Tag Archives: Vengeance

Two Paths

Two Paths (CaD Jud 9) Wayfarer

Abimelek son of [Gideon] went to his mother’s brothers in Shechem and said to them and to all his mother’s clan, “Ask all the citizens of Shechem, ‘Which is better for you: to have all seventy of Jerub-Baal’s sons rule over you, or just one man?’ Remember, I am your flesh and blood.”
Judges 9:1-2 (NIV)

I still have vivid memories of the bully. I remember his name. I can see his face in my memory along with the bathroom at Woodlawn Elementary school where it happened. I was in second grade and he was a year older than me. He was bigger than me. He was mean and intimidating. He demanded that I give him my lunch money, but I didn’t have any. I brought my lunch to school. This made him mad and he feigned that he was going to hit me. He then told me that after school he would find me and was going to beat me up. The two-and-a-half block walk home was sheer terror, but I managed to walk with my neighbor who was two years older and that gave me some comfort.

That was my first experience with a bully, and it obviously left a strong impression on me. History is filled with those who use threats, violence, and intimidation for personal gain. What begins as bullying on the school playground can easily become a way of life that in adulthood turns into gangs, organized crime, and rackets. The same tactics of power and intimidation get “cleaned up” but still fuel political parties, corporate boardrooms, and union organizations. I’ve also experienced the same basic bully tactics from powerful individuals in churches.

The stories of Gideon and his son Abimelek form the center of the book of Judges. Ancient Hebrew writers, poets, and lyricists commonly used a literary device and placed the central theme of their work smack-dab in the middle. I mentioned in yesterday’s post that one of the central themes of the book of Judges is the tension the Hebrew tribes were experiencing as they tried to be a theocracy and follow God as their ultimate King and the reality they were experiencing with their enemies of what a powerful leader/king could do for a city or region. At the center of the book are two contrasting examples of this very tension. Gideon and his son take two very different paths to power and end up in very different places.

The story of Gideon provides the example of a powerful leader who humbly refuses to be made king, and he calls on his fellow Hebrews to recognize God as their only true leader. In today’s chapter, Abimelek provides a contrasting example. He takes the path of the power-hungry individual who will stop at nothing to seize and maintain his power.

Beneath the story of Abimelek are other subtle themes that were crucial in their time, and they still resonate today. Abimelek was one of some seventy sons of Gideon, the offspring of Gideon and a Canaanite slave. It’s likely that the biracial son of a slave was treated as less-than by his pure Hebrew half-brothers, the sons of Gideon’s legitimate wives. Abimelek uses his Canaanite blood, and his position of relative power as Gideon’s son, to convince the Canaanite people of the city of Shechem to appoint him their king. He then goes all Michael Corleone and “settles accounts” with all the potential threats to his power, his brothers, by killing them all (with the exception of the youngest brother, who escapes).

Chaos, political intrigue, violence, vengeance, and the continuous struggle for power follow Abimelek through the entire chapter. The Godfather epic is an apt parallel. Once he stepped down the path of power by violence and vengeance, Michael Corleone could tragically never escape the consequences of where it led. Abimelek found himself on the same tragic path.

In the quiet this morning, I said a prayer for my elementary school bully. I hope God led him to find a better path in life. He taught me a lesson that day. He provided me an example of the person I never wanted to become. I’m grateful for that.

I also find myself pondering the simple contrast between Gideon and his son, Abimelek. Gideon wasn’t perfect, but his deference to God’s power and authority kept him from the tragic ends experienced by his son.

I’ve learned along my life journey that whatever positions of earthly power and/or leadership I might find myself should come because I am led to them, not because I seized them for myself. As a follower of Jesus, I am called to the path of humility and service to others. Looking back from my current waypoint on Life’s road, I can tell you that it is a path that has always led, not always to easy places, but ultimately to good places.

I think I’ll stick to this path.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

The Debt

The Debt (CaD Matt 18) Wayfarer

“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
Matthew 18:35 (NIV)

He was a big man. He was not a person I would want angry with me, and he had a natural bent toward anger. As we chatted, he shared stories of just how hot his anger burned and the difficult situations he’d found himself in because of it. He’d been brought up with religion. In fact, there was a lot of religion. From the cradle, he’d been raised with rules, rituals, and regulations out the wazoo, but by his own admission, religion did nothing to curb his anger or modify the spiteful way he treated anyone who crossed him. And his rage led him to some nasty places. Then, through a series of unfortunate events, he found himself in the darkest, seething rage of his life. It was there he met Jesus.

