Compassion

The Lord is merciful and compassionate, 
slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. 
The Lord is good to everyone. 
He showers compassion on all His creation.
‭Psalms‬ ‭145:8-9‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Why is God ultimately so merciful and compassionate? We look around us at our world and wonder why He doesn’t remove all evil and, in particular, evil people. After all they get in His way. They frustrate His will and purposes. But as we muse about how wonderful it would be if God removed the wicked, we get a light bulb moment – He would remove us as well. As Paul said in Romans 3:23, “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” So it’s just as well God is merciful and compassionate. He gives us time. Time to repent of our sins. Time to align our lives to His. Thankfully He is “slow to get angry” with us. 

But that is not to say that God’s mercy will always be there. There will come a time when He can be merciful and compassionate no longer. There is a time of judgement coming. You see, our loving Heavenly Father is also a righteous Heavenly Father. He can tolerate nothing that is evil, and when we pass the Great Divide into a new life, anything that is evil will not be allowed in His presence. And so God has created a place apart from Him where evil will be allowed and confined. We can be assured that all the injustices, all the evil, all the wickedness, all the crime, all the bad things we experience in this life – none of it is going unnoticed by God. It is all being noted down in Heavenly life-logs. And one day God will open the data vaults and will publicly replay the videos before casting judgement. Thankfully there is a remedy for us – read on!

Today, in this life, we enjoy being showered with compassion. All of us, good or bad, live in a time of incredible blessing, a time of God’s patience and goodness, a time of God’s grace. As we take our faltering steps along the roads of life, His compassion helps us. His goodness is with us. His love is unfailing. His grace without limit. But God is not a passive parent. His mercy and compassion is active. He sent His Son, Jesus, to show us the way to a right relationship with Him. When Jesus takes on all our sins, we take on Jesus’ righteousness. If that isn’t the ultimate demonstration of compassion, of love, then I don’t know what is. And covered in Jesus’ righteousness, we today receive a “not-guilty’ verdict from the Righteous Judge. The Lord is surely good to everyone. Even me.

Ferreting

“I will not allow deceivers to serve in my house, 
and liars will not stay in my presence. 
My daily task will be to ferret out the wicked 
and free the city of the Lord from their grip.
Psalms‬ ‭101:7-8‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Removing the wicked from amongst us is a wonderful idea. After all, we would all like to live in a Godly and sin-free environment. We would all like to eliminate anti-social behaviour in our communities. Or drugs, or drunkenness, or ….. But how do we do that? The statute book in our societies lists what we should and shouldn’t do. Misdemeanours are treated according to their severity, and some miscreants end up without their liberty. Police forces do their best to uphold the law of the land. But who are the wicked the Psalmist was writing about? If we read through this Psalm, we find words describing people, including “vile”, “vulgar”, “perverse”, “evil”, “slander”, “conceit”, “pride”, “deceivers”, “liars” and “wicked”. Hang on a minute, though, I can’t somehow see a policeman arresting someone with any of these qualities. They need to be translated into something tangible that the person can be arrested for. Some crime defined by our laws. But here’s the thing – only God can see the thoughts in a person’s mind and so only he knows how to “ferret out the wicked“. Only He has that right.

Jesus taught about wheat and weeds in a parable in which the farmer planted good seed but the enemy, the devil, came along and scattered weeds. When the wheat and weeds started growing, the farm workers suggested to the farmer that they go into the field and pull up the weeds, leaving the wheat. But the farmer stopped them, because of the potential for damaging the growing wheat. We then read in Matthew 13 that Jesus said, “Just as the weeds are sorted out and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the world. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will remove from his Kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. And the angels will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” In other words Jesus was saying that there will come a time of judgement one day and the qualities of the “wicked”, the “weeds” in the parable, will be exposed and consequently dealt with then. 

Back in Psalm 101, the Psalmist’s intentions of achieving purity among the inhabitants of God’s city was a noble one. One that at least superficially sounds like a good idea. But then the thought crosses our minds – do we suffer from any of the qualities of the wicked? Have we never had a proud thought? Have we never gossiped about a neighbour? Have we never …? And before we know it, the application of the Psalmist’s “daily task” would soon result in no-one left in God’s city. We wouldn’t be eligible for citizenship in God’s city either. 

But there’s a tremendous section of Scripture in Romans 3. We read, “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he makes sinners right in his sight when they believe in Jesus. So there we have it. Although none of us can meet God’s standard of righteousness, we can nevertheless have the right to live in God’s presence, in His city, through the blood of Jesus. Through His grace and mercy. Too good to be true? Too good not to be true.

