Praise God for the Justice of the Gospel

Scripture: Psalm 56.5-7
All day long they twist my words;
all their schemes are for my ruin.
They conspire, they lurk,
they watch my steps,
hoping to take my life.
Because of their wickedness do not let them escape;
in your anger, God, bring the nations down.

Reflection: Praise God for the Justice of the Gospel
By John Tillman

The Psalms hold nothing back.

Without apology, the psalmists shove in our faces and God’s their emotions, their betrayals, their trauma, their desire for vengeance and violent expressions of justice.

We might claim to denounce the barbarity of the psalms, but box office receipts tell a different tale. The upcoming revenge film, Peppermint, joins a long line of vengeful expressions of our longing for justice. The Punisher, the various incarnations of Batman, the Taken movies and TV series, the Deathwish movie series (Six original films and a 2018 remake), and the Equalizer film series are merely a few examples.

Our culture is inconsistent regarding violence and vengeance. We cringe at God taking vengeance on anyone. We cheer when Denzel Washington does it.

It is too simplistic to write off these films as primal-level, sinful, bloodlust. They express our knowledge that our concepts, systems, and pursuit of justice are incomplete. These films express our longing for someone outside our understanding of justice and outside our system of justice to make up our shortcomings.

As Christians, we find that someone in the person of Jesus. Only Christ can stand, simultaneously offering forgiveness to all who seek it, destruction of evil itself, and restoration of all that is broken and lost. This is the complete justice accomplished in the gospel.

In our world we can and should be agents of justice to the best of our ability. Seeking justice for the oppressed, demanding changes when our justice system fails, and working to rehabilitate and redeem those convicted in our justice system are a part of our calling to serve as God’s representatives on earth.

But we also know that ultimate justice cannot be completed by this world’s systems. No fine truly compensates. No prison sentence makes a victim feel safe. No death sentence brings back to life the victims.

The psalms were artistic endeavors, not legal documents or court decisions. They are the cries of the victims, not the verdict of the judge. Justice is solely accomplished with finality on the cross of Christ, where Jesus declared, “it is finished.”

Praise God that our partial, weak attempts at justice are not the final word.
Praise God that we can join him as agents of both justice and mercy.
Praise God that he calls us to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with him, the ultimate source of justice.

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
For one day in your courts is better than a thousand in my own room, and to stand at the threshold of the house of my God than to dwell in the tents of the wicked. — Psalm 84.9

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 15 (Listen – 1:09)
Psalm 56-57 (Listen – 3:11)

Additional Reading
Read More about Justice and the Kingdom of God :: Readers’ Choice
The Christian vision of justice is comprehensive and spans all areas of good and evil; it not only vindicates the truly just man condemned to a criminal’s cross, but also summons to final judgment the self-righteous who vaunt themselves as paragons of virtue.

Read More about Justice and Mercy
And yet, in a stunning response to our cry for mercy, God directs his anger toward himself. The wine of justice is pressed from the fruit of mercy.

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In Praise of Christ’s Righteousness

Scripture: Ezekiel 14.13-14
“Son of man, if a country sins against me by being unfaithful and I stretch out my hand against it to cut off its food supply and send famine upon it and kill its people and their animals, even if these three men—Noah, Daniel, and Job—were in it, they could save only themselves by their righteousness, declares the Sovereign Lord.

Scripture: Psalm 55.16-18
As for me, I call to God,
and the Lord saves me.
Evening, morning and noon
I cry out in distress,
and he hears my voice.
He rescues me unharmed
from the battle waged against me,
even though many oppose me.

Reflection: In Praise of Christ’s Righteousness
By John Tillman

We cannot save ourselves. Praise God.

God specifically tells Ezekiel that not even the greatest, most righteous men he might trust in would be able to save the nation.

God specifies that even great men of the past like Noah or Job could not save the country. Neither could the greatest living leader of the Israelites at that time, Daniel. Not even if all three of these men at once were in Israel, could they save it from its destruction.

Praise God we cannot be saved by the righteousness of humans.

Imagine our difficulty finding one trustworthy enough. Imagine hanging our hopes on a great leader, only to watch him or her fall near the end of the race.

Most of us don’t have to imagine it. It has happened. It has happened on the left and on the right. To secular leaders and to Christians. At personal levels and at the highest levels of governmental and institutional power.

Men and women who have betrayed our trust litter the media landscape. Think back over the past year and their faces and headlines will float up from your memory—comedians, judges, police officers, politicians, pastors, writers, journalists. Human leaders who won our trust, but can’t save us.

And the collective effect of humans working together, doesn’t solve the problem. If anything, human institutions magnify the failures of individual leaders.

How pitiful a situation we would be in if our salvation relied on human institutions. Think of the wide variety of institutions that have failed and continue to fail the people they are meant to help. Banks have failed us. Insurance companies, oil companies, food companies, charities, churches, ministries, and governments have failed us.

