1445) Cotton Patch Wisdom

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Farmer, pastor, theologian Clarence Jordan, author of the Cotton Patch New Testament

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From The Sermon on the Mount, by Clarence Jordan (1912-1969), pages 102-3.

      It is not judging, but self-righteous judging against which Jesus warns his disciples.  Honest, sincere judging is good, but hypocritical judging is perilous.  Nothing will destroy a fellowship more quickly than to have within it someone who carries around a folding judgement-seat which makes it possible for him to pass judgment on another person anywhere, any time.   He goes on the theory that he makes himself bigger by making someone else smaller.  He has a high regard for his ability to analyze other people and their motives, and he is utterly incensed if someone seeks to reverse his judicial opinions.

      But usually his judgments reveal his own true nature, for a man’s opinions of his neighbors are a reliable index of his own character.  At no time does his real self become more evident than when he is sitting on his folding judgment-seat giving his opinions of others.  A liar will invariably conclude that most men are like himself– liars; it is the opinion of a thief that they are all thieves; while an honest man is quite certain that until proven otherwise, all others are honest.

      There is an old story about a man looking for a place to settle.  He drove into a rural community and inquired of an old farmer what kind of people lived there.  In reply, the farmer asked, “Stranger, what kind of people live in the community you came from?”

      “They are bad people,” he said. “Gossips, slanderers, and cheapskates.”  

     The old man shook his head.  “You might as well move on,” he said, “because that’s the kind of people who live here, too.”

      Later on, another man came through seeking a place to live, and he asked the same old farmer about the people.  “How were the people where you came from?” inquired the farmer.

      “Wonderful, simply wonderful,” he said.  “They were thoughtful, kind, and loving.  I surely hated to leave them.”

      “Unload,” beamed the farmer, “because that’s just the kind of people you’ll find around here.”

      Not only may others size up a person by the judgment with which he judges others, but a man’s condemnation of others can become his own most severe punishment.  For instance, here is a person who is a slanderous gossip.  His conclusion is that since he gossips, all men gossip.  So when he sees several of his acquaintances together, he is quite sure that they are doing what he would be doing– gossiping.  His guilt and inflated ego combine to make him believe they are gossiping about him, even though they may really be talking about the weather.  He has had this feeling so frequently that he is raw and extremely sensitive and always touchy about everything.  Consequently, nothing is capable of inflicting more torture upon him than gossip– about him.  Whether the gossip is real or imaginary is of no consequence; the punishment is the same.

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Matthew 7:1-5  —  (Jesus said), “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.  Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

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O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through your Son Jesus.  Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and through our struggle and confusion, work to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship, Augsburg Publishing House, 1978, (prayer #177)

1230) What is God Waiting For?

Isaiah 6:11a  —   Then I said, “How long, O Lord?”

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By Randy Alcorn, in 90 Days of God’s Goodness.

     For many, the most difficult problem with evil is its persistence.  God “has set a day when he will judge the world with justice” (Acts 17:31).  But why a future day of judgment?

     Barbara Brown Taylor phrased it, “What kind of God allows the innocent to suffer while the wicked pop their champagne corks and sing loud songs?”

     We may say, “Yes, Lord, we accept your wisdom in permitting evil and suffering for a season— but enough is enough.  Why do you let it continue?

     The Bible echoes the same sentiment.  Jeremiah said, “You are always righteous, O Lord, when I bring a case before you.  Yet I would speak with you about your justice:  Why does the way of the wicked prosper?  Why do all the faithless live at ease?” (12:1).

     Why doesn’t God simply reward each good and punish each evil as it happens?  Because God’s justice is not a vending machine in which a coin of righteousness immediately produces reward or a coin of evil yields swift retribution.  Scripture assures us justice is coming.  Everything in God’s plan has a proper time; the gap between the present and that proper time tests and incubates our faith.  When reward and punishment are immediate, no faith in God is required or cultivated.

     The wheels of justice may seem to turn slowly, but they turn surely.  Some rewards of goodness and punishments of evil come in this life.  And though ultimate rewards and punishments await the final judgment, considerable justice— both reward and retribution— is dispensed upon death, when God’s children immediately experience the joy of his presence, and the unrepentant suffer the first justice of Hell (see Luke 16:19–31).  This means that the maximum duration of injustice experienced by any person cannot exceed his life span.

