We cannot escape

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.

You know when I sit down and when I rise up;

you discern my thoughts from far away.

You search out my path and my lying down,

and are acquainted with all my ways.

Even before a word is on my tongue,

O Lord, you know it completely.

You hem me in, behind and before,

and lay your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;

it is so high that I cannot attain it.

 

Where can I go from your spirit?

Or where can I flee from your presence?

If I ascend to heaven, you are there;

if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.

If I take the wings of the morning

and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,

even there your hand shall lead me,

and your right hand shall hold me fast.

If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,

and the light around me become night,”

even the darkness is not dark to you;

the night is as bright as the day,

for darkness is as light to you.

 

For it was you who formed my inward parts;

you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

baby-growing

Wonderful are your works;

that I know very well.

My frame was not hidden from you,

when I was being made in secret,

intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.

In your book were written

all the days that were formed for me,

when none of them as yet existed.

How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!

How vast is the sum of them!

I try to count them – they are more than the sand;

I come to the end – I am still with you.

 

osr 4

O that you would kill the wicked, O God,

and that the bloodthirsty would depart from me –

those who speak of you maliciously,

and lift themselves up against you for evil!

Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?

And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
I hate them with perfect hatred;

I count them my enemies.

Search me, O God, and know my heart;

test me and know my thoughts.

See if there is any wicked way in me,

and lead me in the way everlasting.

 

Psalm 139

Perfect justice will come

Justice and wisdom. They go together.

I found the best explanation of justice in a book on hope by Max Lucado. The best description of wisdom resides in another book, this one a novel.

Let me set the stage with this:

 

For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.

2 Corinthians 5:10

 

Justice

Lucado published a book last year (2018) called “Unshakable Hope: building our lives on the promises of God”. One of those promises is titled, “Justice Will Prevail.”

Lucado explains how that 2 Corinthians judgment will work. It makes a whole lot of sense.

You and I, along with each person who ever lived, is living or will live, one day will stand before God’s judgment seat.

Heaven requires that sins be paid. All of them. There will be no sin in heaven.

hope

How will God remove all sin from Heaven? One at a time. As long as it takes.

Here’s the picture Lucado paints of what judgment will look like.

Each of us individually will stand in a courtroom, God’s courtroom, and face our Maker. “And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, the book of life. And the dead were judged according to their works, as recorded in the books.” (Revelation 20:12)

In those books are all of our works, good and evil. Every single one.

In an American courtroom, every defendant is allowed an advocate, someone to defend him or her. It’s not mandatory; we can reject assistance and stand before the judge on our own if we so desire.

On God’s judgment day, those of us who know Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior will have an advocate as God reads off our sins. For example:

  • Bill made a comment behind someone’s back. Jesus: I died for that.
  • Bill ignored a person he could have helped. Jesus: I know. I have forgiven him.
  • Bill cussed under his breath, but a few people heard him. Jesus: I took care of that.

And on and on. Every single sin I have ever committed, and will commit, in my entire life. God will read them off.

Jesus will accept the punishment for each one of them.

There will be no secrets in Heaven, no wondering, “What did he/she do down there on Earth?” We will be free, completely free, from all sin – and able to worship God and live for Him with our whole hearts.

When the list is ended, anything good I’ve done will also get read aloud by the living God, according to the verse I quoted in 2 Corinthians. God will celebrate all the good that happened (and is happening and will happen) down here on Earth.

This is the judgment of each one whom Jesus knows intimately.

But some people on Earth reject God.

God will honor that. And He will judge accordingly.

These folks will face the same judgment. They will stand before God, and He will read off their sins, one by one, just as He did mine.

But they will have no advocate standing next to them, offering to pay for their sins.

God, therefore, will declare them guilty – the only sentence He can pronounce.

Justice will prevail. For each and every one of us.

Wisdom

Justice plays out in a similar fashion in one of my favorite novels – “The Shack,” by William Paul Young. In a chapter titled “Here Come Da Judge,” we see two main characters: Mack, who is bitter over the kidnapping and death of his young daughter, and the judge, later identified as Sophia, the personification of God’s wisdom.

shack

Mack also has a wife and four living children. In this chapter, we learn that Mack, like many of us, is quick to judge just about everyone he meets – and he blames God for allowing his daughter to die.

How accurate are our judgments? God writes down all of our deeds, good and evil, in books that will be opened one day. But how much do you and I truly know about each other?

Since Mack was quick to condemn the killer of his daughter and God for allowing that scenario to play out, Sophia did something unusual. She got up from her judge’s chair and invited Mack to sit there. Judgment Day had arrived, and he was the judge.

Mack was unnerved. He felt unqualified.

But he judged people all the time, so he had lots of experience at it. He was qualified then, right?

Judge Sophia gave him a challenge: Only two of your five children can go to heaven. You must send the other three to hell. Which of your children would you sentence to hell?

