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When It Hurts To Keep Your Word

Promise

Mom, do I have to go? he cried. I really want to see my cousin play.

You do, Gabe- you have to go. You gave your word.

When “Something Better” Comes Along

And so the way to the town hall was a trail of tears. Because we had previous commitments that night.

That Monday night of his cousin Eli’s game. Of the only game Gabe might ever see in his MVP cousin’s last basketball season. Because Eli lives two hours away and was coming down this one time only, to play a team 20 minutes away.

But Gabe had signed up for his project talk that night, about bluegill fishing down in Honey Lake. Plus I’d promised to give some friends a ride that night. We’d made both these promises before the invite to Eli’s game.

But still- this was it, our last, best hope to see him play.

He Swears To His Own Hurt

So as Gabe bawled, I stewed. I seriously considered ducking out.

But I knew.

God’s children keep their word when it hurts. Sometimes only because their parents make them. But they don’t bow out the second something better comes along.

When Psalm 15 describes the kind of person who “may dwell on God’s holy hill,” one of the marks of that person is that “he swears to his own hurt and does not change.”

I knew the righteous keep their promises. That, even when it’s costly or inconvenient, their word is gold and their yes means yes.

Because They Trust God

I think they can do this because, at the end of the day, they trust that God is as just as involved in the timing of opportunities that came through as they trust that he never lies, that all His Word is truth.

Can we skip 4H? This is my only time to see Eli. Can we please not go, Mom?

But we couldn’t not go. We given our word. We’d promised.

Gabe, tip-off is at 7:00. The meeting is called to order at 7:00. We can’t do both. And Christians keep their promises– here I nearly shouted to hurdle his wails- WHEN IT HURTS!

When the Date Can’t be Changed

That was Monday. Then along comes Thursday, and lo! and behold, it’s me who’s all torn-up and thinking of bailing out.

Because the date of the boys’ annual piano recital- a day that marks an end of hours and dollars and commitment – was announced. And it just so happens it’s the one day this spring that I promised to speak hours away.

So after my sob story to our piano teacher friend, she nudged, I’m sorry the date can’t be changed. It would be good for them to perform.

And by the grace of God, I texted back, I agree.

Do we trust God in the timing?

These might seem so little: missing a piano recital or a basketball game.

But they made me revisit disappointment as His appointment and the truth that my times are in his hand. Which means, by extension, that the timing of the invites that come my way are also in his hand.

The speaking invitation came weeks before I knew the recital date, so I must take it that God didn’t mean for me to be at the recital. And Gabe agreed to give his project talk a month before Eli’s game was changed, so I take it to mean that we weren’t to be at the game.

Can we trust that the order in which the invites reach us isn’t random? That even this sequence was from God? Can we commit our commitments to him and take Psalm 37:5 to heart: “Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in him and he will act”?

Will we bank on that promise when it costs us to keep our word?

Or will FOMO overcome us?

Maybe the root of our temptation to break our promises is FOMO- the fear of missing out? Maybe the reason we break our vows is that we really don’t trust God to work when we keep our word.

And fear, you know, is always at odds with trust.

This FOMO thing reminds me of a quote I recently came across. It describes a person whose faith is vibrant and growing and who is also self-controlled.

The world has no dominion over him: he is master of himself; and being possessor of a far better inheritance…he does not expect or seek on earth perfect happiness which he believes is secured for him in heaven.

John Brown, Commentary on 2 Peter 1

God’s children are not slaves to FOMO. We know we’ll miss out on some things here. We know our bucket list won’t all get checked off. That we’ll miss some great recitals and exciting games.

And that it is okay. Because we know that perfect happiness awaits.

More Concerned With Middles

One last point.

It strikes me that besides a lack of trust and a fear of missing out, there’s another reason it’s so hard to keep our word.

It has to do with beginnings and ends. We remember those best. When we study and practice, brain science says chunk it up so you have more starts and ends, because that’s what you’ll recall. And we emphasize births and graduations, first steps and last games.

But I have a sneaking suspicion that our God might be more concerned with middles. Middles are longer. They’re where we run the race. They’re where character is made.

In-betweens and middles are where we grow. And God cares about growth.

Where Faith Grows

And growth comes from how we live in the middle. From what we do with the “better party” that comes along after we committed to another, the ballgame on project talk night. That’s how character is formed.