     Don’t we give thanks for God’s patience with Saul, the self-righteous killer who became Paul?  Or John Newton, the evil slave trader who accepted God’s amazing grace and wrote the song that countless millions have sung?

     God drew me to Himself in 1969.  But what if Christ had answered the prayers of many in those days and had returned and brought final judgment in 1968?  Or in 1953, the year before I was born?  Where would I be for eternity?  Where would you be?

     I’m grateful God was patient enough with fallen humanity to allow the world to continue until I was created, and then continue further until I became part of his family.

     Aren’t you grateful for the same?  If God answered our prayers to return today, who might be lost that he plans to save tomorrow?

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Jeremiah 12:1  —  You are always righteous, Lordwhen I bring a case before you.  Yet I would speak with you about your justice:  Why does the way of the wicked prosper?  Why do all the faithless live at ease?

Psalm 90:13  —  Relent, Lord!  How long will it be?  Have compassion on your servants.

Habakkuk 1:2-4  —  How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?  Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save?  Why do you make me look at injustice?  Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?  Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds.  Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails.  The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted.

Revelation 6:9-11  —  When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained.  They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?”  Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been.

II Peter 3:8-9  —  But do not forget this one thing, dear friends:  With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.  The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.  He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

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PSALM 13:1-3, 5-6:

How long, Lord?  Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death…

But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me.

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Lord, you are the potter; we are the clay.  You have the right to do what you choose.  But if we look carefully at what you choose, we may see wisdom and purpose and mercy even in what we don’t fully understand.  Thanks for not answering the prayers for Christ’s immediate return offered by the generations that preceded me and my family.  I’d hate to think of us not existing, of not being able to love you and serve you and glorify you forever.  Amen.

–Randy Alcorn

1218) Election 2016 and the Judgment of God

By John Stonestreet at http://www.breakpoint.org, August 9, 2016.

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     So, have you heard this one?  Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are stranded at sea on a life boat.  Who survives?  America does!  

     What a bizarre election year this has been.

     Now, despite the dire warnings from both candidates about the consequences of electing their opponent, the most important thing about this election is not who becomes president.  The most important thing about this election is what it reveals about us as a society.

     Nearly 40 years ago, in a famous speech at Harvard University, the great Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said:  “There are meaningful warnings which history gives a threatened or perishing society.  Such are, for instance, the decadence of art, or a lack of great statesmen.”  Talk about prophetic!

     Folks, I might as well just say it:  I am convinced that this election is an indication that God is judging America.

     Now claiming to know God’s mind both for what and with what He is bringing judgment is theologically indefensible and only makes us look silly.  (You may recall a few notable Christians who stuck their foot in their mouths after 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina).  And yet, as Stephen Keillor argued in his book God’s Judgments, it is also theologically indefensible to not acknowledge God’s working in history, including through acts of judgment.

     And in this case, I am ready to say, God is judging our country.  Why?  As my colleague Roberto Rivera often says, “The five scariest words in the Bible are, ‘…and God gave them over’.”

     The most common way God judges is with the natural consequences of our choices and behavior.  This is especially true in politics, which is mostly downstream from – and a reflection of – the broader culture.  In other words, especially in our country, we tend to get the leaders we deserve.  Which is why this November we should cast our vote with fear, trembling, weeping, praying for mercy, and maybe even while wearing sackcloth and ashes.

    Whenever I think of stepping into the voting booth on November 8, I somewhat melodramatically think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Christmas letter:  “One may ask,” he wrote, “whether there have ever before in human history been people… to whom every available alternative seemed equally intolerable, repugnant, and futile…”

     Look, I realize that many of my brothers and sisters in Christ have found a level of clarity about the upcoming presidential vote that I have not– perhaps out of resignation or from some political calculations.  Perhaps I will too, but until then, I hope there are some things on which we Christians can agree.

     First, our deepest problems aren’t political ones, and the state is not able to address them.  Looking to the state for hope is always misguided, but every four years we seem to fall for it.

     Second, although the presidential race is the only one being talked about, the most important political decisions we will make this year, I’m convinced, will be the local ones.  The only thing to mitigate the chaos created by an ever-encroaching federal government convinced of its own indispensability is a stronger local, civil society.

     Third, as Eric said recently on BreakPoint, the Church must be the Church.  Look, the Church is not reliant one bit on the state to do the life-giving, Gospel-proclaiming, brokenness-restoring work God has called it to do.  The Church is the most effective institution of social change, period.