When you put it that way, Judge …

But that’s what we do every day, don’t we?

Mack said he couldn’t do it. No way. Sophia said you must. You want to judge, you think God judges like this, then render your verdict.

Mack pleaded for his children, all of them. He said he’d take the punishment for their sins – send him to hell, let all of his children go to heaven.

Mack finally understood wisdom. Because that’s exactly what Jesus Christ did for His children.

There’s so much more to “The Shack” than this one scene. It’s a great book, and it came out as a movie two years ago.

The advocate

I’m glad I’m not the ultimate judge of anyone, even though I try sometimes. I don’t know your motives, why you do what you do. You don’t know my motives. Shakespeare said all the world’s a stage, and he was right. We’re all actors, and when we play a role, we can hide our true selves.

But we can’t hide from the living God.

That’s why His justice is perfect.

Each of us will get what we deserve.

The question is: Will you have an advocate with you on the Judgment Day? Only one advocate will be allowed in that courtroom, and he paid a very heavy price to claim that role.

A price that no one else can come close to paying.

That day will come. It’s been promised.

Will you be ready?

One day …

A prayer for God to do whatever it takes to convince the world that he is indeed God:

 

O God, do not keep silence; do not hold your peace or be still, O God!

Even now your enemies are in tumult; those who hate you have raised their heads.

They lay crafty plans against your people; they consult together against those you protect.

They say, “Come, let us wipe them out as a nation; let the name of Israel be remembered no more.”

They conspire with one accord; against you they make a covenant – the tents of Edom and the Ishmaelites, Moab and the Hagrites, Gebal and Ammon and Amalek, Philistia with the inhabitants of Tyre; Assyria also has joined them; they are the strong arm of the children of Lot.

Do to them as you did to Midian, as to Sisera and Jabin at the Wadi Kishon, who were destroyed at En-dor, who became dung for the ground.

Make their nobles like Oreb and Zeeb, all their princes like Zebah and Zalmunna, who said, “Let us take the pastures of God for our own possession.”

O my God, make them like whirling dust, like chaff before the wind.

As fire consumes the forest, as the flame sets the mountains ablaze, so pursue them with your tempest and terrify them with your hurricane.

Fill their faces with shame, so that they may seek your name, O LORD.

Let them be put to shame and dismayed forever; let them perish in disgrace.

Let them know that you alone, whose name is the LORD, are the Most High over all the earth.

 

Psalm 83

True love changes us

Love people just as they are.

Yes and no.

Yes, all people are created in the image of God and have specific gifts, talents and abilities. Even more than that, each of us has a purpose here on Earth.

I accepted Christ as my savior as a teenager mainly because counselors and other campers at a church camp I attended accepted me for who I was, even though I did nothing to earn their love. I wanted what they had, and it was Jesus.

Love people just as they are.

No. God loves us too much to leave us there. Accepting Jesus as my savior was the starting point, not the final destination. The road of life needs to be re-paved; the old one eventually will wear out.

If we claim to follow Jesus, we must grapple with this:

 

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? On what will they give in return for their life?”

Matthew 16: 24-26

 

And this:

 

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

Mark 1:14-15

 

Deny themselves? Take up their cross? Repent?

No wonder Jesus said the way of life is narrow and few will find it (Matthew 7:14).

Deny themselves

I’ve written about this several times recently, and gotten some push-back from it – not surprisingly. It’s not about me. It’s not about you. The world doesn’t revolve around me. Or you.

The church I attend has a term for this: Live surrendered.

It’s not easy, certainly.

I do not have this life (or the next life, for that matter) all figured out. There’s plenty I don’t know. Am I willing to learn?

We all know how difficult justice is to find in our court systems. Lawyers gather as much evidence as they can, for and against, and the jury weighs the evidence and makes a decision. That’s the best we can do.

Yet sometimes innocent people are convicted, and occasionally guilty people go free. It happens. We know this.

Is there a better way? Is there such a thing as true justice?

Yes, there is. But we might not get it until the next life.

At that point, when we see what justice really looks like, we might wish we didn’t have to face it. Because all of us will have to face it.

That’s a column for another day.

The point is: I don’t have all the answers. I know someone who does. That someone is the One who created me. Sometimes God will tell me what the answers to my questions are, sometimes He will not. I follow Him anyway. This is called trust.

I trust that God’s way is better than my way. (Sorry, Frank Sinatra.) That’s what denying ourselves means.

Take up their cross

Yikes. The cross is an instrument of death. We wear it around our necks as jewelry, build them alongside highways and hang beautiful ones inside our churches.

Crucifixion is one of the most horrific forms of death man has ever devised. The purpose – the only purpose – of a cross is to kill someone.

Jesus had a cross. We know that. But he said that followers should take up their cross. Do we have to die too?

In a sense, yes, we do. For the wages of sin is death … (Romans 6:23)

We earn wages. Sin has a price. It’s death.