Praise God we are free from the delusion that humans and human institutions are infallible.
Praise God that despite the sinfulness of humans and our institutions, we do have a place to put our trust.
Praise God that our salvation does not rely on any person who may turn and betray us or fall into error or sin.
Praise God that we can live in fellowship not because we or “they” are trustworthy, but because we are united in our need for forgiveness and redemption.
Praise God that we can embrace our fellow brothers and sisters with the same mercy that we have been shown.

Prayer: The Small Verse
O Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon me.
O Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon me.
O Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world, grant me your peace.

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 14 (Listen – 4:09)
Psalm 55 (Listen – 2:43)

Additional Reading
Read More about The Worst Churches in the Bible :: Readers’ Choice
There are many strange and unfamiliar images in Revelation that we have no context for and do not easily understand. But one that has a very familiar ring is the description of scandal-filled churches.

Read More about Where Judgment Falls
Eli and his sons are a textbook case of spiritual abuse and financial malfeasance in the name of ministry.

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In Praise of God’s Mercy :: Worldwide Prayer

Scripture: Psalm 53.1-3, 6
The fool says in his heart,
“There is no God.”
They are corrupt, and their ways are vile;
there is no one who does good.
God looks down from heaven
on all mankind
to see if there are any who understand,
any who seek God.
Everyone has turned away, all have become corrupt;
there is no one who does good,
not even one…
Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!
When God restores his people,
let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad!

From John:
After a week of lament last week, today we take up a prayer of praise, confession, and wonder.

Today’s readings are still of violent men (A response to Doeg the Edomite in Psalm 52) and of false prophets and hypocrisy (Ezekiel 13). We are still living in the midst of our faithless culture that denies God (Psalm 53.1-2) But we have reasons to move through lament to praise, as David does in Psalm 53.

Our salvation has come. Not because we deserve it, but because God is merciful. Let us be glad.

Reflection: In Praise of God’s Mercy :: Worldwide Prayer
A Prayer of Confession and Wonder
From the USA

Oh, God in Heaven!

How can you love me? Of the thousand times I’ve tried to empty myself and be the child you created me to be, only rarely have I succeeded. Only rarely am I truly obedient. Only sometimes do I, through love for you, do the needed thing.

I am no David, no Deborah, not even a Rachel. Yet You love me. I feel your pull with every movement in a leaf of one of your trees. Oh, Creator Love! You who teach all the melodies the dolphins of the sea sing to each other, how can it be that you condescend to love me, to save me, to lift me, to envelop me, to calm my fearful heart?

When I think of your great mercy, oh Christ, my heart wants to burst; it is too great for me, too great to comprehend. I could dissolve in tears of joy for knowing it. Oh, grand, great, infinite God! To kneel before you would be too presumptuous. Let me fall face down before you. That you love me? I cannot hold the thought. Yet hold me, dear God in your embrace, until I do know it.

*Prayer from Hallowed be Your Name: A collection of prayers from around the world, Dr. Tony Cupit, Editor.

Prayer: A Reading
Jesus said: “It is for judgment that I have come into this world, so that those without sight may see and those with sight may become blind.” Hearing this, some Pharisees who were present said to him, “So we are blind, are we?” Jesus replied: “If you were blind, you would not be guilty, but since you say, ‘We can see,’ your guilt remains.” — John 9.39-41

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 13 (Listen – 4:14)
Psalm 52-54 (Listen – 2:26)

Additional Reading
Read More about Treatment of Mercy
May we embrace and treat with mercy and understanding those who struggle with mental illness.

Today is World Suicide Prevention day. September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.
May we join together to normalize seeking treatment of mental health issues and pray for those suffering.

Read More about Saved by Mercy
No, Frodo ‘failed.’…one must face the fact: the power of Evil in the world is not finally resistible by incarnate creatures, however ‘good’.

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Lamenting Materialism :: A Guided Prayer

Scripture: Psalm 49.12-13
People, despite their wealth, do not endure;
they are like the beasts that perish.
This is the fate of those who trust in themselves,
and of their followers, who approve their sayings…

Reflection: Lamenting Materialism :: A Guided Prayer
By John Tillman

Reading through the prophets, (since May we’ve covered Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, and now Ezekiel) it is difficult to ignore the constantly recurring refrain that the powerful and wealthy were neglecting their God-ordained responsibility to care for and provide justice to the outcasts, the marginalized, the poor, and the isolated.

The only thing mentioned as frequently is idolatry, but the idols Israel was worshiping were directly connected to wealth and financial success. In ancient agrarian society if you worshiped a sun god or a fertility goddess or a god of weather or a god of bountiful harvest you were worshiping a god of financial success. It is akin to our worship of stock performance or financial forecasts or political economic policies.

Guaranteeing continually renewing cycles of growth was Ba’al’s main gig. Today, Ba’al wouldn’t be a rain god, he’d be Gordon Gekko. Or Bernie Madoff. Or Jordan Belafort.