     And finally, but most important, we pray for God’s mercy.  He judges the wicked by leaving them to their own devices.  The sooner we abandon those devices and turn back to God, the better.   And, I am not speaking here only about “them,” those outside the Church.  No way.  As Peter wrote in his first epistle, “it’s time for judgment to begin in the house of God.”  

     May God have mercy, but if He brings judgment, so be it.

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“Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God?  That they are not to be violated but with his wrath?  Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, (and) that his justice cannot sleep forever.”

–Thomas Jefferson, 1781

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“The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

–Abraham Lincoln, 1865, Second Inaugural Address, quoting Psalm 19:9

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Psalm 81:10-12  —  “I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt…  But my people would not listen to me…  So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices.”

Job 8:3-4  —  Does God pervert justice?  Does the Almighty pervert what is right?  When your children sinned against him, he gave them over to the penalty of their sin.

Romans 1:28-32  —  Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done.  They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity.  They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice.  They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy.  Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

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Look mercifully, O Lord, we beseech Thee, on the affliction of Thy people; and let not our sins destroy us, but let Thine almighty mercy save us; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord.  Amen.

Lutheran Altar Service Book, 1958, Augsburg Publishing House

1052) When God Punishes a People

Martin Luther  (1483-1546)

Time magazine cover, March 24, 1967

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     “When God wills to punish a people or a kingdom, he takes away from it the good and godly teachers and preachers, and bereaves it of wise, godly, and honest rulers and counselors, and of brave, upright and experienced soldiers, and of other good people.  Then the common people are secure and merry; they go on in all willfulness, they care no longer for the truth and for the divine doctrine, nay, they despise it, and fall into blindness.  They have no fear or honesty, they give way to all manner of shameful sins, whence arises a wild, dissolute, and devilish kind of living, as we now, alas, see and are too well aware of, and which cannot long endure.  I fear the ax is laid to the root of the tree, soon to cut it down.  May God in his infinite mercy take us graciously away, that we may not be present at such calamities.”

–Martin Luther in Table Talk

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Isaiah 40:15…23-24  —  Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales; he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust….  He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.  No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than he blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.

Psalm 9:15-18  —  The nations have fallen into the pit they have dug; their feet are caught in the net they have hidden.  The Lord is known by his acts of justice; the wicked are ensnared by the work of their hands.  The wicked go down to the realm of the dead, all the nations that forget God.  But God will never forget the needy; the hope of the afflicted will never perish.

Psalm 96:13  —  Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for he comes, he comes to judge the earth.  He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his faithfulness.

I Timothy 2:1-4  —  I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers,intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.  This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

Jeremiah 5:30-31  —  (The Lord says), “A horrible and shocking thing has happened in the land:  The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way.  But what will you do in the end?”

II Timothy 4:3-4  —  The time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine.  Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.  They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.

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A BIBLICAL PRAYER FOR THE NATIONS:

Joel 3:12………..Let the nations be awakened!
Isaiah 1:2…………..Let the earth hear the voice of the Lord!
Psalm 9:20…………Judge the nations in Your sight, O Lord, and put them to fear,
Psalm 9:20………….that they might know themselves to be but men.
Romans 8:22……….Father, the whole creation groans and labors
Romans 8:21……….to be delivered from the bondage of corruption,
Romans 8:21……….into the glorious liberty of the children of God.
John 15:26………..Send forth Your Spirit of Truth to bear witness of You,
John 16:8………….and to convict the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment.
Ezekiel 14:6……….Cause them to repent and to turn from their idols.
Numbers 23:24……..O God, cause Your people to rise up.
Jeremiah 49:14……….Send Your ambassadors into all the nations.
Colossians 4:3…………Open to them a door for the Word, to speak of Christ,
Matthew 24:14………..that the gospel of the kingdom may be preached in all the world.
Philippians 2:10………..Let every knee bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord!
Isaiah 43:9………….Father, gather the nations together,
Psalm 22:27…………that they may worship Thee.
Galatians 3:8……………Let all the nations be blessed through Your people.
Isaiah 49:6…………Send forth Your salvation to the ends of the earth.

http://www.prayingscriptures.com

885) “A Burden on My Soul”

     I once asked my grandfather why his grandfather left Germany in 1875 to come to America.  Grandpa said that the old emigrant told him that Germany was always getting into wars and drafting all the young men, and he did not want to die as a soldier in some fight that did not concern him.  He wanted to farm, and he wanted to get married and raise a family.  I thought of that when I read this quote by Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898), the leader of the German empire at that time.  Late in life he had this to say:

I have a burden on my soul.  During all my long life, I did not make anyone happy, neither my friends, nor my family, nor even myself.  I have done many evil things…  I was the cause of the beginning of three big wars.  About 800,000 people were killed because of me on the battlefields, and their mothers, brothers, and widows cried for them.  And now this stands between me and God.

