Bread – Justice

March 2, 2016


Psalm 9

“But the Lord sits enthroned forever; He has established His throne for justice, and He judges the world with righteousness; He judges the peoples with uprightness.”  Ps. 9:7-8

Yesterday, March 1, 2016, was primary voting day in Texas, where Texans exercised their preferences for candidates for various offices.  Among those offices were judges for our local county and district courts, for our courts of appeal (both civil and criminal), and our Texas Supreme Court.  Yesterday was about our personal selection for our judges who are supposed to be “judicial,” that is deliver justice, and today is about our Almighty God who is justice and has established His throne for justice.  By “His throne” we could have as easily said “His kingdom,” which then extends to us, His people living in His creation.

So, what is justice?

Like so many things in life, there are two answers to this question.  One answer is the answer of self.  Justice is what I think it is, according to my values and my standards.  When we expand the concept to the group of selves, then justice is what society as a whole (or its subunits of people) think it is.  I might call that “group think justice.”  So, today, it may be justice to leave the poor to suffer and let the rich man keep his wealth because he earned it and it is his, and tomorrow it may be justice to steal the rich man’s property and give it away to the poor person because they need it (or want it, since for people there is barely any difference between “wants” and “needs”).  Perhaps in this definition, justice within the community is merely deciding who wins and who loses, without regard to particular standards.  In this game, there is only winner … whoever is in power and the identity of the group that put him or her there.  Justice based upon the self or the aggregate community self can be broken down to “might makes right.”

The other answer to this question is the answer of God.  What are God’s standards for living, what are the objects of His love, what path would He have us follow as His disciples?  In the NASB Bible translation, the word “justice” is rendered “judgment” and the underlying Hebrew word refers to all government, not just the judiciary.  The nature of the judgment is in the next sentence of the Psalm, which is judging with the character of righteousness.  The Hebrew word for righteousness conveys doing the “right thing,” straightness, rectitude, honesty, and integrity, exercised by making decisions according to the truth and without partiality.

Thus, the concept of justice is also grounded in the truth.  Pilate, who ordered the crucifixion of Christ, did not act justly (and he knew it) because he did not know the truth (famously saying “what is truth?”).

And if the truth is a shifting sand of meaning imposed by self and the self-congregation of community, then there will be no justice because there is no standard by which it can be measured.  But God is also truth, and therefore exercises righteous judgment, or “justice.”

We are God’s ambassadors on earth, we are God’s emissaries.  We represent the throne; we carry the kingdom.  If there is to be justice in the world, if there is to be truth, then we must carry that ourselves into the marketplace, into the courts and the government at all levels, into the university and into the family.

Has justice failed?  Many would say that it has.

Is it because God is unjust?  No, it is because we are ineffective ambassadors.  How can we carry the truth well unless we know the truth?  How can we speak the truth in love when we know neither truth nor love?   How can we tell others to tell the truth and to act with justice when we do neither ourselves?

As Christians, we love to lay things off on other people – the job of caring for the poor is the job of government; the job of educating our family is the job of the schools; the job of exercising justice is the job of the courts.  But the truth is that it is our job – we are the ambassadors, not the government, not the schools, not the judiciary.  You and I are the ambassadors of a kingdom of truth, of love, and therefore of justice.  Not them and not anybody else.

Do you claim to follow Christ?  What today are you going to do to remedy the unjust things you have done in the past?  What today are you going to do to exercise justice yourself today … and tomorrow?

When we pass on gossip and slander, have we exercised justice?  When we ignore the poor and the oppressed, have we exercised justice?  When we exercise our power to fulfill our wants rather than God’s wants, have we exercised justice?  When we withhold our wealth and keep it for ourselves, have we exercised justice?  When we withhold the truth because we are embarrassed by it, have we exercised justice?

Every one of these things in the previous paragraph I have done … and you probably have to.  We are just fortunate that our God is not only a God of justice but also a God of mercy and second chances.

So let’s accept that forgiveness, dust ourselves off, and with a face to the future become the ambassador of Christ we are meant to be.  And let justice ring throughout the land!

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© 2016 GBF   All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (2001), unless otherwise indicated.

 

 

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Bread – Wrong

February 15, 2016


Psalm 7

“O Lord my God, if I have done this, if there is wrong in my hands, if I have repaid my friend with evil or plundered my enemy without cause, let the enemy pursue my soul and overtake it, and let him trample my life to the ground and lay my glory in the dust.  Selah.”  Ps. 7:3-5

This is not the beginning of the Psalm because David, at the beginning, has gone to the Lord as refuge to save him from his pursuers.  He then immediately shifts to the quoted verses, telling God that if he guilty, if he has committed wrong, then God should let them win and “trample” his life “to the ground.”

