Isaiah 25:1-5 – Against Violence

“Violence brings only temporary victories; violence, by creating many more social problems than it solves, never brings permanent peace”. —Martin Luther King, Jr.

AgainstViolence

Lord, you are my God.
I honor you and praise you,
because you have done amazing things.
You have always done what you said you would do;
you have done what you planned long ago.
You have made the city a pile of rocks
and have destroyed her walls.
The city our enemies built with strong walls is gone;
it will never be built again.
People from powerful nations will honor you;
cruel people from strong cities will fear you.
You protect the poor;
you protect the helpless when they are in danger.
You are like a shelter from storms,
like shade that protects them from the heat.
The cruel people attack
like a rainstorm beating against the wall,
like the heat in the desert.
But you, God, stop their violent attack.
As a cloud cools a hot day,
you silence the songs of those who have no mercy. (NCV)

These wonderful words of celebration were uttered not in a time of peace and plenty but in an era of hardship and loss. It seems the Jewish people have always faced a plethora of others who would rather see them wiped off the face of the map than existing with their own customs and religion. It was in one of those times of experiencing problems from Gentiles that this poem was crafted. It is precisely in the adverse times that we need to flee to the open arms of God and enjoy the divine embrace of security. In the sixteenth century, John Calvin reflected on these verses:

“When our minds are perplexed by a variety of uneasy thoughts on account of numerous distresses and afflictions which happen daily, we ought immediately to resort to God, and rely on his providence; for even the smallest calamities will overwhelm us, if we do not betake ourselves to him.”

God Almighty is the One who intervenes on behalf of the poor and helpless. The Lord God is the divine Protector who hears the voice of those overwhelmed with a crushing load of hard circumstances. The great “I AM” is the ultimate refuge and shelter for the vulnerable who possess no resources of their own. There is no bully, whether in the form of a person, an institution, or a government which can stand against the God who bends his ear to listen on behalf of the forgotten and the faint-hearted. Brutality and arrogance might touch our lives, yet it is the Lord to whom all those who exploit others must give an account. The violent, using cruelty and ruthlessness, shall not survive under the shadow of the Almighty God.

The poor and the needy may have no apparent chance against abusive persons and systems of the world. However, no power on earth can take on the Ruler and Sustainer of all creation and expect to have their way. God is the defender of the powerless. He specializes in tearing down the walls of oppression and lifting-up those in need of mercy.

So, then, I shall be explicit about the ancient and almighty God and our present circumstances:

  • Pandemic is a ruthless enemy which knows no pity from both rich and poor, the healthy and unhealthy; and, God is a merciful Deliverer who transcends all disease.
  • Poverty is a cruel master which is never satisfied; and, God is benevolent, bringing both spiritual and material satisfaction to life.
  • Patience is a virtue exemplified and amplified through the divine who desires to see all persons realize new life; and, impatience is a vice of the arrogant who demand their needs be met immediately without any regard to the common good of all.
  • Peace is a harmonious and wholehearted life gifted by God, even despite the surrounding storms of hardship; and, pride is the stance of the privileged who either cannot or will not see those who are underprivileged, and, so, they live in a constant state of unrest and disunity.

Wherever you find people speaking of their individual rights without emphasizing their communal responsibilities, there you will find a situation ripe for God to destroy the walls built by the selfish in order to create a safe place for the afflicted.

The Lord will silence the songs of the unmerciful; and, shall allow the shouts of the ones crying out for mercy to be heard. And he will do it in his own good time and grace.

Lord Jesus Christ, we thank you that through your death on the cross you disarmed the powers of evil. Help us, we pray you, to enter your resurrection victory and to stand in your authority against all evil. Send forth your light and your truth. Bring to light the deeds of darkness and let plans of violence be revealed. Through the power of Holy Spirit, almighty God, disarm every evil power and influence in your good world; and, bring loving connection where there is hatred and cruelty. Amen.

Grace to the Poor

 
 
“My dear friends, pay attention.  God has given a lot of faith to the poor people in this world.  He has also promised them a share in his kingdom that he will give to everyone who loves him” (James 2:5).
 
God’s grace is what makes the world go round.  Grace trumps everything.  An absence of grace in God’s people is offensive to him.  When I was growing up, our family dog was named “Sam.”  Sam loved being on the farm.  One time he tussled with a skunk.  I could barely get close enough to him to clean him up because he stunk so badly.  Favoritism toward those with means over those who don’t, stinks, and God has a hard time getting close to us when we show partiality to others.  And he is going to clean us up when he smells the stench of discrimination on us.  Showing favoritism to some over others is evidence that the dog is running away from the bath of grace.  In order to develop relationships and interact with people the way God wants us to, we must be free from prejudice.
 
            God cares about persons trapped in poverty.  The poor are important to him.  When Jesus began his ministry he pointed people to Isaiah 61:1 – The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor (Luke 4:18).  In the Old Testament, there are seven different words for the “poor” because poverty was such a pervasive reality (and still is across the world!).  The range of meanings includes those who are poor because of laziness, those born into poverty, being poor because of inhuman oppression or slavery, simple beggars, and the pious humble poor.  These spiritual poor persons are the Hebrew anawim.  The anawim are humble persons who are caught in grinding poverty, having no choice but to put their trust in God.
 