     That makes me think about three things.  First of all, if my great-great-grandfather had not left Germany when he did, he would have perhaps been among the 800,000 killed– and then, where would I be now?

     Secondly, that makes me think about ISIS, Kim Jong-un, Joseph Kony, Bashar al-Assad and all of today’s other temporary tyrants with their brief hold on power, using it to cause so much death and destruction and heartache around the world.  Someday soon they will perish like all tyrants do, and then all their deeds will stand between them and God.

     Thirdly, it makes me think about all that I have done that now stands between me and God.  And that makes me give thanks for Jesus Christ who died and rose from the dead for the forgiveness of my sins, for only by faith in Him can I hope to stand before God.

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Job 31:13-15 — If I have denied justice to any of my servants, whether male or female, when they had a grievance against me, what will I do when God confronts me?  What will I answer when called to account?  Did not he who made me in the womb make them? Did not the same one form us both within our mothers?

Hosea 7:2 — (God says), “They do not realize that I remember all their evil deeds.  Their sins engulf them; they are always before me.”

Proverbs 11:7 — When a wicked man dies, his hope perishes; all he expected from his power comes to nothing.

Colossians 1:21-23 — Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.  But now He has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel.  This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

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     Almighty and merciful Father, whose clemency I now presume to implore, after a long life of carelessness and wickedness, have mercy upon me.  I have committed many trespasses; I have neglected many duties.  I have done what thou hast forbidden, and left undone what Thou hast commanded.  Forgive, merciful Lord, my sins, negligences, and ignorances, and enable me, by the Holy Spirit, to amend my life according to thy Holy Word, for Jesus Christ’s sake.  Amen.

 –Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

597) A Word of Warning (part two)

     The Parable of the Wicked Tenants; Matthew 21:33-43

     (…continued)  Knowing what we know about renting and owning, what can we say about that?  First of all we might want to ask, “What on earth could they have be thinking?”  Were those tenants insane?  Is that how it works: if you kill the owner, you get the land?  Who ever heard of that?  That maybe worked in the days of the caveman, or in the darkest depths of the uncivilized jungle, or in the Wild West days of the American frontier.  But this was the Roman empire.  It was a long time ago, yes, but Rome had a highly efficient, well organized, and strong government and legal system.  They had laws about land ownership and deeds to that land, they had judges and courts, and they had soldiers to enforce the laws.  What made those tenants ever think they could kill the landowner’s son and then get to keep the land?  The response of the people in verse 41 indicates that the landowner would be quite able to put a stop to such nonsense.  They said he would ‘put an end to those wretches,’ implying he had the legal means to do so.

     So what could they have been thinking?  Well, there is only one way to make any sense of it, and that is if they assumed that the landowner was too far away to make an issue of it all just yet.  Back in verse 33 it said that the landowner rented the place out in the first place because he was going away on a journey.  It doesn’t say where he was going or how long he would be gone, but the renters must have thought he was far enough away and would be gone long enough to make such a desperate gamble worth the attempt.  After all, the servants were all either dead or in the hospital, the son was dead, and well, maybe the old man wouldn’t be up to making the trip back just yet.  So they thought the land would be theirs, at least until someone showed up to make an issue out of it; and who knows, that might not be for a while.  Yes, the day of reckoning; the day of soldiers, eviction, arrest, perhaps even execution; would someday come.  But the landowner was so far away, and the time of reckoning so far off, that well, maybe they could live out a good number of days, perhaps even years, before the judgment would come.  Isn’t that just the way many people treat their relationship with God, thinking him too far off to have to worry about just yet?