This man came to mind this morning as I read the parable Jesus told His disciples in today’s chapter. If you didn’t read the chapter yourself, I encourage you to take 60 seconds and read it (Matthew 18:23-35). It’s a simple story of a servant who owes the king 10,000 bags of gold. When the king calls the loan, which will bankrupt the servant and ruin his life, the servant pleads for more time to pay it back. The king has compassion and forgives the entire debt. No sooner had this servant left the king’s presence that he runs into a fellow servant that owes him 100 silver coins from a wager they’d made on the Jerusalem Jackals game. The servant chokes his friend, demands payment, and has him tossed into debtor’s prison until he could pay the small sum.

Along my spiritual journey, I’ve both experienced and observed that there are common circumstances in which individuals struggle to actually “forgive those who sin against us” as Jesus famously told us to pray.

I’m simply a religious person going through the ritual motions. This lesson can be applied to so many circumstances, but in this case, it has everything to do with my ability to forgive and withhold judgment. Being a member of a church, or adhering to the tenets of religious rules and rituals only modifies my public behavior. It does nothing to change my heart. I’ve only seen a heart and life transformed and changed when a person has experienced a relationship with Jesus. My religion will never transform my heart and life, but a heart and life transformed by Jesus will definitely transform my religion.

I have no idea how great a debt I owe. If the servant in Jesus’ parable had been ignorant of just how much he owed the king, his behavior toward the fellow servant would not seem like such huge hypocrisy. As humans, I’ve observed that we have a penchant for keeping score with our mental scales. We know we’ve done this bad thing so I’ll throw that on one side of the scales. But, the person who injured me has done this and that so I’ll throw them both on the other side. See that! They’re worse than me so they deserve my wrath! James 2:10 points out that God’s economy doesn’t work like ours. If I keep all the rules and trip up on just one, I stand condemned and guilty of all of it. From God’s perspective, keeping score is a fool’s errand. We’re kidding ourselves to think or believe that we’re “not that bad.”

I haven’t truly experienced the power of grace myself. In the parable, the servant had experienced grace at an unbelievable level. 10,000 bags of gold was an incalculable sum to Jesus’ listeners. It’s like Elon Musk’s net worth in today’s standard. As I just mentioned, in God’s economy we all spiritually owe 100 billion dollars. It’s the contrast between the sum the servant had been forgiven and the paltry pittance the servant was owed that powers the moral of the story. When I know and have experienced how great a debt I’ve been forgiven by Jesus, it transforms the way I perceive and respond to those who offend and injure me.

In the quiet this morning, this brings me back to my big, angry friend. After meeting Jesus amidst his dark, seething rage had shared with me how his life began to change. It transformed his religion, his relationships, and the entire direction of his life. He’s still prone to anger, and he’s still not someone I’d want to see angry, but I wasn’t really worried about it as I listened to his story. After meeting Jesus and experiencing true grace, the fuse on his anger began to grow increasingly longer. The explosions of anger were more tempered, and he began to take responsibility for cleaning up the mess when it occasionally went off.

The words to an old, old hymn have been resonating in me the past month or two:

How deep the Father’s love for us,
How vast beyond all measure!
That He would send His only Son,
To make this wretch His treasure.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

The Choice

The Choice (CaD Gen 50) Wayfarer

But Joseph said to [his brothers], “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.
Genesis 50:19-20 (NIV)

Over the years, Wendy and I have enjoyed hosting Godfather nights. We have a big Italian dinner with friends who have never seen the all-time classic movie, and we watch together over wine and cannoli. It’s so much fun.

[Spoiler Alert] In the final minutes of the film, the patriarch of the family dies, and his son, Michael, decides to make a move against all of the family’s enemies. This includes traitors within the family itself. As Michael stands in a Catholic church and becomes godfather to his sister’s baby at a baptism ceremony, the vengeance is mercilessly carried out. It all takes place as Michael is asked in the baptism ritual: “Do you renounce Satan?” and he responds, “I do renounce him.”

That scene came to mind this morning as I read the final chapter of Genesis. Jacob dies. He and his family are living in Egypt under Joseph’s protection. With the patriarch of the family dead, Joseph’s brothers realize that they are in a precarious position. Joseph has all the power of Pharaoh and Egypt at his beck and call. Should Joseph decide to “settle accounts” with his brothers for beating him with murderous intent and then selling him into slavery he could. All Joseph had to do was give the word and they would all be sleeping with the fishes.

The brothers send word to Joseph begging for his forgiveness. They bow down before him and offer to be his slaves.

Joseph’s response is classic:

“Am I in the place of God?” Joseph is foreshadowing the song of Moses after the defeat of the Egyptians at the Red Sea, along with the instruction in Paul’s letter to Jesus’ followers in Rome:

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 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. On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good…” Joseph makes a willing decision to allow God’s intentions to overshadow the ill-intent of his brothers. Once again, his thoughts and actions mirror the behavioral instructions given to Jesus’ followers:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Matthew 5:43-44

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. Romans 5:3-4

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. James 1:2-3

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith… 1 Peter 1:6-7

“…to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Joseph’s response foreshadows two important spiritual realities.

