An eye for an eye…

I can’t help but think of my little boys when I read this passage. Samuel and Andrew are ages 4 and 3, respectively. When they’re playing together it is inevitable that one of them is wronged. Samuel snatches the toy that Andrew was playing with. Andrew’s first response is to strike out and hit Samuel. Samuel then hits Andrew back. You get the picture – this kind of scene is played out for parents and people who are around young children all the time. All of that is usually…well, always…followed by crying and stories of injustice, usually accompanied by pleas for punishment to the other.

Jesus is teaching us here to resist our most natural urge of striking back. Don’t be confused by the language in verse 39 though – “Do not resist the one who is evil.” Ephesians 4:27, 6:11-13, 1 Peter 5:8-9, James 4:7, all talk about resisting the devil with the “whole armor of God.” When Jesus says, “Do not resist the one who is evil,” He is talking about revenge.  He isn’t telling us to be weak and passive; He’s telling us not to be vindictive. Jesus wants us to ask the question, “If someone does something evil to me, how may I respond with only good in return?”

This is a really difficult concept to apply in every day life. My mind automatically jumps to the “big” wrongs – but what about the rest? What if, instead of getting frustrated when someone cuts in front of me in line, I offer to help them unload their groceries onto the belt for them? It sounds nice in theory – but in the heat of the moment it’s not easy to humble myself to offer help to someone that acted rudely or inconsiderately to me.

Jesus wants us to be selfless. He goes on to tell us that if someone sues us for our shirt, don’t only give that away, but our cloak as well. If someone begs, give to them. If someone asks to borrow – give to them as well. The theme here is to “disconnect” from material goods and possessions. I don’t think Jesus wants us to be penniless, but I do think that He recognizes that the things we acquire and that have importance to us can separate us from Him.

The Apostle Paul summarizes what Jesus’ teaches us here in Romans 12:17-21,

“never pay back evil for evil to anyone. respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

In Psalm 65 David writes, “When we were overwhelmed by sins, you forgave our transgressions…We are filled with the good things of your house, of your holy temple.” The awesome gift of forgiveness – granted while we were still sinners – needs to be contemplated daily. We need to remember that all we are, all we have, comes from God. Our financial wealth, our knowledge and abilities – they are gifts given to us to use for His glory.

Try this week to return a negative action with a loving response. Look for an opportunity to use what God has given you to help someone in need. Show compassion and grace when you feel a response of anger or frustration.

Lord, please fill my heart with the desire to serve you. Thank you for your constant forgiveness. Help me to reflect your light to those around me and give me the courage to return evil with good. Give me a generous spirit and cause me to look for ways to show generosity. 

Victims of a broken promise…

2 Samuel 21Psalm 53

This chapter of Samuel begins with a famine in Israel for over three years, with David finally asking the Lord why the famine is taking place in his kingdom. God answers that Saul  had broken a vow (or promise, or covenant) by killing the Gibeonites (see Joshua 9 for the origin of that vow – note that the Israelites were tricked into making the promise, but still God expects them to keep it!).

David approached the Gibeonites on how he can correct the broken promise. They demanded seven of Saul’s sons to be killed as an atonement. David had no choice but to deliver and did as they requested (except for Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth, due to yet another promise). It was sad but necessary to stop the famine. After this, David went and retrieved the bones of Saul and Jonathan and buried them in the country of Benjamin with Saul’s father Kish.

The chapter ends with the Philistines going to war against Israel. In the battle, David grew faint and was nearly killed by the sons of the giants. Israel decided then that David should not come out to battle any more, so the light of Israel is not quenched – in other words, they didn’t want to lose their king because he was fighting in wars.  [Incidentally, in this war a man named Elhanan killed Goliath’s brother, and David’s nephew Jonathan killed a giant of Gath who had six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot.]

David was no stranger to covenants with God, or man, for that matter. The 400 year old covenant broken by Saul caused famine and tragedy in David’s kingdom, even though David was not the one to break the promise. It is a good reminder that God takes our covenants seriously. The promises we make to each other, and the promises we make to God, are known by Him and remembered by Him.  It is comforting to think of that aspect when we think of the good things God has promised us in his covenants with us, but scary to think of that in light of all of the broken promises we see between each other and between ourselves and the Lord.

I cannot think of broken covenants without thinking of the covenant of marriage. We all know, some of us with intimate and first-hand knowledge, someone who is either divorced or going through a divorce. Regardless of who and/or what is to blame, the broken promises between two people that had promised to be together “till death do us part” does not affect only those two people. The children, extended families and even friends are all impacted by the separation of two people once married. Yet, even through the sorrow that follows divorce, we do not have to be separated from God. We can still seek forgiveness for the promises broken, we can offer forgiveness for the betrayal, and set an example to others of mercy and grace through a difficult time. Like David, we can seek out God’s will in the aftermath of the brokenness.