Because faith is a like a muscle. Exercise it and it grows. Leave it- break your word, don’t trust God with the timing- and it will atrophy.

Will we be strong people of integrity who let our yes be yes and trust that God is pleased and his children are blessed when they swear to their hurt?

Will we believe his promises? That He is a shield to those who walk in integrity? That no good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.

And that when we keep our word when it hurts we will abide in His tent and dwell on his holy hill?

O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill? He …who swears to his own hurt and does not change…

Psalm 15:1,4b

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Don’t Strike The Rock! Learning About Consequences From Moses

Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them…

And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.

Numbers 20:8, 11-12

Too Extreme?

Do you ever wonder at how God doles out discipline? Like when He stopped his meekest man Moses from entering the Promised Land simply because he struck a rock? How sometimes divine judgement seems too severe for the crime?

Moses had been told to strike a rock before (Ex. 17:1-7). And God himself had called his people rebels. I’ve written about these rebels before. So what’s so wrong with Moses doing the same?

After all, Psalm 106 tells us that the people sorely provoked Moses. They angered God too. And it went ill with Moses on their account, for they made his spirit bitter, and he spoke rashly with his lips.

Can we really blame Moses for lashing out?

Who Can Blame Moses?

Moses was God’s servant, His pick among all the men on earth to lead His people out of slavery. The “Man of God”- as Psalm 90 calls him- brought the Israelites out of Egypt through the Sea and for 40 years led them through the wilderness. You’d expect that Moses would be the one to bring them to the Promised Land.

He was not. Because God did blame Moses. He found fault in Moses and held him responsible. That’s what blame means.

Numbers 20:12 makes that clear: Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them. The offense was serious enough in God’s eyes to ban Moses from leading Israel into Canaan Land.

But you’re in good company if you’ve struggled with this. Scholars have called it “one of the most difficult problems in the Old Testament.” Articles have been written to explain. Nineteenth-century pastor Alexander MacLaren asked “Was his momentary failure not far too severely punished?”

Like banning dessert for a year because a son stole a cookie. Or denying a week at camp for a minute of sassy talk.

But God said it and I believe it. Surely the Judge of the earth will do right.

And I still want to understand why.

Still a’fighting, and a’struggling?

So, this time on my way through Numbers, I paused to ponder why. I did some work- and had some fun- studying this out. Here’s what I found.

The first thing is really a side note. But I think it’s important because misunderstanding it trips many of us up.

We think that when we are converted our old demons will suddenly die. Then we lose heart and grow faint when they don’t. We forget that as long as there’s life, there’s a fight.

W. A. Criswell explains,

If you are hotheaded and tempestuous before you were saved, you’ll have that same tendency to burn up, to be hotheaded after you are saved…

Moses was a tempestuous man.  He had a fiery and a burning spirit… Moses had it back there in the land of Egypt when he saw that Egyptian wronging that Israelite slave, and he killed him with his bare fists [Exodus 2:11-12]. And it comes out again here.

Now what happens to you when you’re saved is by the side of that burning spirit, God will put a spirit of grace and intercession by which you’re able to command and to control that volatile spirit.  But you’ve still got it…And on the inside of our souls there goes civil war all the time, a’fighting, and a’struggling all the days of your life.

Now it comes out again here in Moses.  Moses had…such high hopes for the [next generation] that when they fell back into that old way of their fathers, of murmuring, and finding fault with God- Moses was irritated.  His spirit burned within him.

To us it seems so forgivable. To us it seems a harsh punishment for a weakness in Moses’ temperament.

I ask again. Why this divine decision? 

Why Was God So Hard On Moses?

Because instead of doing what God said- “Speak to the rock, and water will gush out” [Numbers 20:8]-Moses dishonored God and disobeyed.  “He lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock,” [Numbers 20:11]. 

Let’s don’t miss God’s mercy in his judgment: Despite the people’s grumbling, despite the disobedience of Moses, God gave water abundantly, to his rebel people and their animals.

Still came the consequence: “Because you did not believe in Me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them,” [Numbers 20:12].

God barred Moses from entering the land because he did not believe the Lord or uphold the Lord as holy.

Disbelief and Disobedience: Partners in Crime

For the record, disbelief and disobedience go hand-in-hand. They did for the Israelites in the desert (see Hebrews 4:1-11) and they do for us today. “Take heed, brothers, lest there be you an evil, unbelieving heart, that turns away from the living God” [Hebrews 3:12].

