To Serve and Protest

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Today’s readings:
 Psalms 27; 147:12-20, Jeremiah 26:1-16 (17-24), Romans 11:1-12, John 10:19-42


What does loyalty look like?

To be loyal to people or institutions, do we have to defend them even when we think they are wrong? If we believe we belong to the greatest family, team, nation, or religion we understandably want to defend it from outside threats, but how do we deal with internal dissent? Is it possible to think something is great yet flawed – perhaps deeply?

The Jewish people comprised both a religion and a nation, two things which inspire intense loyalty. The prophet Jeremiah loved his fellow Jews and so spoke bluntly to them about the path of self-destruction they as a people were heading down. Because he dared to speak of Judah’s flaws, its officials decided to repay Jeremiah’s love and loyalty with a death sentence. By the (literal) grace of God he escaped, but another prophet named Uriah was not so lucky.

We look back on Jeremiah and Jesus and think how foolish were the people who did not heed them. Yet we are still not especially eager to hear criticism from people we don’t agree with. In the realm of politics, we prejudge legislation or even an idea based on which side proposed it, not on its merit. Progressive and conservative churchgoers follow a similar pattern. We spend a lot of time trying to convince, and very little trying to understand.

The truth is, the most revealing criticisms of our beliefs and behaviors will not come from the people who agree with us, but from the people who disagree. People can be patriotic, faithful, and loyal to the same institution and still disagree on many issues. Often it’s less a matter of disagreement than of perspective. We don’t improve when we listen to our cheerleaders; we improve when another team pushes us. If our solution to a serious challenge is to make sure the other team can’t play, we don’t improve at all.

To love a thing is to nurture it so it can grow beyond its flaws and weaknesses, and – if you can’t see them – to take a step back to make room for someone who can. Sometimes the greatest loyalty is risking exile.

Comfort: Disagreement, handled properly, strengthens a relationship.

Challenge: Listen carefully to criticism, and weight its merits before responding.

Prayer: Teach me, Lord, to walk humbly. Amen.

Discussion: When have you learned something about yourself from someone you didn’t agree with?

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King Makers

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 36; 127:12-20, 1 Samuel 8:1-22, Acts 6:15-7:16, Luke 22:24-30


After the death of Joshua, who succeeded Moses, the twelve tribes of Israel fractured and many people – despite warnings from God – began to worship Ba’al in the custom of the other nations around them. Because of their unfaithfulness, God let their enemies overtake them. Eventually God pitied them and raised up a series of Judges (part military leader, part legal arbiter) to restore them. Both the people and the Judges were unsteady in their faithfulness, and often relapsed to Ba’al worship and corruption.

Samuel, a righteous man and Judge, was the father of the last two judges. His sons, nothing like him, “took bribes and perverted justice.” The people demanded Samuel instead appoint a King. Samuel and God were displeased  the people were rejecting God as their king. Speaking for God, Samuel told them what kind of king they could expect: one who took their property and harvests, conscripted their sons into military service, forced their daughters to labor for him, and generally abused them for his own gain.

The people refused to listen, saying “We are determined to have a king over us, so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.”

God let them have their king.

How often we choose affection for a king (or president, coach, etc.) over the blessings of the Lord. As long as we feel someone will lead our tribe to victory (be that in elections, ball games, or culture wars), we overlook that person’s ruinous flaws even when we’ve been warned about them. In the end the institution we claimed to want to protect is tarnished at best or gutted at worst.

We can do better than willful ignorance and hollow victory. Our triumphs don’t come from bringing our enemies low at any cost, but from holding our integrity high at every cost. Placing our trust in God rather than kings frees us to tell the emperor he has no clothes. The price we pay today will be much lower than one that comes due later.

Comfort: Choosing integrity is its own reward.

Challenge: Don’t follow authorities blindly, even when you agree with them.

Prayer: O continue your steadfast love to those who know you, and your salvation to the upright of heart! (Psalm 36:10).

Discussion: Have you ever found yourself questioning someone you once put on a pedestal?

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