Seems sort of bold, doesn’t it?  After all, haven’t we all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God?  Are we willing to go before the Lord and say, Lord, “if there is wrong in me then let my enemies crush me?”  Actually, if you are like me, you probably pray the exact opposite – “Even though there is wrong in me, O Lord, save me anyway!”

So what “wrong” is David referring to?  Before you can answer this question, notice the subtle shift in language I took when I moved from “what wrong have I done” to “I am sinful and fall short.”  That shift was deliberate, to draw us into thinking about being “wrong” in general (sinful, fallen short) to being “wrong” in the specific (did I really steal those cookies?).

It is obvious the way this Psalm begins that David has been attacked in a very specific way and he has come to the Lord saying, “Lord, if I have behaved the same specific way, then let them win … otherwise, let me win.”

Was it wrong of David to say that?  I think not.  We are often attacked for what we have said and done.  Sometimes what the attacker says is true and sometimes it is not true.  When it is not true, what is wrong with going to God and saying to Him – “God, search my heart.  I have done nothing wrong here, but if I have, judge me for that.”  Now, before you say it, it is probably a good idea that you have examined yourself to see if it is true, because if it is you do not want to invite the Lord’s punishment upon you for doing it, but if the accusation is false, isn’t it entirely appropriate to go to God and say just that!  “I did not steal.  I did not slander.  I did not murder.  [on that occasion]”

Some might say that, out of spirit of love, of meekness, of tenderness, of charity, that we should admit to fault where there is none, retreat from the battlefield when there is no reason, all on the general grounds that we know we are generally wrong (all fall short) anyway, so why not move on down the road?

I suggest to you that we can’t and call ourselves worthy of the kingdom.  Why?  Because there is a difference between right and wrong and the man (and woman) of integrity stands fast in the evil day and calls balls and strikes even though the world may say they have no “right” to.  Jesus tells us to consider the log in our own eye before we judge others, but He does not say that we cannot call evil when it occurs, we cannot call a theft when it occurs, we cannot call an unjust accusation when it occurs.   Instead, Jesus actually has a warning for Christians who would refuse to call balls and strikes by His criticism of the Pharisees – “But woe to you Pharisees!  For you tithe the mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God.”  Luke 11:42 (see also Matt. 23:23).

There is right and there is wrong, and if we as Christians who know God’s standards, God’s law, do not know the difference, then who would?  And if we know the difference between right and wrong, then why are we in error by calling balls and strikes with a clear eye, first on ourselves and then on others?  And if we have judged ourselves correctly for an alleged wrongful act, then why aren’t we willing to stand before God and say just that …. “Lord, I have done nothing wrong here, but if I have, let my enemies win.”

So, this morning, if you are accused unjustly of having done or said something which you did not do and you know you did not do it, why not go to God and say “Strike my enemies to the ground for their slander of me.  And if what they accuse me of is true, then strike me down.”  If you do not, do you not trust God to do right?  If you do not, do you not trust yourself to clearly examine yourself, to know right from wrong?

If the answer to either question is “yes,” then you now know what your prayer should be.  “Lord, grant me faith.”  “Lord, grant me wisdom.”

And once you receive both faith and wisdom, then stand up and count those balls and strikes.  Justice awaits your willingness to do so.

_________

© 2016 GBF   All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (2001), unless otherwise indicated.

 

 

 

 

Bread – Keeping

August 25, 2015


Readings for Tuesday, August 25, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 1 Kings 1:38-2:4; Acts 26:24-27:8; Mark 13:28-37; Psalms 5,6,10,11

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In David’s instructions to Solomon from our reading today in 1 Kings, David says “Be strong, therefore, and show yourself a man. And keep the charge of the Lord your God, to walk in His ways, to keep His statutes, His commandments, His ordinances, and His testimonies…that you may succeed in all that you do and wherever you turn.” 1 Kings 2:2-3

In and of itself, this is a great instruction to all of us – we should stand strong in the Lord and we should always walk in God’s ways according to His principles.

In fact, today the readings were so “surface” that I turned to my Hebrew-Greek Study Bible to see if any of these words were highlighted for definition. And, sure enough, something did arise. My ESV Bible says simply “and keep the charge of the Lord your God….to keep His … ordinances.”

