Saint John Chrysostom (349–407) wrote, ‘Prayer… is the root, the fountain, the mother of a thousand blessings… The potency of prayer has subdued the strength of fire, it has bridled the rage of lions… extinguished wars, appeased the elements, expelled demons, burst the chains of death, expanded the gates of heaven, assuaged diseases… rescued cities from destruction… and arrested the progress of the thunderbolt.’
Justice and righteousness are about a radical, selfless way of life.
Like in the book of Proverbs, what does it mean to “bring about just righteousness?”
“Open your mouth for those who can’t speak for themselves.”
And what do these words mean for the prophets, like Jeremiah?
“Rescue the disadvantaged, and don’t tolerate oppression or violence against the immigrant, the orphan, and the widow.”
And look in the book of Psalms. “The Lord God upholds justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry, and sets the prisoner free, but he thwarts the way of the wicked.” Woah. He thwarts the wicked?
In Hebrew the word wicked is rasha’, it means “guilty” or “in the wrong.” It refers to someone who mistreats another human, ignoring their dignity as an image of God.
So is justice and righteousness a big deal to God?
Yes, it’s what Abraham’s family, the Israelites, were to be all about. They ended up as immigrant slaves being oppressed unjustly in Egypt, and so God confronted Egypt’s evil, declaring them to be rasha’, guilty of injustice. And so He rescued Israel. But the tragic irony of the Old Testament story is that these redeemed people went on to commit the same acts of injustice against the vulnerable, and so God sent prophets who declared Israel guilty.
But they weren’t the only ones, there’s injustice everywhere.
Some people actively perpetrate injustice, others receive benefits or privileges from unjust social structures they take for granted, and sadly, history has shown that when the oppressed gain power, they often become oppressors themselves.
So we all participate in injustice, actively or passively, even unintentionally; we’re all the guilty ones.
And so this is the surprising message of the biblical story: God’s response to humanity’s legacy of injustice is to give us a gift: the life of Jesus. He did righteousness and justice, and yet he died on behalf of the guilty. But then God declared Jesus to be the righteous one when He rose from the dead. And so now Jesus offers His life to the guilty, so that they too can be declared “righteous” before God – not because of anything they’ve done, but because of what Jesus did for them.
The earliest followers of Jesus experienced this righteousness from God not just as a new status, but as a power that changed their lives, and compelled them to act in surprising new ways.
If God declared someone “righteous” when they didn’t deserve it, the only reasonable response is to go and seek righteousness and justice for others. This is a radical way of life, and it’s not always convenient or easy. It’s courageously making other people’s problems my problems.
This is what Jesus meant by loving your neighbor as yourself. It’s about a lifetime commitment fueled by the words of the ancient prophet Micah: “God has told you humans what is good and what the Lord requires of you: is to do justice, to love Mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”
If you were a praying mantis, it would be socially acceptable to devour your mate. And if you’re a honey badger, you have no regard for other animals, you don’t care. If you’re a Panda with twins, it’s normal to abandon one to take care of the other.But if humans do any of these things, we would call it wrong, unfair, or unjust.
Why do humans care so much about justice?
Well, the Bible has a fascinating response to that question. On page 1, humans are set apart from all other creatures as “the image of God.” God’s representatives who rule the world by His definition of good and evil. And this identity, it’s the bedrock of the Bible’s view of justice: all humans are equal before God, and have the right to be treated with dignity and fairness, no matter who you are. And that would be nice if we all did that, but we know how the world really works. And the Bible addresses that too: it shows how we are constantly redefining good and evil, to our own advantage at the expense of others.
Self-preservation, and the weaker someone is, the easier it is to take advantage of them.
And so in the biblical story, we see this happening on a personal level, but also in families, and then in communities, and then whole civilizations that create injustice, especially towards the vulnerable. But the story doesn’t end there. Out of this whole mess, God chose a man named Abraham to start a new kind of family. Specifically, Abraham was to teach his family to “keep the way of the Lord, by doing righteousness and justice.”
Doing Righteousness? That’s a Bible word I don’t really use, but what comes to mind is being a good person.