What is sin? Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. (1 John 3:4)

So, sin is breaking God’s laws.

For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. (James 2:10)

If we think this through, we know this is true. If I’m guilty of theft, I’m not necessarily guilty of murder, but I’m still guilty of breaking the law and I have to serve a sentence for the theft I committed. Right?

So, sin is breaking God’s laws.

What are God’s laws?

“ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

How do we do that?

On one level those words are easy to understand. But it takes a lifetime to fully know how to love God and love people. (Quick note: Do we love God with ALL our heart, soul and mind – or just with the parts of our heart, soul and mind we want to give to God? We aren’t allowed to interpret the Bible the way we’d like. We either follow it, or we don’t.)

Repent

Gotquestions.org has a good explanation of repentance:

In the Bible, the word repent means “to change one’s mind.” The Bible also tells us that true repentance will result in a change of actions (Luke 3:8-14, Acts 3:19). In summarizing his ministry, Paul declares, “I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds” (Acts 26:20). The full biblical definition of repentance is a change of mind that results in a change of action.

Love them as they are? Yes. But that’s only the starting point.

Why change?

“No slave can serve two masters … You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Luke 16:13)

“They (my followers) do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.” (Jesus, in John 17:16)

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Denying oneself. Taking up our cross. Repenting. And following Jesus.

This is what true love is.

Justice, kindness, humility: They go together

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;

and what does the LORD require of you

but to do justice, and to love kindness,

and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8

 

We don’t like to be called “mortal,” do we? That means we aren’t immortal – and God is. Many of us don’t like that thought.

Some of you reject the Bible and God for just that reason, don’t you?

Truth is truth, even if it’s inconvenient sometimes.

If something is “good,” then that means something else is “bad.” Good is a comparative term. This sentence says justice, kindness and humility are good, which means their opposites are bad.

Most of us would agree that justice is a good thing. I think justice means different things to different people, though.

Kindness is “good,” too.  A kinder world would be a better world. We might agree with this, but not enough of us do much about it.

Humility, especially with God? That’s a tougher one. But we can’t get along with each other, much less with God, unless we “walk humbly.”

These three concepts go together. We can talk about each separately, but we can’t have justice without kindness and humility, or kindness without justice and humility, or humility without justice and kindness.

Justice

1 Just behaviour or treatment.

‘a concern for justice, peace, and genuine respect for people’

1.1 The quality of being fair and reasonable.

‘the justice of his case’

1.2 The administration of the law or authority in maintaining this.

‘a tragic miscarriage of justice’

2 A judge or magistrate, in particular a judge of the Supreme Court of a country or state.

https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/justice

 

Here’s another definition with a slightly different slant:

  1. the quality of being just; righteousness, equitableness, or moral rightness: to uphold the justice of a cause.
  2. rightfulness or lawfulness, as of a claim or title; justness of ground or reason: to complain with justice.
  3. the moral principle determining just conduct.
  4. conformity to this principle, as manifested in conduct; just conduct, dealing, or treatment.
  5. the administering of deserved punishment or reward.
  6. the maintenance or administration of what is just by law, as by judicial or other proceedings: court of justice.
  7. judgment of persons or causes by judicial process: to administer justice in a community.
  8. a judicial officer; a judge or magistrate.

https://www.dictionary.com/browse/justice

 

Justice has to do with law, but also with “moral rightness.” It includes being “fair and reasonable.”

Who gets to decide what is “fair,” “reasonable” or “morally right?”

Those who write the laws of the land make those decisions.

Those laws are not irrevocable, at least in this country. New leaders can change laws or write new ones if they decide that “moral rightness” is not happening.

It’s not an easy process, but it does happen. Women were given the right to vote, for example, in the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1919; before then, they couldn’t.

Earlier, on Jan. 31, 1865, the 13th amendment became law, which abolished slavery. This law has been enforced unevenly since. “Justice” and “morally right” still clash on this issue far too often.

We can’t legislate respect, although these amendments tried.

Justice in the Bible adds a couple of layers to the nation’s definitions.

 

We cannot begin to understand God’s justice unless we first understand sin. Sin … embodies everything contrary to God’s holy nature. Thus, sin is a crime against God, and justice demands a penalty of death and separation from Him for it (Romans 1:18-322:53:23). But God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to earth to pay that penalty for us (Romans 5:8-116:23) and made salvation available to all who believe in His name (John 1:123:15-1720:31).

(This is) not in spite of His justice, but because of it. He loved us so much that despite the fact that our sin demands our death, He sent His Son to be our substitute upon the cross, thus demonstrating that His justice was not violated, but instead satisfied (1 Thessalonians 1:105:9).

https://www.gotquestions.org/God-of-justice.html

 

The Bible also talks about “social justice.” The Bible interprets that term differently than the world does:

 

The Christian notion of social justice is different from the contemporary notion of social justice. The biblical exhortations to care for the poor are more individual than societal. In other words, each Christian is encouraged to do what he can to help the “least of these.” The basis for such biblical commands is found in the second of the greatest commandments — love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:39).