Father, thank you for being a loving God. Thank you for never breaking your promises and covenants with us. Please open our eyes and hearts to your word and allow it to speak to us where we are in our lives today. Help me to be faithful like you are faithful, keeping my promises. God, if there is any promise I have broken, please help me to see that and to make it right. Please help me to turn to you in times of trouble, and to reflect your grace and mercy to those around me. 

Showing Grace

 

2 Samuel 9 and Psalm 41

To understand this chapter of 2 Samuel, we have to go back  about twenty years earlier, when David made a covenant with Jonathan (1 Samuel 20). Jonathan, who was heir to Saul’s throne, was not going to be King because of his father’s disobedience to the Lord. Samuel had told Saul that his kingdom would be taken away and given to a better man. Despite that, David and Jonathan had a very close friendship. Jonathan, instead of siding with his Saul to secure his position to the throne, accepted that David would be king and made a covenant with him. He had David promise him to show him and his family after him the unfailing kindness of the Lord, as long as they lived.

We don’t know what precipitated David’s question –  “Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” But all these years later he was prompted to remember his promise to Jonathan. David seeks out what remains of Jonathan’s family and pours love and kindness out to Mephibosheth by giving him all of the property that had been Saul’s, then giving him a place equal to that of David’s own sons.

David didn’t just give money and land and material things – he welcomed the son of Jonathan into his home and gave him a place of honor.

David showed Grace to Mephibosheth. He didn’t question him about his worthiness, didn’t put stipulations on his gifts, and didn’t just give him monetary gifts to satisfy a promise or sense of guilt – he loved him! He treated him like one of his own sons.

Grace is difficult for me. It is difficult for me to accept God’s grace, his promise of forgiveness and his love for me despite the sins that bring me guilt and shame.

Grace is also difficult for me to give. It is sometimes easier to write a check and drop it in the plate at church than to stop and take time to show love to others. David’s behavior is such an amazing example of how grace should be shown. Wholly, unconditionally and without limit.

 Blessed is the one who considers the poor!
    In the day of trouble the Lord delivers him;
the Lord protects him and keeps him alive;
    he is called blessed in the land…Psalm 41:1-2

 

Do we really want to hear what God has to say to us?

Psalm 291 Samuel 28

In 1 Samuel 28, Saul, at the end of his rope, visits a medium to get advice on how to salvage his kingdom. He has the nerve to ask for Samuel to be called up from the dead in hopes that the prophet will give him useful knowledge from beyond the grave.

This is a really unusual event – Samuel actually appears from the dead and prophesies to Saul. But the prophesy doesn’t do Saul any good. Saul wanted knowledge that would help him  win, but that isn’t why God gives us his word. God gives us his word to teach us that he alone is God and that we have no hope outside of him.

God speaks directly to us through scripture. Do we actually want to hear what he has to say? Is our desire to hear some additional word (outside of scripture) a sign of our devotion, or instead is it a desire to ignore what has already been revealed through scripture?

Lord, help me to listen to your word with an open heart and open mind. Please help me to seek you first, and not to look for truth in other places. Thank you for sending Jesus to take away our sins, and for the promise of forgiveness.

Spend More Time on Your Heart

 

Psalm 171 Samuel 16

We live in such an image-driven world. The fashion industry, cosmetic industry, health and fitness industries – the list goes on and on – all constantly pull and tug on us for time and attention. I find myself spending inordinate amounts of time choosing what to wear and fixing my hair and makeup every day. I glance in the mirror and critique my wrinkles and blemishes. I try to suck in my belly and make myself look more trim. I can be consumed with my physical appearance.  Continue reading Spend More Time on Your Heart

Is prayer a “last resort” for you?

1 Samuel 4Psalms 5

Today’s reading in 1 Samuel tells of massive defeat of the Israelites by the Philistines, including the theft of the ark of the covenant. The news of the deaths of Eli’s sons and the taking of the ark caused Eli to fall to his death, and his daughter-in-law went into labor at hearing all the news, and died in despair.

What a tragedy. Why did these people not turn to God? Why did despair overcome them? For the same reasons that we allow our faith to be dampened by the troubles we face. It is too easy to forget God’s faithfulness, and too tempting to wallow in depression when things go wrong.

In Psalm 5, David reminds us to go first to God with our troubles, requests, and also with praise.