The word “charge” here does not mean instructions as we would normally consider it, but instead means to keep watch, a watch-post, a sentry with two main parts, the first being the obligation or service to be performed and the second being something which must be preserved. The sentry is required to stand watch (the service) in order to preserve the peace and repel enemies (the something which must be preserved). Thus, the word “charge in this reading has more of the sense of the word “keeping” (which is also used in the same passage), with the service being performed the active preservation and protection of something valuable, and the something valuable which requires preserving is God’s principles, His laws, and His Word. The place God has put us in this world is to protect His truth and to proclaim it. For that we must be strong, and diligent, and consistent, and loving, and obedient. Without those who are charged doing their job with excellence, the world would decay and collapse beyond moral recognition. In a sense, God has charged us who would share the throne as adopted children with the protection of His presence on earth and, thereby, with the protection of the world.

But there is a second part to this, and in my quote that is the word “ordinance.” We think of ordinances as laws passed by cities, and so of “lesser” standing than commandments and statutes, and sure enough the quotation beginning this Bread goes from statutes to commandments to ordinances to testimonies, from strongest (perhaps) to weakest. But, as is so common with Scripture, what we think of when we say the word “ordinance” is not necessarily what God has in mind. The Hebrew word translated into “ordinance” is properly a verdict or a judgment, referring to all functions of government (legislative, judicial, and executive). You may summarize this concept by the word “justice,” an attribute of God. Thus, the word “ordinance” is not just a simple law, it is “the” law which transcends all others because it brings with itself justice.

So we are instructed to keep God’s justice, we are “charged” as sentries with the protection of justice.

How as a Christian have I protected justice today? How have I kept it? Have I treated others like I have treated myself? Have I made sure that the worker has received his or her fair pay? Have I honored truth in my speech and my behavior? Have I pointed out lying language for what it is? Have I lived today in integrity? How many lies have I told, how many minutes have I stolen from God, how many times have I closed the door on other people who need entry?

We must keep, protect, treasure, understand, and promote justice, God’s love and His law, in everything we do. And when we do this, we will get the government we do not deserve but the government which God has decreed, and that will be very good indeed.

__________

© 2015 GBF

Bread – Meanie

March 7, 2014


Readings for Friday, March 7, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Ezek. 18:1-4,25-32; Phil. 4:1-9; John 17:9-19; Psalms 31,35,95

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A “meanie” is someone who is just mean, who just likes to see people suffer.

So, the question of the day is … Is God a meanie?

You may laugh, but how often do we blame God for our troubles, for the consequences of our sin, for our plight in life? How often do the God-bashers among us (and, really, ourselves) say something like, “How can God be a loving God when …?” or “Surely a loving God would not do …..” Of course, by doing that, we are placing ourselves in judgment over God, but that little absurdity never keeps us from doing it.

So, we are in the pits and we think God hates us. Or we pray and pray and pray for a particular outcome and God does not even seem to respond. Why would He do that? Is it because He is a meanie?

This question today does not come out of left field. In fact, it is the essence of our reading today from Ezekiel. The children of Israel are whining about their lot in life, saying that “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” Essentially, Israel is saying that they are upset because God ate something which bothered Him (He is having a bad day so they are having a bad day too). God’s response is this:

“What do you mean by repeating this proverb … ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge?’ As I live, declares the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel…Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear now, O house of Israel: Is My way not just? Is it not your ways that are not just? … Therefore, I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! … I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn and live.” Ezek. 18:1-3, 25-32.

God does not like to be called a meanie because that is an unjust accusation. It is us who sin, it is us who transgress, it is us who chose to live apart from God rather than in His presence, it is us who reject His gift of eternal life. It is us who are the meanies toward God because we die in our sins rather than accept the truth, we reject the new heart and new spirit he offers us through His Son, and In the process we do not give Him pleasure.

It would do well for us today to meditate upon this truth, that God is not mean toward us by giving us what we have earned. He is not unjust by giving us the penalty of our disobedience. He is not the one who has “eaten sour grapes” that our teeth should be set on edge; it is us who have eaten the sour grapes even though God has given us good grapes to eat. Our teeth are set on edge because of what we have done; not because of what God has done.

So if God has given us Himself in Jesus Christ, through whom we can receive our new heart and spirit, and we reject Him, who is the meanie?

Who indeed?

_______________

© 2014 GBF

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