     The Bible’s description of God’s relationship with each of us goes back and forth between grace and judgment. Both are in this parable.  This is certainly a very gracious and patient landowner, isn’t it?  These tenants are very bad men.  The landowner could have called in the authorities right after the first servants were beaten.  But he tries again, and then even a third time; and this time, sending, risking, his own son, for these thieves and murderers.  The first part of the parable is indeed filled with undeserved mercy and grace.  There is a word of comfort and hope there for everyone, no matter how great a sinner.  God is far more patient with us than we would ever be with each other.  “Can even a serial killer and cannibal like Jeffery Dahmer be forgiven and saved?,“ asked the confirmation student. “Yes,“ said the pastor, “If he repents of his sin and believes in Jesus, God’s own Son who died for us.”  And there were reports that Dahmer did repent and come to Jesus in prison, just before he himself was murdered.  Grace even Jeffrey Dahmer, even these wicked tenants?  Yes, says the parable.  So there is indeed hope for everyone, isn’t there?  This is a wonderful parable of God’s gracious longsuffering and patience.

     But we must not ignore the next part.  When the son himself is rejected, the patience ends and judgment comes.  Make no mistake about it, here, and from the first pages to the last pages, the Bible warns us that the judgment will come.  Without repentance, the only hope that the wicked tenants had was that the landowner was far away, and would not return for a very long time, and that’s not much of a hope.

     The Bible tells us that God is very close to us.  God is in our heart.  God is in his Word.  The very hairs of your head are numbered, said Jesus.  God is very close to you.  And that is good news; that is, if you want God close to you.

     But if you are like the wicked tenants, and you want to live without God in your life, and want to reject his word and promise for you; then, it will not be very good news to hear that God is close to you.  Then your only hope would be if God was far away, and would not bother with you, and you would never have to face God.  If one has this attitude toward God, then the parable comes as a harsh warning.  For just like the tenants owed the rent to the landowner, we owe God our very lives and obedience and faith– and the day of reckoning will come.

     This warning is not only for unbelievers.  As believers in Jesus Christ, we may take comfort in the first half of the parable.  We do want the Lord close to us and gracious to us.  That is good news and the source of our hope.  But we are not perfect yet, and the sinner that remains in us may not want God watching too closely, all the time.  Do you really want God seeing everything you do and hearing everything you say?  He does see and hear all things, you know.  So the word of warning here is for us, too.  God is not far away, but is always very close.  In that Word is our comfort when we are troubled; but at the same time, that Word means to trouble us when we become too comfortable in our sin.  

     May God give us the grace and the faith and the obedience to live our lives in such a way that we find his presence comforting and not troubling.

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Hebrews 9:27-28  —  Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

Acts 16:30-31a  —  He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”  They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…”

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Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a poor sinner.

–The ancient ‘Jesus Prayer’

596) A Word of Warning (part one)

     (Jesus said), “Listen to another parable:  There was a landowner who planted a vineyard.  He put a wall around it, dug a wine-press in it and built a watchtower.  Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went on a journey.  When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.

     “The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third.  Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way.  Last of all, he sent his son to them.  ‘They will respect my son,’ he said.

     “But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir.  Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’  So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.

     “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”

     “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,” they replied, “and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.”

     Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:  ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?  Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.”

–Matthew 21:33-43

An old woodcut of this parable.

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     Jesus told this parable almost 2000 years ago.  Sometimes old Bible stories require much background information in order for modern day hearers to understand the setting; but that is not the case this time.  The situation described is a familiar one.  It has to do with the relationship between a landowner and some renters.  Most people have had some experience with this kind of relationship; either as a renter of a place to live or some land to farm, or as an owner of a house or land being rented out, or both.  We all know how this works; and we all know that one of the key ingredients in making such a relationship work is that the rent has to be paid.  If the rent is not paid, there will be trouble.  Perhaps there is a good reason for one or more missed payments, and things can be discussed and worked out.  But if not, there will first be gentle reminders, then firm deadlines, then penalties, and perhaps even evictions, lawyers, and time in court.

     That is all bad enough, but in this parable things get even worse.  The servants who were sent to the tenants to collect the rent are not given any excuses, nor is there any discussion at all.  They are beaten, and one is even beaten to death.  More servants are sent, and they are treated the same way.  Finally, the landowner sends his own son, quite sure that he will be treated with more respect.  But he too is killed.  “So now what?,” Jesus asks his hearers, “Now what will happen?”  The answer is obvious.  It is time to get rid of those renters, even bringing them to ‘a wretched end,’ says the crowd.  After all, enough is enough.