Singing Creation

Let the heavens be glad, and the earth rejoice!
Let the sea and everything in it shout his praise!
Let the fields and their crops burst out with joy!
Let the trees of the forest sing for joy
before the Lord, for he is coming!
He is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with justice,
and the nations with his truth.”
Psalm 96:11-13

These few verses could have come from a children’s fantasy book. Who would ever have considered the concepts of glad heavens, rejoicing soils, and trees singing for joy? The cartoon picture of a face in a tree, singing and laughing away, comes to mind. But the Psalmist was writing about God’s creation bursting out with a tremendous shout of joyful praise. And all because the Lord God Almighty was coming to judge the earth and all within it. 

But a thought has popped into my mind – what would the evolutionary atheists around me think of this spectacle. Those people in the schools, universities, and businesses, who don’t believe there is a God and therefore lack the opportunity to be able to think outside the boundaries of their paradigms. The shock awaiting those people will be total. Their belief systems will crumble and dissolve like a pat of butter before a blow lamp. 

In my morning prayer walks, I find that God’s creation around me is full of movement and potential, even in this season. The weariness of this time of year, with the last leaves of Autumn clinging grimly to what has been their home for the past few months, with the ground-level vegetation dying away revealing the rotting detritus from a previous year, is but a comma in the Creator’s application of His design. The potential, to be revealed in the coming Spring, is there, like a coiled spring waiting to be released. Whispers of new life are constantly around me, in the bird song, the bubbling of the streams, the wind gently blowing, ruffling the tree tops with the breath from Heaven. Romans 8:22 says, “For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” One day, the “child” will be born, bringing a world singing with praise and joy. It’s coming. Spring will be a poor example of what will happen one day, when the Psalmist’s picture of praise and joy comes to fruition. And God Himself will ride the tide of Creation’s exultation bringing justice and truth at last to a tired world. “What a day that will be”, as the old song lyrics say. And He says to His weary creation, and to you and me, “Hang on, I’m coming soon”.

Vengeance

“O Lord, the God of vengeance, 
O God of vengeance, let your glorious justice shine forth! Arise, O Judge of the earth. 
Give the proud what they deserve. 
How long, O Lord? 
How long will the wicked be allowed to gloat? 
How long will they speak with arrogance? 
How long will these evil people boast? 
They crush your people, Lord, 
hurting those you claim as your own. 
They kill widows and foreigners 
and murder orphans. 
“The Lord isn’t looking,” they say, 
“and besides, the God of Israel doesn’t care.””
Psalms‬ ‭94:1-7‬ ‭NLT‬

Is that really true? That God is a God of vengeance? Surely not – aren’t we taught that God is a God of love? Doesn’t His grace cover over all our sins? Sadly, there have been many people shipwrecked on a wrong view of God. Yes, He is a God of love and grace, but He is also a God of righteousness and justice. I’m sure that if more people realised what was coming down the track towards them on Judgement Day, they would change trains and get on the right track. But it is a frustration for God’s people, for you and me, that so much injustice is allowed to fester away in our nations. So many people break the laws, including God’s laws, in our societies, committing all sorts of heinous crimes. And because they apparently get away with such behaviour, escaping a lightning bolt from Heaven in the process, they think that God never noticed, let alone the authorities. Gloating, arrogance, and boasting are attributes often seen in the lawbreakers.

The Psalmist goes on to describe three categories of people – widows, foreigners and orphans. Those in his society least able to protect themselves. Today the same message rings out – there are social groupings today that are oppressed and undervalued in our societies. But the mention of “foreigners” is interesting. In British society today there is a growing anger about the scale of illegal immigration. We need to perhaps remember that Jesus was an economic migrant soon after he was born, when His earthly parents escaped to Egypt, getting away from King Herod’s murderous clutches. In the next village to me there is a Bulgarian couple that I sometimes meet when they are walking their dog. They have a very poor grasp of English, but I have managed to get across a welcoming message and soon I hope to share the love of God with them. I don’t know why they are in Scotland – perhaps I’ll find out one day – but they come into the category of “foreigners”. People from other lands and nations, from other ethnic groups, “foreigners”, get a special mention in Psalm 94.

