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Archive for the ‘God’s justice’ Category

“But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first (Matthew 19:30).”

Lyla Garrity is standing on the side of the highway. Her car has just broken down.

She has just turned in her late-model vehicle to her father, a car dealer, and bought a heap from another person, one her father calls a “crook”. However, Lyla is estranged from her Dad, Buddy.  

In fact, Lyla is isolated from just about everyone in the town of Dillon, Texas, her home. As Lyla says to another high female high schooler, Tyra Collette: “It’s been a crappy year”.

At the beginning of the first seaon of “Friday Night Lights”, a TV drama centered around Dillon and its high school football team, Lyla is “sittin’ on top of the world”. She is a popular cheerleader who is dating the Panthers’ first string quarterback, Jason Street.

Then, Jason is paralyzed in an on-the-field accident. This tragedy causes a huge ripple effect on the lives of the people featured in “Friday Night Lights”, Lyla included.

Lyla supports Jason, but once it is clear he will never walk again, she has trouble coping. She has an affair with Tim Riggins, a star on the team and Jason’s best friend, who is also dealing with the pain and doesn’t know how to handle it. Lyla and Tim comfort one another. All this becomes public knowledge, to Lyla’s shame.

Tim also happens to be Tyra’s boyfriend. Tim is not exactly a fine, upstanding citizen. In fact, he’s an alcoholic whose father is also a lush and doesn’t live in the home. Tim’s brother watches out for him (sort of).

Tyra herself is what could best be described as “trailer trash”, although she doesn’t live in a trailer. However, she is loose morally and is known to imbibe, also.  

She is trying to get her act together and go to college, which is how she connects to Landry Clarke, a geek who liker her. He tutors her. Landry also comforts Tyra after she is almost raped by a stranger outside a restaurant while she is waiting for him to show up for one of their math sessions.

 So, are you with me so far!?  Good. Now Tim Riggins is not the only connection between Lyla and Tyra.

Lyla’s father Buddy,who is also Dillon’s most influential football booster,  hires Tyra’s mother Angela Collette as a receptionist with less than pure motives. After they have an affair, Buddy fires her, trying to assuage his conscience by paying her a large severance.

Mrs. Collette publicly slaps Buddy outside of church All this leads to a divorce action between Buddy and his wife, i.e.  Lyla’s Mom.

But that’s not all of the sordid stuff in Dillon. Jason forgives Lyla and they become engaged. However, as he is recovering physically and pyschologically he begins an affair with a girl he meets at a quadriplegic athletic event. Lyla discovers them and ends the engagement.

Fast forward to Lyla on the side of the road, standing next to her junky broken down car. Like much of Dillon she is on her way to Dallas to watch the Panthers play for the state championship.

As she stands next to her junker, who should come along but Tyra and her “ride” Landry. In Landry’s wagon is also Tyra’s Mom, Tyra’s sister (a stripper), and the grandmother and guardian of Dillon’s replacement quarterback, Matt Saracen.

All of these women are the abused female outcasts of Dillon society, even Mrs. Saracen. She has Alzheimer’s. In fact, she was intending to take the bus to the game when Landry spotted her and offered her a ride.

Landry insists on stopping for Lyla, too. However, this doesn’t set well with Tyra. But  Landry says “it’s the Christian thing to do.”  

As Tyra and Lyla argue on the highway, the latter asks Tyra,”Why do you hate me so much?” Tyra’s reply:

“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe the fact that your Dad slept with my Mom and then tried to pay her off with 700 dollars. Or the fact that you slept with my boyfriend, how about that?”

The two trade accusations until Tyra, referring to Lyla’s sleeping with Tim, says:”You don’t know how that felt.”

“Actually, you’ll be glad to know I know exactly how that felt”, replies Lyla. It is then that Tyra understands that Lyla is part of the “abused women’s” club.

Tyra invites Lyla into the car. After the game is over, with the brave boys of Dillon having been victorious partly due to the abusive men who “love” them, Tyra catches Lyla tossing away her cheerleader paraphanelia.

When Tyra comments about it, it is then that Lyla makes the “its’ been a crappy year” comment. Tyra respond to this by saying “We won State” as this makes it all worth it.

 Lyla replies, “I think it’s time for a change.” She offers Tyra a ride home and the latter accepts.

Lyla now knows how it feels to be what the Scriptures refer to as “the poor, blind and lame”.  Jesus refers to them as he tells a parable about a man who has invited  the “great men” of society to come to a lavish banquet.

The movers and shakers make excuses to the man’s servant who is making the invites. They excuse themselves.  Jesus describes the results:

The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’ ‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’  Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full.  I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’

The downtrodden women  who were in the car with Landry when they stopped for Lyla  represent today’s “poor, blind and lame”. They shouldn’t have even been at the state championship. Tyra and Landry were supposed to go with Tim’s 50 yard line seats, but he gave them away to the neighbor lady with whom he was currently having an affair.

To placate Tyra, he gave her 4 crummy seats. They were in the nosebleed section. Even so, the women were happy to be there.

The Bible describes a time in the life of King David of Israel that seems very much what Lyla experienced. In David’s case, he was minding his own business and running his successful kingdom when his life came crashing in.

David’s own son Absalom rebelled against him. David and his followers had to run for their lives. On the way out of town David got to experience how “the other half” lives. He was verbally abused by an angry man named Shimei, who also added some theater by throwing stones and tossing up dirt.

