Christianity 201

April 21, 2020

We Live Our Lives Both as Offended and Offender

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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This is our third time visiting The Serener Bright written by Ian Graham, pastor of the church Ecclesia, located in West Trenton, New Jersey. As always, bless our contributors with some traffic by clicking the headers which appear below these introductions to read at source.

Psalm 35: Enemy Intelligence

If you’ve ever felt like the world is aligned in a conspiracy against you, Psalm 35 is for you. David doesn’t so much write as he shouts protests:

They hid their net for me without cause
    and without cause dug a pit for me,
may ruin overtake them by surprise—
    may the net they hid entangle them,
    may they fall into the pit, to their ruin.   (7-8)

For many of us, we read Psalm 35 and feel like telling David, “Look, man, you’re just having a bad day, the lady who told you you need two forms of verified ID at the DMV is not a cosmic enemy plotting alongside Satan to ruin your life.” Our modern way of naming enemies is by establishing who’s in our camp and who’s not. The people on the other side of the spectrum are the bad, nefarious people while those within our state borders are given the benefit of good faith and good intentions.

Psalm 35 affirms our suspicions that enemies are a part of life. David doesn’t call role, naming these individuals but he identifies them by their injustice and their glee when troubles befall him:

Ruthless witnesses come forward;
    they question me on things I know nothing about.
 They repay me evil for good
    and leave me like one bereaved.   (11-12)

David promises that he will delight in the Lord and rejoice in his salvation (v. 9), but these unnamed enemies glean their joy from sorrow in David’s life (v. 15). They are mockers, slanderers, engaging in the verbal pornography of gossip and secretly fist-pumping when they get a report that something ill or painful has befallen David (vv.15-16).

You may or may not be able to name people in your life who fit this description. Psalm 35 is acknowledging that this is the way of the world, a way of conflict and alienation. This leads us to the second way that Psalm 35 bears witness to us in how we are to live and move in a world fraught with enemies.

Notice how David responds to the presence of his enemies. He does not lash out in anger and righteous retribution. He goes to great length to describe his own innocence, even noting how when he got updates on those who now mock him, when he heard that they were in anguish, he mourned alongside them, as if he were grieving the loss of his own mother (vv. 13-14). We love nothing more in our society and in our stories than when a person, a people, or an entity get what’s coming to them. We say yes and amen to vindicating vengeance either by the law or other means. But David doesn’t become a vigilante for his own victimhood.

Rather, David prays to God. He acknowledges that God is his judge and deliverer. David opens with the plea:

Contend, Lord, with those who contend with me;
    fight against those who fight against me. 
Take up shield and armor;
    arise and come to my aid. 
Brandish spear and javelin
    against those who pursue me.
Say to me,
    “I am your salvation.”   (1-3)

David knows that he is imperiled because of his enemies but he also knows that only the Lord can release him from their snares. He foreshadows what the apostle Paul will instruct the Roman church to do in Romans 12vv17-19:

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

Jesus will tell those listening that they are not simply to refrain from vengeance, they are to love their enemies. Psalm 35 is a long way from the way Jesus will unmask our true enemies (sin and death) but it gives us a way to live in the world that is often contentious, where people wittingly and unwittingly often live as our enemies.

But in light of Jesus’ teachings, Psalm 35 leaves us with a much more haunting question. Jesus says, don’t look at the speck of sawdust in your neighbor’s eye while ignoring that there is a 2 X 4 sticking out of your own eye (Matthew 7). Jesus compels us to reread Psalm 35 asking ourselves not simply how have we been wronged by others, but how have we, ourselves, been an enemy to others? You see, we live our lives as both offended and offender, and the witness of Jesus declares to all, there is grace for both—forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who have trespassed against us (also, providentially, Matthew 7).

June 26, 2019

Heart Cries of Perplexity, Not Rebellion

This is our sixth time with Colin Sedgwick at the site, Welcome to Sedgonline. I hope you find this article challenging as I did. It originally appeared under the title and link below.

Talking back to God

The Jews struck down all their enemies with the sword, killing and destroying them, and they did what they pleased to those who hated them. In the citadel of Susa, the Jews killed and destroyed five hundred men. Esther 9:6

The Jewish festival of Purim (Esther 9:26) celebrates the deliverance of the Jewish people in Persia, some 500 years before Christ, from the evil plans of Haman. I’ve never experienced it myself, but I read that in synagogues even today “every time Haman’s name is mentioned in the Purim liturgy congregations respond with loud banging, shouting and stamping of feet, and ‘Haman’s hats’ (triangular cakes) are eaten…”.

Great fun, I’m sure. And nothing wrong with that.

But the reality at the time was pretty grim. Esther 9:6 tells us of the deaths of five hundred men in Susa. And a few verses further on (9:16) we read that, outside Susa, some seventy-five thousand people were killed. Hmm… this was a big-scale massacre, and it’s hard to read about it without something of the gloss coming off the story.

Two questions come to my mind…

First, how is this kind of whole-scale vengeance compatible with the spirit of Jesus?

The simple answer is: it isn’t. Jesus, the “prince of peace”, told his followers to “love your enemies”, and prayed “Father, forgive them” for the people who crucified him. So from a Christian perspective, the aftermath of the Haman plot leaves a slightly nasty taste in one’s mouth.

It’s true, of course, that if this hadn’t happened, the bulk of God’s Old Testament people would have been wiped out: it was a dog-eat-dog world, and even God’s chosen people couldn’t help but be a part of it. The coming of Jesus was still a long way off. But still…

It’s not for us to judge or condemn the Jews of Esther’s day – we must bow to the justice of God, trusting that he knows what he is doing throughout history, and be thankful that we live in the days since the earthly life of Jesus.