But one thing certainly isn’t true about God, that He doesn’t care about the wicked behaviour of evil people. He just bides His time, in His grace and mercy giving plenty of opportunities for evil to be turned into good. And His people – you and me – mustn’t forget that we are the dispensers of His message of love and grace even to those who are the evil ones in our societies. Religious people will tut away in front of their TV screens as the newsreels roll, as they show yet another act of atrocity. But if the “religious” tag includes us then we need to turn tutting into praying, inaction into action, praying for our governments and societies, for those creating such mayhem, pushing back the tides of evil wherever and whenever we can. Oh – don’t forget we can help the disadvantaged in our societies as well – we just need to look out for them. 

Thrills

“You thrill me, Lord, with all you have done for me! 
I sing for joy because of what you have done. 
O Lord, what great works you do! 
And how deep are your thoughts. 
Only a simpleton would not know, 
and only a fool would not understand this: 
Though the wicked sprout like weeds 
and evildoers flourish, 
they will be destroyed forever.”
Psalms‬ ‭92:4-7‬ ‭NLT‬‬

That’s a great word describing the impact God has on us – “thrill”. So I start by asking two questions this morning – what has God done for us, and has the impact thrilled us? Personally, I can remember life events that I refer back to time and time again, with a thankful heart. With a deep gratitude to God for His provision in a dire time of need. And I can remember, particularly after one event, an emotional surge of thankfulness that fell into the “thrill” category. But we can’t go through life looking for the thrills, sudden bursts of fairground-like emotions – day by day He constantly watches over us and the Holy Spirit nudges us when we need to change direction or change a decision. We cannot fail to be thrilled by a God, the Creator of everything, who so intimately cares for each one of us, even to the extent of counting and numbering all the hairs on our heads! And the Psalmist continues with a song of joy, spontaneously bursting out from a thrilling experience. It is a good exercise to sit down with a paper and pencil and list all the “great works” God has done, not just for us, but for our families and friends as well. And we can rejoice and be thrilled by them too. The Psalmist also refers to God’s thoughts – now there’s a whole new dimension. How can we know God’s thoughts? The Apostle Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, finished the second chapter with this verse, “For, “Who can know the Lord’s thoughts? Who knows enough to teach him?” But we understand these things, for we have the mind of Christ.” So through our relationship with Jesus we can know His thoughts – not completely of course, but we can gain a glimpse  of what God is thinking, in the knowledge too that all His thoughts will line up with what He has said in His Word.

The Psalmist ends these verses today with a reference to a “simpleton” and a “fool”. Strong words describing someone who rejects God by behaving in an unacceptable way, not realising that one day, in spite of their apparent earthly successes, they will be destroyed. Sometimes that will happen in this life, but it will surely happen in the life to come. One day the “wicked” will stand before His throne of judgement.

So where do these verses leave us. I would say in the knowledge of the stark and even extreme dichotomy between God’s way and a godless way. There is no middle ground.

The ‘Gods’

God presides in the great assembly; 
     He renders judgment among the ‘gods’: 
‘How long will you defend the unjust 
     and show partiality to the wicked? 
‘The “gods” know nothing, they understand nothing. 
They walk about in darkness; 
     all the foundations of the earth are shaken. 
Rise up, O God, judge the earth, 
     for all the nations are Your inheritance.”
Psalms‬ ‭82:1-2, 5, 8‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

This is a strange Psalm, short but open to different interpretations. But a linguistic, theological and academic study, though interesting, is unhelpful for the punters like us living on Planet Earth. What was in the mind of the Psalmist, Asaph, when he wrote this?

Reading it I get the picture of our Heavenly Father dispensing judgement in true righteousness and purity, against the tendency of human traits to practice partiality and to favour injustice. The reference in the NIV to ‘gods’ could mean the involvement of angelic beings or prominent human figures from long ago, or be a more topical reference to demagogic leaders pursuing a popularity ticket. But however we choose to define the meaning of ‘gods’, the object of their unfairness and partiality impacts those who are least able to defend themselves in the world they find themselves. As Christians we have a responsibility to adhere to God’s laws and dispense His righteousness in the communities and societies in which we live. And this will mean a counter-cultural emphasis in the way we treat the least able members of our societies. 