To David’s credit, he held his peace when his men offered to chop Shimei’s’s head off. He told them:

“Leave him alone and let him curse, for the Lord has told him to do it.  And perhaps the Lord will see that I am being wronged and will bless me because of these curses today.”  (II Samuel 16:11b,12a)

Earlier, David had told Israel’s priest that he was putting his life in God’s hands.  He told  Zadok that if the Lord saw fit He would restore his fortunes. He added: “But if he is through with me, then let him do what seems best to him (II Samuel 15:26).”

David now knew how it felt to be part of the “poor, blind and lame” club.

Those who “have it” in this world generally have no clue what the poor, blind and lame go through until they have their own calamities. I’m not rich, but I am not so poor that I can really say I do either. Still, I sometimes get a taste of it when somebody more economically, physically or politically more powerful than I am treats me unjustly.

What do I do in those cases? I get angry and frustrated. Imagine how the extreme poor, blind and lame feel.

Jeffrey Sachs has some idea. He is an economist who has been studying the causes of extreme poverty for 30 years.

Sachs notes that part of the problem is due to how the “rich” countries of this world ignore the causes and refuse to deal with them. How does he feel?

Bono, the famous musician, gives some idea in a foreward to Sachs’ book “The End of Poverty”. He describes Sachs when he speaks to groups on the subject as “angry”.

Mr. Sachs anger is righteous in my view. So was the rage of the man in Jesus parable who threw the banquet and couldn’t get the high and mighty to come.

So how does Jesus feel when the poor, blind and lame are ignored, even abused? Well, first He is angry at the abusers.

 But even more, the special place in His heart for these folks comes to the fore. One day the feted and praised of this world are going to be shocked when they find that the people in today’s cheap seats are sitting at the front of Jesus’s awards banquet. 

Maybe the celebrated will be in the arena, sitting along the wall. Or maybe they won’t even have a ticket in.

 

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“In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, O Lord, will keep me safe (Psalm 4:8).”

It’s hard sleeping this time of year. I live in a Nordic country which is currently experiencing “white nights”.

One former colleague posted the sunrise and sunset times in her hometown above the Arctic Circle on Facebook yesterday. There was about 45 minutes in between these events.

In my location farther south it isn’t as bright,but it’s close. The sun officially sets between 22:00 and 23:00 and rises again about 3:30 am. In between is twilight and perhaps about 45 minuted of darkness.

It’s hard enough to sleep in this kind of environment unless you have good curtains or eyepatches. But it’s even worse when your heart is troubled.

I will be unemployed in about three weeks and I am looking for work. Having to write and talk about myself so much to strangers, especially professional ones, is nerve wracking.

Although I have a lot of strengths on a professional level, I haven’t been perfect. In fact, my recent history includes a failed work experience.

 There are all kinds of details I will leave out here. Also, I do not intend to use this space to argue my case or assign blame. Let’s just say that things did not end well.

This makes it difficult when I go to apply for similar jobs as the one I had. When they ask to speak to my supervisor at this place of employment, I inwardly cringe.

I have no choice but to give them a name. I then know that my prospects with the employer I am currently talking with aren’t good.

 So, there’s a lot of stress right now. I really don’t care what time it is because I just sleep when I feel like it. (As an educator my schedule is pretty flexible in the summer.)

It’s easy in my situation to beat myself up over this whole thing.  People have expectations and sometimes you don’t meet them.

Author and pastor Bill Merritt tells of his own experience where he almost lost his job. He notes that talent isn’t enough anymore.

Merritt says that people want you to actually be able  to relate to them. They want you to ask questions and be interested. They want you to be nice.

“Imagine that!”, he writes.

“Nice” was not always my forte on the job I left badly. I think I did an excellent job there, but I could have handled relationships better. As a result there is an irreparable rupture between me and this company.

My apology was not accepted. Subsequent correspondence to this organization has gone unanswered. 

I’ve improved some since then. However, as noted above joblessness is hovering and I don’t have much going on, and this failure hangs around and occasionally surfaces. 

It is hard to recover from personal failure. This is true in the workplace and at home both.

When you fail people don’t trust you. They get mad at you.  Not only that, you get mad at them, especially if you feel as if your treatment is unjust.

You lose fellowship and friendship. What to do?

Well, as a Christian I know that it’s not a good idea to quit on God.  If I stick with Him, He will stick with me. 

However, if I abandon God, He will abandon me. It’s my choice (II Chronicles 15:2).

I noted above that when there is a relational fracture in the workplace that the parties get mad. I notice that God tends to get mad when people don’t treat Him with respect, too.

The Psalmist tells leaders that they had better submit to Jesus, or else!  Destruction is on the way when our Lord is ignored, rejected or rebelled against (Psalm 2:10-12).

The Psalmist says that God is an honest judge. He gets angry at the wicked every day and takes action against them (Psalm 7:11-13).

So, what’s my part?  Well the Psalmist tells ME if I want to sleep at night that I should:

-submit to Jesus myself (Psalm 2:12b);

-control my 0wn anger and trust God (Psalm 4:4,5);

-pray for God’s active protection and action against my enemies (Psalm 3:1-4,7);

-ask God to take care of my reputation (Psalm 4:2,3);

-ask God to rescúe me from the mess in my heart and out there in the world (Psalm 6:1-10).

This last point is especially  profound. Until last night I thought of God as someone who would come in like the calvary to perform his rescue. I didn’t see Him as someone who stuck around the garbage dump I’ve created in my heart and life.

However, it occurred to me yesterday evening that Jesus is down there with me in the junkyard. He is there waiting patiently for me to acknowledge Him while I sit in the stench.

This thought reminded me of an old booklet from my youth. Robert Munger wrote a short story called My Heart Christ’s Home which was popular at the time.

