Judging

“You may think you can condemn such people, but you are just as bad, and you have no excuse! When you say they are wicked and should be punished, you are condemning yourself, for you who judge others do these very same things.”
Romans‬ ‭2‬:‭1‬ ‭NLT

How often in our lives have we called out to God, asking Him to do something about the wicked? We think, if only God would destroy these totalitarian rulers in places like China, Russia or Iran. Or closer to home, what about that drug dealer, who causes so much misery? We cry out to God, that He would help the Police catch the burglar who beat up an old lady gratuitously while robbing her home. The Bible too contains cries and pleas to God about the wicked. The Psalmist wrote in Psalm 104:35a, “Let all sinners vanish from the face of the earth; let the wicked disappear forever…”. And Psalm 139:19, “O God, if only you would destroy the wicked! Get out of my life, you murderers!

But there’s a problem. Paul wrote a few words in Romans 3:23 that go like this, “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard”. So if everyone is wicked anyway, why should God restrict His judgement and punishment for those people over there but not the ones over here? If the pass mark for an exam is 50%, and one person achieves 49% while another only gets 20%, there is no difference with the outcome – both people have failed the exam. As others have said, God has no favourites and the ground at the foot of the Cross is level ground. What is there about human beings, that faults, sins, and problems can all be seen in other people but we can’t see them in ourselves? Why should we pilgrims try and take the moral high ground when we are also under God’s judgement.

Jesus taught about judging others in His Sermon on the Mount. We read His words in Matthew 7:1-2, “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged”. Paul also pointed out to his Roman friends that Christians are particularly at fault, because they know the difference between right and wrong. An unbeliever can have the, albeit weak, excuse that they didn’t know God and His requirements. But not a Christian.

However, knowing what we should do, and doing it are two different things. I was reminded the other day about a personal lapse. A friend was severely afflicted with the cold virus and I showed him little sympathy. A week later I was displaying the same symptoms and feeling quite sorry for myself. I didn’t get much sympathy either, but my wife reminded me of my attitude the week before. Perhaps, judging my friend’s response to his cold ended up with me being judged with the same criteria I used. Hmmm…

We pilgrims need to take into account seriously what Jesus said. Judging mankind is God’s prerogative, not ours. The Apostle James echoed Jesus’ words, as we read in James 2:12-13, “So whatever you say or whatever you do, remember that you will be judged by the law that sets you free. There will be no mercy for those who have not shown mercy to others. But if you have been merciful, God will be merciful when he judges you”. Instead of judging others, we must show them mercy. In 1 Peter 4:17, Peter wrote, “For the time has come for judgment, and it must begin with God’s household. And if judgment begins with us, what terrible fate awaits those who have never obeyed God’s Good News?” Our mercy must displace any feelings of judgement we might hold. It’s a counter-cultural response. When the world shouts judgement, we shout mercy. When the world condemns, we see a person who has lost their way. When the world lashes out, we embrace and show the love of God. When the world rejects the unlovely, we accept and invite them to join us on our journey to Eternal Life. We have the Good News that far surpasses all the Bad News the world can produce.

Dear Father God. What can we say but “thank You”. Your love prevails. Please help us to win others for You, so that they too will escape the verdict that leads to an eternal death. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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No Mercy

They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy.
Romans‬ ‭1‬:‭31‬ ‭NLT

The last character trait in Romans 1:31 that Paul brought to the attention of the Roman Christians was about mercy. We Christians know a lot about mercy because God demonstrated His mercy for us when He sent Jesus to Planet Earth to save us from the consequences of our sins. And the Apostle James wrote about how mercy integrates with our standing before God. We read in James 2:13, “There will be no mercy for those who have not shown mercy to others. But if you have been merciful, God will be merciful when he judges you.” 

We see the outworking of a lack of mercy in the current war in Ukraine. Shelling and firing missiles at a civilian population shows a complete lack of mercy. We may wring our hands with despair at the thought that the perpetrators of such merciless violence will somehow emerge unscathed from the war and go on to live the rest of their lives without any apparent problems. But we know how it will end for such people. They will have to account for their lives either in this life or the next, or even both. Showing a lack of mercy to others will be judged as such one day.