First, he understands that all that has happened to him has resulted in saving the lives of his family. When God leads the tribes out of slavery in Egypt, He will say to them: “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live” (Deut 30:19) God is the God of Life. Joseph chooses not to go the Michael Corleone route down the path of death and vengeance. Joseph chooses life for his brothers.

Second, the promise given to Abraham was that through his descendants “all nations of the earth will be blessed.” Through Joseph’s trials, he was placed in a position to give life, not only to the Egyptians and his family but also to the other nations who came to Egypt to buy food in the famine. Had it not been for Joseph’s many trials, so many people from so many nations and peoples would have perished. Instead, they lived and were blessed through Abraham’s descendant.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself searching my heart to see if the seeds of vengeance are present. Stories like Joseph and The Godfather are so epic, yet the principles involved are intensely personal. Who has caused me harm? Who has made my life miserable? Who has wronged me, slandered me, or thrown me under the bus?

What seeds are taking root in my heart?

The seeds of resentment, hatred, and vengeance?

The seeds of grace, mercy, and forgiveness?

I’m reminded that the fruit of the former leads to death, while the fruit of the latter leads to life.

Spare the gun. Share the cannoli.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

“It’s Not Business; It’s Personal”

“It’s Not Business; It’s Personal” Wayfarer

Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me by making me obnoxious to the Canaanites and Perizzites, the people living in this land. We are few in number, and if they join forces against me and attack me, I and my household will be destroyed.”

But they replied, “Should he have treated our sister like a prostitute?”

Genesis 34:30-31 (NIV)

As nomadic strangers in the land, the growing tribe of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were constantly holding the tension between two threats. One was that they would be absorbed into one of the local tribes.

Jacob’s family and nomadic herding operation was still a relatively small clan among much larger people groups in the area. Were they to settle in one place and join one of the local city-states, it was likely that they would eventually just be absorbed into that larger local society and be considered part of the Hittites or Perizzites. If this were to happen, they would cease to be the people of God’s covenant with Abraham.

The other threat was hostility. Jacob feared facing Esau with 400 men. There were certainly city-states in the area with similar or greater numbers of fighting men and/or mercenaries. Jacob’s herds, children, and servants made them a target for conquest and plunder.

It is this tension that lurks behind the scenes of the story in today’s chapter. It starts with a powerful, heartsick son of the local ruler who is infatuated with the daughter of Jacob. The English translation says that he “raped” Jacob’s daughter Dinah, but the Hebrew word, šākab, can also mean consensual pre-marital sex. It’s possible that this was a Romeo and Juliet type elopement between two young people who knew that their fathers would never agree to the union. This was quite common in the culture of the day when marriages were arranged for social and economic purposes. Even if Dinah and Shechem were conspiring to force the union, Jacob and his sons would have considered it a shameful and deceitful rape of their daughter/sister.

Shechem’s father tries to redeem the situation by offering to arrange the marriage of Shechem and Dinah complete with a generous bride price, along with a political and economic alliance should Jacob choose to settle down there (threat: absorption).

Without Jacob’s knowledge, Dinah’s brothers arrange a deceitful charade intended to kill all of the local males and take all they have as plunder. Fascinating that deceit has now appeared in the family system in the third generation. First in Rebekah (and her brother Laban), then in Jacob, and now in Simeon and Levi. Like the hot-headed Sonny in The Godfather, Simeon and Levi lead their brothers in committing a violent act of vengeance that would have been considered grossly out of proportion to the wrong that had initially been committed. This only increased the threat of hostility in the area. When other city-states learn of it, those people groups will immediately see Jacob & Sons as a violent threat. That would motivate them to make an alliance with nearby city-states and attack Jacob to both eliminate the threat and plunder his lucrative operation.

The brothers return home with all of the plunder from their conquest. Having killed all the men, all of the women, children, herds, and possessions would have been taken as plunder. The brothers “made off like bandits,” as it were. Jacob chastises his sons for initiating such a reckless plan that only serves to escalate the threats against the family. Amidst the din of plundered livestock, women, and children, their reply was that the violent act of vengeance was justified by the shameful treatment of their sister. In essence: “Hey pop!? This wasn’t business. It was strictly personal.”

In the quiet this morning, I found myself meditating on the tension of absorption and hostility. It was the same tension Jesus spoke to His followers about when calling them to be in the world but not of the world. For three centuries the Jesus movement faced constant hostility as Rome fed them to the lions in the Circus to entertain the masses. Then, almost overnight, Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, and “the church” was absorbed into the Empire. It became the Empire.

