Judgment


The Lord takes his place in court; he rises to judge the people.  The Lord enters into judgment against the elders and leaders of his people: ‘It is you who have ruined my vineyard; the plunder from the poor is in your houses” (Isaiah 3:13-15 NIV). ”

One commentary says, “[ruined, plunder] Normally refers to that taken by violence, but this is probably Isaiah’s way of condemning a social order which allowed the powerful to grow rich at the expense of the weak, even though this might be done by legal means…all the more appropriate that Yahweh is here depicted as bringing the powerful to trial”

I find it interesting that this passage is probably on the verge of the Assyrian invasion and exile of the Northern Kingdom.  More liberal scholars would place the date perhaps after the exile.  Either way it is apparent here that although it would seem that the Assyrians are in control of history and the fate of Israel and Judah—it is actually Yahweh who calls the shots and is at work.   For instance, in Jeremiah, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon is viewed as the Lord’s “servant.”  That is, Yahweh uses him to bring judgment upon his people.  Not a very comforting thought, huh? As a side note:  I don’t think God deals with his people like this anymore, even if he does have to chastise/discipline us at times.  I will not get into it here in this article but let me put it this way…EVERYTHING changes within the life, death, and resurrection, especially the way God deals with his people and all people of the world.

I suppose that the invasion and exile caused many to blame the evil of Assyria or perhaps Yahweh.  Yet this passage here paints a different picture.  It is because of the evil of the leaders of Israel and Judah that terror came upon the region as judgment.  Yahweh is envisioned as The Judge in the court room delivering the accusations and verdict.  It is intimidating and fearful.  He is the defender of the poor and an ever watchful protector of them.  When those leaders whose essential role was to provide for and defend the poor instead exploit and rape them economically, socially, and emotionally, Yahweh intervenes on their behalf.

Although I am discomforted by this image of a forceful god, I am comforted by the thought that he is on my side—or rather I hope I am on his.  He is a god who is involved, and even though there are times where it seems as though he is silent, he is fully aware, attentive, and watchful–especially for the vulnerable.  Leaders should serve with fear because it is apparent from this passage alone that they will be held accountable for the way they lead.  Are they ethical and honest?  Are they egocentric and self-serving?  Are they mindful of the people or are they more mindful of their wealth, power and careers?

This is an important thought not only for leaders to consider but for those of us who live in a quasi-democratic society that “chooses” our leaders.  Who will you vote for for president of this nation?  What is our accountability when we choose leaders?  Are we aware that some of them may be getting rich or making this nation rich at the expense of the poor or third-world countries?  Do we care? What about the abortion issue?  If we vote for a president who supports abortion, is the blood of millions of innocent children on our hands too (an issue for many Democrats)?  If we vote for a presidential candidate whose answer to most foreign conflicts is war, is the blood of all those young men and women who are fighting for oil or our “influence” around the world on our hands (not to mention foreigners blood)?  That’s a typical issue for Republicans.  Or ignoring the poor or making fun of those on food stamps or government assistance.

These are big issues with a lot of consequences.  We must vote prayerfully.  I may even suggest not voting if you don’t have a peace of mind about who you vote for.  Don’t fall for these comments that people make that you are irresponsible if you don’t vote and have no reason to complain then.  That is a lie!  We have every reason to complain when what we are offered for candidates I wouldn’t trust them with cutting the grass in my backyard nonetheless running the government.  And frankly, I am tired of voting for the lesser of two evils.  I vote for Christ because in the kingdom of God he is king and commander-in-chief and is such over this world if they recognize it or not.  My allegiance is the Christ first and foremost and the state is at best secondary.

Let’s also not vote for people just because they say they are a Christian.  I don’t want to hear they are a Christian, I want to see it.  I want to see the fruit of it.  And sadly enough, the Republican candidate who appears to be most Christian of the four stooges is a Mormon.  Then there is another who touts Christian values but has cheated on his wives more than my brother cheats in monopoly.  And that’s just the Republican field.  My point is, God is watching and is fully aware of their ploys and our votes.  Let’s not vote for who we want but for who God wants.  And if we don’t have a peace about anyone…vote for no one.  I believe that when it is our turn to give an account…God will understand that we trust in him and in good conscience could not vote for anyone.

Lord, help me to defend the poor and out of my substance and ability serve them.  I pray for the leaders of our nation that tend to hide behind the rhetorical veil of “freedom” “liberty” and “democracy” and yet either do or are tempted to be drawn by the lust of wealth and power.  May they serve the people like Christ serves and loves his Church.  In Christ name, Amen.

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The older I get and the more time I reflect on things, the more I become a pacifist.  I see no need for violence and war, even though many argue with me that we have the right to defend ourselves or protect the innocent.