The Bible encourages us to be merciful at every opportunity, not just for the benefit of the other person or persons, but also for our own lives. Proverbs 11:17 (AMP) reads, “The merciful and generous man benefits his soul [for his behaviour returns to bless him], But the cruel and callous man does himself harm“. When He created us, God wired us in such a way that certain life styles or attitudes, those harmoniously in sync with His design, work to our benefit. Being merciful is one of them. In His Beatitudes, Jesus taught that the merciful are blessed. We read in Matthew 5:7, “God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

So, how do we pilgrims find the sweet spot of God’s blessings by being merciful? What does that look like in our 21st Century living? It is unlikely that we can sail through life without experiencing at some point an injustice or offence. A harsh word directed at us. An uncalled for angry response that started off as a misunderstanding. A media report that initiates feelings of anger within us. Our world is an unhappy place and a lack of mercy is the norm. But we pilgrims are God-followers. A counter-cultural movement of those serving in the new Kingdom, bringing Good News of a merciful and loving God into our communities, our families, our world. So we don’t react to the unmerciful acts of others. We don’t respond in anger when wronged. And we hold onto to God’s hand as we navigate through life, conscious of His leading when an opportunity for being merciful emerges from the gloom of misery around us. We can’t do much about the unmerciful acts of others but we can show mercy to those around us. Conscious that the mercy we show is resourced from our Heavenly Dad – His mercy is unlimited.

Dear Father God. Thank You that You are merciful, because if You weren’t we wouldn’t be where we are before You. We praise and worship You today. Amen.

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.

Loving God

O God-Enthroned in heaven, I lift my eyes toward You in worship.
The way I love You
    is like the way a servant wants to please his master,
    the way a maid waits for the orders of her mistress.
    We look to you, our God, with passionate longing
    to please You and discover more of Your mercy and grace.
For we’ve had more than our fill of this scoffing and scorn—
    this mistreatment by the wealthy elite.
    Lord, show us Your mercy!
    Lord, show us Your grace!”
Psalm 123:1-4 TPT

How would we describe how we love God? Wanting to please Him? As a servant waits for instructions? With passionate longing? Wanting to discover more of His “mercy and grace“? The very nature of this Psalm exposes the dichotomy between those that love God and those that don’t. Between those that have an intimate relationship with Him and those who would deny His very presence. But we who are His children love Him. How do we love Him? As it says in Deuteronomy 5:6, “And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.” A completeness surpassing all other loves. A commitment surpassing all other commitments. A relationship surpassing all other relationships. We love God. There is no alternative.

Amazingly, God loved us before we even knew Him. Romans 5:8 says,  “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” He showed us a love that transcends anything His creation can devise or implement. Any response from us cannot even register on the Richter scale of what love means. But we try. We respond to God as best we can, but how? We are drawn to Him by the Holy Spirit that dwells within us, but there’s more.

The Apostle John understood more than anyone about God’s love. He was the disciple that Jesus loved (John 13:23). And it was a love that transformed his life. We read in his first epistle (1 John 4:11-13 from the Passion Translation), “Delightfully loved ones, if he loved us with such tremendous love, then “loving one another” should be our way of life! No one has ever gazed upon the fullness of God’s splendour. But if we love one another, God makes his permanent home in us, and we make our permanent home in him, and his love is brought to its full expression in us. And he has given us his Spirit within us so that we can have the assurance that he lives in us and that we live in him.” We can’t get away from it, folks – because God first loved us, we can only respond by loving one another. And John said that when we love one another, God makes a permanent home in us. Sadly, the world would say that the only person worth loving is ourselves. No home or even a room for God there.

In our Psalm, the writer briefly shifts his adoring gaze away from God onto those around him, the God-deniers, who scoff and scorn. On our pilgrimage through life we will find plenty of them. And not just the “wealthy and elite“. And the Psalmist was so desirous to respond to God in the correct way, that he cries out for grace and mercy. And we echo his call – O Lord, please show us more of Your grace and mercy so that we can love others. Amen.

The River

“There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day.” Psalms‬ ‭46:4-5‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

Psalm 46 continues in the “God is our refuge” theme, and with verses 4-5 we can build a picture of an impregnable city where God lives and where a river of His grace and mercy sustains the joyful occupants. And the allusion to the “break of day” implies a continuing infallibility in His protection.