In this piece Jesus is invited into a man’s home. Room by room he begins to set the man’s house in order.

Eventually, the man realizes he can’t keep his house clean and asks Jesus to do it. However, Jesus tells the man that He has no authority there: He is just a guest.

The man turns the deed of the house over to Jesus. From then on, the man is just the servant in the house and Jesus is master.

I learned last night that Jesus is not content to stay on the outskirts of our lives. I had forgotten this and didn’t think He wanted to be down there in the muck with me, but He does.

Yet, the Psalmist says He does. He wrote,”For you look deep within the mind and heart, O righteous God”. (Psalm 7:9)

When we give over ownership to Jesus, we can sleep soundly. David found this out. He wrote:

I lay down and slept,
    yet I woke up in safety,
    for the Lord was watching over me.
I am not afraid of ten thousand enemies
    who surround me on every side (Psalm 3:5,6)

When Jesus enters the trash heap, it is not His intention to let it stay messy. He intends to clean it up, if I let Him.

If I do, I think I will sleep better despite the white nights. I will have the assurance and peace that He is there to take care of my messy heart and the rest of my trashy life out there.

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” ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light’ (Matthew 11:28-30).”

I was talking to an acquaintance the other day, complaining about a personal injustice. This conversation got me steamed.

The more I thought about it, the worse I felt. I was more ashamed of my feelings over the matter than the humiliation I encountered when it happened.

So, I took a l-o-o-n-g walk to cool off.  Then I settled down with my books at home.  (This is one of the benefits of having no electronic entertainment, save a boom box. I read a lot.)

After that night of reading, I felt even more ashamed of my complaining.

One of the books I read was called “The End of Poverty”. In it the economist Jeffrey Sachs discussed the condition of the world economically.

One-sixth of the world’s population, says Sachs, is still in extreme poverty. This means that they are not even on the ladder to economic survival.

Sachs cites the female garment workers in Bangaladesh as women who are climbing out of extreme poverty and onto the ladder of opportunity. Of course, they have a long way to go.

They walk several hours a day to and from their homes outside of Dhaka to get to work and back. At their jobs they work on clothes for the Europeans and Americans, 12 hours a day for minimal wages.

On the job and in their travels they are subject to sexual harassment. The life is unimaginable to those of us living at least a minimal good life in a developed country and if we have any heart, it makes us sad, or even angry.

In fact, the media and celebrities regularly decry the treatment of women like those in Bangladesh and shame the companies that employ them. Yet, Sachs thinks this outrage is the wrong approach.

He says that these women are actually on the first rung of economic success. Over time and exponentially, they will improve their lot and those around them.

Still, their plight is unjust. So is the situations of countless other people around the globe in worse conditions.

I wish I had more concern for the injustice done to people like the women of South Asia. Instead, I get caught up in my own petty concerns.

As I read the other night, I continued my progress through aother book, a  Charles Dickens’ classic called  “The Tale of Two Cities”.  Somehow I managed to skip a lot of English lit in school, so I guess it’s never too late.

“The Tale of Two Cities” surprised and moved me. It too is about injustice.

Set in Paris and London during the days of the French Revolution, it details the horrors done to people who were not aristocrats. Indeed, Sachs notes that only in the last 200 years has the world begun to develop economically, with the average worker in Europe earning about 90% of what your average African worker does today.

These peasants were fair game for the richer nobility. Indeed, the plot of Dickens’ novel centers around the consequences stemming from the shocking ill treatment of a serf woman and her family by the boys of a French aristocratic  family.

However, the revolutionaries that took power during the French Revolution are portrayed by Dickens as equal to their “noble” predecessors in terms of their brutality. They took vengeance on anyone who stood in their way, especially if they were associated with aristocrats.

It didn’t matter if they were guilty of a criminal act or not. It was “off with their heads!”

One of the key figures in “The Tale of Two Cities” is a child of one of  the perpetrators of the aforementioned outrage concerning the peasant woman. He grew into a man named Charles Evremonde, called Darnay.

Darnay had rejected his aristocratic upbtinging and moved to England, where he married the daughter of a French doctor who had been imprisoned in the Bastille.  However, to save a former servant of his family imprisoned unjustly by the revolutionaries, he returns to France.

There he is through a series of events sentenced by a revolutionary tribunal to be guillotined. Darnay is a good man with a kind wife and a child and has done nothing to deserve execution, except to have been born into the wrong family.

It appears all is lost for Darnay until an old friend comes along and saves the day. Sidney Carton from England, almost a part of the prisoner’s family and formerly entranced with Mrs. Darnay when she was single, manages to substitute himself through trickery for Darnay at the guillotine.

Carton has led a wasted life and he knows it. He is a man with a lot of bad habits. Yet, he sees in this act the possibility for redemption.

Indeed, as he contemplates what he is about to do, Carton walks late at night along the Seine quoting a statement from Jesus:

 “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die (John 11:25, 26 Kings James Version).

As I read this passage, I thought that the term ‘dead’ could be construed in a couple of ways. One is the common biblical idea of being spíritually separated from God. The other is another common usage, which is that of “death to self’ (Luke 9:23.

Carton was ‘dead’ in both ways. He had left a profligate life away from God. However, now he had also chosen to die to himself and sacrifice himself for his friend.

As Carton contemplated this action, he must have felt very lonely. The words of a current pop hit tell of what must have been in his heart:

 I don’t wanna be left
In this war tonight
Am I alone in this fight?
Is anybody out there?

Don’t wanna be left left in this world behind
Say you’ll run to my side (Artist: K’NAAN featuring Nelly Furtado)

The complete song describes “losers” in this life´. “Mary” isn’t pretty or popular, and she’s insecure.  She  can “point a finger, but there’s three pointing back.”