Today’s notion of social justice replaces the individual with the government, which, through taxation and other means, redistributes wealth.

https://www.gotquestions.org/social-justice.html

 

If we want to have an intelligent, meaningful discussion on justice, we need to define the term and understand what we’re talking about. If you and I think differently about justice, we might have to work hard to understand each other.  Listening is essential to communication.

Kindness

Kindness is a behavior marked by ethical characteristics, a pleasant disposition, and concern and consideration for others. It is considered a virtue, and is recognized as a value in many cultures and religions.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kindness

 

An entire movement, “random acts of kindness,” encourages us to do nice things for each other. That started in a Sausalito, California, restaurant in 1982 when Anne Herbert scrawled the words “practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty” on a placemat. From there it spread to bumper stickers, quietly at first, but with all the powerful momentum of something important – calling us to lives of caring and compassion.

https://makeadiff.wordpress.com/2006/06/02/the-history-of-random-acts-of-kindness/

 

We need more caring and compassion in our country. It won’t happen by accident; whether as random acts or among friends and family, kindness is intentional. God recognized this centuries ago, and “requires” this of us (along with justice and humility).

“Walk humbly with your God”

I like this definition of humility:

 

True humility is to recognize your value and others’ value while looking up. It is to see there is far greater than ourselves into who we can become, who others can become, and how much more we can do and be.

To be humble is to serve others for their good as well as your own.

To be humble is to have a realistic appreciation of your great strengths, but also of your weaknesses.

https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Humility

 

 

Humility is not thinking I am unworthy of anything. It’s recognizing my value, while acknowledging your value as well.

“Realistic” is a great word. You and I both have needs and desires, and I should serve you to improve your life in some way. That’s humility. I would receive a benefit too – the satisfaction of knowing I did something good.

Why be humble and serve others? Because God served us first, by creating us and then offering us salvation from our sins. This is not only God’s justice, but His mercy – giving us a gift we don’t deserve. It’s a small way we can say “Thank you” to God. This is where humility starts.

Micah offers a good formula for living. Justice, kindness and humility depend on each other. If I seek justice, I will seek your best interests as well as mine. If I seek kindness, I want you to be just as happy as I am (possibly more so). If I seek humility, I want to see your life get better.

All three concepts are not about me. They involve serving God. And serving you.

Justice for all, mercy for some

A few lessons I’ve learned or re-learned through a year-long study of Romans in the New Testament:

  • We discover order in nature, but we can’t learn about sin and salvation through nature.
  • Justified: Acquitted of all charges. That doesn’t mean we are innocent, just not guilty. There are no consequences for what we’ve done. This is grace – an act of God. We do not contribute to it.
  • Justification is a one-time act of God. Sanctification is the process of becoming like Jesus, which takes a lifetime.
  • Law reveals sin, but can’t cure it. A CAT scan may find a disease, but the CAT scan itself can’t cure it. Same principle. Jesus, not the law, is the medicine we need to have our sins forgiven.
  • The Old Testament laws weren’t written down until Moses wrote them – 430 years after Abraham lived. Sin still existed, even though no written laws did. See Adam and Eve.
  • God did all the work to offer us salvation from our sins. He initiated, taught, died and resurrected, all while we were sinners. We don’t have to get it right before God saves us. We accept God’s forgiveness; then sanctification starts.
  • Our trespasses can be counted. Grace is infinite.
  • We also died on the cross and were buried with Jesus, and were raised from the dead with Him (see Romans 6:1-4). Burial means death to sin is final.
  • No one is “free.” Everyone serves someone or something, whether we realize it or not.
  • While Jesus delivers us from the power of sin, it’s not a one-and-done thing. Recognizing this conflict proves that we are His.
  • Sin does not define us. The struggle with sin defines God’s forgiveness and love.
  • We have conflict, but not condemnation.
  • Suffering is temporary; glory is permanent (eventually).
  • Justice keeps us on Death Row. God chooses to give mercy to some people. This is not about us. It’s about Him. We have to trust God’s character, because there’s no way we can understand this.
  • God sent the apostle Paul to people (Gentiles) who weren’t even looking for Him. God operates that way frequently.
  • We are transformed by the renewal of our minds. So often we blame our bodies for sin, but it starts in our minds. Always.
  • All people are far more important than humanists imagine us to be. All people are far worse than humanists suppose.
  • Loving God and others is not behavior modification. It’s a heart issue.
  • Harmony and dissonance: Do my notes blend in with the melody? There are no lone-ranger Christians. My notes, played correctly alongside the in-tune notes of other Christians, will make beautiful music.
  • If we respond to evil with evil, then evil never ends.
  • If we respond to evil with love, we absorb the evil. This is not normal.
  • God is in control of all things. This is not difficult to understand, but it is difficult to accept.
  • Following God does not always mean that all goes well. See Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace, or Daniel in the lion’s den. Sometimes God brings us through the fire. That often glorifies Him.
  • God establishes authority for our good. Anarchy brings chaos. Even poor leaders are better than no leadership at all.
  • Light shines brighter in darkness than it does in the daytime.
  • The purpose of the law is to help us live together well. We can do this only if we love each other. (The law no longer applies when we die, of course.)
  • Food and drink won’t matter in heaven. Righteousness, peace and joy will.
  • “Accept” means to welcome or receive, not simply to tolerate.
  • The gospel is simple, but it’s not simplistic. The plan of salvation has a few easy steps to follow, but living them out takes a lifetime of learning and doing.
  • Don’t study evil; we know it already. Study God’s word.
  • Avoid people who reject Christ. Don’t argue for the sake of arguing.
  • God has won the war. The battles of this life will end soon.