But where does God live in our lives? Do we live in an impregnable spiritual fortress, our own spiritual “city of God”, impervious to the cut and thrust of human life here on Planet Earth? Or do we grow faint with worry when the enemy appears on the horizon, our walls crumbling at his first attack? Or even get anxious when reading a news story? As Christians we live in a continuum of two kingdoms – the kingdom of the world and the Kingdom of God. But because of our physical presence on Planet Earth, we are susceptible to enemy action, our satanic opponent always looking for a chink in the walls of our God-sustained fortresses. However, we would do well to remember that God’s kingdom contains all the resources we need to sustain us in our earthly existence.‬‬

But what about this river? This resource in God’s kingdom that contains an unlimited supply of everything we spiritually need? Do we allow it to flow elsewhere while choosing to live in a desert of our own making? Our wonderful Heavenly Father knows what His children need and He puts on our tables the richest of foods, the most refreshing of drinks. So sad that many choose rather to go out and find their own food and drink, putting up with products and experiences that never satisfy. Jesus said in John 4, referring to the water drawn from a well, “…Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” That’s the water I want to drink.

Panting

“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for You, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” Psalms‬ ‭42:1-2‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

I must confess that I have never seen a deer panting for water. Having said that I must also confess that I have never been physically thirsty to that extent either. But I have been in a place where I have been spiritually thirsty. A place where God seems far away, where circumstances have been overwhelming, where prayers are seemingly unheard and ineffective. A place where I have cried out to God for His grace and mercy. But I can also say that in time God has appeared to me with a solution to my distress. To my spiritual loneliness. To my thirsty soul.

Where are these spiritual deserts? They could be anywhere. In the middle of the night while tossing and turning in sleepless anguish. In a hospital bed fighting sickness or enduring pain. Reflecting on the news or some piece of information just received. During a conversation with workmates. Even in a church service. Whenever possible, during those dry times, I take a walk and ask God to speak to me, humbly trusting that He is there and able to pour out those streams of living water into my thirsty soul. And eventually He always turns up with words and thoughts full of love and reassurance. Just because my feelings tell me that He isn’t open for business that day doesn’t mean that this is a fact. It just means I need to search diligently for that spiritual oasis in the middle of the desert. Because there I will find God. It means that in the process of the searching I must clear out the blockages that are stopping me from seeing Him. Those proudful thoughts and attitudes. Those unconfessed sins. And then I must continue to search for God, believing in faith the verse that says, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (‭‭Jeremiah‬ ‭29:13‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬). I will find God. He will pour out the spiritual water that I need in my time of thirst. And I will respond in a hymn of praise and thankfulness, refreshed once again.

Trust In The Lord

Don’t worry about the wicked or envy those who do wrong. For like grass, they soon fade away. Like spring flowers, they soon wither.
Trust in the Lord and do good. Then you will live safely in the land and prosper. Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you your heart’s desires.

‭‭Psalms‬ ‭37:1-4‬ ‭NLT‬‬

In Psalm 37, David picks up again his thoughts about wicked people, and in the process he contrasts their behaviour with that of God’s people. Again and again in this Psalm he points out what “the wicked” are doing wrong and how their lives will end, and then provides a contrast of how Godly people live their lives, adding in words of advice where appropriate. The dichotomy between the two types of people is stark and extreme and it is clear that Godless lives will not end well.

The instruction, “Trust in the Lord and do good” acts as a doorway into a gold mine of instructions, thoughts and behaviours. Just reading this inscription above the door knocker will be ineffective on its own; the door has to be opened and the nuggets within removed, consumed, and acted upon, to provide all that is necessary for life in communion with our Heavenly Father. And a relationship develops with God, so close that “Trust” becomes second nature.

The Psalmist also encourages God’s people to “do good”. Two words almost hidden and overlooked after the impact and boldness of “Trust in the Lord”. But nevertheless an important part of life as a Christian is to do good deeds to and for those around us in our communities and families. Galatians 6:10 reads, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone…”. And there are many other similar encouragements spattered throughout Holy Scriptures.

The end result of living our lives God’s way though, is clear. Safety and prosperity will result. There is always a tendency to interpret the word “prosperity” from a financial perspective. But it’s so much more than that. Think about the riches of being healthy – mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Think about being blessed by the richness of having a loving family. And of course we mustn’t overlook the prosperity God’s people will find in their ultimate spiritual home.

We can’t leave these verses without considering the last few words. As we delight ourselves in the Lord, and align our hearts, our thoughts, with those of Him, we will find that any worldly materialistic desires will be eclipsed by what really matters. God-values such as love, compassion, mercy, grace, righteousness and so on will infuse our ways of life and waking thoughts. And we don’t worship a stingy God – He will pour out bountifully all we need. 

Psalm 37. Essential reading for everyone. We ignore or disregard these verses at our peril.