My Anthem This Week

Psalm 3

Lord, how they are increased who trouble me!
Many are they who rise up against me.
Many are saying of me, there is no help for him in God.

Selah [pause, and calmly think of that]!

But You, O Lord, are a shield for me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.
With my voice I cry to the Lord,
and He hears and answers me out of His holy hill.

Selah [pause, and calmly think of that]!

I lay down and slept;
I wakened again, for the Lord sustains me.
I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people who have set themselves against me round about.
Arise, O Lord; save me, O my God!
For You have struck all my enemies on the cheek;
You have broken the teeth of the ungodly.
Salvation belongs to the Lord;
May Your blessing be upon Your people.

Selah [pause, and calmly think of that]!

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A God of Justice Who Cares About Our Breakfast Choices

I’ve been reading quite a bit in Psalms recently. This morning I was reading through Psalms 9 and 10, which exalt God as the God of Justice, the stronghold for the oppressed. It was interesting to me that God’s role as judge was seen as a sign of hope in these Psalms, a cause for rejoicing. Often references to God’s justice are tinged with negativity and allude to an exacting, vengeful God. But here God is exalted as the just judge, the One who comes to make wrongs right, to aid the poor, to lift the afflicted from their bondage and destroy the enemies of righteousness. I suppose that if you were one of the oppressors, this would be a negative message, but for the poor and downtrodden, God’s promises of justice are good news indeed!

Reading these Psalms, I was struck by how much God loves justice. He’s jealous for our personal righteousness, but even beyond that, He’s passionate about social justice. He does not turn away indifferent to the injustice around us. The exploitation of the vulnerable stirs Him to action. He promises that the oppression of the wicked will not prevail.

But do I live according to that truth about God’s character? Though I’m moved with compassion for the poor, sometimes I feel like I dismiss injustice too easily with a “that’s just the way things are” attitude. What would it look like to truly reflect God’s passion for justice? How would my life change if I pursued that same commitment to justice in every area of my life?

A small but practical first step could be being more conscious about the things we buy. Take bananas, for instance. Bananas are probably the cheapest fruit available around here. In fact, we have a bunch of Dole bananas (as well as a Dole pineapple) sitting on our kitchen table right now, a good deal from this week’s grocery trip and a sweet luxury. But at whose expense? The majority of the banana market – controlled in America by three companies, Chiquita, Dole, and Del Monte – thrives because South American peasants work for next to nothing so they can survive and so we can enjoy cheap fruit (check out this article for more information).

“So long as there is poverty on the planet there will always be human beings willing to do just about anything for just about nothing….And so long as there is someone desperate enough to work for a dollar or two a day, there is someone else willing to exploit that labor for those of us who just want a cheap pair of jeans.” (Scott Bessenecker, The New Friars, p. 33).

Ouch.

Cheap bananas. Cheap jeans. These are just a few of the lengthy list of staples in our culture, available cheaply because of the exploitation of the desperate poor in other countries. Can we justify their place in our lives?

“Reject anything that breeds the oppression of others,” Richard Foster writes. “This is one of the most difficult and sensitive issues for us to face, but face it we must. Do we sip our coffee and eat our bananas at the expense of exploiting Latin American peasants? In a world of limited resources, does our lust for wealth mean the poverty of others? Should we buy products that are made by forcing people into dull assembly-line jobs? Do we enjoy hierarchical relationships in the company or factory that keep others under us?” (Celebration of Discipline, p. 94-95).

In our capitalistic culture, eliminating these products that breed the oppression of other would require significant sacrifice. Buying fair trade is expensive. Cheap staples like bananas might become rare treats. We might have to buy more expensive clothing or buy used (or even make our own). We would have to sacrifice he convenience of many conventional products. More time would be required for researching other options and making things from scratch. Luxuries we take for granted might have to be eliminated to afford the higher cost of justice. It would be expensive, time-consuming, inconvenient.

Maybe God would understand if we just bought a few things fair trade but mainly stick to buying what’s cheap. After all, we’re called to be good stewards of our resources. Surely God understands that we’re just doing what’s necessary to get by, right?