But what does that even mean, “being good?” The biblical Hebrew word for “Righteousness,” is tsedeqah, and it’s more specific: it’s an ethical standard that refers to right relationships between people; it’s about treating others as the “image of God.” With the God-given dignity they deserve. And this word “justice” it’s the Hebrew word mishpat. It can refer to retributive justice. Like if I steal something, I pay the consequences.
Yet most often in the Bible, Mishpat refers to, restorative justice. It means going a step further, actually seeking out vulnerable people who are being taken advantage of and helping them.
Some people call this charity. But mishpat involves way more, it means taking steps to advocate for the vulnerable, and changing social structures to prevent injustice.
So justice and righteousness are about a radical, selfless way of life.
Handley Moule, when he was Bishop of Durham, had the task of visiting the relatives of 170 miners who had been killed in a mining accident. While he was wondering what to say to them, he picked up a little bookmark his mother had given him. As he held it up, on the reverse side of the handwoven bookmark there was a tangled web. There was no rhyme, no reason, no pattern, nothing. But on the other side it said, ‘God is love’.
The world often seems to us like a tangled web. Often we cannot work out what is going on or why we are suffering in the way we are. But the claim of Jesus and the Scriptures is that behind it all is the love of God. Even though things may seem very difficult for us to understand now, God is working out his loving purposes in the world.
God can weave a pattern from the threads of our lives – including the suffering, heartaches and even our mistakes and make something beautiful. The apostle Paul tells us that ‘in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose’ (Romans 8:28). Reflect today on the fact that, even though your situation may be challenging, God is weaving his purpose for your life.
Job said, ‘You gave me life and showed me kindness, and in your providence watched over my spirit’ (Job 10:12). Everything that happens in this world is within the sphere of God’s working. ‘Providence’ means God’s foresight: the way he anticipates and prepares for the future. ‘Providence’ is the way God guides and steers human history – he is present and active in the world – sustaining it and ruling it.
It is also the way he guides and steers your life personally and individually. God has a specific, unique destiny for you. Sometimes this thought worries people: that they might somehow mess things up and miss out on God’s purpose. But that isn’t the case. Even your mistakes he uses for good. In all the circumstances of your life and the events going on around you, you can trust in the providence of God.
Our nation has had more than its share of distractions lately.
There’s one facet that grieves me more than others: this division of racism.
It should not be citizens against police. It should not be blacks against whites. We are all citizens; we are all people.
I pray we each and collectively can respect and love one another as a brother and part of our nation regardless of race, skin color and background.
I do think Jesus Christ is a huge part to healing and solving the hurts and wounds so many have with this issue in our country. That’s my opinion and I don’t mean to preach.
I did want to share a poem I wrote this morning ( 1st draft):
So, here I want to try a new mnemonic
Speaking of ill of a plague, not bubonic
Deeper than the skin that we’re in
It’s the face of a race to start and begin
Yes, it fractures the heart and does shatter
The fact my brother black lives do matter
No one feeling a hurt or deep pains
Presumes not to get wet as it rains
Don’t ignore or lift again an umbrella
Lend your voice and join a capella
There’s too much a cry to ignore
Not a bump, bruise but a deep sore
There’s a chance here to truly heal
Without a bandaid slap you barely feel
If only we care beyond the surface
No masked vain attempt lip service
Yet love and kindness to kith and kin
Gently trying to get at the root within
In Buchenwald concentration camp, 56,000 people were put to death by a totalitarian regime that saw the Christian faith as a threat to its ideology. One block of cells in the camp was reserved for prisoners who were deemed especially dangerous or notable. Paul Schneider, a Lutheran pastor who was called ‘the preacher of Buchenwald’, was placed in this special block because even from the small window in his cell he loudly proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ – in defiance of the orders of the Gestapo guards.
Otto Neururer, a Catholic priest whose work on behalf of the Jews and other so called ‘undesirables’ had made him a threat to the Nazi warlords, was also put in this block. He too ministered in Jesus’ name to his fellow inmates in the concentration camp until he was crucified upside down.
In unity, these two men, one a Catholic and the other a Protestant, bore witness together to their common Lord – Jesus Christ. Unity is so powerful.