[cue: Vader’s Theme]

Two thousand years later, I find that the same tension exists for me in my own earthly journey. As a follower of Jesus, I am also to be in the world not of it. I believe that, for me, this requires me to think, speak, act, and relate in ways that flow contrary to the ways of this world and the Kingdoms of this World. What does it mean for me to not be absorbed in the world of social media, cancel culture, and political correctness?

During my generation, I’ve witnessed “Christendom” become a “post-Christian” world. Being a follower of Jesus has fallen from favor in popular culture while hostility is on the rise. At least 68 churches in Canada have been burned to the ground and tens of thousands of Christians have been killed in Nigeria. While I am currently insulated from these tragic realities, I can’t help but notice the changes I’ve observed in my lifetime. I can’t help but see the storm clouds on the horizon.

Some mornings I find myself thinking about these big macro thoughts and issues of our world, culture, and society. I always try and end my time in quiet with the question, “What does this mean for me today?” On mornings like today, this is where I tend to end up:

Love God with everything I’ve got.
Love others as I love myself.Keep following.
Keep pressing on one step at a time.
Keep living one day at a time.
Hold the tension.
Forgive.
Be kind.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Letting Go

Letting Go (CaD Gen 31) Wayfarer

It was also called Mizpah, because he said, “May the Lord keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other.” 
Genesis 31:49 (NIV)

The holiday season is just around the corner and I’ve already begun thinking about updating my wish list for the family. Wendy and I have already made a few purchases to try and get ahead of the rush given the current smattering of supply and shipping issues.

I can’t help but think of my childhood when I would scour the Sears “Wish Book” catalog for hours and hours. It was in those pages that I first came across a Mizpah necklace. It’s actually two necklaces that each have one-half of a medallion onto which the verse I quoted from today’s chapter is inscribed: “May the Lord keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other.” This verse is also used sometimes as a benediction to end a worship service.

While the sentiment of Laban’s words, taken at face value, may sound like a heart-warming desire between loved ones, that is definitely not what Laban and Jacob were communicating.

Jacob and Laban have spent twenty years in a passive-aggressive battle of deceits. Even in today’s chapter, the mutual distrust is palpable. This is true not only of Jacob and Laban, but we find that Leah and Rachel also feel cheated by their own father. He has treated his own daughters contemptuously.

Thus, when Laban says, “May the Lord keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other,” he is stating a sentiment built up from twenty years of injury, greed, deception, and broken promises. Laban is saying of Jacob, “I can’t trust you out of my sight, so I’ll have to trust God to hold you accountable and judge you.”

As I meditated on this in the quiet this morning, I found myself journeying through the sense of disappointment that a verse that appears to be so encouraging and reassuring actually springs from distrust and suspicion. Then, I continued to meditate on it, and I came to the conclusion that there is wisdom in Laban’s Mizpah covenant.

Along my life journey, I’ve had a number of relationships with individuals who injured me relationally. There are individuals who gave me very good reasons to distrust them. As I write this, I’m even recalling individuals for whom I know I could have made trouble. I could have confronted their deceits or turned them into authority. I could have gotten certain individuals fired or in trouble with the law. In a couple of cases, every part of me wanted to do so.

But, I didn’t.

I chose not to because to do so would have been acting out of anger and retaliation. I chose not to because Jesus tells me to bless those who curse me, and sometimes that blessing includes withholding personal judgment, vengeance, and the perpetuation of injury to one another. Jesus also said:

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Luke 6:37-38 (NIV)

At Mizpah, Laban lets Jacob go. He gives up trying to control, avenge, and get even. He surrenders his son-in-law to God. He stops trying to be detective, prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner in the relationship. He trusts God to handle those roles from this moment on.

Along my life journey, I’ve found this to be a spiritually healthy step to take.

Come to think of it, a Mizpah necklace in the Sears catalog might have served as a good reminder between Jacob and Laban that sometimes relational feuds need to end by surrendering them and entrusting them to God.

Note: Mizpah necklace on the featured photo is from Gathering Charms on Etsy.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Devastation, Dinosaurs, and Spiritual Development

Devastation, Dinosaurs, and Spiritual Development (CaD Ps 79) Wayfarer

Pay back into the laps of our neighbors seven times
    the contempt they have hurled at you, Lord.

Psalm 79:13 (NIV)

It’s Christmas season! Yesterday, Wendy and I had the blessing of hugging our children and our grandson for the first time since last December. Milo got to put the ornaments that celebrate each of the four Christmases he’s been with us on the tree. Around the base of the tree is my father’s Lionel train set, and Milo became the fourth generation to experience the joy that train chugging around the tracks.