But when I read Psalms 9 and 10 again, they thunder with the description of God’s commitment to justice:

“The helpless are crushed, laid low;
they fall into the power of the wicked,
Who say in their hearts, ‘God pays no attention,

shows no concern, never bothers to look.’

Rise up, Lord God! Raise your arm!
Do not forget the poor!
Why should the wicked scorn God,
say in their hearts, ‘God doesn’t care’?

But you do see;
you do observe this misery and sorrow;
you take the matter in hand.

To you the helpless can entrust their cause;
you are the defender of orphans.” – Psalm
10:10-14

“The Lord is revealed in this divine rule:
by the deeds they do the wicked are trapped.” – Psalm
10:17

Could it be that this passionate God of justice does indeed care about our breakfast choices? Though the implications of this overwhelm me sometimes, I believe He does. Derek and I drink locally-roasted, ethically-produced coffee now (it helps that Derek works for a local coffee company), buy local, organic milk (and eggs when we can), and try to shop at farmer’s markets when we can. But we still eat bananas and buy store brand pasta and rice. We still have a ways to go.

And obviously this is only a little piece of pursuing justice. Injustice is deeply entrenched in our culture and our world. It goes far beyond the food and clothing industries (I didn’t even touch on the serious injustice of abortion, human trafficking, ethnic cleansing….). Bessendecker goes on to talk about other forces that suck people into poverty and hold them there, like entrenched survival mindsets, sin, and spiritual forces. He says, “These are the cultural, personal and spiritual forces of poverty, and it is these powers that governments and international bodies like the UN have very little impact on. These things require people of faith to get close enough for long enough to have influence.” (The New Friars, p. 44). That’s where incarnational ministry becomes powerful. I’m sure that as we pursue a life of incarnational ministry here in our neighborhood, issues of justice will surface and we’ll be called to step even further into the reality of life with our God who passionately loves justice.

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” – James 1:27

A Sabbath Psalm

Several weeks ago, Kristin Montgomery spoke at the Boiler Room about Psalm 92 and Sabbath. She went through some of the history of Sabbath, including the year of Jubilee, and then how Jesus approached the Sabbath. She came to the conclusion that living the spirit of the Sabbath is not just about structuring your life to include a day of rest, but that it’s found in the person of Jesus on the cross, in His work of healing and bringing us into family, that Sabbath rest is ultimately found in Jesus. It was one of the most profound teachings I’ve heard in a long time and really hit home in my heart. It’s online now so I highly recommend listening to it here.

The God of Wrath is ALSO the God of Love!

(My husband wrote this today and gave me permission to share it here. I love his thoughts on the amazing love of God!)

Here at the Roasterie this morning, spending some time with the Lord, my mind keeps going back to the message last night at the Boiler Room about Psalm 22. Before I go on, I thought it was a great message about painful prayer. I love hearing Michael talk because he is a very good teacher. This note is not a critique of his message, just a response to the statements about the wrath of God.

The statements he made about the wrath of God bothered me a bit. He made the statement that the church kind of reads into the text that the Father turned His face away from the Son during His time on the cross, and that it wasn’t true. It is true that it isn’t found in scripture, and it probably is inferred from the text, however, I don’t know if anyone can really say whether or not it’s true. Since scripture doesn’t give anything beyond the simple narrative of the death of Jesus, I don’t believe we can for sure say whether Jesus was speaking out of what truly happened or that He was “mistaken” to believe that God had forsaken Him. Could it simply be Him expressing emotion to the Father even though it wasn’t true? Yes, because I believe that it is not sin to express emotion even if it is not based upon truth. Emotion based on a lie is still emotion, and therefore is valid and not sinful to have or express. However, there was something very unique in Jesus’ death on the cross: He was literally bearing the weight of the sins of the entire human race. Could it be that Jesus really did have the Father “turn his face away” that we would never experience that? I don’t know if any can really say. Personally, to be completely honest, I believe the Father didn’t turn His face away, now that I really think about it, because of the Father’s great love.