“Adam” is  a child totally ignored by his father. He “grew up mad and antisocial” and spent his days playing video games. Drugs were the only way out.

“With one last hope he puts his arms up higher
I can see him crying out, yeah
Is anybody out there?”

Sidney Carton in “The Tale of Two Cities” discovers that there is someone out there.  He chooses to believe in His new friend Jesus, who is the Resurrection and the Life.

Carton gains strength and hope from this verse, taught to him by his father. It carries him through to complete the rescue of Charles Darnay. 

Carton had spent a lifetime not trusting and hurting, a victim of his own injustices in life.  Then he met Jesus Christ. In effect, Jesus says to him the same words of another recent pop song:

Don’t wanna break your heart
I wanna give your heart a break
I know you’re scared it’s wrong
Like you might make a mistake
There’s just one life to live
And there’s no time to waste, to waste

Give your heart a break
Let me give your heart a break
Your heart a break
There’s just so much you can take
Give your heart a break
Let me give your heart a break
Your heart a break (Artist: Demi Lovato)
Sidney Carton believes Jesus. He believes Jesus can and will give his heart a break. He turns his broken heart over to Jesus.
 
In doing so, he finds a way to right the wrongs he sees in his own life and in those around him. He gives his life, his dead life,  for his old earthly friend,  and to his newfound heavenly One.
 
I can learn from  Sidney Carton. I see myself in him.
 
Like him, I am dead in many ways. I am powerless. I know I can’t solve  all the injustices in my ownl life or the multitudinous ones out there in the world.   
 
Yet, like Sidney I can start to solve some of the wrongs in this world by believing my friend Jesus and giving up my life to Him. I may not have trusted many people, if any, before but now I can trust Him.
 
When Jesus says it He means  it. When He says He is the Resurrection and the Life, then I can know it’s the truth. His word is as good as gold.
 
After I believe Jesus and give my life to Him, every day, then I can follow behind Him and give up my life for  those He so chooses.  This may not take care of more than a drip of the injustice drowning me and the world today, but it’s a beginning.
 
 

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The Lord replies, “I have seen violence done to the helpless, and I have heard the groans of the poor. Now I will rise up to rescue them, as they have longed for me to do (Psalm 12:5 New Living Translation).”

“If this were another time, they would’ve had pitchforks and lanterns in their hands.  They were out for vengeance.”

The reporter on a recent news feature is talking about a crowd in a small town in Ohio gathered around the courthouse. They are after one Chris Coleman.

“Chris Coleman: Loving Family Man or Killer”  reads a headline flashed on the screen. Coleman, the security head for a major televangelist, is accused of strangling his wife and two beautiful young boys in their sleep.

Various parties with an interest in the case are interviewed: the police, attorneys, Coleman’s parents, his wife Sherri’s family, and neighbors. They all  contribute their thinking as to what happened and how they feel.

The crime Coleman is accused of is particularly heinous.  One person interviewed commented,”This crime was about greed, sex, selfishness and narcsissism.”.

Coleman is accused in the program of creating a scenario in which he has been threatened with hate mail because the author wants to get at his  popular televangelist, boss. The writer of the Emails says they will destroy Coleman’s family if his boss doesn’t keep quiet.

As the show progesses, evidence is shown that reveals Coleman is having an affair with one of his wife’s high school friends.  A reporter says, “Investigators believe all this pain was caused by Chris Coleman’s obsession.”

It also presents other evidence which points at Coleman doing the crime.  For example, hate messages created on the walls of his house during the muder, purportedly created by the person sending the threatening Emails, were apparently in fact written in his handwriting. Indeed, after further investigation, viewers learn that the Emails themselves have come from Coleman’s laptop.

Once it is clear Coleman is the main suspect, the already grieving community is torn asunder. For example, one woman tells the interviewer,”I’ve talked to some of the other Moms in the community and their children are wondering if their Dad could do the same thing.”

Coleman’s parents remain adamant that their son could not have possibly done such a thing. The father is a Christian minister. It seems from the facts presented that they are in denial.

The “Christian” aspect of the case gets large play. Highlighted are the fact that Coleman’s employer would definitely not have tolerated his adultery had they known about it.

One close friend of Sherri says,”As a Christian I feel like it is imperative that I forgive because Jesus forgave me. And I want to forgive with my whole heart.”

The interviewer asks,”What makes it so hard to do that?”

The woman replies,”“Because they were so innocent.”

Coleman is found guilty. When the verdict is reach, the large throng outside the courtroom erupts in cheers as if they were at a major sporting event. He still denys his role two years later.

The fallout Sherri’s family is suing  Coleman’s televangelism ministry employer. They claim that the ministry should have investigated him because they had clues to his conduct.

One hundrend and fourteen comments currently are posted on the news shows website. In them viewers express their opinions and attack each other and the people portayed on the show.

Our society abounds with such cases. As one friend of mine has lamented,”Why do I watch the news! There are some sick hombres out there.”

Cases like Colemans not only attract sensational media attention. They also garner sociologists who try to come to some understanding of what is happening. 

“Church Ethics and Its Organizational Context” is a series of essays aimed at learning from the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church which has come to light of late. One of these reports is called “The Sexual Abuse Scandal as Social Drama”, written by Jean M. Bartunek.

In this piece Bartunek lays forth the idea that extraordinary events cause the stakeholders to try to make sense out of them. She says their perceptions of what they thought was reality have been thrown out of balance. 