As I experience Christmas anew this year through the eyes of a three-year-old, I’m reminded of my own childhood. Each year I would get out the Sears Christmas Wish Book catalog and make my bucket list of all the toys that I wanted. It was usually a big list and included a host of big-ticket items my parents could never afford and probably wouldn’t buy for me even if they could because there’s know way that the giant chemistry set was going to accomplish anything but make a mess, require a lot of parental assistance, and probably blow up the house. I couldn’t manage such mature cognitive reasoning in my little brain. All I knew was it was really cool, it looked really fun, and all my friends at school would be really jealous.

Along this life journey, I’ve come to understand that my finite and circumstantial emotions and desires are often incongruent with the larger picture realities of both reason and Spirit.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 79, is an angry blues rant that was written after Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Babylonians. It is a raw description of the scene of devastation after the Babylonians destroyed the city and razed Solomon’s Temple to the ground in 586 B.C. Blood and death are everywhere. Vultures and wild dogs are feasting on dead bodies because there aren’t enough people alive and well to bury the bodies. The strong, educated, and young have been taken as prisoners to Babylon. The ruins of God’s Temple have been desecrated with profane images and graffiti. The songwriter pours out heartbreak, shock, sorrow, rage, and desperate pleas for God to rise up and unleash holy vengeance in what the ancients described as “an eye-for-an-eye and a tooth-for-a-tooth.”

As I read the songwriters rant this morning, there are three things that give me layers of added perspective:

First, when God first called Abraham (the patriarch of the Hebrew tribes and nations), He made it clear that the intent of making a nation of Abraham’s descendants was so that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through them, not destroyed.

Second, God had spoken to the Hebrews through the prophet Jeremiah warning them that the natural consequences of their sin and unfaithfulness would be Babylonian captivity through the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, to whom God referred through Jeremiah as “my servant.” It appears that the songwriter may have missed that.

Third, I couldn’t help but read the songwriter’s plea for God to pay back their enemies “seven times” the contempt that their enemies had shown them, and think of the time Peter asked Jesus if he should forgive an enemy who wronged him “seven times.” Peter was trying to show Jesus that he was beginning to understand Jesus’ teaching. To the Hebrews, the number seven spiritually represented “completeness.” When the songwriter asked for “seven times” the vengeance it was a spiritual notion of “eye-for-an-eye” justice would be complete. Peter’s question assumed that forgiving an enemy seven times would be spiritually “complete” forgiveness. Jesus responds to Peter that a more correct equation for forgiveness in the economy of God’s Kingdom would be “seventy-times-seven.”

I come back to the songwriter of Psalm 79 with these three things in mind. The first time I read it, like most 21st century readers, I was taken back by the blood, gore, raw anger, and cries for holy vengeance. Now I see the song with a different perspective. I see a songwriter who is devastated and confused. I hear the crying out of a soul who has witnessed unspeakable things, and whose emotions can’t reasonably see any kind of larger perspective in the moment.

This morning I am reminded of what I discussed in my Wayfarer Weekend podcast, Time (Part 1). Humanity at the time of the ancient Hebrews was still very much in the early childhood stage of development. The songwriter is expressing his thoughts, emotions, and desires like a child desperately asking Santa for a real dinosaur for Christmas. Not just any dinosaur, a real T-Rex to put in the backyard.

Today’s psalm is another example of God honoring the need that we have as human beings of expressing our hearts and emotions in the moment, as we have them, no matter where we find ourselves in our spiritual development. As my spiritual journey has progressed, I’ve gotten better at processing my emotions and having very different conversations with God about circumstances than I did when I was a teenager, a young adult, a young husband, and a young father. It doesn’t invalidate the feelings and conversations I had back then. They were necessary for me to grow, learn, and mature in spirit.

In the quiet this morning, I’m identifying with the songwriter of Psalm 79, not affirming blood vengeance and “eye-for-an-eye-justice,” but affirming that it was where the songwriter was in that moment, just like I have had some rants and prayers along the journey that I’m kind of embarrassed think about now. This is a journey. I’m not who I was, And, I’m not yet who I will ultimately become in eternity. I’m just a wayfarer on the road of life, taking it one-step-at-a-time into a new work week.

For the record, Milo. No, you can’t have a real dinosaur. Sorry, buddy.

The Impotence to Respond

But God will break you down forever;
    he will snatch and tear you from your tent;
    he will uproot you from the land of the living.

Psalm 52:5 (NRSVCE)

David was hiding in a cave in the middle of a desolate wilderness with a rag-tag group of outcasts and mercenary warriors. He may have been God’s anointed king, but the throne was still tightly under the control of his father-in-law, Saul, and Saul had made David public enemy number one. That left David scratching out a meager existence in the middle-of-nowhere as he hid from the powerful mad-king who wanted David dead.