Peace in the midst of injustice

If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

Romans 12:18

 

Such a simple statement, and yet so profound. You’d think everyone would want to live peaceably.

If it is possible …

The apostle Paul wrote this statement in a letter to a specific group of Christians. He didn’t write it to a nation or a government. He wrote it to us. We aren’t to point fingers at others with this sentiment – or any other sentiment in the Bible, for that matter.

Paul was writing to me. And to you.

I am not to take revenge. Ever. That only escalates any situation, and hurts me as well as the other person.

Road rage

Example: road rage. Just yesterday, I was driving the company van at 20 mph through a school zone. Slightly ahead of me in the right lane was another van. Without warning, the driver of the other van jerked into my lane. Had I not slammed on the brakes (and hit the horn), he would have sideswiped me.

He continued on as if nothing happened. Then, a couple of minutes later, he did it again, swerving unexpectedly into the left lane (thankfully, there wasn’t anyone beside him then).

I let him go. I could have flashed my lights at him, honked repeatedly or pulled up beside him, rolled down my window and yelled at him. Right?

Then what? He might have apologized. He might have given me the finger and cut me off again.

To what end? Likely a crash involving him, me or both.

Because I drive for a living, such an incident would probably cost me my job. That’s a steep price to pay for getting angry in the heat of a moment.

So far as it depends on you …

Facebook anger

Example: political thinking. I’ve been ostracized by a close relative whose political views differ from mine. She wouldn’t let up on my Facebook posts after I asked her to chill out, so last fall I had to de-friend her. She blames me for rejecting her. That feeling of rejection goes back much farther than last year, by the way (and is not justified, in my opinion).

How do I respect someone who thinks differently than I do, and is not shy about saying so? In the short term, we need a cooling-off period, I think. I’m not adverse to a respectful conversation at all.

If it is possible …

I’ve apologized a couple of times for offending her, and she has not accepted my apologies. In real life, she’s a much nicer person than she is on Facebook (she’s not the only one I know who fits that profile). We live in different states so we don’t see each other often. Perhaps a face-to-face is in order. I’ll have to think about that.

False accusation

Example: Joseph in the Old Testament. If anyone has ever understood injustice, it’s Joseph.

After getting sold to a trader by his brothers, he was bought by Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh in Egypt. Potiphar’s wife wanted to have an affair with him, but Joseph said no – because he respected Potiphar and he followed the principles of the living God. As a result, the revengeful wife of Potiphar falsely accused him of rape. Potiphar, without asking Joseph his side of the story, had him tossed in prison.

Then forgot about him. For two years.

So far as it depends on you …

Joseph never complained. He wasn’t happy about it, but he tried to make the best of a bad situation. Eventually, he got out of prison and served Pharaoh very well. Read about these events in Genesis 39-41.

Joseph also eventually forgave his brothers for selling him years earlier, when he could have turned the tables and had them thrown in prison, or worse. Read about that in Genesis 43-45.

Joseph’s attitude?

“Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good.”

Genesis 50:20

If it is possible …

Defending truth

Example: Stephen in the New Testament. Stephen is one of my heroes. We first hear about him when he, “a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit,” is appointed with six others to meet the physical needs of people so the 12 apostles could spend all of their time preaching. He was a behind-the-scenes servant.

And yet, he “did great wonders and signs among the people.” Some of the religious leaders of his day didn’t appreciate that – nor could they defend themselves against Stephen’s wisdom.

As with Joseph, Stephen was falsely accused, Stephen of blaspheming against the temple and the law. In response, Stephen gave a phenomenal history lesson to the leaders who should have already known what he was saying. But instead of understanding their own history, they stoned him.

As Stephen was dying a painful death, he “cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them’.” Read his story in Acts 6-7.

So far as it depends on you …

Remaining true

Sometimes, when we try to live peaceably, there are consequences. Just ask Joseph and Stephen. Both paid a huge price for their faithfulness to peace and to the living God – Stephen with his life.