Moses overtly disobeyed God [Numbers 20:811].  That was the first sin. 

His second sin was disbelief. “Because you did not believe in me,” God said. Just speaking to the rock wasn’t enough. Moses took matters into his own hands. He took his rod and struck twice. He didn’t believe that to speak to it was good enough.

But there’s one more layer that helps me understand why this particular sin, striking the rock twice, was so offensive to God.

God has great care for his types. (And that Rock was Christ.)

If I read one commentary on Numbers 20, I read a dozen, and every one brought out this point home:

When Moses struck the rock, he “broke the type.” 

That might sound confusing. Let me explain.

Do you remember God’s direction to Moses? “See that you make every thing according to the pattern showed to you on the mount” [Exodus 25:940Hebrews 8:59:23]. When the tabernacle was erected, did you hear the refrain?

It went like this, “Moses did as the LORD had commanded him.” The curtains and veil and lampstand and altar and basin and table- all were to be “just so,” as the God commanded. Because each of these things had a meaning that extended past itself.

They were types, or pictures of the person or the thing represented or prefigured. So when God barred his meekest man Moses from entering the Promised Land it wasn’t simply for striking a rock.

It was for striking the Rock. Because the rock was a type. The Rock was a picture of Christ.

Struck Only Once

God had told Moses to strike the Rock once before [Exodus 17:6]. But he was not to strike it again.  Because the Rock represents God’s beloved Son, the Suffering Servant, our Jesus Christ.

Christ was struck once. He died once [Hebrews 9:27-28], never to die again.  Scripture is so clear on this point.

 Hebrews 9:28, “So Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many.”

1 Peter 3:18, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust.”

 Hebrews 10:10, “[W]e are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”

Hebrews 10:12, “But Christ offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins…”

Christ was struck for us once and for all. Our Prince of Glory died  once on that wondrous cross.  And that type is precious to God. 

As Criswell said, “God has great care and great store for His types.” 

Does God Still Discipline His Children?

Moses was disciplined for breaking faith, for his sin. But do believers still face consequences when we break faith?

Last week I sat around a table with several Christian ladies. When the subject of suffering came up, one quickly said, Well, I know suffering can’t be from God because God doesn’t punish his people. 

Really?

If by punish she meant God’s holy wrath- his retribution, not restitution- she is definitely right.

But if she  meant the Hebrews 12 corrective, fatherly discipline, “that for the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant,” she was quite wrong.

Sin Has Consequences

John Piper’s description clarifies,

There is an infinite difference between the painful things that come into our lives and discipline us—designed for our good that we may share God’s holiness as loved children—and that terrible experience of pure retribution where we simply bear what we deserve and experience God’s justice forever. 

I think the lady at my table did what many of us do.

She conflated- combined- two ideas into one that really are not the same. She joined the false idea- that God’s children will never suffer on earth because of their sin- with the glorious truth that God’s children will never- here or hereafter– never suffer the wrath of God.

Jesus took that- He was struck for that- once and for all. He bore our sins in His body on the tree (1 Peter 2:24). The record of our debt was nailed to the cross (Col. 2:15). There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). Hallelujah and amen!

But this incident with Moses shows us in heart-achingly, vivid color that this side of glory, sin still has consequences.

For Our Instruction, That We Might Have Hope

When Canaan was so close Moses could taste it- it’s gargantuan grapes and pomegranates and figs-Moses pled with God to reconsider. So he could just to cross the Jordan.

But he couldn’t.

And there’s something we are supposed to learn from that. Because whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope

The Child’s Story Bible is succinct:

This was a bitter disappointment to Moses.  He begged God to let him cross the river so that he, too, could see the longed-for promised land.  God did not give Moses what he asked for.  “Be satisfied with what I have decided,” God said to him. “Do not speak about this any more.  Climb this mountain, and I will show you the land. Then you are to die here on this mountain. For you are not to cross the river.” (Deuteronomy 3:26)

Remember too, how David could not build the temple because he had shed so much blood? How his first child with Bathsheba died? 

I think we’re supposed to learn from Moses-and David-to take heed lest we fall, because even for God’s blood-bought children, sin still has consequences in this life.

But even their examples, Scriptures says, are meant to give us hope.

Glory Awaits

The Good Lord does not forget His saints. There’s more to the Moses story.