I am usually accused of being a coward or a traitor for not seeing the romanticism behind being a pawn of the state to be sent off to do the state’s bidding.   I am not fooled by the nationalism of a so-called Christian nation.  I have seen what it is like to be on the receiving end of capitalism and economic imperialism in a third-world country.

I think many Christians in America have fallen prey to the ambiguous axioms of “duty” and “allegiance” to the state.

Perhaps all this nationalistic romanticism would not be as appealing to Christians if they lived in another country.  It’s a different ball game when you live under a Stalin or a Gaddafi.  The romanticism of patriotism shows its flimsiness then.  I don’t buy the “just war” package.  It should be returned to sender, marked “Middle Ages!”

I believe that Christ’s life, death and resurrection changed everything.  He ushered in a new kingdom that I believe has the power to end the cycle of violence in the world and usher in Isaiah 2:1-5.  But it starts with the Church.  We have to turn the other cheek, leave the sword to the state, allow vengeance to be God’s, and not return evil for evil.  We are to give our lives to end the cycle of violence if need be…but not by storming the beaches of Normandy, dropping a bomb on Nagasaki, or sending an aircraft carrier through the Strait of Hormuz to see what kind of response we are going to get.

I find it awkward that I have actually lost close friends because I have these convictions and that I was grieved for days after the assassination of Osama bin Laden.  Not that I didn’t believe he should’ve been brought to justice, but because as a spokesperson for the Vatican stated, “Catholics rejoice at the death of no man.”  I grieve for the wasted life of a man created in the image of God and a continued cycle of violence.  Did America decrease the numbers of her enemies that day?  Some would laugh and say yes…one.  I believe we created dozens more.  And I pity the Christians locked into this mindset of cyclical violence that they subscribe to.

Christians ought to be the first people to see the reality of the kingdom present in the world, the true governance is God, that the real king who sits on his real throne is Christ.  Our allegiance is to him first and only.  If that makes us good citizens, that’s terrific.  If not, then we conform to Christ and not Uncle Sam.

Let us therefore be the first to “beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.  Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.”  Call me naïve, but Christians have no business being in a military, under the whims of the state, and being dehumanized by putting bullet holes into other humans, beating infants heads upon stones, or urinating on the corpses of people God loves.

Some say I am extreme, radical or too loving and peaceful and that I live in a fantasy world.  Well, I trust that standing before the Judge in roughly six decades (give or take a few) I will rather be accused of being too loving and peaceful than not enough.

At the beginning of Thomas á Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ he speaks of the most important thing a Christian can do in their life time is to study Christ.  Yet it is not enough to merely study him but to imitate him in our everyday lives.  The very practice of doing or saying what  Jesus said or did is to experience a bit of life through the mind of Jesus Christ.  Think about it, when Jesus didn’t ignore those who were often invisible in his culture (like children) but embraced them.  Such an act changes a person from the inside out.  One learns to see the disenfranchised with compassion and love.  Or when Jesus said to turn the other cheek or walk the extra mile for an enemy.  This sort of sacrificial living teaches that life is not all about us and that even the hearts of our enemies can be softened.

We can also examine the lifestyle of Christ, how he spent significant amount of time away in prayer.  We all need this time of prayer and fellowship with God.  We can often fall into the trap of feeding our rational/intellectual side of being human and neglect the other basic need of being a social being as well.  We need that time to simply have relationship with God.  This is vital for becoming like Christ.  Paul encourages us in Romans to have the mind of Christ, to renew our minds.  A very big element of this is spending time, getting to know Jesus.  What does this do?  It helps us to truly think, act, and speak like Jesus.  I believe that this is the reason for so much nonsense in the world and even among so-called Christians who appeal to a gospel, that Paul says in Galatians 1, REALLY ISN”T A GOSPEL AT ALL.  Why?  Because they have perverted the faith of Christ, the apostles, the early Church fathers and mothers, and great men and women of God down through the ages for a lie.  How?  Because they do not truly know Christ or have not spent significant time in his presence getting to know him.  Instead they follow their passions, imaginations, feelings, emotions, lusts…to create something that though it sounds biblical because they use scripture, it is not biblical at all because they twist scripture.

In Jeremiah God speaks of false prophets crying out, “Peace, Peace” but the message and warning from God was that “there is no peace” but judgment.  Why is this important to recall?  Because we need to be in tune with God the Father and be aware of what is coming down the pike.  We need to be able to heed his warnings.  We need to be able to know the truth when we hear it and know what is false.  There is a lot of false teaching out there as we speak.  We live in a very pluralistic society where people are making up beliefs as they go along.  While studying philosophy in my undergrad, one thing that drove me nuts was that there was a philosopher for every crazy belief you could think of.  One day my professor said, “Philosophy is a dangerous thing, with the right charisma and eloquent rhetoric, a philosopher or orator could prove that a toothpick is God.”  Sounds ridiculous huh?  Well there are people that teach that god is in everything, in all matter and that that matter possesses the essence of God.  Therefore if God is in a tree and that toothpick came from the tree that housed God…the toothpick is God too.