I’ve heard people say, and have been guilty myself of this, “there’s nothing left to do but pray.” It’s not necessarily an untrue statement – but it’s premise is that there ever was anything else more important or more pressing to do than to pray. Rather than waiting until all other options are exhausted, let’s try to remember to go to God first (and last) with our concerns. It seems like we should know and do this already, but I for one need constant reminders of this.

“But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you. For you bless the righteous, O Lord; you cover him with favor as with a shield.” Psalm 5:11-12

REFUGE

Joshua 20 ; Proverbs 20

The six cities of refuge provided a place of safety for people who had unintentionally killed another person. In addition to providing the place itself, God also sets up a justice system, allowing for the accused to make himself heard and given an opportunity to be found innocent or guilty by elders of the city, while in their protection.

I can’t help but think about when my two toddlers boys get in a fight. The wronged son comes to me to make a full (loud, and often lengthy) report of the wrong done to him by his brother. At the same time, the accused brother is also coming to me, crying out in fear (with tears, also usually loudly) sharing his side of events and begging for mercy. These little boys look to me for comfort, mercy, safety and justice.

It is easy to relate to both children. It is horrible to feel wronged and hurt, it is even worse to be blamed for doing something wrong when you didn’t do it, or did – but didn’t mean to.

Spiritually speaking, the events in our lives that necessitate fleeing to a city of refuge are less obvious than the ones between my two and four year old. But whether I’m seeking refuge because I unintentionally hurt someone, because I am hurting from what was done/said to me, or just because my faith is struggling and the weight of that is overwhelming, I have a refuge.

“God is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in times of trouble.” Psalm 46:1

 

 

 

Obedience

For me, when things are going really well it’s easy to talk about how good God is, to be thankful, to be joyful, and to acknowledge that God is in control.  When things don’t go the way I had hoped (and prayed) they would, it is way to easy for me to feel discouraged and feel like God has forgotten me, or that He doesn’t have a good plan for my life. Feeling discouraged can make me hard-hearted and sometimes angry. I doubt I’m alone in that. For the past week I’ve been struggling with a big disappointment over not getting something that I had really, really wanted and prayed for. My heart has been heavy, my spirits low, and, while I know that God’s promises still stand, I don’t feel like they do. This is a difficult thing to admit, but it’s where I was today. So,while reading through Joshua 8 and Proverbs 8 for this post, I was searching for something that would provide comfort to me about my feelings of disappointment. I read, re-read, prayed, and meditated on these passages, looking for something that would soothe the wounded part of my spirit.

What eventually spoke to me was not what I went looking for. In the last paragraph of the Joshua 8, after the City of Ai has been conquered and the spoils plundered, Joshua builds an altar to the Lord, writes on the stones a copy of the law of Moses, and then reads all the words of the law to all the people. I kept thinking about how tired these people must have been. How excited to have plundered the riches and been able to keep them this time, etc. But we don’t read about a fantastic celebration with feasts and music, we read that Joshua immediately carves into stone every word that Moses had commanded (which sounds like a lot of work), then reads every bit of it to ALL of the people, even the little ones. My thought is that Joshua probably did not “feel” like doing all of that right then. I was then reminded of Joshua 1:8, “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.”

Joshua’s actions at the end of chapter 8 seem to me to be obedience to God’s command, not a reaction born of feeling. My feelings of disappointment, despair, etc., do not make me feel like rejoicing, praying or reading scripture. But that cannot get in the way of obedience. The Proverbs reading only reiterated this to me. “Blessed are those who keep my ways.” Prov 8:32

God, forgive me for doubting your promises and your perfect plan. Help me to be obedient even when I don’t feel like it. Thank you for the comfort that your word brings to my heart, and thank you for the Holy Spirit revealing truths through that word.

Joshua 8:30-35 30Then Joshua built on Mount Ebal an altar to the LORD, the God of Israel, 31as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded the Israelites. He built it according to what is written in the Book of the Law of Moses-an altar of uncut stones, on which no iron tool had been used. On it they offered to the LORD burnt offerings and sacrificed fellowship offerings. 32There, in the presence of the Israelites, Joshua wrote on stones a copy of the law of Moses. 33All the Israelites, with their elders, officials and judges, were standing on both sides of the ark of the covenant of the LORD, facing the Levitical priests who carried it. Both the foreigners living among them and the native-born were there. Half of the people stood in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, as Moses the servant of the LORD had formerly commanded when he gave instructions to bless the people of Israel. 34Afterward, Joshua read all the words of the law-the blessings and the curses-just as it is written in the Book of the Law. 35There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded that Joshua did not read to the whole assembly of Israel, including the women and children, and the foreigners who lived among them.

Joshua 8

Proverbs 8