January 24, 2019- God Says, “Vengeance is Mine,” Romans 12:17-21

forgive your enemy

 

Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.  Romans 12:17-21 (ESV)

Popular wisdom dictates that revenge is a dish best tasted cold. Often when we are still angry or indignant over being wronged, we can only see our need for personal justice rather than the complete picture. Many regrettable actions have been committed in the heat of anger- actions that result from pure rage, or from a lack of information, or both. It does sting when someone else wounds us, regardless of whether or not the damage was intentionally inflicted.  Our instinct is to lash out and strike back, but we are specifically called not to do so.

God takes the dispensing of revenge to a different level. We aren’t called just to wait until the heat of anger cools before we strike back, but we are commanded to refrain from striking back at all. Revenge is a dish we don’t partake of hot or cold, but leave for Him to serve.  It is not our place to mete out our own retribution, but to forgive and love our enemies even as Christ forgives and loves us.  God will see that justice is done, whether by God’s means here on earth (i.e. civil punishment when one commits a crime) or ultimately at the final judgment on the Last Day. Our hope and our prayer for our enemies is not their destruction, but that God would bring them to repentance and faith and salvation in Christ with us.

This teaching does not mean that we are never to stand up for ourselves or for others, (nor does it negate the necessity for civil justice here on earth,) but to trust God in both His judgment and His mercy.

As God’s people we are called to seek out the good of others- to serve others, to be peaceful and productive and to glorify God in our vocations.

The ministry of Christians here on this earth should be one of restoration and reconciliation. Jesus died and shed His blood to wash away and forgive our sins so that we may not be consigned to eternal judgment, but to eternal life.

As we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we ask, “thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” The Third Petition is notoriously difficult to pray and mean it, because in this petition we pray for the ability to set aside our anger and our thirst for retribution and to open our hearts and minds to God’s will. Thy will vs. my will is a constant battle for everyone. We also pray in the Fifth Petition, “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Why do we forgive? Because Jesus forgave us. In Him we have been given the grace to forgive others.

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In faith we can set aside our need for revenge and trust in the sovereignty and the goodness of God. If God is truly in control and has our ultimate good in mind, can we trust Him even when others do us harm? Do we trust Him enough to show mercy and grace to others as He has shown to us?

Thankfully in Christ we can go to Him and be forgiven for the times we fail to show mercy or for when we take justice into our own hands. We pray for the grace to forgive others the way Jesus has forgiven us, and to be merciful to others as He has been to us.

November 21, 2018 – Thank God for Everything- Psalm 30, 1 Peter 2:4-10

thank god everything

I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up and have not let my foes rejoice over me.
O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me. O Lord, you have brought up my soul from Sheol. You restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit. Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name. For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.

As for me, I said in my prosperity, “I shall never be moved.” By your favor, O Lord, you made my mountain stand strong; you hid your face; I was dismayed.

To you, O Lord, I cry, and to the Lord I plead for mercy: “What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness? Hear, O Lord, and be merciful to me! O Lord, be my helper!”

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever! Psalm 30 (ESV)

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture:

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” (Isaiah 28:16, Psalm 118:22-23, Matthew 21:42)

So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,

“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and, “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.”

They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 1 Peter 2:4-10 (ESV)

Faith, as we learn from the apostle Paul (see Romans 3), is a gift from God.  We may never understand why some receive the gift of faith and others do not.  We know that Jesus died for the sins of ALL.  Our faith is a gift, and it comes to us through the means of grace – hearing the Word taught and preached, and through the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion.

David’s theme in Psalm 30 is thankfulness. Left to our own designs we fail.  We can see God’s Law in action and it condemns us. God does not owe us anything.  God chooses to act on our behalf regardless of how ornery or obnoxious we are. If we look into David’s life- David, the anointed king, the man with a heart after God, David, the earthly forefather of Jesus, we find a pretty ornery character with quite a few skeletons in his closet.  We are no better than David was, yet like David, we are made right with God by faith.

God is the one who grants us the gift of repentance, which is simply sorrow over our sins and a desire to turn a 180 away from them. God is the one who lifts us up when it seems as if the world and our own evil desires are going to destroy us.  God has mercy on us even though we hardly deserve mercy.  The only thing that we are capable of earning from God is wrath.

