Posts Tagged ‘haters’

stubborn muleWhy did God choose plagues? In Exodus chapters 7-10, we read about liquid plagues, hopping plagues, flying plagues, buzzing plagues, animal dying plagues, skin plagues, weather plagues, lighting plagues, and finally, the straw that broke the Pharaoh’s back, people dying plagues.

But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in Egypt, he will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and with mighty acts of judgment I will bring out my divisions, my people the Israelites. And the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it. [Exodus 7:3-5]

A cursory look at some commentaries indicates that many of the ten plagues appear to correspond with a particular “god” the Egyptians worshiped and in this way, Yahweh was demonstrating superiority over these gods. And certainly, if these miraculous plagues were intended to make a point, an indelible memory, they certainly did that. Although we may not remember all of the types of plagues or how many there were, most people have visceral reaction to one or more of the manifestations. (I’m glad he didn’t choose rats or spiders as I would be forever frozen at the thought of a teeming swarm of either. I barely recovered from the story of the Pied Piper as a child.)

But perhaps the most important aspect of these plagues to point out is that the plagues were explicitly devised to change the mind of Pharaoh and extract repentance. In this case, it took ten times.

How many times does God act to change me, to draw my attention to poor and selfish thinking, inappropriate behaviors, or simply, to sin? Am I equally stubborn?

In Pharaoh’s case, the letting go of the Israelites would alter Egypt’s way of life dramatically because slaves were cheap labor and there was plenty of it, in essence, the bedrock of that economy. He wasn’t just resisting God’s will, he was resisting change.

I just want to pay attention, that’s all. I don’t want to be a hard heart.

Plus, a hard heart can have collateral damage. In Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, during the course of the two families bickering and fighting, it is Mercutio who is mortally wounded:

No, ’tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a
church-door; but ’tis enough,’twill serve: ask for
me to-morrow, and you shall find me a grave man. I
am peppered, I warrant, for this world. A plague o’
both your houses! ‘Zounds, a dog, a rat, a mouse, a
cat, to scratch a man to death! a braggart, a
rogue, a villain, that fights by the book of
arithmetic! Why the devil came you between us? I
was hurt under your arm.  [Mercutio, Act 3, Scene 1]

Such family quarrels continue in our modern world and who suffers? Stubbornness has no victor.

In Shakespeare’s tale, many more die, but in particular, both Romeo and Juliet lose their lives, choosing out of misplaced loyalty, somehow taught by their feuding families. In Pharaoh’s time, he lost his firstborn son, before he let go. But even that, was not the end of his stubborn, single-minded story.

God works in mysterious ways to bend the earth and its peoples to God’s will. For the best. And unfortunately, it appears we, as a human race, are feeling some of those plagues today. How many more tragedies and how many more deaths will we endure before we respond humanely to one another? Or will we continue to blame one another because of the color of our skin or history of our faiths or the geography of our land?

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It’s pretty important, this credibility stuff. I mean, if a person blows his/her believability or reliability, it’s hard to get those things back. Reputation is in that category.

I Corinthians 15:14-15a
And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead.

In some cases, people don’t have credibility or reliability just by the nature of their job title, e.g. politician. And in some arenas, “Christian” carries about the same pall or dark cloud. If a Christian hurts someone or is caught in a grievous act, then all Christians can become suspect.

I remember how angry my mother was (even after 35 years) at the ministers who neglected to distribute food fairly in the displaced persons camps after World War II. She mistrusted all ministers. That’s extreme, but I think the point is still valid.

I also remember some years ago when I had only been working at a new job for only a few months. The “work room” was pretty tight and over 7 people and their workspaces were squished together into one room. It was a haven for gossiping and back biting. For a long time, I managed to stay out of it, but after a few months of exposure, I was digging in like the rest. One day, I passed one of these little luscious tidbits to another colleague and she said, “Oh, I’m so surprised to hear this from you, I thought you would never speak ill of anyone.” In that moment, I lost all credibility. I was devastated!

A man who lacks judgment derides his neighbor, but a man of understanding holds his tongue. [Proverbs 11:12]

This issue of gossip and judgment, without a doubt, my most besetting sins of all. I must desire to change. Clearly, I don’t hate this aspect of my behavior enough. God forgive me. Silence my tongue.

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I wouldn’t normally say I am persecuted on a regular basis: you know, things like domination, fanaticism, and intimidation. But, what if it’s as simple as someone who is “cruel in their attitude toward me” [Amplified]. In either case, I’m supposed to bless them. What does that look like?

Romans 12:14-16a
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. . . .

When I teach a Bible study, I am constantly asking the participants, “What does that look like?” I ask because most people who come to these studies have a pretty good handle on the scriptures, but they have lost the specificity of how the words apply (manifest) in their daily lives. It’s one thing to read about “blessing the persecutors” and another to figure out how to do that on a regular day.

For one thing (and for the sake of transparency), I’m still contending with the implications of the word, “bless.” Usually, I can get past these verses by including the “haters” (as my kids call them) in prayer: “Bless so and so, like the woman who gave me a dirty look, or the man who yelled at me over the phone, or the boss who challenged my ability, or the teen who blatantly lied to me. Oh yeah, bless them Lord. (The hidden message: You bless them God because I sure can’t/won’t.)

But I think that’s a dodge of the truth behind the words. To bless someone goes beyond a pat on the head or a passing verbal gratuity. Blessings begin in the mind and then need to manifest into some kind of action. To bless is a verb. Just a little look at a dictionary or thesaurus is quite revealing. Everything is included from “sanctify” to “protect from evil” or “confer well being upon someone.” So, yes, there is a speaking component to blessing someone. And when we are speaking this blessing, it is a request that God confer well-being, prosperity, health, and holiness (wholeness). Every time we say “Bless” it’s a prayer.

I believe there is a second component. The command for me to bless others is not just about me “praying” a blessing over someone but to do what I can to give that person the ability to receive those blessings. If I want to bless someone truly, then I am helping that person receive what God has to offer. I am participating in the process with God. I may be called to be the hands and feet of the blessing.

To only say, “Bless them” is an empty prayer if I am not offering my own commitment to that person’s transformation or change in circumstances.

On a personal level, if someone is treating me badly, cruelly, or even betraying me and accusing me wrongly, while God is telling me to bless that person, then what? Romans 12:20 says “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.” My job is to do what is best for the person, no matter how they treat me. To actively bless someone is really just another word for loving them. I do my piece of it and the rest is up to God. If that person does not receive the blessings (mine or God’s) then the “burning coals” may indeed be brought into picture. But that’s not my job. My job is to bless/love.

Help me today, Lord, to “bless” and thereby extend love to everyone I meet today, but in particular, the persecutors. Oh, that feels overwhelming to say.

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