The hot and dry days of July are behind us for another year. Our farm team is getting help from the rain a little more often. Plants, like people, require moisture to sustain life. We all know this. So the prophet Isaiah used this common understanding as a way to explain the impact of God’s Word. Like the rain, whatever God speaks makes a difference in sustaining life.
For those of us who follow the Christian bible, God’s Word includes all of the text found there. While our language and emphasis vary from church to church, the basic concept is the same. Whatever scripture says matters. We even say that God spoke or sang the world into existence. Whether you believe in a big bang or another theory about how the universe came into existence, God’s Word is the power behind creation.
The bible tells the story of God’s revelations to humanity. God chose to let us in on some of the greatest mysteries in life, inspiring and guiding hundreds of ordinary people to share God’s revelations with others. This process began centuries before humans learned to record words in pictures and eventually developing an alphabet for writing. And this process continued as more revelations were recorded, and more persons cobbled ancient stories together, all inspired by the author of the universe.
Life continued during long periods when God seemed silent. Leaders know that an information void doesn’t end conversations. Humanity never stops talking, building, and living. And I believe God never stops revealing. The process remains a mystery. None of us know the mind of God, although many lay claims to insights.
Scripture offers us insights into God’s thinking. Most of us have experienced breakthroughs while reading scripture. The same story revealing something about God that we missed the first dozen times we read it. Perhaps it was a different translation using different words and arrangements. Or maybe something about us changed since the last time we read it.
The writer of Hebrews describes God’s Word as a double-edged sword, cutting whichever direction the sword swings. This sounds dangerous. A double-edged sword arriving on our front porch today would come with a long list of safety precautions and warnings and a legal disclosure that its use could result in serious injury and death.
The bible contains similar warnings. Scripture offers comfort to the afflicted and alerts for afflicters. The Word of God is powerful. And its power gets invoked in churches, courthouses, conversations, and more. It has the power to heal and the potential to conceal.
What scripture conceals includes the mysteries that remain—the mind of God. But scripture can also reveal our intentions. The writer of 2 Timothy, sharpened the sword we called scripture with the edge of a razor by reminding us that all of scripture is suitable for correction. And when we use scripture to correct others, we run a substantial risk. But we were warned.
The first proverb in chapter 12 of Proverbs tells us that “It is stupid to hate being corrected.” I think that this observation applies to all parties. The church included. And thousands have died and are dying as a result of stupidity.
Perhaps this is one of the many reasons that humility rises to the top as an essential characteristic of God. An aspect that we are encouraged to strive for. God caring enough about creation to talk to us at all, rather than wiping us out and starting over, is a colossal act of humility. Jesus showed humility in all aspects of His life, and He emphasized the importance of humility in His teaching.
I thank you that I am not like that tax collector over there.
In one story, Jesus compared the humility of a man despised for his occupation, with another man revered for his job. Tax collectors were despised by the community during Jesus’ time. Resented because they used the power given to them by a corrupt government to mistreat the residents of Palestine. In the story, the tax collector went to church to pray, admit his faults, and confess that he abused his neighbors.
The other man belonged to a political party known as the Pharisees. Members of this political party included the wealthier residents. They demanded attention wherever they went. People were expected to treat them with respect and to follow their instructions. They had a reputation for following the laws to the letter and expecting others to be like them.
The Pharisee, in the story, prayed out loud so others could hear what he said. “Thank God I’m not like that tax collector,” he said at one point. He said it loud enough for the tax collector to hear it. Can you imagine how the tax collector felt? He was already feeling bad about himself. He didn’t need to be reminded that people didn’t want to be like him.
Of course, Pharisees and tax collectors likely hung out at the same clubs and helped each other out with secret deals. But scripture doesn’t say much about this possibility. I just know how Pharisees and powerful politicians cooperate today.
The story ends with a twist. Jesus says that God favors the behavior of the tax collector and not the Pharisee. It didn’t matter to God as much that the Pharisee followed the rules and was well-liked. It didn’t seem to bother God that the tax collector had done things he shouldn’t have done. The humility of the tax collector put him in favor with God. The arrogance of the Pharisee negated any good he was doing.
The Pharisees had a reputation for knowing and closely following scripture. Somewhat the “religious right” of their time, they read the scriptures word for word. And they lived out their interpretation and demanded that others do the same. Not much has changed. Pharisees influence policies and laws today. And declare how thankful that they aren’t like the rest of us.
We continue to have Pharisees among us. And before I open my mouth to say, “Think God I’m not like them,” I must remember this warning. It’s doubtful that my interpretation is entirely correct. I do the best I can and continue to learn just how stupid I was in the past. And remember just how stupid I can be in the present as well.
The tax collector was told more than once, “You should be ashamed of yourself.” And apparently, he was. But God doesn’t hold our failings over us when we humbly admit that we failed to do what we should. Or we did things we shouldn’t do.
My point for this article takes us back to the beginning. God’s Word never returns empty. It accomplishes whatever God has in mind. God’s Word doesn’t answer to you and me. Our role is to interpret God’s Word the best we can so that we can live as God intended us to live. And realize that we could be wrong in our interpretation.
God’s Word is a dangerous tool in the hands of a Pharisee. Read scripture, interpret scripture, and live out scripture as best you can. And know that some of your interpretations could be wrong.
Throughout scripture, we learn characteristics to which God lays claim. God is love, and God is humble are two of the most prominent. I prefer to resort back to these two characteristics whenever I find myself or others questioning interpretations. Does my reading show God’s love to others, or does my understanding reek of “Thank you that I’m not like them?”
Manipulated by self-interest and leaders with debilitating emotional sickness, our country is deeply divided between red and blue. I recently read a new book. It was written for children by adults struggling to respond to their children’s questions about why the news was so full of hateful speech. The book is titled The World Needs More Purple People. And I agree. 1
The World Needs More Purple People
I invite you to join us next Sunday as we begin our new series, Shameless. We plan to be live via webinar, through Facebook live, or you can call (929) 436-2866 and enter the meeting number — 324 841 204. We go live at 10:30 am. You can find these links along with more information about us on our website at FlintAsbury.org.
A reminder that we publish this newsletter that we call the Circuit Rider each week. You can request this publication by email. Send a request to info@FlintAsbury.org or let us know when you send a message through our website. We post an archive of past editions on our website under the tab, Connect – choose Newsletters.
1 Kristen Bell & Benjamin Hart. The World Needs More Purple People. New York: Random House, 2020.