            God has a lot to say about such persons because they are dear to his heart.  The law was quite clear about how to treat the poor.  There will always be poor people in the land.  Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward the poor and needy in your land (Deuteronomy 15:11).  Do not take advantage of a hired man who is poor and needy, whether he is a brother Israelite or an alien living in one of your towns.  Pay him his wages each day before sunset, because he is poor and is counting on it.  Otherwise he may cry to the LORD against you, and you will be guilty of sin (Deuteronomy 24:14-15).
 
            The mistreatment, exploitation, and just plain inattention to such persons were a chief reason God sent the prophets to Israel.  God had something to say concerning them:  Hear this, you who trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land, saying “When will the New Moon be over that we may sell grain, and the Sabbath be ended that we may market wheat?” – skimping the measure, boosting the price and cheating with dishonest scales, buying the poor with silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, selling even the sweepings with the wheat.  The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob:  “I will never forget anything they have done” (Amos 8:4-7).  Instead of being generous to the poor and allowing them to forage for grain at harvest behind the harvesters, they kept “those people” away from the fields so that they could turn a profit at every little bit they could.  And God thought it all stunk to high heaven.
 
            We must be reminded that it is only the poor in spirit who will enter the kingdom of heaven.  Only those who trust in God alone, and not in their stuff, will he accept.  The real issue here is the humility that demonstrates grace to people who cannot offer you something in return.  It is easy to be merciful to people who will turn around later and scratch our backs.  But it is altogether a different thing to be gracious from a place of humility and service to God.  God cares about the condition of our souls and not the balance of our bank accounts.  Inattention to the needy only betrays a heart far from him.  If God were to audit you, would he find your finances reflecting a spirit of humility and concern for the anawim?  God does not judge people on face value and the state of their finances, and neither should we.
 
            We are to speak and act with mercy to all persons, without prejudice.  The only way to rid ourselves of the stench of showing favoritism is to receive the cleansing bath of God’s mercy in Jesus Christ.  The shampoo of grace is available, if we will let God apply it.  God is the expert in:
 
Ø  Turning people from only associating with those they are comfortable with, to lovingly reaching out to people very different from themselves;
Ø  Changing people from the stinking thinking about what they can continually obtain and consume, to people who are loving and generous with their words and their physical resources;
Ø  Putting to death a proud spirit that looks to get ahead and accomplish an agenda by any means possible, to giving new life through humble repentance.
 

 

Ministry to the poor is a non-negotiable for the Christian church.  Beyond only dispensing benevolent funds, the poor need relationships, connections, resources, and a chance to give back in ways they can contribute.  It’s just part of being attentive to them, and extending them grace.  How does your church show their concern for the poor in your city and/or region?

Poverty, Plenty, and Paradox

 
 
The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position.  But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position because he will pass away like a wild flower (James 1:9-10).
 
            Webster defines a paradox as “a statement that is seemingly contradictory or opposed to common sense and yet is true.”  The Bible contains a lot of paradoxes, telling us that the ones who give receive, the weak are strong, the empty are full, the slave is free, the cursed are blessed, and that death brings life – all statements which first strike the ear as contradictory, but when we think about them we realize they are true.  The pithy Englishman G.K. Chesterton once gave this insightful definition of a paradox:  “A paradox is truth standing on its head shouting for attention.”  Paradox can be a powerful vehicle for truth, because it makes us think.
 
The poor person is rich.
 
            The Christian in humble circumstances, the lowly poor person actually has a high position because:  poverty enables him to be open to God; and, the pressures of poverty lead him to rely on God’s enablement and provision.  Whenever you find yourself with few material possessions; when you work hard but struggle to keep food on the table; and, find it difficult to pay the bills – then, you are stripped of the illusion of independence and are left vulnerable before God.  And it is in this state of humility that the believer in Jesus cries out to God, recognizing his dependence.  Trust is no option, but absolutely necessary for survival.
 
            What God deems important is a broken, humble, and contrite heart.  God cares about our poverty of spirit.  A person can be economically disadvantaged, but, at the same time, be spiritually advantaged.  We are loved by God not because of either wealth or poverty, but because we realize we desperately need to trust in him.
 
            The Scripture’s use of paradox calls us to make a choice:  Will we pour our lives into things, or into people?  Will we look for ingenuity and technical solutions in order to make our personal and church budgets budge, or will we come to God?  Will we define success in family and church as worldly wealth, or will we define success as acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God?
 
The rich person is poor.
 
            It is difficult for wealthy people to trust in God and not in their riches.  Anyone who trusts in things is the truly underprivileged person.  A sirocco wind is a weather name given to hot and humid southeast to southwest winds originating as hot, dry desert-air over North Africa, blowing northward into the southern Mediterranean basin.  The early believers all knew about these winds that could unpredictably come through their area and wither perfectly good and apparently strong plants.  But those plants could not stand a sirocco wind.  Trusting in our resources rather than God will not stand in the judgment.
 

 

            The real issue is one of trust – locating and placing faith in the person and work of Jesus, and not in wealth with the influence and security it brings to life.  We live in a time when many church leaders are nearly obsessed with the ability to measure everything from numbers to quantifying spiritual growth and development.  Incredible amounts of money go into budgets, buildings, and programs.  The book of James in the New Testament gives a pushback on our compulsion with money and measurement.  Perhaps declining churches are in a humble state to recognize God; maybe growing churches are in need of better listening skills in order to hear God.  Before making new plans or just maintaining the old status quo in the church, several slow and careful readings of James just might give us some guidance and wisdom of where our real efforts in ministry need to be directed.