Romantic love is wonderful – but it’s only a reflection of the much deeper love God has for His children!– from Pastor Begg’s broadcasted sermon today
I was encouraged and reminded by a sermon from Alistair Begg on God’s love, his “First, Love: The Original Plan” that broadcasted today.
Yes, I recommend giving this sermon a listen. Dated February 14, 2020.
It is mind blowing to me how crazy deep, rich, broad and intimate God’s love is!
“The Love of God” Hymn is a favorite of mine and gives a descriptive attempt at the vastness of God’s love:
The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell
It goes beyond the highest star
And reaches to the lowest hell
The guilty pair, bowed down with care
God gave His Son to win
His erring child He reconciled
And pardoned from his sin
Could we with ink the ocean fill
And were the skies of parchment made
Were every stalk on earth a quill
And every man a scribe by trade
– A few stanzas from The Love of God hymn
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry
Nor could the scroll contain the whole
Though stretched from sky to sky
And to think that in Christ his love is inseparable!
“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Romans 8:38-39 NASB
Happy Valentine’s Day!
During World War II, in the terrible days of the Blitz, a father, holding his small son by the hand, ran from a building that had been struck by a bomb. In the front yard was a shell hole. Seeking shelter as quickly as possible, the father jumped into the hole and held up his arms for his son to follow. Terrified, yet hearing his father’s voice telling him to jump, the boy replied, ‘I can’t see you!’ The father called to the silhouette of his son, ‘But I can see you. Jump!’ The boy jumped, because he trusted his father. In other words, he loved him, he believed in him, he trusted him and he had confidence in him.
‘Faith’, in the Bible, is primarily about putting our trust in a person. In that sense it is more akin to love. All loving relationships involve some element of trust. Faith is trust in God that transforms all your other relationships.
Fyodor was a wild young man. His life revolved around eating, drinking, talking, music, theatre and the company of women. He dreamt of fame. He was caught up in a movement for political and social reform in Russia during the repressive reign of Tsar Nicholas I. He was arrested, tried and condemned to be executed.
On a bitterly cold morning, the prisoners were taken out to be shot. The prison guards raised their muskets to their shoulders and took aim. At the last moment, a white flag was raised to announce that the Tsar had commuted their sentence to life imprisonment in Siberia.
On his arrival in Siberia on Christmas Eve 1849, at the age of twenty-eight, two women slipped him a New Testament. When the guard turned away momentarily, they suggested he should search the pages thoroughly. He did.
While in prison, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, the great Russian novelist, read the New Testament from cover to cover and learnt much of it by heart. He wrote, ‘I believe that there is no one lovelier, deeper, more sympathetic and more perfect than Jesus. I say to myself with jealous love not only is there no one else like him, but there never could be anyone like him.’ It was through the Bible that he had encountered Jesus Christ.
The apostle Paul describes all Scripture as ‘God-breathed’ (2 Timothy 3:16). The Bible is not just inspired in the way that artists, poets, composers and musical performers can be said to be inspired. It actually has God’s breath, his Spirit, in it. Through the Bible, God speaks to you.
I wrote this today actually. I currently don’t have much of a title idea for it. I would welcome any suggestions, thank you￼￼￼￼
I want to make these thoughts rhyme
Or at least to make sense the craziness of mine
Though You call me up, You call me towards
Yet still sin of yesterday entangles and hoards
To entice and enchant heart and mind
It’s Mine! been mine; it’s a hug, though a bind
How comforting and familiar this rut and cave retreat
Sure, a sin You call to fall away since it’s already beat
God, it was my comfort and a craze
A secret, a precious, in coping ways
You ask me to strip it away?
And when my heart finally catches up to my head
That I find myself a slow learner knowing little, I dread
In grasping knowing you more, it’s at a snails pace
It’s only with Your grace each day that I can lift my face
Finding then it’s your lead through Your strength in every way
However to put to phrase these right longings to say
In and of each weak, inadequate things of me
Discard, burn, grow, sift, refine the things you see
What little I have is enough still that I can start
Shedding sin that binds my heart