In the end, I’m sure both would say that living a peaceable life was worth the cost. Other people benefited greatly from their peace-loving ways.

Even if they didn’t understand why they had to suffer, they trusted the God they worshipped for the results of their peace-loving ways.

Joseph saw those results: restored relationships with his brothers, for one. Stephen did not. He became the first martyr to the Christian cause. The results came later.

That was good enough for Stephen.

Wow.

This life often is not very peaceful. What can you and I do to help make it more so?

Pledge a way to revive civility

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

 

Remember that? Many of us “old-timers” recited the Pledge of Allegiance to start our school day.

Students at the Lorain County Joint Vocational School in Oberlin, Ohio, recently began reciting the pledge after not doing so for generations.

The effort is student-led and voluntary. It was a student’s idea to recite the pledge, and that student leads his peers in the recitation each morning.

“Students have been very respectful,” Principal Jill Petitti said in an interview with The Chronicle-Telegram of Elyria, Ohio. “For the most part they’ve been participating. I’ve heard multiple people say that they love to start their day this way.”

The student, John Owen, offered this explanation:

“With so much going on in the nation, in news, and even in the NFL, I think the pledge will instill in students that it’s OK to be a patriotic person.”

http://www.chroniclet.com/Local-News/2018/01/25/Pledge-of-Allegiance-starts-morning-at-Lorain-County-JVS.html

What a refreshing story.

Our young people offer a wonderful hope for America’s future.

We adults often focus on the negative:

  • Reciting the pledge must be voluntary so no one gets offended.
  • The words “under God,” added in 1954, violate separation of church and state in the eyes of many.

Students, however, focus on patriotism.

The themes of the pledge are worth pursuing.

Are we indivisible? Do we offer liberty and justice for all?

Indivisible

The ongoing debate in Congress to even pass a budget questions our ability to be indivisible at the moment. Our president is divisive in his tweets – even his own party gets blindsided by his words on occasion.

But it’s not only our political leaders who can’t get along. Jo Ann Jenkins, CEO of AARP, explains it this way in the current issue of the AARP Bulletin:

 

… the divisions in this country are exacerbated by the fact that so many people get their news from only one source – and sources that have differing viewpoints often don’t even share a common set of facts – which makes it difficult to have a meaningful discussion and debate.

 

In that light, are we still one nation? Are we indivisible?

Indivisible means not divisible; not separable into parts; incapable of being divided:

one nation indivisible.

http://www.dictionary.com/browse/indivisible

Are we incapable of being divided?

That’s a strong word.

Democrats and Republicans still vote in the same room. Men and women still live and work together. People of differing races and ethnicities work, play and socialize together, to varying degrees.

Despite our differences.

Yes, we are indivisible. We survived a Civil War. We will survive the current divisiveness. And we will be a better country for it.

Liberty

“Liberty,” according to my hard-cover Webster’s dictionary, offers this definition:

  1. The quality or state of being free; (a) the power to do as one pleases (b) freedom from physical restraint (c) freedom from arbitrary or despotic control (d) the positive enjoyment of various social, political or economic rights and privileges (e) the power of choice

“The power to do as one pleases” is not unlimited. Taken to the extreme, that might mean I’ll show up for work whenever I want to. The boss wouldn’t appreciate that because my job wouldn’t get done.

Having said that, we are free to choose our relationships, careers, where we live, how we worship, what we do in our spare time, etc. Much of this we take for granted, even though people in many other countries don’t have these liberties.

We also are free from physical restraints and from arbitrary or despotic control – which is why we are shocked when these liberties are taken away. The couple who tortured their 13 children in California come to mind. Larry Nassar also does. Sickening. These adults violated everything our nation stands for.

And we have the freedom to get involved in whatever social, political or economic causes we choose, or not.

Justice

My dictionary defines “justice” this way:

  1. (a) the maintenance or administration of what is just esp. by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or judgments (b) judge (c) the administration of law esp. the establishment or determination of rights according to the rules of law or equity
  2. (a) the quality of being just, impartial or fair

Google offers this definition:

Just behavior or treatment. A concern for justice, peace and genuine respect for people.

Dictionary.com talks about moral rightness and lawfulness as well.

We debate morals all the time and we can add or delete laws, but “genuine respect for people” should be the guiding principle for how we decide them. We can’t be just, impartial or fair if we do not respect all people.

In public arenas, I don’t see much “genuine respect for people.”

Civility

Jenkins, the AARP CEO, sums it up:

 

Restoring civility to public discourse begins with each of us individually: how we talk to and relate to one another, taking the extra step to understand why a person believes differently than we do, and being able to disagree with one another while still respecting the other person.

 

Are we indivisible, offering liberty and justice to all?

Perhaps we should revive the Pledge of Allegiance, not just in schools, but post it on a wall in workplaces and public spots as well.