In an act of desperation, David sneaks in to visit God’s priest, Ahimelech. Like an enemy soldier seeking sanctuary in the protection of a church, David went to the place where the traveling tent sanctuary from the days of Moses was set up and serving as the center of worship. David sought God’s divine guidance through the priest. David begged for help and was provided food as well as the sword of Goliath that was still housed there like a trophy.

It just so happened that a servant of Saul name Doeg was there and witnessed David’s visit. Doeg goes to King Saul and tells him of David’s visit and the assistance Ahimelech provided David. Saul confronts Ahimelech who attempts to argue that, as the king’s son-in-law, the priest felt an obligation to assist David as an act of faithfulness to Saul. Saul rewards Ahimelech by telling Doeg to kill him, and all of God’s priests living in the town, along with all of their wives and children. Saul has Doeg massacre an entire village of his own people and his own priests because one priest showed kindness to David.

One of Ahimelech’s son’s survives and seeks David in his hide-away cave He tells David of Doeg’s visit to Saul and subsequent massacre. David, realizing that his visit to Ahimelech started the chain of events leading to the massacre, feels the weight of responsibility for his actions.

David, as he always did with his intense emotions, channels his feelings into a song which is known to us as Psalm 52. It’s today’s chapter.

David’s song is fascinating in its structure. The first verse is David addressing Doeg and calling out his wickedness, arrogance, treachery, and deceit. The third and final verse is the contrast, with David claiming his standing in the right, trusting in God, and proclaiming that trust directly. In between the two verses is the central theme in which David hands Doeg over to God for God’s judgment. He relinquishes vengeance and retribution to God.

In the quiet this morning, I couldn’t help but put myself in David’s shoes. David was in a position of impotence. He’s hiding in a cave in the wilderness. He has no status. He has no standing. At this moment there is nothing that he can do in his own power to right the wrong that resulted from his actions. His only option is to cry out his emotions and ask God to right the wrong he is powerless to address himself.

What a powerful word picture. In this life journey I have found myself impotent to address and correct wrongs. Thankfully, the wrongs are trivial in comparison to the massacre of innocents David was dealing with. Nevertheless, I find in David an example to follow. Pouring out and expressing my rage, frustration, accusation and consciously handing over that which I am powerless to do to God.

As I contemplate David’s story, and his lyrics, this morning I find myself with two connected thoughts into the day ahead:

First, Paul writing to the followers of Jesus in Rome, who were impotent agains a Roman Empire that would throw them to the lions in the Roman Circus and watch them being devoured for entertainment:

Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.”
Romans 12:17-29 (MSG)

Second, the simple prayer of serenity:

God,
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Amen.

Just Appeal

Just Appeal (CaD Ps 17) Wayfarer

From you let my vindication come….
Psalm 17:2a (NRSVCE)

Years ago, I found myself the object of unfair criticism by an individual who I thought was my friend. He was unhappy with me, though instead of confronting me and discussing his concerns, he decided to take his grievances to the court of public opinion. I confess that I was both sad and angered by his actions. My friend proved to be my enemy.

As luck would have it I found myself, sometime later, in possession of information regarding improprieties this person had committed. I had the opportunity to act with vengeance against the person who had injured me. I had a smoking gun that would pay back my enemy’s injuries with compounding interest. He would be out of a job and would be publicly humiliated.

I ignored the evidence. I let it go. I made a conscious choice to continue treating the person with kindness and deference whenever I run into him. Which, I still do on occasion.

Today’s chapter is yet another song penned by King David. The fascinating thing for me was not something I found in a particular line or verse, but the song itself as a whole. David structured this song like a legal appeal one would make to a King. As king, David would have heard a million legal appeals brought to him, and to King Saul while he served as a court musician, by people wanting their case decided. King David, however, is making his appeal to God, whom he places in authority above his own royal position.

It starts with a formal appeal to God to listen to his plea. He then establishes his position of innocence. He reiterates his request to be heard and praises God for his goodness and mercy. He then lays out his case against his enemies and asks God to vindicate him by judging and righteously punishing his enemies. He ends with a statement of confident trust that God will do right by him.

Sometimes in this life we find ourselves wronged with little or no position with which to get justice. Sometimes, we find that the only justice at our disposal is the justice we take into our own hands.

As a follower of Jesus, I am called to choose against my human desire for vengeance and vindication. Jesus tells me to consciously turn the other cheek, itself a conscious act of response that he exemplified time and time again as he suffered through the kangaroo court of the high priest, then the religious elders, Pontius Pilate, Herod, Pilate again, the crowds who days earlier had hailed Him as king but now shouted for His execution, and finally His enemies who stood at the foot of His cross and hurled insults at Him.