W.A. Criswell again.

God had some better thing for [Moses], and He has some better thing for you, in God’s will, in God’s time, in God’s purpose. He may interdict it now, maybe take it away from us now, maybe the dregs of bitter disappointment we drink in the cup now, but some day, some time, some hour, somewhere, God has some better thing for us [Hebrews 11:40] as He had some better thing for Moses [Matthew 17:1-3].

Moses bore God’s discipline for his sin. Rather than speak to Rock he disbelieved and disobeyed and struck the Rock- representing Christ- not once but twice.

Though he was sorely provoked, Moses wasn’t given a pass. He died on the Mountain. He did not enter the Promised Land.

But when the-Rock-who-was-Christ walked this earth and was transfigured on the mountain, you do know who was granted the privilege of standing with him in His glory, don’t you?

Because some day, some time, some hour, somewhere...

You know.

And all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. 

Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness…

Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. 

Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. 

1 Corinthians 10:4-5, 11-12

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Ills Have NO Weight? THOUGH Ills Have Weight? (Still, Abide With Me.)

Last week’s JoyPrO post was written by my friend Hannah. Hannah had cancer and has a thing or two to teach us all about rock-solid, living hope. At the end, I snuck in a link to Audrey Assad singing Abide With Me.  In the week since, I’ve been feeding on the hymn, soaking in these lyrics so I can store them up.

Because in the span of this one week dear some ones lost a tiny life and a heart attack almost cost a life and someone started chemo and another discovered disease. Because weather in our neck of the WI woods is way more damp, dismal fall than blazing glory today.

And because, truth be told. sometimes you just wake up feeling old and change and decay is all around to see. That’s why we need Abide With Me.

Store Up Abide With Me

That’s  why I want this one in me. I want to hide its truth in my heart so I draw on it at will. Like Psalm 23 or “I before E except after C” or “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.” I want it to be in me so it overflows from me. Because, one day it might be the right word to sustain a weary soul.

So I’ve listened to every mix of Abide With Me I can find- this one by King’s College Choir and this one by Indelible Grace and this acappella version by the Antrim Mennonite Choir and this one by sung by Hayley Westenra at an big rugby final and this beautiful one by Stephanie Seefeldt. This bagpiping father’s daughter even sung in tune with the Pipes and Drums of the Guards of the Royal Scots Dragoon.

And soaking so long like that landed me on a “variant” of a single line in verse four that I’ve been chewing on all week. I’d love to hear your take, to find out which lyric you pick. I’ll explain in a minute. First, maybe pick a link-Audrey Assad’s is my favorite- and sing along.

Change and decay in all around I see

Isn’t it stirring? The story behind the hymn is too. I won’t tell it now, but it is a great read. Because it’s these lyrics- so raw, so real, so what a soul feeling fragile needs- that are key. Will you read them with me?

  1. Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
    The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide;
    When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
    Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.
  2. Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
    Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
    Change and decay in all around I see—
    O Thou who changest not, abide with me.
  3. I need Thy presence every passing hour;
    What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s pow’r?
    Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
    Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.
  4. I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
    Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness;
    Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
    I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.
  5. Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
    Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies;
    Heav’n’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
    In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

Aren’t they rich? Every verse a tried and hurting heart’s faithful cry. Every verse  a cry to the Lord who formed us and loves us and keeps us and promised he’d never leave us.

But it’s the second line in the fourth verse of Lyte’s lyrics that gives me pause: Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness. 

Is it really “Ills Have No Weight“? Or is it “Though Ills Have Weight“?

Which is it?  Did Lyte really write, lIls have no weight and tears no bitterness? Because if he did, I cannot relate. I’m not there yet. Ills do have weight and some tears have a bitter taste. Or did Lyte really write this version, which reads, Though ills have weights and tears their bitterness? 

This second one I can sing with abandon; I can pull out all the stops. Because sometimes my ills feel heavy and my tears have a bitter sting. No often, thank God, and not very long. But there are times. That’s why I prefer Though ills have weight and tears their bitterness. 

As in, I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless; though ills have weight and tears their bitterness. As in Peter’s, Even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake you will be blessedor Paul’s sorrowful yet always rejoicing.  Or like Lamentations 3- just before great is thy faithfulness- Jeremiah, a man of great faith, recalls his affliction and my wanderings; the bitterness (“wormwood”) and the gall and his eyes were spent for weeping.

