gracefully when Jesus came on the scene. He died in prison when his message of righteousness revealed the king’s sin. “In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’” (Matthew 3:1-2)

John never lost sight of his purpose. Crowds came out to hear his message. They responded with at least a show of repentance by getting baptized in the Jordan River. John never “made nice” with the powers as he warned them of the times to come. He wasn’t “seeker sensitive” as he called some of those who came out things like “broods of vipers.” John’s message was not an easy one to hear, but people came. Many thought he might be the Messiah and asked him about that. John reminded them that he was not the Messiah, but that the Messiah was coming. He never forgot that his job was to prepare the way. When Jesus came, he got out of the way. Jesus sought to be baptized, and John demurred, recognizing Jesus as the Messiah. He told his disciples that Jesus must increase and he must decrease. He announced Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. John’s message was vital in preparing the world for Jesus.

John should be an inspiration to anyone who knows Jesus. Our job is not to show others our own greatness; our job is to point others to Jesus. When I was in college I remember a billboard on the road out of Dallas. The billboard had a giant picture of the pastor of the church. In big, bold letters, we learned the pastor’s name. In smaller letters we saw the words “presents Jesus.” That pastor had it wrong. It wasn’t about him. Yet as much as that billboard bothered me even back then, I failed to recognize that then, and even now, I sometimes act as if it is all about me. My job is not to be the star of the show. My job is to be the forerunner to prepare the way for Jesus to enter into the lives of the people I meet. My life and my words should point people to their need for Jesus and introduce them to the forgiveness that Jesus offers. I can’t take away anyone’s sins. I can’t heal anyone. I do serve a God who can forgive their sins, take them away completely, and heal them. That is who I point others to.

Oh Lord, Your love and mercy is so great. Thank You for forgiving me. Help me to show others Your great love in all I say and do.

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February 20 – Truth

Matthew 2; Exodus 22:1-23:33; Proverbs 10

The fight to gain equal rights for all Americans was vicious in the 1950’s. Troops were called out to enforce laws that required segregation and to enforce laws that required desegregation. Emotions ran high on both sides. Moses Newson described the battle to allow a black student to enter “Ole Miss” as a “shooting war” as he talked about the reporter and the student who were killed during the struggle. Mr. Newson described a lot of the events as a reporter during the civil rights era. He described his role as recording the events so that people would know what was going on. Many called him a hero, but he reminded people that the real heroes were the kids in Little Rock who endured the hatred and abuse and the students in Clinton, Tennessee who had to walk to school. He put it this way “I just wanted to help record what was going on and record it from the viewpoint of the people who were involved.”

Truth is a powerful weapon. Reporting the truth during that time was a vivid reminder to all who heard not only about what was happening, but also about who was involved. How many people saw themselves in the hatred espoused by so many back then and changed as the saw themselves acting in hate? How many saw the courage of these kids and realized that they could admire the qualities of someone whose skin was a different color? Truth is an enemy of those who would do evil. Truth is a great friend of those who are doing right. Pilate looked at Jesus and asked “what is truth?” not realizing that he was talking to Truth personified. God warned the Israelites during the Exodus to focus on truth. “Do not spread false reports. Do not help a guilty person by being a malicious witness.” (Exodus 23:1)

There are times when it seems like perception is more important than truth. News agencies used to report truth, now it seems like they are trying to change perceptions instead. What matters now isn’t whether you know what’s happening, it’s how you feel about what’s happening. As a result, we not only have 24-hour news stations proffering opinions as news, we have fake news sites set up that are designed to inflame opinion and draw readers to their advertising filled sites. How often do we share their posts based on headlines that scream of atrocities only to find out that nothing has really happened if we read the article? Fake news is a problem, but only because we have lost our appetite for finding the truth and are more eager to digest sites that confirm our opinions.

It’s easy to point the finger at the fake news sites while reminiscing of the reporters like Moses Newson who struggled to give us the truth. The real problem, though, is that we allow these sites to flourish. The question isn’t so much, “how bad is the fake news?” as it is, “are we people of integrity who will refuse to spread false news?” Too often we look at the Bible and see the indictments of the other guy; the Bible speaks to our own sins as well. Do we spread false reports – not just by quoting fake news sites, but in our personal interactions? Do we engage in gossip about friends? When we request prayer for friends are we sharing needs or engaging in gossip? In order to speak the truth and spread the truth, our personal integrity is important. That grows as our relationship with Jesus Christ grows. As we live in a world that celebrates fake news, let us always be prepared to share the truth about Jesus Christ and His mercy and forgiveness that’s available to all.

Oh Lord, there is something satisfying about being in on secrets about other people, true or not. It makes me feel important to pass along that news to others. Remind me that I am called to proclaim Your truth to a skeptical world. Let my life be an example of the difference living in Truth makes.

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February 19 – “It’s The Law”

Matthew 1; Exodus 20:1-21:36; Proverbs 9

“The Supreme Court has decided. It’s the law.” Many people let something as small as a Supreme Court decision be the guiding factor of right and wrong in their lives. Charles Hamilton Houston didn’t. He took on the odious “Plessy v Ferguson” decision of the Supreme Court which declared that white people and black people could be divided into “separate but equal” facilities. He worked quietly, avoiding the fanfare but showing that “separate but equal” just meant separate and that black people were not being treated equally. He argued cases before the Supreme Court that provided the basis for dismantling the Plessy decision. He died before the final blow came to Plessy in the 1954 “Brown v Board of Education” decision which prohibited segregation in public schools, but he was the quiet mover in the fight against a bad law.