I think it is a problem when we use this argument and where we stand on it to minimize the wrath of God against sin. The key to being fully OK with the wrath of a God who is love is all wrapped up in the OBJECT of His wrath. It is never people. It is always sin. It is the enemy who tries to blur the lines between sin and sinner. If he can twist our hatred of sin (which is an attribute of our Father) just far enough, he can get us to hate the person living in sin, and that is the problem. The wrath of God, on the contrary, is actually one of the most important aspects of His character to seeing the true greatness of His love. It is precisely God’s absolute hatred of sin that makes Jesus’ death so horrendous and so shockingly beautiful. Without the potency of God’s wrath, His love loses it’s power. They are two sides of the same coin. Without God’s wrath, the humiliating death on the cross makes no sense whatsoever. Jesus’ death on the cross was not some mere symbol or exciting story to tell, it was literally the wrath of God against sin borne upon a single man, all so you and I could be reconciled to God.

We have no way of coming to God on our own; our sin prevents it, primarily because of our agreement with sin, not because it is too ugly or abhorrent for God to reach into (He did this through Jesus of course). But this is the beauty of God’s love, it’s why His grace is amazing: in spite of our agreement with sin, He PURSUES us and He LOVES us; it is this kindness RIGHT IN THE FACE OF WHAT HE HATES MOST that leads us to repentance. His kindness when we are “living rightly” isn’t what leads us to repentance; it’s how while we were yet sinners, agreeing with and living out our lives in the sin that He hates, He treats us with kindness when we know we deserve wrath! This totally disarms us. But if we lose the sense of God’s wrath against sin, His love loses it’s true depth and meaning to us. We have to live in the tension between His love and His wrath, not losing our grip on the reality of either one.

One last word on the wrath of God: in addition to the fact that His wrath makes His extravagant, crazy love so much more beautiful, it will also be released on the earth again somewhere in the future. To negate the wrath of God leads down a very slippery slope to denying the severity of sin and the reality of hell, as well as the coming judgments of God in Revelation. When the Lord was speaking to Abram about his descendants in a dream (Gen. 15), He said that they would be in bondage and then return to possess the land he was currently in, in their fourth generation, “for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” There was an appointed time that the Amorites went on in their sin before the Lord brought His judgment on them.

Similarly, I believe the prophetic words in Revelation show that there is an appointed time when the whole earth, now in a time of “the year of the favor of the Lord” as Jesus declared in Luke 4, will see the “day of the vengeance of our God” that Jesus very intentionally left out of His reading that day. This is the time of the favor of God, when He sits on His mercy seat, showing His extravagant love in spite of the rampant sin on the earth. But one day, He will return to make all things right, and in order to do that, He will exact vengeance on His enemy Satan, the father of lies and peddler of sin. And the truth of it is that those who have chosen to agree with God’s enemy really will be dragged by Satan into the lake of fire. God’s wrath is real, it is just as alive as it was in the OT, but because we are in the year of His favor, we don’t see it yet; we see His patience, His longsuffering with the human race. I really like IHOP’s teachings on this topic, that we must preach both the Jesus in white (the intimate bridegroom God who loves us unconditionally and rescues us from the dragon) and the Jesus in red (the warrior God who crushes the dragon and his empire securing peace and life for His bride).

When we embrace the God of Wrath who is also the God of Love, we will gain a new and awesome picture of His love for us and the extent to which He pursues us, even in our weakness. This is AMAZING GRACE!

Though My Flesh and Heart Fail

For some reason all sorts of hurts, tensions, and anxieties are pressing on my heart this morning, some from things in the past not fully dealt with yet, some from ridiculous little things (should I take this housekeeping job? Should I try to work out getting paint from this lady on craigslist?). It feels like a rolling ocean of transitions and emotions and questions that I can’t keep up with. So I’m sitting with the words of Psalm 73 and seeking the sanctuary of the Lord:

“Since my heart was embittered
and my soul deeply wounded,
I was stupid and could not understand;
I was like a brute beast in your presence.
Yet I am always with you;
you take hold of my right hand.
With your counsel you guide me,
and at the end receive me with honor.
Whom else have I in the heavens?
None beside you delights me on earth.
Though my flesh and heart fail,
God is the rock of my heart, my portion forever.
But those who are far from you perish;
you destroy those unfaithful to you.
As for me, to be near God is my good,
to make the Lord God my refuge.
I shall declare all your works
in the gates of daughter Zion.” (Psalm 73:21-28)