It offers a message worth adhering to.

Still learning a 2,600-year-old lesson

Thus says the LORD: Do not let the wise boast in their wisdom, do not let the mighty boast in their might, do not let the wealthy boast in their wealth; but let those who boast boast in this, that they understand and know me, that I am the LORD; I act with steadfast love, justice and righteousness in the earth, for in these things I delight, says the LORD.

(Jeremiah 9:23-24, emphasis added)

 

Wisdom, might, wealth.

Love, justice, righteousness.

Two lists, separated by God.

Wisdom, might and wealth are human gains.

Love, justice and righteousness belong to God.

That explains a lot about our country right there.

What do we pursue the most? Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We search for those things in our wisdom, might and wealth.

Wisdom

Wisdom, according to Merriam-Webster, is the ability to discern inner qualities and relationships; good sense; generally accepted belief; and accumulated philosophical or scientific learning.

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/wisdom

We gain wisdom as we learn things. Wisdom is never complete; we never see the entire picture.

For centuries, “generally accepted belief” and “scientific learning” told us that Earth was flat. As we gained more wisdom, we learned otherwise.

That’s why trusting entirely in science is not enough. There’s so much we don’t know yet. All the tiny details of how atoms work, how to cure cancer, what’s on the far reaches of outer space. We know a lot, certainly, but wisdom comes in bits and pieces, sometimes by excellent research, sometimes by good luck, sometimes by trial and error.

Wisdom is what we’ve learned. And since some of my experiences differ from yours, my “good sense” and “generally accepted belief” might be different than yours. My wisdom is not your wisdom, necessarily.

Wisdom is good, but only to a point. It’s not conclusive.

Might

Why do we glorify physical strength? The reason so many NFL players get hurt these days – ie, nearly all of them – is specifically because they all are so big and strong. (And when they retire, what happens to their bodies without the exercise? We never hear about that.)

I weigh 140 pounds. I’m on the low end or off the scale of every height-weight chart I’ve seen. I’ll never win a weight-lifting competition. If might is the goal, I have no chance.

The Winter Olympics is coming up, when athletes will show tremendous feats of strength and agility. Once the Olympics is over, we won’t hear from most of those athletes again. How fleeting life is in the public eye.

We glorify might, but it doesn’t last. Our bodies wear out eventually.

Wealth

Wealth is power. You have to be rich (and either a Republican or a Democrat) to run for political office. Money talks in the business world. Entertainers and athletes make big money. (Teachers don’t, comparatively.) The largest public employee salary in many states belongs not to the governor, but to a college football or basketball coach.

As with might, money doesn’t last. When we spend it, it’s gone. And when we die, we can’t take it with us.

Most people across the world don’t have near the wealth that the average American has. Even our poor are wealthy by the world’s standards.

It’s easy to get greedy and envious. There’s always someone who has more than I do. (There’s always someone who has less as well, but most of us aren’t looking in that direction.)

Wealth is either inherited or earned.

And it can disappear overnight. Those of us invested in the stock market in 2008 can attest to that.

Are wisdom, might and wealth the highest goals we can attain?

Love

Love has many definitions, of course. The purest love wants the best for the other person.

It’s not about me. It’s about you. Me serving you. God serving us both.

This kind of love does not come from us. We are selfish by nature, every one of us. True love originates with God.

This is not debatable.

Again, there are many types of love. Husband-wife, parent-child, friends. All of them are (or should be) other-person-centered.

Others-centered love does not come naturally. If it did, our divorce rate would not be between 40 percent and 50 percent (higher for subsequent marriages – we aren’t learning the lesson the first time around). Our violent crime rates wouldn’t be so high. We wouldn’t be searching for love in all the wrong places – illegal drugs, prostitution and pornography, fancy clothes or cars or houses or (fill in the blank), climbing the corporate ladder, a bigger salary … and on and on.

God shows us the love we need. All we have to do is accept it, then give it away.

It really is that simple.

In theory, at least.

Justice

Justice, according to Merriam-Webster, is “the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims,” the administration of law, and the quality of being just, impartial and fair.

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/justice

How well is all of that working out in our nation?

When we impart justice on human terms, it changes all the time. Jim Crow laws. Same-sex marriage. Legalization of marijuana (which is coming eventually nationwide).

What is murder, anyway? Self-defense? Insanity plea?

So many gray areas in our laws. Loopholes and exceptions. How do we know which of these are just?

Depends who you ask.

Do impartiality and fairness even exist?

We need to try, certainly.

But ultimately, justice belongs to God alone. He sees the big picture. He understands the human heart, because He created it, so He understands motive. We try to figure it out, and we don’t always get it right, do we?

The Ten Commandments were given to us for a reason. For our own benefit. No human court of law or body of legislators has ever improved upon it.

Righteousness

Righteousness, again quoting Merriam-Webster, is acting in accord with divine or moral law; morally right or justifiable.