The Psalmist ends his short dissertation with an appeal for God to judge the earth. That is not a reference to the inert substance on which we stand, but to the peoples who stand on it with us. One day everyone will face judgement. A weary Asaph wanted it to happen quickly. He wanted God to “rise up”, to wake up and be God in His capacity as the ultimate Judge. And in the process purifying His inheritance, the nations. It has been said that there are two certainties in life – death and taxes. To this I will add a third this morning – judgement. One day everyone will stand before God to give an account of their lives. A sobering thought that should help us in the ways we view those who live around us. But not from a position of fearfulness, but one of faith in the righteousness of our Heavenly Father, as we, His people, call on His grace and mercy.

The Slippery Path

“Truly God is good to Israel, to those whose hearts are pure. 
But as for me, I almost lost my footing. 
My feet were slipping, and I was almost gone. 
For I envied the proud when I saw them prosper despite their wickedness. 
Did I keep my heart pure for nothing? 
Did I keep myself innocent for no reason? 
I get nothing but trouble all day long; every morning brings me pain. 
Then I went into your sanctuary, O God,
and I finally understood the destiny of the wicked.”
Psalms‬ ‭73:1-3, 13-14, 17‬ ‭NLT‬‬

A new Psalmist appears on the block – a guy called Asaph. And straight away he sets out his dilemma. In modern parlance, he lives his life God’s way, but experiences the same hassles and challenges in life as everyone else. But here was his rub – those he categorised as “wicked” were having a good time, better than his. They were prosperous and healthy. They didn’t seem to have the same difficulties in life that he did. You can almost imagine his thoughts behind the more measured tone of his writings. “Hey God! It’s not fair! I live a life Your way but all these people who don’t are better off than I am”. 

Two things strike me. Firstly it is his honesty. He wasn’t afraid of laying before God the apparent unfairness and injustices of life. Secondly, what he experienced hasn’t changed from his day. We look around us today and see the same quandary. The gap between the rich and poor seems to ever widen. The rich are having a good time, superficially at least. The poor are not.

Asaph laid out before God the apparent inequity and injustice of a Godly life when compared with the life lived by godless people. He tried to get his mind around the reasons that would seem to favour the lives of those who denied the very relevance and existence of God. He felt his peers, fellow Godly people, were confused about the situation too. You see, his expectation was that God would zap these wicked people and get rid of them because of their arrogance and conduct. “Why, God, are You allowing them to get away with it!”, might have been his cry. Still perplexed, he wanders into the temple and all of a sudden, everything becomes clear. He gets God’s perspective and it breaks through his growing bitterness, bringing a new dawn of understanding and relief into his thinking. What had changed? He realised that people cannot get away with living in a wicked, anti-God, way for ever. There will come a time of reckoning. He finally understood there will be a time for God’s judgement, but for now it was a time for God’s grace.

It is the same today. Sadly, so many people live a life without any appreciation of their Creator God. And they don’t seem to suffer for it. But they have totally missed the reality that God exists and one day they will stand before Him. And claiming ignorance will not be a defence. God’s grace will have been available to them all their lives but they have rejected it and turned away into a Godless existence.

Asaph finally understands and in God’s warm embrace he writes, “Whom have I in heaven but you? I desire you more than anything on earth. My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever.” And I echo those words this morning. Please join me in praising and thanking our wonderful and glorious God.

Judgement

“Therefore, let all the godly pray to You while there is still time, that they may not drown in the floodwaters of judgment.” Psalms‬ ‭32:6‬ ‭NLT‬‬

We live in an age of climate change. Whether or not we agree that global warming is caused through man’s actions, there seems to be evidence that the world is getting warmer. And there is a consequence in that sea levels are rising through the melting of the North and South ice caps. In addition, we also seem to be experiencing extreme weather events – droughts in some places but floods in others. Just over the past few weeks there have been severe floods resulting in loss of life in Europe and India. As in Noah’s day, such events underpin the reality that our lives and circumstances are things we cannot rely on. In one earthly day all will be well, but the next could be a disaster waiting to happen. An unduly negative view or the reality of life today? Thankfully there is a way to obtain life assurance, and insurance, by heeding the verse we have read today. It advises the godly (and the ungodly as well) to make their peace with God while they have that opportunity. Before their lives are snuffed out in the “floodwaters of judgement”, launching them into a future in which the choice about the location of their eternal home will be removed.

The philosopher and mathematician, Blaise Pascal, once said, “If I believe in God and life after death and you do not, and if there is no God, we both lose when we die. However, if there is a God, you still lose and I gain everything.” I know that God is alive and real, and so I would encourage you this morning to, “Seek the LORD while you can find him. Call on him now while he is near.” (Isaiah 55:6). You won’t regret it.