Jesus is the one who calls us from darkness to light. Jesus is the one who says to us, “I have chosen you and I am transforming you into one of the precious stones I use to build My house.”  It is by the power of the Holy Spirit that we are being made holy- bit by bit in this world, but fully and completely when we step out of the “now” and walk into finality of “not yet.”

The only response we can have to such generous grace and mercy is deep thanks- thanks for the assurance that we are named, claimed children of God. He will never let us go in spite of our inadequacy and our utter inability to repay Him.

In this season of darkness sometimes it is hard to believe that there will come a day when darkness and despair will be defeated forever. Our mourning will be turned into dancing.  We have been lifted up from the pit of Sheol (place of the dead.)  We are set free to praise and sing. We are God’s people, saved by His mercy.  We have everything to thank Him for.

 

 

 

June 20, 2018- Preserve Us From Violence- Psalm 140, Romans 12:19

protect me jesus

Deliver me, O Lord, from evil men; preserve me from violent men, who plan evil things in their heart and stir up wars continually. They make their tongue sharp as a serpent’s, and under their lips is the venom of asps. *Selah

Guard me, O Lord, from the hands of the wicked; preserve me from violent men, who have planned to trip up my feet. The arrogant have hidden a trap for me, and with cords they have spread a net; beside the way they have set snares for me. *Selah

 I say to the Lord, You are my God; give ear to the voice of my pleas for mercy, O Lord!  O Lord, my Lord, the strength of my salvation, you have covered my head in the day of battle. Grant not, O Lord, the desires of the wicked; do not further their evil plot, or they will be exalted!  *Selah

As for the head of those who surround me, let the mischief of their lips overwhelm them! Let burning coals fall upon them! Let them be cast into fire, into miry pits, no more to rise!  Let not the slanderer be established in the land; let evil hunt down the violent man speedily!

I know that the Lord will maintain the cause of the afflicted, and will execute justice for the needy. Surely the righteous shall give thanks to your name; the upright shall dwell in your presence.

Psalm 140 (ESV)

This Psalm is attributed to David. Many times during David’s life he encountered people who didn’t have his best interest in mind.  His predecessor, Saul, tried to kill him more than once. (1 Samuel 19) His own son, Absalom, tried to take over David’s throne. (2 Samuel 16:5-13 ) We encounter adversaries and people who oppose us also.  We will rub some people the wrong way just because we believe in Jesus (John 15:20).  We will encounter people who take delight in scandal, and in spreading lies, or who are unwilling to forgive us for real or even perceived wrongs.

Our prayers to God are meaningful. He hears every one of them. God knows our anguish when wrong things happen to us and other people are cruel to us. The psalmists in Scripture bring every condition and emotion to God in prayer.  God knows when we are angry or unforgiving or frustrated anyway.  We should be honest with Him when we pray, because prayer is one of the ways that God changes our hearts and minds to conform to His will.  When we pray the Psalms we discover a depth of sincerity and emotion.

This being said, in the frank and sometimes violent language of the Psalms we see the humanity of the writers. We want violence done to our enemies, especially for the times we don’t deserve to be slandered or harmed by them. It is better for us to commit our enemies and those who oppose us to God in prayer. God does protect His people.  He forgives us when we do wrong things, and we can trust Him for His vindication and for His mercy when people treat us in wrong ways.

Jesus was persecuted and wronged also, yet He bore the punishment for us -for all the times that we were and are the evil wrongdoer.

It is good to pray first and let God deal with our anger when other people hurt us. The apostle Paul reminds us that God reserves vengeance for Himself.

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” Romans 12:19 (ESV)

Only God knows the entire story behind us and our enemies, and only He can see both sides impartially.

We need to take everything to God in prayer- thanks, praise, supplication, grief, anger- He wants us to come to Him with it all. We can trust God that He will protect us.  We will be vindicated and forgiven, as well. In Christ, we have the freedom and the grace to commend our enemies to the judgment and mercy of God.

Trust the Mercy of God- Psalm 28, Hebrews 10:30-31

art board carpentry carved

Photo by Mikes Photos on Pexels.com

To you, O Lord, I call; my rock, be not deaf to me, lest, if you be silent to me, I become like those who go down to the pit. Hear the voice of my pleas for mercy, when I cry to you for help, when I lift up my hands toward your most holy sanctuary.