     “That is right,” said Jesus, and then he applied the parable to his listeners, saying, “Therefore, I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.”  How’s that?  Taken from who; and given to who?  The answer is obvious, isn’t it?  It will be taken away from the Jews who are rejecting the ‘cornerstone,’ and given to the Christians, right?  But wait.  First of all, there weren’t any Christians yet.  Everybody Jesus was talking to that day was Jewish.  They were in the temple, it said earlier, and only Jews were allowed in the temple.  And, among the crowd were opponents and supporters of Jesus, and even his own disciples.  Almost all of the first believers in Jesus were Jews, so who did Jesus mean when he said ‘the kingdom of God will be taken from you?’

     We have to look at who Jesus was talking to, and to do that we have to go back to verse 23 where this debate began.  In that verse Jesus was being challenged by ‘the chief priests and elders of the people.’  Others were listening, but it was Jesus’ debate with these challengers that continued on into these verses.  Thus, it is far too simple to say that the kingdom was taken away from the Jews and given to the Christians.  That division came later in the story.  But for now, what is going on is a debate within the Jewish community about who Jesus is, and whether or not he was the long awaited Messiah.  Jesus was telling the leaders there that day that they were wrong.  Just like the leaders in the Old Testament were so often wrong in failing to recognize God’s true prophets, those leaders who were trying to trap Jesus were wrong in failing to recognize Jesus as God’s promised Messiah.  That was a problem back then, and not something we are debating anymore.  Christians have, by definition, made up their minds on who Jesus is, so there is no need to go on about that point.

     But there is something else in this parable that must considered. Keeping in mind what you know about owners and renters, look again at verse 38.  The renters have already beaten up two sets of servants, some of whom even died.  Now, the owner is sending his own son, thinking he will be respected.  “But when the tenants saw the son,” says verse 38, “they said to each other, ‘This is the heir.  Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’”  (continued…)

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O Lord Jesus, grant us always, whatever the world may say, to content ourselves with what you will say, and to care only for your approval, which will outweigh all worlds; for Jesus sake.  Amen.

–Charles George Gordon  (1833-1885), British colonial administrator

540) “We’re Gonna Pray Ye Dead”

 Job 34:17-28:

17 Can someone who hates justice govern?
    Will you condemn the just and mighty One?
18 Is he not the One who says to kings, ‘You are worthless,’
    and to nobles, ‘You are wicked,’
19 who shows no partiality to princes
    and does not favor the rich over the poor,
    for they are all the work of his hands?
20 They die in an instant, in the middle of the night;
    the people are shaken and they pass away;
    the mighty are removed without human hand.

21 “His eyes are on the ways of mortals;
    he sees their every step.
22 There is no deep shadow, no utter darkness,
    where evildoers can hide.
23 God has no need to examine people further,
    that they should come before him for judgment.
24 Without inquiry he shatters the mighty
    and sets up others in their place.
25 Because he takes note of their deeds,
    he overthrows them in the night and they are crushed.
26 He punishes them for their wickedness
    where everyone can see them,
27 because they turned from following him
    and had no regard for any of his ways.
28 They caused the cry of the poor to come before him,
    so that he heard the cry of the needy.

        God will “hear the cry of the needy” when the rich and powerful oppress them, says Elihu in the Old Testament book of Job.  God “takes note of their deeds,” and will “shatter the mighty,” punishing them “for their wickedness,”  and “they will die in an instant, in the middle of the night.”   British Biblical scholar Adam Clarke (1762-1832) had an interesting story to tell in his commentary on the book of Job regarding these words of Elihu.  He wrote (paraphrased):

     There was a time in Scotland when many men thought they served God by persecuting those who did not believe or worship exactly as they did.  In those days there was a certain wealthy man who harshly persecuted his tenants because they met for worship in private homes, and not according to the orders of the established church.  If his tenants were to spend all their money drinking and fornicating and fighting, he would have no objection and would not interfere.  But if they met to quietly pray and read Scripture outside the walls of the church and without an official clergyman, he would do all in his power to make their lives miserable.  That is just how it was in those days.

     A holy, simple woman, one of those abused people, went one morning to the house of the great persecutor, and asked to speak with him.  The servant desired to know her message, and he would deliver it, or else she could not be admitted.  She told him she herself had to deliver her message to the master, adding that it was a matter of great importance, concerning the master himself.  The servant told this to the master, stating that the woman appeared to have something particular on her mind.  So the great and powerful man condescended to see her.

     ‘What is your business with me?’ said he, in a haughty, overbearing tone.

     To which she answered, ‘Sir, we are just a small company of poor folk who are strivin’ to serve God according to our own conscience, and to get our souls saved.  Ye are persecuting us; and I have come to beg ye to leave us alone; and if ye don’t, we’re gonna pray ye dead.’