Sometimes the laws of God seem extreme. Today the concept of “an eye for an eye” seems terrible, but it was a limit to the system of vengeance that existed back in the days of Moses. There were laws pertaining to adultery that were designed to protect the family unit – an important part of any godly society. One of those laws would allow a husband to submit his adulterous wife to public humiliation. When Joseph found out that Mary was pregnant, and he knew that he wasn’t the father, Joseph could have used the law to subject her to public humiliation. He didn’t. “This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about : His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.” (Matthew 1:18-19)

Rather than exercise his full rights under the law, Joseph decided to leave Mary with whatever dignity she might have left in the community. He must have been disappointed and hurt by what he rightfully thought was her betrayal. We all know the truth, now, and celebrate it, but imagine Joseph getting the news that his betrothed bride was pregnant. The law would have allowed public humiliation and even stoning. The story of Joseph is often forgotten when we tell of the birth of Jesus. Sometimes we think that Joseph led the donkey to Bethlehem, looked for an inn, took the family to Egypt, and taught Jesus how to sling a hammer – and not much more. We marvel about God’s choice of Mary to be the mother of Jesus and pay lip service to Joseph. In this passage, though, we see that God chose an amazing man to be the earthly father of His Son. Joseph showed that he was a man full of grace and forgiveness; two qualities that Jesus showed during His life. Joseph went beyond the Law to bring redemption to Mary.

As Christians, we can demand our rights as Americans and as citizens of Heaven. If doing so advances God’s Kingdom, then we should demand those rights. At the same time, we may need to realize that instead of demanding our rights and privileges, we should be ready to show forgiveness and mercy to those who would suffer from the exercise of our rights. Sometimes I get so caught up in my needs and my desires that I forget that I am not here on earth for myself. I am a child of God who is her to minister and serve, not rule over others. Do we advance the Kingdom when we fight for our rights or do we turn people off by exercising those rights? Our question should not be “how can I win this fight?” but “how can I minister to others in this conflict?” It’s not the law that guides us; we are guided by grace.

Oh Lord, remind me every day that I am called to serve and minster to others – not rule over them.

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February 18 – Family

Hebrews 13; Exodus 18:1-19:25; Proverbs 8

Racism is ugly. It looks at people and judges them solely on the color of their skin or place of origin. Jesus dealt with that to some degree when someone asked of Him, “Can anything good come from Nazareth.” It is born of ignorance. Most people who are racists don’t really know people of other ethnic persuasions. If they do, their attitude is something like “All those people are bad, except for my friend. He’s not like them.” One of the pioneers in breaking through that barrier was Carter G. Woodson. He believed that if people of different ethnic groups had more social and professional contact those barriers would fall. If people understood the contributions of others they would more readily accept them. It was this belief that led to the formation of what is now Black History Month. Not only did this help white people understand the contributions of African-Americans in our country, it helped African-Americans understand their heritage and the accomplishments of people like them.

Racism taught that Black people were inferior and worthless. This was the belief of leaders throughout our country, even at the level of President at one time. It was through the understanding of the accomplishments of Black people that White people began the process of destroying their barriers. Woodson reminded us that if you can make a man believe he is inferior, he will have no problem accepting inferior status. This is not the gospel, although it was once believed as such. The gospel reminds us that Jesus died for all people. The author of Hebrews put it very simply: “Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters.” (Hebrews 13:1)

One of the early insults of the Romans against Christians was that they loved each other before they even knew each other. Ethnic heritage didn’t matter in that love. Jew, Greek, Roman, and African Christians had one thing in common that was more important than anything else: their relationship with Jesus Christ. I have met with Christians in many different places in the United States and in a few other countries. In some cases those Christians were undergoing persecution. Yet we had one thing in common. We had a faith in Jesus Christ that overcame any and all barriers, including language. I have worshiped in different languages and even when I couldn’t understand the language we worshiped in, I could sense the spirit and the presence of the Lord. Racism is not a Christian virtue; loving each other as brothers and sisters reflects the love and grace of Jesus Christ.

It is such a simple statement, but with a powerful impact. Love one another as brothers and sisters. Our sins may be different. Our political beliefs may be different. Our skin colors may be different. Our languages may be different. Our economic statuses may be different. Whatever our differences may be, our commitment to Jesus Christ binds us together. No matter what the circumstances we are to love each other as brothers and sisters. Oh, my “natural” brother and sisters may be wrong sometimes and we may have disagreements – but we always love each other. As a Christian I see people in one of two categories: 1) others are brothers and sisters in Christ, or 2) others need to become brothers and sisters in Christ. I love the first group because we’re family. I seek to show the love of Christ to the second group so that they may enjoy the forgiveness and grace of God. Racism and hate don’t belong in the family of God. Our bond is the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ.

Oh Lord, sometimes I have such a hard time loving other people. I want to look at differences. I want to remind them when they are wrong. Remind me that we are all one in Christ Jesus when I am like that.

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