Do not drag me off with the wicked, with the workers of evil, who speak peace with their neighbors while evil is in their hearts. Give to them according to their work and according to the evil of their deeds; give to them according to the work of their hands; render them their due reward. Because they do not regard the works of the Lord or the work of his hands, he will tear them down and build them up no more.

 Blessed be the Lord!  For he has heard the voice of my pleas for mercy. The Lord is my strength and my shield: in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.

The Lord is the strength of his people; he is the saving refuge of his anointed.  Oh, save your people and bless your heritage! Be their shepherd and carry them forever.

Psalm 28 (ESV)

The Psalms are a great gift to us, as is all of Scripture, but in the Psalms we experience the full spectrum of human pathos and experience. As the psalmists pour out their prayers and praise as well as their petitions, pain and laments to God, they underscore that we are not alone.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2 (ESV)

Every one of the great cloud of witnesses before us have also had to experience the same heartaches, disappointments, suffering and pain as we do. As we pray the Psalms we can find comfort and strength, knowing that as so many who have come before us also know, the Psalms keep directing us back to Jesus, our Source of life and hope.

Sometimes when we read passages in the Psalms in which the psalmist petitions God for justice against the wicked, it seems cruel and almost contradictory. After all, if God wants to, He can do a much more thorough job of revenge than we ever could.  Admittedly, the imagery of a vengeful God taking action against obnoxious or evil people can make us feel better for a minute.

For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.”(Deuteronomy 32:35-36) And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Hebrews 10:30-31 (ESV)

God knows the whole story. In Jesus we are vindicated.  We can trust that He will handle our situations, and He will handle those who oppose us or who have done us wrong.  Jesus teaches us to forgive others as He has forgiven us.

All of us are on both sides of the psalmist’s petition. We are both the “wicked” and the “anointed.”  As we read the psalmist’s prayer that God would repay the wicked, we go back to the Lord’s Prayer, knowing that we need to forgive those who do us wrong as Jesus forgives us for all the things we do wrong.

Perhaps Jesus’ mercy toward us may also extend toward those who are doing evil things now? We are not the only ones pleading for forgiveness and mercy.

As we pray the Psalms, we should always follow their direction to point us to Jesus no matter if we are mourning, praising, or lamenting. We are free to let God handle impossible people and impossible situations. He knows our hearts and minds and circumstances better than we do. He created us, He carries us, and He redeems us. God has the universe and all things in His control.

May 14, 2018 – Another Will Take His Office, God Will Decide- Acts 1:15-26

lady justice

In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said, “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” (Now this man – Judas Iscariot- acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)  “For it is written in the Book of Psalms,

“‘May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it’; (Psalm 69:24-28) and “‘Let another take his office.’ (Psalm 109:6-8)

So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias.  And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles. Acts 1:15-26 (ESV)

The Christian church has debated the fate of Judas Iscariot for centuries. Judas was once numbered among the twelve apostles.  He walked with Jesus, lived with Jesus, and shared meals with Jesus.  Even so, Judas, who had been one of the inner circle and who was considered an apostle, ultimately betrayed Jesus.  The remaining eleven had to choose another who had walked closely with Jesus to take Judas’ place.  Their decision was left up to God as they cast lots (Proverbs 16:33) to choose Judas’ successor, Matthias.

The behaviors and the ultimate fate of Judas lead us to an ongoing discussion of predestination versus human free will. If we are predestined to an ignominious fate, that we have no place in choosing, then are we denied mercy forever, even though we were only doing what we were created for?  Could Jeffery Dahmer or Charles Manson have chosen different paths?

How do we know who that child on the playground will become? Is that child a future Mother Teresa or a future Adolf Hitler in the making?  If God is omniscient, then He has to know every decision we make before we make it. He must have a purpose in letting the weeds grow up along with the wheat. (Matthew 13:24-30)  God is the one who judges the injustices others may perpetrate on us. We are called to live peaceably and serve others as Jesus did, regardless if we are put in places that might have a lot of weeds.

The Psalmists made chilling warnings about Judas and to anyone else (namely everyone…) who betrays Jesus. In Psalm 69:24-25, burning anger and desolation are the betrayers’ due.  Psalm 109:8 calls for another to take the office of the betrayer.  All of us are sinners as well as saints, and we are completely reliant on Jesus to keep us faithful and walking with Him.  Only He can deliver us from the snares and traps of sin, unbelief and being distracted by the world.