Materialism is one of the chief idols of our age and a recent article in The Atlantic discusses how we are teaching our children how to worship it.

As part of turning away from our idolatry, today we join in a prayer of lament based on today’s reading from Psalm 49 combined with Sunday’s reading of Psalm 51.

Prayer of Lament for Materialism
Lord we weep over our culture’s sinfulness.
Not distancing ourselves, claiming to be righteous,
But weeping at our complicit hearts.

People, despite their wealth, do not endure;
they are like the beasts that perish. — Psalm 49.12

We confess that we equate security and safety with the accumulation of wealth.
We store up for many years and say to ourselves, “I am secure.” (Luke 12.19-21)

This is the fate of those who trust in themselves,
and of their followers, who approve their sayings.
They are like sheep and are destined to die…
Their forms will decay in the grave,
far from their princely mansions. — Psalm 49.13-14

Help us, Lord to break our materialist thinking.
Help us escape the snare of jealousy and comparison.

Do not be overawed when others grow rich,
when the splendor of their houses increases;
for they will take nothing with them when they die,
their splendor will not descend with them. — Psalm 49.16-17

May we escape selfishness and greed and never cause others to live in hardship for our benefit.
May we soften our hearts of generosity, welcoming the needy and oppressed.
May we cling to you only, releasing our resources to your purposes.

You are right in your verdict
and justified when you judge…
Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me. — Psalm 51.4, 10

Reteach us, Lord, how you can bless our cities through us.

May it please you to prosper Zion,
to build up the walls of Jerusalem.
Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous. — Psalm 51.18-19

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
It is not the healthy who need the doctor, but the sick…And indeed I did not come to to call the virtuous, but sinners. — Matthew 9.12-13

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 10 (Listen – 3:16)
Psalm 49 (Listen – 2:10)

This Weekend’s Readings
Ezekiel 11 (Listen – 3:53) Psalm 50 (Listen – 2:26)
Ezekiel 12 (Listen – 4:26) Psalm 51 (Listen – 2:19)

Additional Reading
Read More from Prayers of Woe and Weeping :: Guided Prayer
Weeping for our own hurts and harms is one thing. Weeping for what grieves God is a prophetic task and a work of faith.

Read More about For These Things, I Weep
Jesus knew the weight of what he called the rich to do. He was intimately familiar with the path of self-denial.

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Lament the Effects of Hard-Heartedness :: Throwback Thursday

Scripture: Ezekiel 9.3-4
Then the Lord called to the man clothed in linen who had the writing kit at his side and said to him, “Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it.”

From John:
To weep and lament for the corruption in our world is a fitting activity for believers. In Ezekiel’s vision we witness a different kind of passover, as God’s judgment passes through Jerusalem it is lament over the detestable practices in the land that marks God’s remnant.

Lament is a task that the people of God take up as we become increasingly pressured, sidelined, and exiled. It is a recognition, not just of the sin of those around us, but of our failure to live out and proclaim the gospel to them…

Reflection: Lament the Effects of Hard-Heartedness :: Throwback Thursday
By Richard Baxter (1615-1691)

Take notice of the doleful effects of hard-heartedness in the world.

This fills the world with wickedness and confusion, with wars and bloodshed; and leaves it under that lamentable desertion and delusion, which we see in majority of the earth. How many kingdoms are left in the blindness of heathenism, for hardening their hearts against the Lord!

How many Christian nations are given up to the most gross deceits, and princes and people are enemies to reformation, because they hardened their hearts against the light of truth!

What vice so odious, even beastly filthiness, and bitterest hatred, and persecution of the ways of God, which men of all degrees and ranks do not securely wallow in through the hardness of their hearts!

This is the thing that grieves the godly, that wearies good magistrates, and breaks the hearts of faithful ministers: when they have done their best, they are obliged, as Christ himself before them, to grieve for the hardness of men’s hearts.

Alas! We live among the dead; our towns and countries are in a sadder case than Egypt, when every house had a dead man. Even in our churches, it were well if the dead were only under ground, and most of our seats had not a dead man, that sits as if he heard, and kneels as if he prayed, when nothing ever pierced to the quick.

We have studied the most quickening words, we have preached with tears in the most earnest manner, and yet we cannot make them feel!

*Abridged and language updated from Christian Ethics

Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, what can make it salty again? It is good for nothing, and can only be thrown out to be trampled under foot by men.” — Matthew 5.13

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 9 (Listen – 2:05)
Psalm 48 (Listen – 1:28)

Additional Reading
Read More from Richard Baxter: On Idolizing Man :: Throwback Thursday
This iniquity [idolizing man] consists not simply in the heart’s neglect of God, but in the preferring of some competitor.

Read More from Richard Baxter: What Slavery We Choose :: Throwback Thursday
A people-pleaser cannot be true to God…The wind of a person’s mouth will drive him about as the chaff—from any duty, and to any sin.

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Last month over 22,000 Park Forum email devotionals were read around the world. Support our readers with a monthly or a one time donation.

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