     The woman’s plea was powerful and irresistible.  The master did not know what influence such people might have in heaven; but perhaps he had read Job 34, and did not want to put such prayers to the test.  So he wisely took the old woman’s advice, and he left them alone.  He was safe; they were satisfied; and God had the glory.  When the poor refer their cause to God, he can be a terrible avenger.

       I am not sure that it is a good thing in the eyes of God to “pray anyone dead,” but this reminder of the wrath of God against the wicked was a helpful one to that particular master.

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Exodus 3:7-10  —  The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt.  I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering.  So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians…  The cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them.  So now, go.  I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”

Deuteronomy 24:15  —  Pay them their wages each day before sunset, because they are poor and are counting on it.  Otherwise they may cry to the Lord against you, and you will be guilty of sin.

Job 34:28  —  They caused the cry of the poor to come before him, so that he heard the cry of the needy.

Romans 12:19  —  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.

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Strengthen us, O God, to relieve the oppressed, to hear the groans of poor prisoners, to reform the abuses of all professions; that many not be made poor to make a few rich; for Jesus Christ’s sake.  Amen.  –Oliver Cromwell  (1599-1658)

464) The Humbling of an Evil King

     This meditation is the final of three from the apocryphal book of II Maccabees (See also Meditations #441 and #463).  It tells the story of God’s judgement upon the wicked King Antiochus IV whose persecution of the Jews had caused so much suffering.

     King Antiochus, filled with anger, decided to avenge upon the Jews the disgrace that had been done to him.  Therefore, he commanded his chariot man to drive without ceasing so that they could get to Jerusalem quickly.  He had proudly boasted that he would come to Jerusalem and turn the whole city into a graveyard of Jews.  But the judgment of God was following him.

     And then the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, attacked him with a sudden and incurable illness.  As soon as Antiochus had spoken those words against the Jews, a pain of the bowels came upon him, and he was severely tormented in his inner parts, and he could find no relief.  And that was just, for he himself had attacked and tormented so many others and had made them suffer without relief.

     However, even then he did not cease from his bragging, but still was filled with pride, breathing out fire in his rage against the Jews, and commanding his chariot man to drive even faster.  But as they were speeding along, it came to pass that Antiochus fell out of the chariot.  It was such a violent fall that now his whole body was in great pain.

    And thus, he who just little while earlier had thought he was so great that he could command even the waves of the sea and rule even the high mountains, was now thrown onto the ground, unable to raise himself up.  He had to be lifted and carried on a horse litter, showing forth unto all the manifest power of God.
     
     And then it came to pass that due to his illness and injuries, worms afflicted the body of this wicked man, and while he yet lived in agony and pain, his flesh rotted away, and the filthiness of his smell was unbearable to his entire army.  And this man, who had once thought he could reach to the stars of heaven, could not even be carried on the litter, because no man could endure his intolerable stench.
     Finally then, being thus plagued, he began to let go of his pride.  Broken in spirit, with his pain and suffering ever increasing, he began to come to a true knowledge of himself, as a mere mortal under the scourge of an almighty God.  And when he himself could no longer tolerate his own smell, he said these words, “It is good to be humble before God, and no man should be so proud as to think of himself as greater than God.”
     
     This wicked man then made a vow unto the Lord, saying that the holy city, which he was going to level to the ground and turn into a cemetery; would instead be set free.  And the Jews, whom he had before not judged worthy even to be buried, but were cast out with their children to be devoured by the wild beasts; he would now make them all equals to the citizens of Athens.  And the holy temple, which before he had spoiled; he would now decorate with fine gifts, restoring all the holy vessels and adding more; all this out of his own revenue.  In fact, he said that he would become a Jew himself, and go through all the world, declaring the power of God.
     But for all this his pains would not cease, for the just judgment of God had come upon him…  And so then the murderer and blasphemer, having suffered most grievously, as he had made others suffer, died a miserable death in the mountains of a strange country.
Antiokhos IV.jpg
King Antiochus  IV
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Romans 12:19  —  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
FROM THE APOCRAPHA:
II Maccabees 8:18  —  Maccabeus said, “They trust in their weapons and boldness; but our confidence is in the Almighty who can easily can cast down both them that come against us, and also all the world.”
II Maccabees 6:13-15  —  It is a token of God’s goodness when wicked doers are not left alone too long, but punished without delay.  For this is not as it always is with other nations, whom the Lord might wait patiently to punish, until they have piled sin upon sin, and receive then the most severe punishment.