None of us, even including the apostles, are or were perfect witnesses for Jesus. We aren’t able to witness to Him perfectly, and what witness we can and do give is solely by the grace and power of God.

God does not allow us to be omniscient, omnipotent or omnipresent. It is not given to us to know God’s plan for anyone.

As far as Judas, or Jeffery Dahmer, or Hitler,- or even the people society sees as being “good,” such as Mother Teresa or Billy Graham, God alone is their Judge. God alone knows what is in anyone’s mind or heart.  All we can do is pray the prayer Jesus taught us- that His will be done, and that our hearts and minds might be aligned with His.

May 11, 2018 – The Perfect Man- Psalm 1

jesus psalm1Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish. Psalm 1 (ESV)

The Psalms are prayers and songs- some of praise and worship, and others of supplication and mourning. Still others, such as Psalm 22, are prophetic and speak of the humanity as well as particular details of the passion of Christ. All of the Psalms point us to Jesus in one way or another.

Psalm 1 is a description of Jesus- the person who lives perfectly according to God’s Law. We, of course, cannot do that.

Even though we are not capable of living as Jesus lived, we can still look to His example as the Author and Perfecter of our faith. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Because we belong to Jesus, we are not counted among the wicked in the judgment. Because Jesus was that man who delighted in God’s law and lived perfectly sin-free in our place; the God-man who died as a perfect sacrifice for our sins, we are judged as though we lived with HIS perfection instead of our own wickedness and sins.

Thanks be to God that when the judgment comes we who believe in Him and trust Him for the forgiveness of our sins will be judged on the merits of Jesus and considered to be His saints.

March 14, 2018 Spreading the Light- Mercy vs. Judgment John 8:12-20, James 2:12-14

prayer-sinner

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

 The Pharisees challenged him, “Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid.”

Jesus answered, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going. But you have no idea where I come from or where I am going. You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one.  But if I do judge, my decisions are true, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me. In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is true. I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me.”

Then they asked him, “Where is your father?”

“You do not know me or my Father,” Jesus replied. “If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” He spoke these words while teaching in the temple courts near the place where the offerings were put. Yet no one seized him, because his hour had not yet come. John 8:12-20 (NIV)

The writer of the Gospel of John speaks of Jesus being the light (light of the world, light of life, etc.) in thirteen specific references. The concept of Jesus being the light obviously was a point the Holy Spirit wanted the writer of John to get across.

The Pharisees did not want to acknowledge who Jesus was because they were not able to see Him as He is. They were looking for a mighty warrior who would restore the physical kingdom of Israel. They were thinking in terms of an earthly king.  Their vision was limited.

Sometimes we get caught up in what we think we want to see in Jesus that we lose sight of the real Jesus.  Sometimes we get so preoccupied with our own fears and our own darkness that we don’t- or can’t- look up and see the real light.  We all experience those dark nights of the soul where God seems far away.

Even though we struggle and often we have a hard time with the challenge between doubt and faith, at our Baptism we are marked with the Cross of Christ forever. We belong to God even when our feelings or our behavior might indicate otherwise. We are called and made able- not by our own will, but by God’s will- to not only see the light of Christ but to reflect and radiate that light.

Do our lives testify to the light and to the reality of Jesus? Do others see His light shining in and through us?

We can get so mired down in the laws God gives us for our own good that we see them as chains that bind us, or as hammers to hit others over the head with, instead of boundaries given out of love and designed to protect us.

Jesus challenged the Pharisees at numerous points where they used the Law as a hammer, to bring down judgment on others rather than to use the Law to bring people to repentance and to show us our constant need for Jesus.

Do we look at other people and say, “At least I don’t do that sin!” It’s tempting to do when we see what we perceive to be truly scandalous behavior, but sins of the heart and sins committed in the dark outside the public eye are still grieving to God.  We are all guilty under the Law.

It is better for us to look at ourselves and say, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner, of whom I am chief?” (to borrow from the apostle Paul-1 Timothy 1:15 .)

The Holy Spirit is always there for us to call upon- in those dark times when we can’t see, in those times that we struggle with doubt, and in those times that we forget that mercy triumphs over judgment.

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2:12-14 (NIV)

Lord, may we be vessels of your light and comfort to those around us, and may we remember that it is only by your grace that we are forgiven and made your own.