So what is the safeguard to all of this.  Praying, and sticking to the faith you have received.  Pay attention to that check in your spirit that says, “You know…that sounds all nice and stuff but something isn’t right here, something is off.”  St. Irenaeus was a bishop in the ancient Roman province of Gaul in the second century AD.  He was very close to the time of the apostles and had received the faith that had been handed down to him by very trusted and faithful men.  In turn he taught the “barbarians” in Gaul, the simple folks who could not read or write.  Yet he says in Against Heresies if someone came and began to teach them a different Gospel than what the apostles had handed down to them they would recognize it immediately as a lie and would turn and run the other way.  It is a faith that many have suffered for, died for, and guarded, not only with their words but with their hearts, minds and lives.  We need to honor them by taking our faith as seriously as they did.

The moral of that story is that it is better for most Christians to not even listen to deception and to flee from it instead.  Now God has called many throughout the Church ages to practice what is known as “apologetics” or the defense of the faith.  Yet these individuals are usually deeply grounded in the teachings of Christianity and are very familiar with why we believe what we believe and most of the details behind our faith.  But the truth of the matter is that most Christians do not have the time, the resources, the interest or the calling to engage in this.  We are all part of the same body with different gifts, passions, and callings that are equally as vital and useful to our community as the next.  I have no ability in leading worship because I sing like a sick duck.  Yet I am thankful for those who are called into this ministry who can lead us into the presence of God through worship.

I say all this because it is necessary in our day to stay anchored in the faith and know what that faith is.  There are a lot of false gospels as Paul says in Galatians, but they are no gospels at all.  In fact, he says “If anyone teaches you another gospel than the one we have given, even if I or angels come doing so, let him be cursed.”  Pretty strong language that wouldn’t go over big in our day.  But his language emphasizes the urgency of his warning.  This is why Jesus was so sturn with those who departed from the true faith, same as the apostles, same as the early Church fathers and mothers.  Thomas Oden says in his three volume work Systematic Theology that “the vital question for Christians is not rather it is palatable but rather it is true.”  We are not interested in only the things we like about scripture but what is true…what is scripture and the teachings of Jesus and the apostles claiming is true.  That’s what we want to know.  That’s what we need.  That’s what God expects of us.

Then Jesus* told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.2He said, ‘In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people.3In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, “Grant me justice against my opponent.”4For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone,5yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.” ’*6And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says.7And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them?8I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’ (Luke 18:1-8 NRSV).

As I read this passage today for my devotion, I was prompted to reflected upon some of the thoughts my readers and myself shared in the last article.  I was thinking of how we think of God in terms of our humanity.  For instance, when we think of God’s love for his children, we think of it in terms of our love of our children.  In this passage of scripture from Luke, this is what Jesus is doing in his parable.  Jesus calls the judge in this parable an “unrighteous judge.”  It is clear therefore that when Jesus reflects on the actions of this judge that he is not saying, “God is like this judge.”  Instead, what he is doing is giving an example in human terms.  As Leon Morris points out, it is an example of “degrees.”  That is to say, God acts in much MORE just ways and with more ethical and compassionate motives than this “unrighteous judge.”

You see, this earthly judge responds to this helpless widow because  he finds her quite annoying with her persistence in seeking his help against her enemies.  This judge just wants to get rid of her.  He doesn’t feel compassion for her, benevolence, or mercy.  He doesn’t think it is the ethical thing to do.  He isn’t even concerned what God or men may think if he helps or doesn’t help at all.  His motives are completely selfish.  He helps this widow to help himself.  It is as though she is an annoying fly that he just can’t swat away so he appeases her merely to do away with her.  One gets the sense that if he could  have pushed her off of a cliff, it would have sufficed, just as long as she was removed.  However, the law did not allow him to do so so he takes the only avenue he has…using justice to silence her annoyance.

Jesus is not saying that God gets annoyed with our persistence, on the contrary.  What Jesus is saying is that God is NOTHING like this judge.  He is saying that if an earthly judge like this piece of work would defend a helpless widow merely out of a necessity to relieve himself of her harassment, then how much more would our God who is nothing like this judge come to our aid?  The answer is: MUCH MORE!

This parable offers hope for those in need of justice, defense, provision, and companionship (to name but a few).  No matter what we are experiencing, God is near to vindicate us and do it “speedily.”  God is the good judge.

Now some commentators point to this passage to say that we need to be persistent in seeking God for help.  I on the other hand do not believe that is what this passage is getting at.  I do however believe that there are other parables that teach us to be persistent, but not this one.  I think the main focus is on God as the true and good judge.  If this passage is saying anything, it is saying that we don’t need to be as persistent as this widow was because we are not dealing with an earthly and unrighteous judge like she was.  Our judge is quick to her us and quick to come to our aid without our nagging.