Bartunek notes that all the “players” in this scandal have different needs and motivations, They also come to different conclusions in an attempt to make sense of the issue and take a variety of actions.

These stakeholders include the victims’ families, the clergy, parents in the community, lay Catholics, attorneys, the Church hierarchy and even perpetrators. She indicates that these different viewpoints create what she calls a “social drama”, which Bartunek  credits  Victor Turner with defining as “an event that revolves around a breach of group or societal norms or rules in some important public matter.”

Further, Bartunek notes that this kind of event is “a volatile episode that interrupts the otherwise smooth surface of routine life in a social setting and reveals underlying tensions there.”  She indicates that these tensions among the stakeholders  need to be resolved in order for the crisis to really completely go away.

Just as it is difficult to come to grips with the idea that Coleman could murder his beautiful family, it is also a tall order to get all the parties involved in something like the sexual abuse of children to come to a meeting of the minds and get at the truth. Frankly, I believe it is well nigh impossible.

Injustice is a given in this life. It will never ever go away until Jesus returns and justice may not really be served until then, even though it apparently has been done in Coleman’s case.

I think God was thinking of this lack of closure when he included the imprecatory Psalms in the Bible.  These are prayers in which the Psalmist asks  God to curse his enemies.

In fact, these “enemies” were in some cases trustworthy companions at one time. Here is an example of this kind of prayer:

 My God, whom I praise,
    do not remain silent,
for people who are wicked and deceitful
    have opened their mouths against me;
    they have spoken against me with lying tongues. 
 With words of hatred they surround me;
    they attack me without cause.
In return for my friendship they accuse me,
    but I am a man of prayer.
They repay me evil for good,
    and hatred for my friendship (Psalm 109:1-5).

The Psalmist goes on to wish all kinds of woe on their opponents. Their desires include that God would cause the antagonist to die, to make their kids into beggars, and for Him to make that their families suffer financial ruin. The Psalmist goes so far as to ask God to NOT forgive their sins.

As the close friend of Sherri Coleman learned, it is a difficult thing to forgive others, especially those who have betrayed our love. The imprecatory Psalms show that God understands that and I believe they are in the Bible so that we can give full vent to our feelings.

These Psalms reveal that it is God who ultimately will judge and get vengeance on wrongdoers. In fact, this principle keeps me from taking my own revenge because I have determined that whatever God dishes out has to be far worse than anything I can do.

My thinking is that if I DO get my own vengeance, then God will say,”Well, you got justice your own way so I am doing no more with this case.” So I stay out of it as best I can and let God take care of things in His time and in His way!

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You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.  It is written: ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,every knee will bow before me;  every tongue will acknowledge God.’ So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God (Romans 14:10,11).

Yesterday a young friend of mine, a former coworker, invited me to his place to play poker with his friends. I gladly obliged since I have always enjoyed visiting his home, talking with his father (who is my age) and messing around with his buddies.

A few hands after we got started, we were ushered into the kitchen where some sandwiches and cookies were waiting. My friend’s mother kindly prepares a little spread  each time we have a game at their place.

As we were munching, my friend’s Dad began to bring out bottles of various spirits. He noted that he himself nor his son drank alcohol, but we were welcome to them.  The father noted the alcohol was so plentiful because he had been given bottles of it by former students and others.

My friend’s other two invited guests were regular drinkers. They had no trouble inbibing. I, on the other hand, am not a drinker except on rare occasions.

When the father mentioned cognac I became curious. I had never tasted what to me seemed to be kind of an elite beverage, and I wanted to try some, so I did.

Later, during our game, one of the drinking players took a short break and went home. He was busted and had to go get some more money.

When he returned he had some famous brand of Irish whiskey with him, and offered me a bit. As with the congac, I accepted the offer and noted how smooth this particular drink was.

As the game went on, I also found myself losing. Although I don’t play Texas Hold ‘Em much, losing to these guys was a new experience for me. I had won the pot the last two times I had played.

Luck I guess. We don’t play for much, but as I am on a tight budget I winced at even the few euros I was giving up.

As I have reflected on this past evening, I am curious about something. What has sparked my interest is my emotional reaction as  I:  was offered and drank alcoholic beverages;  lost money while playing cards.

What I experienced in my feelings last night was guilt. Why is that, I wondered?

In thinking about it, I have determined that my evangelical Christian background influenced my emotions.  It occurred to me to ask myself,”What if so and so knew about this (and certain influential Christians in my life popped up)?”

My reaction to my participation in last night’s events were not earth shattering. Indeed, I had a few sips  of alcohol only. Furthermore, my losses at poker were worth the expense in my view.

I thought,”Where else would I have had so much fun and had such good food and drink at these prices?” Yet, the guilt still floats through my subconscious.

Because of this, I have mentally been running through some biblical principles I know about such issues. For example, I know that the Scriptures make no probibition against drinking alcohol. It only speaks against drunkenness (Ephesians 5:18).

I also know that the Bible exhorts believers in principle to not violate their consciences, nor to hurt weaker believers in their practices (Romans 14;13,22). In my case, I am pretty sure my guilt was not the result of the breaking of my conscience, only a reaction to what I believe some folks in the evangelical circles I hang around would think.

In fact, as I have thought further I have even patted myself on the back. I know we are to take care of our bodies as temples of God, and I refrained from the cigars offered (I Corinthians 6:19). I thought,”I have enough health issues. Why add to them by inhaling smoke into my lungs.”

Indeed, I even engaged in a little more analysis and judgment of my own.”Why, Dwight Moody, a hero of Christendom, was a smoker. If some people knew their Christian history, they wouldn’t be so smug.”