II Maccabees 7:31-37  —  The seventh brother to King Antiochus:  “You who have brought all this evil against us shall not escape the hands of God.  For we suffer because of our sins, and though the Lord be angry with us a little while for our chastening and correction, yet shall he again be at one with his servants.  But you, O godless man and most wicked of all men, you will find that your hopes will fail you; for the Almighty God sees all things, and you will not escape his judgment.  My brothers suffered only a short pain and are now dead, but they are still under God’s covenant of everlasting life.  But you have yet to receive the just punishment for your pride.  Now as I, like my brothers, offer up my body and life, I pray that God would speedily be merciful unto our nation; and that even you, by torments and plagues, may one day confess that he alone is God.”

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Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.   Amen.  

Book of Common Prayer

415) Judgment and Punishment for Sin

From The Imitation of Christ (chapter 24) by Thomas a Kempis (1380-1471)

     In all things look to the end.  How you shall stand before the strict Judge from whom nothing is hidden and who will pronounce judgment in all justice, accepting neither bribes nor excuses (Hebrews 10:31)?  Oh, wretched and foolish sinner, who fears even the wrath of an angry man, what answer will you make to the God who knows all your sins?  Why do you not provide for yourself against the day of judgment, when no man can be excused or defended by another, because each will have enough to do to answer for himself?  It is in this life that your work is profitable, your tears acceptable, your groaning audible, your sorrow satisfying and purifying.

     You must, therefore, take care and repent of your sins now so that on the day of judgment you may rest secure.  For on that day the just will stand firm against those who tortured and oppressed them.  The poor and humble will have great confidence, while the proud will be struck with fear.  He who learned to be a fool in this world and to be scorned for Christ will then appear to have been wise (I Corinthians 4:10).

     In that day every trial borne in patience will be pleasing, and the voice of iniquity will be stilled (Psalm 107:42).  Then, the devout will be glad; the irreligious will mourn; and the disciplined body will rejoice far more than if it had been pampered with every pleasure.  Then the cheap garment will shine with splendor and the rich one will have become faded and worn; and the poor cottage will be more praised than the gilded palace.  In that day persevering patience will count more than all the power in this world; simple obedience will be exalted above all worldly cleverness; a good and clean conscience will gladden the heart of man far more than the philosophy of the learned; and contempt for riches will be of more weight than every treasure on earth.

     Then you will find more consolation in having prayed devoutly than in having fared daintily; you will be happy that you preferred silence to prolonged gossip.  Then holy works will be of greater value than many fair words.  Then, a strict life and severe discipline will be more pleasing than all earthly delights.  Learn, then, to suffer little things now, so that you may not have to suffer greater ones in eternity.  If you can suffer only a little now, and that makes you impatient, how will you be able to endure eternal torment?

     If your life to this moment has been full of honors and pleasures, what good would all that do if at this instant you should die?  All is vanity, therefore, except to love God and to serve Him alone (Ecclesiastes 1:2; 12:13,14).  He who loves God with all his heart does not fear death or punishment or judgment or hell, because perfect love assures access to God.  It is no wonder that he who still delights in sin, fears death and judgment.  It is good, however, that even if love does not as yet restrain you from evil, at least the fear of hell does.  The man who casts aside the fear of God cannot continue long in goodness but will quickly fall into the snares of the devil.

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Hebrews 10:31  —  It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Psalm 107:42-43  —  The upright see and rejoice, but all the wicked shut their mouths.  Whoever is wise, let him heed these things and consider the great love of the Lord.

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14  —  Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter:  Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.  For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.

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O Merciful God, full of compassion, long-suffering, and of great pity, who sparest when we deserve punishment, and in thy wrath thinkest upon mercy; make me earnestly repent, and heartily to be sorry for all my misdoings.  Make the remembrance of my sins so burdensome and painful, that I may flee to Thee with a troubled spirit and a contrite heart.  And, O merciful Lord, visit, comfort, and relieve me; cast me not out of thy presence, and take not thy Holy Spirit from me, but excite in me true repentance.  Give me in this world knowledge of thy truth, and confidence in thy mercy; and in the world to come life everlasting, for the sake of our Lord and Savior, thy Son Jesus Christ.  Amen.  –Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)