Think on that today, that our God is the good judge who is quick to aid us.  Praise be to God!

 

Rob Bell, a 41 year old senior pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Michigan is all over the media now…more so than he has been in the past.  Have you seen or heard him?  My experience with Rob Bell actually began some years ago in an adult Bible study class one Sunday afternoon.  Bell does a series of short films, theologically related, called Nooma videos.  These videos are usually quite charismatic, theatrical, dramatic, high-tech, and either moving or informative.  That Sunday during class we watched one of those films.  I can’t say I remember the topic but I remember the images.  To be honest–I liked it and it did have an effect on me at that moment. 

Then some years later, a friend I work with gave me a video of him preaching.  I can’t say that I loved it, but I remember thinking, “Boy this guy is going to reach a  lot of young people.”  I have seen his face and sermons pop up around the web here and there, but I never payed too much attention.  Yet I have to say, I think the name of his church is cool…but I am not sure the world get’s it’s meaning.  He does have a 7,000 member church however, so he has gotten someone’s attention.

Recently, it seems, that the attention he is getting has picked up a lot of steam.  A couple of days ago my sister asked me if I heard of Rob Bell.  She said that she heard that he is preaching that there is NO hell.  The name sounded familiar but I was more focused on what she said he was preaching.  I wasn’t surprised, it is not the first time I have heard such teaching.  An ex-charismatic preacher/singer named Carlton Pearson broke off some years ago and started preaching the same theology…NO HELL! 

Then my curiosity really peaked on Monday when I was walking down the magazine aisle at a local grocery store and saw TIME magazine with an image of hell that looked like a sketch done in the form of Albrecht Durer one of my favorite artists.  The title on the front said, “Rob Bell: Does Hell Really Exist?”  I picked it up, read the article, and could empathize with the points the journalist was trying to make for Bell.  Even though I didn’t agree with many points, I know it has been an issue for millenia in the Church.  I was also able to connect all of the dots going back almost a decade of who Rob Bell is and the church he pastors.

When I got home I went on the web and did some more research.  What I found was mostly very harsh reactions from the Church.  People were criticizing Bell saying things like, “He’s going to hell!” to “That’s what a theology degree from Fuller will get you.”  Then I came across some interviews he did.  One interview in particular stood out to me and that was Martin Bashir interviewing Bell.  It was obvious that Bashir was pretty heated over the topic.  Apparently, Bell just released his newest book, “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.”  Bashir gave Bell his perspective of the book and it was not pretty.  In fact, Bell barely got a word in to talk about his book. 

Then I went to my seminary class and it actually came up in conversation before class with the professor.  He said a student from one of his undergrad classes let him borrow it.  The professor did not seem pleased with the book and basically thought Bell is a heretic and perhaps even a pagan.  Apparently, the conversation arose agian during our break in the lounge.  I was downstairs however and missed it.  But one of the students in my class came down and told me that it had come up and she was arguiing with the professor about the book.  She said to me, “I could have really used you up there Jeremy to help me out.”  “Are you sure?”  I thought to myself.  “I believe in judgment, hell, and eternal punishment.  But I also believe in God’s unconditonal love, and I do think it will win in the end.  But what does that mean?”  I thought further.

Bell claims that the reason he wrote the book, the motivation behind it was, that someone basically told him that Ghandhi was in hell.  This claim sent Bell on a contemplative roller coaster trying to determine if God really would send someone like Ghandhi to hell.  What about the woman who was abused sexually, physically, and verbally by her evangelist father?  What kind of emotional damage would something like that do to cause a wall between her and Jesus? 

I asked my fellow seminarian if she actually read Bell’s book and she said she had.  She said that he actually states he believes in hell and that people will go there.  She added that Bell is just unsure if live is our last chance to decide our eternal destiny.  He wonders if God’s love will give people another chance to decide when they die and experience him.  He raises questions that the Church has pondered for years but has remedied with speculative answers that do not necessarily have answers in scripture.  Now this was a different perspective that was not coming out in what I had researched or watched on interviews.  Most interviews didn’t even give Bell a chance to make his case, they just labeled him a heretic.

So this is what I have concluded.  1. I prejudged the book and Bell before I actually read it and gave him a chance to speak for himself.  So before I say anything else I am going to read it and I will blog my thoughts; 2. I wonder how many of his accusers have actually read his book.  Did Bashir read it or did he have some of his assistants read it and then fill him in? 3. Why is the Church always on a heretic hunt looking for witches to burn at the stake?  4. One thing is for sure, Bell has gotten a lot of people to have this discussion again and revisited our views and believes…and there is never anything wrong with that.  In fact, when you think you have it all figured out, and your theology is in perfect order…you are in a bad spot!