Thanks be to God, though, for the clear-cut command, Do not take revenge… but leave room for God’s wrath… (Romans 12:19).

(Is that text a direct word to someone reading this?)

How radically and wonderfully Jesus changes everything!

The second question puts a rather different slant on the Esther story: if God could raise up an Esther to influence King Xerxes, why not another “Esther” to influence Hitler and his people?

That question rattles around in my mind because I have recently been reading various books about the Nazi horror – and there’s no doubt that the more you learn the worse it gets.

There are those who would say that we shouldn’t even ask the question. You may be one of them – and, indeed, there’s a large part of me that feels the same way. Paul’s challenge haunts me: “Who are you, a human being, to talk back to God…?” (Romans 9:20). Who indeed?

And yet there is an honorable Bible record of people who did “talk back to God”. The “Why?” question crops up repeatedly in the psalms – for example, 10:1, 22:1 and 88:14. The remarkable book of Job is full of it. So is the little book of Habakkuk: “Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?” (1:3); “Why do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?” (1:13).

Supremely, of course, we have Jesus himself, who cried out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).

It seems that God respects and honors those who, out of genuine anguish of heart, cry out to him in this way – always assuming, of course, that our hearts are humble and that our questioning reflects honest perplexity rather than rebellion.

We need to accept, too, that we’re not likely to receive an answer in any theoretical, intellectual sense. No, God does not offer to satisfy our curiosity, however genuine.

But the great thing is this: the honest questioner may very well get something far, far better than that – a whole new experience of the glory of God. Just contrast the endings of Job and Habakkuk with their beginnings! – in both cases a journey is made from confusion, frustration – even anger? – to radiant faith. Above all, contrast the glory of resurrection morning with the darkness of the crucifixion!

No, I don’t know why God acts in one way at one time, and in another way at another. I don’t know why he seems, from our perspective, to stand by while terrible things happen. But I do know this: that his ultimate purpose is to banish all evil from this beautiful world that he has made.

And when that day comes I suspect we will all want to say with Job: “I am unworthy. How can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth” (40:4).

Not a bad place for it, I think.

Lord God, your ways are shrouded in mystery, and the question “Why?” is often on our lips. Help me to be humble even if indignant, and submissive even if angry. And so bring me to that day when all my questionings will fade on my lips. Amen.

December 26, 2012

Dealing with Difficult People

For some people, the holiday season means getting together with family, friends and acquaintances in close quarters. This should be a pleasant time, but often there are often tensions that seem to arise only at certain times of year. For others, this season provides relief from workplace situations, followed by the dread of having to return to the office, store or factory. So this is very timely.

This was a submitted piece. I am grateful to Kim for responding to our request; she had never written this type of article before and I hope this won’t be her last.

David & Joab – Difficult People in Our Lives

by Kim Rogerson 

Romans 12:19-21

19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

After David fled from King Saul,, men came to David and he became their leader (1 Sam. 22:2). David and his men performed daring exploits while in exile that earned David the title “warrior” and his men “mighty men” (1 Kings 5:3; 2 Sam. 23:8). There were “the Three” and “the Thirty” (2 Sam. 23:8 & 24).

David and JoabInterestingly enough, one of “the Thirty” is Asahel, son of Zeruiah, who is David’s sister (1 Chron. 2:17 & 11:26). Asahel is a commander in David’s army who is in charge in the fourth month (1 Chron. 27:7). He is also a marathon runner who chases Abner, the commander of Israel’s army, until Abner kills him (2 Sam. 2:18-23).

Another of the “mighty men” is Asahel’s brother, Abishai, who is said to be “chief of the Three” (2 Sam. 23:18). Abishai saves David’s life from a Philistine who is a descendant of Rapha – apparently a giant! – after having sworn to kill David. During battle David becomes exhausted, so Abishai kills the giant (2 Sam. 21:15-17). Another time Abishai kills 300 men with his spear (1 Chron. 11:20).

Joab, brother to Asahel and Abishai, is NOT named among the “mighty men”. He becomes a commander in David’s army when he leads the attack on the Jebusites to take Jerusalem (1 Chron. 11:6). However, Joab causes problems for David politically.

After King Saul dies, David is made King over Judah in Hebron. A civil war ensues between the House of Saul and the House of David. After seven years of war, Abner, commander of Israel’s army, decides to support David instead of Saul’s son, Ish-Bosheth. Abner promotes David’s cause to the elders of Israel and finds them willing to make David king (2 Sam. 3:17-18). Abner is on his way to make final preparations for David’s coronation when Joab sends a message to bring him back to Hebron, without David’s knowledge. Joab lures Abner into a doorway and kills him because of his grudge against Abner for killing his brother, Asahel. This does not look good to the elders of Israel. David proves he has had nothing to do with Abner’s death and makes Joab join the mourners for Abner (2 Sam. 3:31). David does not punish Joab by putting him to death, but is vocal that Joab will be repaid for his evil deeds (2 Sam. 3:39).

What do I get from this? There are times when difficult people will cause problems. Like Joab, they react without thinking of the consequences. Their own feelings prevent them from seeing the “big picture” and they will take matters into their own hands. They will not listen to wisdom or rebukes because they know better, instead opposing and actively undermining what should be supported whole-heartedly. What do we do? We can learn from David who shows forbearance.

 Difficult people can impact our lives for good. They have a major part in making us lean on God’s wisdom instead of our own. Sometimes all we can do is commend them to God and ask for forbearance, leaving their evil deeds for God to repay – and He will (Rom. 12:19).