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/righteousness

We don’t hear much about righteousness in the news, because it’s about “divine law.” We’ll stick with our own “morally right or justifiable” laws, thank you.

Even though those laws change depending on who has the wisdom, might and wealth at the moment.

Is there a “moral law” greater than the human mind can come up with?

We’re doomed if there isn’t.

As we enter 2018, if we can’t figure out how to get along with each other – love in its most basic form – we won’t have much of a future as a nation.

The prophet Jeremiah warned us about this 2,600 years ago. We still haven’t learned the lesson.

Will we ever?

Saturday

O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,

and you will not listen?

Or cry to you “Violence!”

and you will not save?

Why do you make me see wrongdoing

and look at trouble?

Destruction and violence are before me;

strife and contention arise.

So the law becomes slack,

and justice never prevails.

The wicked surround the righteous –

therefore judgment comes forth perverted.

  • Habakkuk 1:2-4

 

I ask this question of God all the time. Maybe not in those exact words, but the question remains.

When will good prevail?

I know it will eventually, but what about today?

We just celebrated the holiest week on the Christian calendar. Such wide-ranging events, such wild swings of emotion:

  • Jesus washing his disciples’ feet in a surprising act of servanthood. (Have you ever washed someone’s feet, or let someone wash your feet? It’s humbling, almost degrading.)
  • Jesus crying out in anguish to his father, asking for the unfolding scenario not to happen. “… yet not what I want but what you want.” (Matthew 26:39)
  • An unfair – and illegal – trial in the middle of the night. Jesus remained silent through most of it.
  • The horrible crucifixion on Friday.
  • Jesus’ life-altering resurrection on Sunday.

Wait a minute. There’s one day in that week where nothing seemingly happens. Only silence.

Saturday.

The day between the crucifixion and the resurrection.

Habakkuk wrote his essay about 600 years before Jesus lived, but he easily could have written it on that Saturday. Jesus promised that he would rise on the third day, but it hadn’t happened yet. There’s only the sorrow of death. Tomorrow hasn’t come yet. What about today? What do we do now?

In a very real sense, the year 2017 is taking place on Saturday. Yes, the resurrection has occurred, but the final victory hasn’t come yet. The Bible promises that it will. Eventually.

What do we do in the meantime?

In my personal journal, I concluded a Good Friday entry with this paragraph:

 

“It’s a nice day today, Father. I don’t feel it. Birds singing, flowers growing, window open, sun shining. A beautiful spring day. Where You die, and I sin. Sunday is coming. Eventually.”

 

When will good prevail? It already has, and still is. I often have a hard time seeing it, though.

It’s easy to focus on the negative, personally and globally, and live my life there. Sad. Frustrated. Disappointed. Angry, perhaps. Knowing that Sunday is coming, but not seeing it.

Our church gave us a Holy Week devotional that I found helpful. The Saturday entry includes this thought:

 

“The promise is clear: Jesus will rise. But the grief and pain are so overwhelming, nobody can hear the promise now. Nobody can remember the promise. Saturday is the day of such emotional pain, that it seems impossible to remember the promises of God. Isn’t it true that much of life is lived on “Saturday?” We’re so beleaguered by our circumstances that we forget what God has said … We doubt in the dark what God has said in the light … We cry out for help, but God does not listen.”

 

I get that. I put my head down when I’m jogging to watch for potholes and dog poop on the path, but I don’t see what’s ahead of me: a curve in the trail, deer in the woods, other walkers or joggers coming towards me. How far to the bridge over the river or to the overpass I’ll cross under? Am I paying attention?

My life expectancy and health give me another 30 or 40 years here on Earth. That’s a lot of Saturdays. Can I wait that long for Sunday?

The devotional continues this way:

 

Learning to live on Saturday is learning to exercise faith despite the pain, and clinging with all we’ve got to God and the promises he’s made. God will make good out of evil. God will bring joy out of mourning. God will bring light out of darkness. There will be a Sunday. Lord, I believe.

 

Habakkuk gets an answer from God to his plea:

 

“Look at the nations, and see!

Be astonished! Be astounded!

For a work is being done in your days

that you would not believe if you were told.”

  • Habakkuk 1:5

 

Wow. Is that message relevant in 2017? Why not?

Sunday is coming. Sooner or later.

That gives me hope. I don’t have to live with Saturday’s pain.

None of us do. Sunday is promised. The resurrection is proof, and Jesus’ second coming is undeniable. No one knows when that will happen.

Until then, it’s Saturday.

Good and evil co-exist. We need discernment to discover which is which. Sometimes it’s obvious, sometimes it isn’t. Searching for good when evil often reigns is the definition of Saturday.

It can be done, but it’s hard.

I’m ready for Sunday.

I’ll conclude this essay with the final thought of the Bible:

 

“The one who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”

  • Revelation 22:20