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.

October 26, 2017 – Refuge- Psalm 46

my_refuge_by_fullofeyes-d4yu0a1

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;  though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. Selah

 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.  God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns.

The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah

Come, behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.

 “Be still, and know that I am God!  I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.” The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Psalm 46 (NRSV)

Many of us are familiar with verse 10 of Psalm 46- “Be still and know that I am God.” But this verse of comfort only illustrates a small part of the bigger reality of our limitless God.  God Who is beyond our understanding, Who is everywhere in all places and all times- all at the same time- cares enough about His humble creatures to calm our fears, and to offer us protection and shelter.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of worry and to feel that the only way to solve our problems is to run. It’s at those times when God comes to us saying, “Be still.  Settle down.  Trust Me. I will give you what you need to stand.”  God is constant and reliable even when nothing else is.

The phrase “God is our refuge” is used three times in this Psalm. Repetition means the writer wants us to get it. God is our refuge.  Not stuff.  Not running away from problems, or running to compulsive behaviors, or overwork or alcohol or drugs or whatever one’s personal “thing” might be.

Definition of refuge: (from Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online)

1 :shelter or protection from danger or distress

2 :a place that provides shelter or protection

3 :something to which one has recourse in difficulty

God is our refuge. God is our Help in times of trouble.

We are also called, as the Body of Christ, to stand with those among us who are in times of trouble. Even if we have nothing more to offer than prayer, or words of comfort, or a shoulder to cry on, in those small ways we are bringing about God’s Kingdom here on earth.

October 18, 2017- Double Standards- Matthew 23:1-4

Double Standard

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.” Matthew 23:1-4 (NRSV)

We all remember double standards as we were growing up. Kids had to be in bed by 8:30, but Mom and Dad could stay up as late as they wanted. (Now we know that Mom and Dad would have rather been in bed by 8:30 themselves, but there’s too much work to be done to go to bed that early!)  Kids had to sit at the kids’ table with all the other screaming rugrats to eat holiday meals, and kids had to wait to be excused to get up from the table no matter how annoying, obnoxious and loud the other kids were.  Adults got to sit at the civilized adult table, and got to get up from the table when they were done eating.

More than once I heard, “Do what I say, not what I do,” from my parents and grandparents. We know what we should do, but actually doing it is quite another thing. Nobody likes being on the short end of a double standard.  Double standards offend our sense of justice.

I am sure that the people listening to Jesus that day as He was telling them to do what the scribes and Pharisees teach them to do probably were rolling their eyes. There were probably people who were thinking in the back of their heads, “Why should I listen to so-and-so about this or that rule when so-and-so doesn’t follow it himself?”

Jesus had some of his most harsh critique for the religious authorities- the scribes and Pharisees. In many instances he spoke more highly and with more compassion toward tax collectors and prostitutes than he did of those who should be living by the rules.  It’s easy to tell other people what to do and what standards are expected of them.  It’s not so easy to apply those standards to ourselves first.

God put His rules in place for us for our own protection, to set boundaries around our behavior so that we don’t cause harm to ourselves or others. Rules were not meant to be oppressive or punitive, but protective.

Every human being alive today is a sinner and a hypocrite, including those in leadership in the church, and in secular government. However, it is important that those who are in leadership pay special attention to the standards they wish to impose upon others.  Leaders are called to be good examples and should strive to live by the standards they teach and expect of others first.

One of the important concepts of the Reformation was the realization that everyone who follows Jesus should be held to the same standards- not one set of rules for the ruling class, and another set of rules for everyone else.

If we are to look at Jesus’ example and if we are to follow Him, shouldn’t we as His followers make it easier for each other to live in ways that honor Him, rather than piling on the burdens and doing nothing to help each other?

September 21, 2017- Love Builds a Fence?- Exodus 20:12-15

love commandments

Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

You shall not murder.

 You shall not commit adultery.

 You shall not steal.

Exodus 20:12-15 (NRSV)

The first three of the Ten Commandments focus on our relationship with God. The remaining seven have to do with our life in our families and our community.

Commandments Four through Seven have to do with our actions toward others as well as our heart toward others. There is an old saying that “good fences make good neighbors.”  This is why God gives us boundaries regarding our relations with others.  The Commandments give us healthy boundaries for living in community.

Honoring our parents means that even though they may be flawed, we must at the very least acknowledge that they have given us birth and life. We are also commanded to respect their authority and the values that they have passed down to us. The Fourth Commandment is one of the few that carry a promise- God promises that we will retain our inheritance that He has given us if we honor our parents and respect those in authority as it is God Who has put them in authority over us.  Should we rebel against authority and violate the law, we open ourselves up to the consequences that disobeying civil law can bring.

In Luther’s Large Catechism he expands upon honoring and obeying the temporal authorities in his explanation of the Fourth Commandment:

“The same also is to be said of obedience to civil government, which (as we have said) is all embraced in the estate of fatherhood and extends farthest of all relations. For here the father is not one of a single family, but of as many people as he has tenants, citizens, or subjects. For through them, as through our parents, God gives to us food, house and home, protection and security. Therefore since they bear such name and title with all honor as their highest dignity, it is our duty to honor them and to esteem them great as the dearest treasure and the most precious jewel upon earth.” – Luther’s Large Catechism (on the Fourth Commandment)

The Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Commandments (Luther’s explanations of them in the Large Catechism can be found here) have to do with boundaries in our relationships with individuals.

The Fifth Commandment tells us to refrain from murder (the premeditated and purposeful taking of a human life) but it also means we are called to lift up those around us by offering help when we can. As Jesus followers we are called to be life-bringers and to shine His light in the world.  Our words and actions should help bring life to the world rather than death and despair to others.

In matters of sexuality, which are addressed in the Sixth Commandment, we are commanded to keep our expressions of sexuality within the marriage bond. As evidenced in society and in the tabloids (as well as in our own personal lives) we see what becomes of people and of families when this boundary is broken.  God puts a boundary around His good gifts of sexual expression- not because they are “dirty” or “wrong” or “bad,” but so this physical and spiritual connection is reserved for a husband and wife in a lifelong commitment to each other.

When that bond is broken, the fallout reaches far and wide- there is financial and emotional hardship for children who must grow up without the benefit of a father (or mother,) possible transmission of horrible (sometimes even fatal) diseases, unplanned pregnancies, lost friendships, and public scandals.  While God assures us that there is nothing that can separate us from His love in Christ, (see Romans 8:38-39) the spiritual and emotional consequences of adultery are deep and lasting and difficult to overcome. God gives us this command for fidelity in marriage (and abstinence outside of marriage) for our own protection, because He knows how devastating overstepping this boundary can be for ourselves and our families and communities. He loves us and He wants to spare us this pain.

The Seventh Commandment appears to be as straightforward as can be, but there is a deeper message in this Commandment also. God tells us: “Don’t steal.” But how do we steal from others?  Obviously violating civil laws against robbery constitute stealing, when we take tangible objects or property that belongs to others, but we steal in other ways too.  We steal when we commit fraud against others, such as failing to give someone an honest wage for honest work- or when we accept wages for work we do not do.  We steal when we fail to help someone when it is in our power to do so.  We steal when we treat other people harshly without cause- we steal their peace and joy.

We know that there is both Law and Gospel throughout the Commandments, and all through Scripture. The Commandments are given to us because God loves us. God gives us boundaries for our own- and for others’- protection.  In these Commandments God gives us the gift of respect for authority so that there is order in society, the ability to have and share life, the gift of intimacy and fidelity, and the confidence that we may retain what belongs to us.