David’s psalm is a testament to Jesus’ teaching, and to David’s own example when he had multiple chances to take personal vengeance against his enemy, King Saul, while personally ensuring his ascension to the throne. With each opportunity David chose to ignore the opportunity, to let it go, and treat his enemy with deference.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about individuals who, along my life journey, I’ve considered enemies. There’s a whole bunch from childhood who I now consider friends. There are some that the road of life led in a completely different direction, and any hard feelings I may have once felt are as distant as they are. There are others, like the person I described at the top of this post, who remain in my circles of community. Their actions would indicate that they consider me some kind of enemy, but I’ve made a choice to keep treating them as friends.

Along my spiritual journey I’ve learned that pleading my case to the only Just Judge, and choosing to surrender my need for vengeance, frees my heart and mind from toxic emotions and actions which will only perpetuate and escalate circumstances. Turning the other cheek is not a passive response, it’s a conscious choice to make my appeal to God and leave it there.

I know. It sounds crazy. Following Jesus usually leads me to make choices that run opposite my natural inclinations. But, I can’t say I’ve ever regretted it.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Is “Living Sacrifice” an Oxymoron?

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.
Romans 12:1 (NIV)

To Paul’s readers, the term “living sacrifice” would have seemed an oxymoron. Animal sacrifice was a common part of religion at the time. This was not only true of Judaism, but most all of the Roman cults and religions practiced some sort of animal sacrifice. So whether the followers of Jesus in Rome who were reading Paul’s words had come from Jewish or Gentile backgrounds, they would have scratched their heads.

Living sacrifice?” I can hear one say. “But, doesn’t the very notion of ‘sacrifice’ mean that something dies?”

Quite right,” I imagine Paul replying if he were there in person. “You do.”

Excuse me?” the Roman believer asks quizzically.

You are the sacrifice,” Paul says, looking the believer in the eye and offering a warm smile. “In fact dying to yourself is really the heart of your worship. Not the occasional sacrifice of an animal like all these other religions you see around us. Anyone can do that and it costs very little in the long run. Cheap and easy, really. Our Lord Jesus was quite direct in telling us that in order to be His follower we have to take up our own cross. We would have to sacrifice ourselves for others, for Him. Just as He did for us. That’s at the very heart of true worship, and being a true follower.

But how does that work, exactly?” the believer asks. “How exactly do I go about making myself a ‘living sacrifice?‘”

Ah,” Paul says, a twinkle in his eye. “I’m glad you asked.”

The entirety of today’s chapter answers that question. What does it mean to truly worship by offering myself as a “living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God?” Ironically, going to church, singing, throwing a buck in the plate, and all the things we normally associate with “worship” are not even mentioned.

Here’s a bulleted and paraphrased list of what Paul goes on to mention in the rest of today’s chapter:

  • Don’t follow the “It’s all about me” behavior and thought patterns of this world.
  • Transform your thinking; Renew your mind with Jesus’ teaching.
  • Don’t think too much of yourself; Maintain an on-going sober self-assessment.
  • Use your gifts and abilities to serve others.
  • Hate evil.
  • Cling to what is good.
  • Devote yourself to loving others.
  • Attach such worth to others that you naturally serve them first.
  • Be zealous in serving others, and keep feeding the zeal.
  • Be joyful in hope for all God can and will do.
  • Be patient when you’re afflicted, there’s a point to the pain.
  • Faithfully maintain an on-going conversation with God.
  • Share what you have with anyone in need.
  • Practice hospitality. Seriously, practice. You need to get better at it.
  • Bless those who persecute you. Do something nice for them and if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.
  • If you know someone who got a win, sincerely celebrate with them (don’t envy their success or good fortune).
  • If you know someone who is grieving, be present in their pain.
  • Live in harmony with others; You might not be on the same note, but you can at least blend your differences so as not to be dissonant to everyone around you.
  • Don’t be proud; Every day you encounter people in lower, more humble circumstances than you. Be willing to meet them at their level, even if it means stooping below your comfortable social status.
  • Don’t be conceited. Consider the reality that you just might not that important in the grand scheme of things. Embrace it.
  • Evil that is done to you does not justify revenge. Let it go.
  • Do the right thing for everyone, not just your particular religious, political, tribal, ethnic or socio-economic constituency.
  • You can’t control others, but you can control yourself, so practice that self-control to live peacefully with everyone, not just your particular religious, political, tribal, ethnic or socio-economic constituency.
  • Let me repeat, give up your right to revenge. Vengeance is like drinking poison and expecting it hurt someone else.
  • If your enemy is hungry, give her some food.
  • If your enemy is thirsty, give him some water.
  • Responding to evil with your own evil tactics only escalates the situation and then everybody loses. Respond with goodness. You’ll sleep better.