As in our Suffering Servant, our Lord Jesus who felt sin’s weight so much he sweat bloody sweat. 

And Jesus wept.  

What Did Lyte Write?

Turns out we do have access to a 150 year old copy of the actual words Lyte wrote. He handed them off to his daughter a few weeks before at age 54, he “wore out for God.” You can see them in his own hand at the Challies’ “Hymn Story.”

Lyte wrote no weight and no bitterness.

Yow. I get that compared with the weight of heavenly glory our earthly ills are small. You might even say they “have no weight.” But I don’t say that, because I feel weight. Yes, I set my my heart on heaven, but my body still feels the weight of the fall. None of us is impervious to pain. We cry out to God like patient Job (6:10), “What is my strength, that I should wait?  And what is my end, that I should be patient? Is my strength the strength of stones, or is my flesh bronze?

Yes, it is okay to weep while we worship.

But we also sing songs and hymns to catch a vision for where we can be and for what will be. 

So I’ll sing what Lyte wrote. Even though ills still have weight and some of my tears sting. But I wouldn’t hesitate for a second to sing the other, Though ills have weight and tears their bitterness. Because ills have weight this side of heaven.

Though it’s a tough run, a fight of faith, and sorrowful yet rejoicing, in Christ we will triumph still. Because in the end, it’s like Paul and Lyte both wrote, Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory? We grieve, yes, but as those with hope. And as for triumph, oh yes- We are more than conquerors through Christ Jesus.

But if you woke up feeling fragile today, or if change and decay is all around to see, if ills do have weight and tears some bitterness, well, have I got a hymn for you.

I fear no foe with you at hand to bless, 
Though ills have weight, and tears their bitterness. 
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, your victory? 
I triumph still, if you abide with me. 

-Henry Lyte

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When Wrong Is Strong, Trust: The Avenger Still Will Come

When Wrong Seems Strong

So Daniel was taken up out of the den and no injury whatever was found on him…Then the king gave orders, and they brought those men who had maliciously accused Daniel, and they cast them, their children and their wives into the lions’ den; and they had not reached the bottom of the den before the lions overpowered them and crushed all their bones.    Daniel 6:23-24

That was Sunday. Them, their children and their wives into the lions’ den. It was sort of an aside from a Sunday school lesson on prayer. As in “Daniel prayed, 3 times a day.”

Then 9 year-old Ted said what is at this second, probably in every one of your heads:

What!? The children and moms too? That seems wrong.

Ted’s right: It seems wrong.  I get the malicious accusers, but their wives and their kids thrown to the lions too? Then 10 year-old Katie chimed in, incredulous at King Darius’ shocking decree: Maybe some of the children were babies! That was Sunday. Wrong seemed strong.

Then came Monday. Wrong was strong.

How Long, O LORD? (When will you ?)

And we were blasted by the morning news. News of the deadliest mass shooting on US soil. News of an unprecedented, horrific, wicked deed. Current count: 58 dead, more than 500 wounded.

We ache for the gaping holes these lost lives created. We pray that the wounded and the grieving will know the Lord is close to them, the brokenhearted. May they know God’s comfort. But we also cry.

Transported 3.000 years back in time, with Prophets and Psalmists, we cry,

How long, O LORD, will I call for help, and You will not hear? O Lord, how long until your enemies are scattered?  How long will you hide your face? How long, O Lord?

I don’t know if Darius the Mede received divine direction to toss Daniel’s would-be killers to the lions. I do know the Bible says, He who digs a pit falls in it. But their wives and their children, too? Because children, I also know, are not to die for father’s sinsIt just seems wrong.

Then came my reading in Jeremiah 11 Monday. Same issue, O LORD of hosts, who judges righteously, who tests the heart and the mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you have I committed my cause.”  No, we are not alone, and not wrong, in wanting justice to be served. Provided we don’t bring it.

Provided we commit our cause to God.

Trust the Judge (Because He will do what is right.)

So I latch on to these brass tacks of God’s absolute righteousness, brass tacks that Abraham nailed. I lock on these words.

“Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Genesis 18:25)

I lock on it and assure Ted and Katie and the rest of the Sunday school class what I assure myself: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is right? 

When the wrong around us seems so strong- like the wives and children- or without doubt is so strong we can trust that one way or another the Judge of the earth will  do what is right. But sometimes wrong gets closer.