What is going on here in my heart? I think an episode of the TV medical drama “House” called “Love is Blind” has helped me to flesh this out.

A young blind  man named Will is brought into the care of Dr. House. While in the hospital he is visited by his girlfriend Melissa.

As the writers of this episode make clear, Melissa is quite controlling.  She treats Will like a child. This is perhaps because Will is a minority and blind and Melissa is a healthy young white woman.

 Will tells the doctors he intends to marry someone else he met while the couple were “taking a break” because of Melissa’s behavior.  “Most of the time she acts more like my mother than my girlfriend,” he tells the female Dr. Adams, who thinks Will is treating his girlfriend badly.

Indeed, Will breaks the news to Melissa during one of her “mothering” incidents that he is breaking up with her. She storms out of the hospital room distraught.

What I perceive in Christianity as it is practiced in some circles in America is this tendency for believers to “mother ” one another . I suppose it is only human nature for people to like to tell other people what they think is “good” for them, but Christians at times like to add the air of God’s authority in their pronouncements, as if they speak for the Almighty.

The truth is that in many cases they are only speaking for themselves and their opinions. Their understanding of what is good and not good for others may or may not be legitimate or appropriate, but they come across as if they bear the “Word of the Lord”.   Furthermore you get the impression that if you don’t follow their way of thinking, you’re be in their doghouse.

Will’s worsening condition provides the scaffolding for my teachable moment in relation to how believers ought to actually treat one another. The doctors determine that the right course of action to save the young man’s life, but it means he may lose his hearing in addition to still being blind.

When he learns the news, Will refuses treatment. He tells the doctors he has had enough of his suffering and can’t bear any more.

Enter Melissa with Dr. Adams. The script best bears out what happens next. 

Melissa: Will, it’s me.
Will: Let me guess. The doctor who thinks I’m an ass wants you to convince me to live.
Melissa: Yes.
Will: It won’t work.
Melissa: I know. So I won’t.
Will: Wow. You’re that angry?
Melissa: I’ve made enough decisions for you. This is your life.
Will: Why’d you come back?
Melissa: Because I love you. And I want to be with you for as long as I can.
Will: Melissa, I’m so scared.
[She moves from the doorway to his bedside and takes his hand.]
Melissa: Me too. I’ll always love you.
Will: Even if I was deaf?
Melissa: Even if anything.

SPOILER ALERT

This unconditional love moves Will. He accepts the “cure”, and the next morning asks Melissa to marry him. She enthusiastically accepts.

Melissa treated Will as an adult, allowing him to make his own decisions, including life or death ones. She no longer tried to manipulate him into the path she thought best.

The results of  Melissa’s course in this fictional drama were positive. Perhaps the end result won’t always be so rosy, but it would behoove believers in Jesus Christ to give each other the same kind of freedom.

If a person takes a public stand on some issue important to us, and especially if they are trying to influence others, we  have the right, perhaps even the duty, to oppose them. But on private matters of conscience, cutting each other some slack seems to be in order in my mind. 

A little less arrogance and a little more freedom of choice, “even if”,  would go a long way in today’s world. God Himself gives us that kind of freedom, so why don’t we do the same?

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“Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you.  Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, LORD.  They rejoice in your name all day long;  they celebrate your righteousness (Psalm 89:14-16).”

Jimmy McNulty can’t win for losing. He’s a loser at office politics.

Jimmy is a fictional detective in the TV show called “The Wire”. He’s something of a rebel, at least to his superiors in the Baltimore Police Department.

Jimmy doesn’t really mean to get his bosses mad at him. He just wants to be a good cop. However, all he does is get himself into trouble and get himself isolated.

The “fun” begins when McNulty attends the murder trial of DeAngelo Barksdale, a member of a drug running family. When a witness backs off her story and DeAngelo is freed, McNulty is there.

McNulty understands that the body count in the section of Baltimore where the Barksdales operate is due to their brutal methods. In a visit to an old friend, a powerful city judge, he brings this up in conversation.

The next thing you know, McNulty is being called on the carpet for insubordination. The judge has made a phone call to the detective’s boss.

When a witness who actually did testify in DeAngelo’s trial is murdered after the verdict, things get even worse for McNulty. He suggests to his fellow detective that the murder was probably done by the Barksdales as payback. When the story is spun that way and published on the front page of the Baltimore newspaper, McNulty gets the blame, although he has not talked to a reporter.

Afterwards, his superior officer walks into the cubicle area of the office looking for McNulty and when he finds he isn’t there, takes his hand and clears a bunch of stuff off his desk. When he learns from the sergeant manning the office that the desk he has just mutilated belongs to another officer, the boss turns around and walks away in exasperation.

McNulty’s problem is that he just doesn’t trust his bosses, and with good reason.  They are the types who will cover their own behinds and are motivated more by politics than doing the right thing. When McNulty does try to do the right thing, he is slapped down.

Furthermore, his superiors seem clueless. McNulty is a detective, which means he does his homework. However, his bosses just don’t want to make waves and ignore the problems in their department and in the city of Baltimore, to the detriment of both.

Caught in the middle between the big bosses and McNulty is Lt. Cedric Daniels. When the police heads have to address the murdered witness issue because of the headlines, they put him in charge of a sham unit assigned to investigate.

The section by design is loaded with incompetents and do nothings. Only McNulty and another female detective are capable.

When Daniels complains to his wife about the case, she advises him to “get out of it”.  Her husband asks her how he could do that, and she replies. “I don’t know, but you cannot lose if you do not play.”

She summarizes Daniels situation for him. She tells him that if he pushes to hard and things go wrong, he will get the blame. On the other hand, if he does nothing, he will get the blame for that, too.