In order to practice this list on a daily basis,” Paul says to his friend, “it will require some sacrifices on your part: your ego, your time, your pride, your resources, your wants, your comfort, and even your rights. That is how we worship God by being a living sacrifice.”

Ancient Vengeance Cloaked in Modern Technology

“Six of the towns you give the Levites will be cities of refuge, to which a person who has killed someone may flee.”
Numbers 35:6 (NIV)

Last night as Wendy and I sat on the couch she expressed grief and frustration over a pattern of behavior we’ve been observing on social media. It is quite common for the discourse on Facebook and Twitter and online forums to sink into petty jabs, unnecessary name calling, and a general spirit of anger, hatred, and conflict. And this, we routinely notice, from many whom we love and who eagerly claim to be followers of Jesus.

For the past month or two my chapter-a-day journey through the book of Numbers has taken me back to an ancient times. I’ve been mulling over the lives and times of Moses and the Hebrew tribes. It was, without a doubt, a very bloody and ugly period of human society. Ancient tribal societies lived in a time without laws, law enforcement agents, and a system of justice. It was a time of blood feuds, vengeance and “an eye-for-an-eye” free-for-all of individual retribution.

I can’t help but think of the stories we know like The Godfather in which warring families get embroiled in ever escalating acts of violence and murder against one another. The Tataglia family attempts to kill but only wounds Vito Corleone. Vito’s son, Sonny, actually kills Bruno Tataglia in retribution. But, that’s not enough. Michael Corleone also kills the man who orchestrated the plot and the Police Captain who protects him. But that’s not enough. Everyone goes to the mattresses. But that’s not enough. Michael eventually kills the heads of all the other mafia families to protect himself from retribution. The violence and vengeance never ends.

As Sean Connery famously quips in The Untouchables, “He pulls a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue!”

What Wendy was observing last night is an example of the old saying “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” We’re still embroiling ourselves in petty, ever escalating feuds between political, religious, and social clans. Now, however, we do it from a safe distance and use words as our weapons. Somehow, we believe that this is better on the grading curve of human society. Name calling on Facebook isn’t as barbaric as literally sticking a knife in someone’s back. Or is it?

I’m reminded in the quiet this morning of Jesus words:

“For the mouth speaks [and the hand types] what the heart is full of.  A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken.For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

In today’s chapter, God through Moses is leading a radical step forward in human history. It is a formalized system of justice. The priestly clan of the Levites are scattered to live among all the other tribes. Within those tribes the priestly Levites create “cities of refuge” to which murderers and those who commit manslaughter may flee. The priests gave sanctuary so that a trial, complete with witnesses, could be conducted and a just verdict could be rendered. The accused was required to stay under the protection of priest in the city of refuge. But get this: If the High Priest died, a period of amnesty was unleashed. The accused were free. Any blood feud or vendetta of vengeance was to end.

What great foreshadowing God gives in today’s chapter for what He is going to do on a cosmic spiritual scale in the Great Story. Jesus, High Priest (Heb 6:20) in the mysterious order of Melchizedek, comes to live among us like the priests sent to live among the tribes. [cue: Silent Night] To Jesus we may flee for refuge with all the accusation, guilt, condemnation and social vengeance nipping at our heels. When Jesus, the High Priest, dies then amnesty reigns. Forgiveness and grace (literally, favor we don’t deserve and didn’t earn) are poured out to the accused and condemned. Prisoners are freed. Vengeance ends.

Wait, there’s more. Those of us who follow Jesus are called “a royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9). Spiritually, I become a Levite of our time. I’m a priest in the order of Jesus. I am to be a person and place where “others” (even those of other tribes I don’t particularly like) may flee to find protection, understanding, kindness, mercy, grace, compassion, and justice.

So, I have to ask myself: When I allow myself to get stirred up  and let that f*ing, clueless, ignorant, MORON on Facebook know just what a #*&%-eating, #@)#-faced, #)@(#* they are… am I extending the royal, priestly rites handed down to me by Jesus? Am I being marked by the Spirit of protection, forgiveness, grace, mercy, and compassion that I claim to have received from Jesus, my High Priest? Am I fulfilling my calling to be part of that royal priesthood? Or, am I perpetuating a deep, very entrenched human part of me that is given to bloody, feudal vengeance cloaked in 21st century technology?

Ugh.

Lord, have mercy on me. Help me lay down my weaponized words; My vengeance which I try to costume as “justice” and “righteousness.” Make me a refuge for “others” – all “others.”