What do you do then? I mean, when evil touches you?

The Avenger still will come. (So keep entrusting to Him who judges justly.)

“When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” 1 Peter 2:23

That is the answer. When I’m on tempted to hate my enemies and avenge mistreatment and wallow in self-pity, 1 Peter 2:23 is the strong medicine I need.  Walk in his footsteps and keep trusting mistreatment to God.  Hand over the wrongs to him who judges justly. By faith, we walk like Jesus and trust God.

John Piper explains how Jesus did this.

[H]e handed over to God the whole situation including himself and those abusing him and the hurt done and all the factors that made it a horrendous outrage of injustice that the most innocent man who ever lived should suffer so much. He trusted it all into God’s hands as the one who would settle the matter justly someday.

He said, “I will not carry the burden of revenge, I will not carry the burden of sorting out motives, I will not carry the burden of self-pity; I will not carry the burden of bitterness; I will hand all that over to God who will settle it all in a perfectly just way and I will pray, Father, forgive them they don’t know what they do (Luke 23:34).”

Are you reeling from wrongs done to you?  Hand them over to Him who judges justly. Him who- though the wrong seems oft so strong and just vengeance seems so long in coming- is the ruler yet.

But believing that when evil men have their way is super hard to do. Committing wrongs to an invisible Avenger is only done by faith.

But to this we were called. (Because Christ suffered for you.)

To this you have been called, Peter wrote, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should walk in his footsteps. Handing the hurt and desire for vengeance to God, is not merely a rule to be followed,John Piper says, it’s a miracle to be experienced. A grace to be received. It’s a promise to be believed.

But it starts with believing that “Christ suffered FOR YOU.” Not just suffered. Or suffered for wicked, evil dudes. But that Jesus Christ suffered for me. For you. He bore our sins in his body on the tree (1 Peter 2: 24).

Then Piper asks, and I ask myself and you, Do we really trust that God sees every wrong done to us? That he knows every hurt? That he alone can assess motives and circumstances with perfect accuracy and  will settle all accounts with 100% perfect justice?  

Do we really believe God when he says “Vengeance is mine. I will repay”? 

Only if  we believe that can we hand over our hurt and hold out for a hero. 

Hold out for God. (Because our avenger hero will come.)

“O Lord, God of vengeance, O God of vengeance, shine forth!” sang the Psalmist (Psalm 94:1). “God alone is the Avenger,” wrote Martin Luther.

In his article, The Avenger, Tony Reinke explains,

This is not the Hulk-like rage of retaliation. God’s shining vengeance is his level-headed, righteous response to sin. It is his holy sanity. It is a revelation of himself that Christians are called to worship. And while the Avengers are called on to restrain evil forces, they are a faint echo of the One who has, and will again, break the evil, and break it forever.

Yes, massive wrong and unthinkable injustice was perpetrated at that concert Sunday night. And while your mistreatment may pale compared to that evil, still the wrongs you’ve suffered may be very wrong.

When I’ve wrestled with desire to avenge those who’ve mistreated me, these two truths help me commit my cause to God:

  1. Jesus (even God’s Son Jesus) trusted himself to the one who judges justly. Be like Jesus and remember vengeance is God’s. (1 Peter 2:23)
  2. All things will be settled rightly by the one who judges justly (Psalm 7:11) God always gets it right. The Avenger will come and right all wrongs.

He will. Not me.

Respond in faith, not hate. (Because this is our Father’s world.)

God either will punish the evil in hell (for those who do not repent), or has punished it on the cross (for those who repent). When we take vengeance into our own hands it’s like saying hell is an inadequate punishment or the cross is an inadequate sacrifice.

When we hold a grudge, we doubt the Judge. The Avenger will come.  And when he does, he will “inflict vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thess. 1:8).

Like Marshall Segal posted yesterday,

God has seen, and heard, and felt last night’s terror, and it will not go unpunished. “The Lord hates the wicked and the one who loves violence” (Psalms 11:5). When confronted with violent terror like this, we respond in faith, not hate, because God himself will have his vengeance (Romans 12:19).

God will avenge. No wrong on earth has or will ever escape the perfect justice of our Father and Avenger.

After all, this this is His world.

This is my Father’s world. O let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world: the battle is not done:
Jesus Who died shall be satisfied,
And earth and Heav’n be one.

Maltbie Babcock