She reminds him that he is investigating a case his bosses do not want. They have given him bad people to sabotage him. “You cannot lose if you do not play”, she reiterates.

The choices are not good when you are dealing with poor supervision. You can either demand to be heard or do nothing, but in either case you are left  alone and hung out  to dry when your bosses are corrupt.

 The Bible has a story that shows what can happen when those in charge actually do get behind their subordinates. It involves King David and some of his ambassadors.

In the episode, recorded in II Samuel 10, David decides to honor an ally by sending emissaries to their king’s funeral. He has had a good relationship with this man, the leader of the Ammonites.

However, the dead monarch’s son isn’t so friendly. On the suggestion of his advisors, he is suspicious of David and humiliates his ambassadors, cutting off their clothes at the buttocks and shaving off half their beards. (A full face of hair is the sign of a man in the Middle East.)

Imagine yourself in the place of these ambassadors. Most of us, given our experiences with today’s employers, would have probably expected David to ignore the whole situation.

However, this is not what happened.  David told the men to lay low until their beards grew back, thus showing them respect. Then, he began a war against the Ammonites, which he won in a mighty fashion. He brought everything to bear against the opponent  (II Samuel 10:1-19).

David sent a message to those who thought they could get by with double dealing and chicanery. After their defeat, these people were afraid to mess with David and his people in the future (II Samuel 10:19).

We shouldn’t be surpised at today’s workplace. The source of all the chaos comes from one source. Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones wrote some lyrics which describe him:

Please allow me to introduce myself
I’m a man of wealth and taste
I’ve been around for a long, long year
Stole many a man’s soul and faith

And I was ’round when Jesus Christ
Had his moment of doubt and pain
Made damn sure that Pilate
Washed his hands and sealed his fate

Pleased to meet you
Hope you guess my name
But what’s puzzling you
Is the nature of my game.

So who is this person who makes people like our bosses walk away from our troubles? What is his name and what is his game? Jagger later tells us:

Just as every cop is a criminal
And all the sinners saints
As heads is tails
Just call me Lucifer
‘Cause I’m in need of some restraint.

Behind all the messiness at our jobs is the devil himself. Ironically, the song “Sympathy for the Devi”l caught hell from “good” people when it was released. However, Stones guitarist Keith Richards explained its true meaning in 2002:

“Sympathy is quite an uplifting song. It’s just a matter of looking the Devil in the face. He’s there all the time. I’ve had very close contact with Lucifer – I’ve met him several times. Evil – people tend to bury it and hope it sorts itself out and doesn’t rear its ugly head. Sympathy for the Devil is just as appropriate now, with 9/11. There it is again, big time. When that song was written, it was a time of turmoil. It was the first sort of international chaos since World War II. And confusion is not the ally of peace and love. You want to think the world is perfect. Everybody gets sucked into that. And as America has found out to its dismay, you can’t hide. You might as well accept the fact that evil is there and deal with it any way you can. Sympathy for the Devil is a song that says, Don’t forget him. If you confront him, then he’s out of a job.” (Songfacts.com)

The problem in today’s office is that employers refuse to follow Richards’ advice and confront evil. They’d rather wash their hands of it like Pontius Pilate. In that respect, Jagger is correct when he says that “Sympathy for the Devil” is also about the darkness of man.

If the boss won’t do it, I suppose it’s still up to us, if we are followers of God.  It’s our task to look Satan in the eye and take him out in our places of work.

If our employer isn’t on the side of good, we still have an ally walking the halls of work with us. That would be Jesus Christ, the Son of David and the Son of God.

Like His ancestor and His Father, when we cry out to Him over the injustices in our offices, He cares. Also like David, Jesus will do something about them, even if our bosses won’t!

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“This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed.  Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.  I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself.  My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.  Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God (I Corinthians 4:1-5).”

Last night at a bluegrass jamboree, I heard this old gospel musician tell this joke:

“When I was young, I got the call to preach. However, I didn’t have much opportunity. I would go anywhere, though.

Once a minister asked me if I was a preacher. I told him ‘yes, I do the best I can”.  He said, ‘Do me a favor. I have two services this weekend. I will take one and you take the other’. I told him, ‘Sure’.

The minister told me my service was a funeral. He told me it was way out in the country and gave me directions.

When the time for the service came, I drove out to the country looking for the funeral. I went down some really windy roads, deeper into the ‘hollers’.

Finally, I saw two men sitting up on their backhoe, eating sandwiches. I said to myself, ‘Yep, this is the place’.

I got out of my car and walked to the hole dug in the ground. I thought, “This man deserves to be sent out well. I’m going to give him my best.

I preached up a storm. I talked for over 30 minutes.

When I was done, I walked to my car. I heard one of the backhoe operators say,’That was amazing’.

The other man said,”It sure was. I have been laying septic tanks for over 25 years and I’ve never seen anything like that’!.”

Life can be really confusing.  Even with the best intentions, we take the wrong step.

Sometimes we are just plain stuck. Despite the opportunities, we don’t have the wisdom or resources to make something out of them.

Life is not only confusing, it is not fair. Some people are on easy street, and others struggle along.

For those struggling, the frustration is great. It is palpable  in these lyrics sung by Eric Burdon and The Animals in the 1960s Vietnam War era:

“In this dirty old part of the city
Where the sun refuse to shine
People tell me there ain’t no use in trying
Now little girl you’re so young and pretty
And one thing I know is true
You’ll be dead before your time is through

See my my daddy in bed, He’s dyin’
Yeah his hair been turning gray
He’s been working and slaving his life away
We gotta work
work
We gotta work
work, work, work

We gotta get out of this place
If it’s the last thing we ever do
We gotta get out of this place
Girl, there’s a better life
For me and you

 I know it is true…
You’ll be dead before your time is due
Yes You Will

We gotta get out of this place
If it’s the last thing we ever do
We gotta get out of this place
Girl, there’s a better life
For me and you

Hey!
We gotta get on out…
outta this place…
You know its true Girl.”

According to that great Internet source, Wikipedia, the song ‘We Gotta Get Out of This Place” resonated especially with U.S. fighting forces in Vietnam. Indeed, research done among Vietnam veterans a few years ago showed the song struck a chord among them more than any other of the period.

The researchers said,” “We had absolute unanimity is this song being the touchstone. This was the Vietnam anthem. Every bad band that ever played in an armed forces club had to play this song.”

The reasons are obvious. No one wants to be in a combat zone.  It is a deadlly and confusing place to be.

We all want a better life. In fact, in America, we have something we are to pursue called “The American Dream”.

We in America have been little touched by war, at least on our home soil. Only when we are foreigners fighting on foreign soil do we meet up with its horrors.

 War is exactly where we Christians find ourselves in this world. We are foreign fighters on foreigh soil because we belong to the Kingdom of Jesus Christ and are in His army. The only way out of the conflict is total victory.

Unfortunately, we tend to mistake who the enemy is . Like grumbling GIs, we cite God as the source of all the troubles we face in this war.

First, we blame Him for all the confusion we face in the battle. Second, we think God is not just and fair in His decisionmaking.

The only place to gain the truth about what is going on is the Scriptures, our Christian Army Field Manual.  It says that it is our Enemy Satan and his demonic cohorts who are  causing all the problems in this war (Psalm 11:2).

In addition, the Manual says our confusion is not from God, but from demons (I Timothy 4:1), the other army’s rank and file.  God is not the One who is writing our bewildering part in the script of life (I Corinthians 14:33).

When I look around at my fellow soldiers in this battle, the human ones, whether ones who belong to the enemy or the ones in God’s army, I regret to say  I am not impressed. With a couple exceptions, I think we are a slovenly bunch.

Yet, sometimes I think my own General, Jesus Christ, is handing out medals to the undeserving and putting guys like me the stockade. To my mildewed brain, I would expect this of Field Marshal Satan, but not from my Commanding Officer.

Again, my Field Manual, the Bible, gives me my operating instructions. It tells me that God is just and good, and if I want medals, I need to be the same (Psalm 11:7).

However, as a griping doughboy, what gets to me is when my comrades in arms take it upon themselves to make judgments about me. These unsolicited utterances hurt, though they may indeed be true.

Part of the reason I feel wounded is that they come from “friendly fire”,  from people I love.  These  fellow grunts  who share my foxhole speak as if they are authoritative –like they themselves are prophets of God.

Again, turning to my Field Manual, I notice that the Author has given me an illustration of how to respond to this kind of incident on the battlefield. The story is about three people: General Moses, Colonel Aaron and Women’s Army Corp leader Miriam.

Aaron and Miriam decide to take oral potshots at Moses. First, they slam him for his personnel choices. Then, they themelves decide Moses isn’t worthy of his post, and that they are just as capable.

Moses, interestingly enough, doesn’t pull rank on Aaron and Miriam. He doesn’t bark at them or throw them in the brig for insubordination.

In the Field Manual, there is a parenthetical sentence that tells me why Moses  doesn’t respond this way. He is the most humble man on earth (Numbers 12:3).

Moses knows that where he is in life is from the Lord. He knows he is nothing special (I Corinthians 4:7), even though his comrades believe THEY are.

Moses is a good general because he is just like his own Commanding Officer, Jesus. He is rewarded for being on the same page as his leader. Because he is like his Lord, Moses gets face time with Him that others don’t (Numbers 12:6-8).

When God struck WAC Miriam with a wasting disease as  punishment for her insubordination, Moses showed some real class. He went to his Commanding Officer and asked for a lighter sentence.

Occasionally, we see others in our modern age like Moses, who have the right perspective on who they are in God’s army. 

Ray Stedman, in his book “The Fight of Faith”, tells the story of a young man whose wife was seriously ill. He woke up in the middle of the night to write these words:

“My wife may die before morning, but I have been with her for four years. Four years! There is no way I can feel cheated if I didn’t have her another day. I didn’t deserve her for one minute.

And I may die before morning. What I must do is die now. I must accept the justice of death, and the injustice of life.

I have lived a good life, longer than many, better than most. I have had 32 years. I couldn’t ask for another day.

What did I do to deserve birth? It was a gift. I am me.  That is a miracle. I have no right to a single minute.  But some are given a single hour, and yet I have had 32 years.

Few can choose when they will die, but I choose to accept death now.  As of this moment, I give up my right to live and I give up my right to her life.”

My role in this spiritual war I am in is to accept my orders from my General Jesus and leave the sniping around me to Him to resolve eventually. My response should not be to go AWOL and seek to douse the hurts of the friendly fire and the enemy through immoral means. It will just land me in God’s stockade.

No, when I am hurting and wounded, I need to go get my instructions from General Jesus on what to do because He is NOT  unfair, unjust or the source of my confusing existence as the enemy propoganda would have me believe.

Instead, I need to see Jesus as the origin of right thinking, action and judgment (Psalm 111:10). Lastly, if I am going to take any opinions regarding who I am and my performance to heart, it should be His, not those who share the battlefield with me in this life. 

In the meantime, it is my role to conscientiously, loyally and lovingly man my post.

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