Abandon Human Vengeance

Scripture Focus: Psalm 94.1-7
The Lord is a God who avenges.
O God who avenges, shine forth.
Rise up, Judge of the earth;
pay back to the proud what they deserve.
How long, Lord, will the wicked,
how long will the wicked be jubilant?
They pour out arrogant words;
all the evildoers are full of boasting.
They crush your people, Lord;
they oppress your inheritance.
They slay the widow and the foreigner;
they murder the fatherless.
They say, “The Lord does not see;
the God of Jacob takes no notice.”

From John: Christ told us that, spiritually, thoughts are as condemnable as actions and insulting language is as condemnable as physical violence. In a culture in which vengeance drives a machine of violent rhetoric which leads to physical violence, Christians have a responsibility to break the machine. With this post from 2018, we pray that Christians will abandon our culture’s model of unrestrained vengeance and violence. 

Reflection: Abandon Human Vengeance
By John Tillman

The tactics of human vengeance are escalatory. We always hit back harder than we were struck.

This is why God specifically limited the punishment that could be legally sought for damages. “An eye for an eye” was never intended to instigate a god-ordained, eye-gouging, free-for-all. It is a limit designed for selfish, angry, vengeful people. In other words, for us.

The psalmist understands that when it comes to vengeance, our role is non-participatory. We cry for it. We give it over to God. We, as Paul writes, “leave room” for the Lord’s just vengeance.

As much as our culture shrinks from biblical descriptions of divine vengeance and wrath, we call for revenge frequently and celebrate those who carry it out. At times it seems like every area of our culture is vociferously demanding vengeance.

Politics is the area in which it is easiest to see it at the moment.

For decades (maybe centuries) political strategists have justified questionable tactics by pointing at the behavior of the other side, childishly saying, “They hit me first.” Politicians are also fond of the mantra of abusers, “look what they made me do.” And every strategic maneuver provides more fuel for hatred and sets up precedent to justify the next retaliation.

Vengeance breeds hatred, and hatred fuels vengeance. This pattern is not new, but it is accelerating.

In their book, Prius or Pickup, Marc Hetherington and Jonathan Weiler discuss how the percentage of Democrats who hate Republicans and Republicans who hate Democrats skyrocketed over the past 18 years. It remained below 20% from 1980 through the 1990s. But in 2016 it was at 50% and trending up. As Hetherington and Weiler say, “hating the opposite political party is no longer a fringe thing.”

As Christians, we must identify ourselves as part of a new fringe that will not submit to the normalcy of hatred.

We must be a fringe that will not be intimidated by those who demand revenge. A fringe that works for justice but will not tolerate the vigilantification of retribution. A fringe that will maintain civility without allowing it to be a synonym for complicity.

Those who continue to stoop to hatred, fear, and exaggeration are worshipers of results, not the Redeemer. As Christians, we have an opportunity to differentiate ourselves from culture every time vitriol spews.

We must be the first to break the chain of retaliatory and violent rhetoric.
We must abandon human vengeance before we can see divine justice.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Let your loving-kindness be my comfort, as you have promised to your servant.
Let your compassion come to me, that I may live, for your law is my delight. — Psalm 119.76-77

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 42  (Listen – 3:12)
Psalm 94 (Listen – 2:08)

This Weekend’s Readings
Ezekiel 43  (Listen – 5:15), Psalm 95-96 (Listen – 2:37
Ezekiel 44  (Listen – 5:32), Psalm 97-98 (Listen – 2:19)

Read more about Praying for Divine Vengeance
The prayer for the vengeance of God is the prayer for the carrying out of God’s righteousness in the judgment of sin.

Read more about Responding to Political Violence
For Christians to fail to condemn, or worse, to directly endorse this type of violence is a great moral and theological failing.

Destiny of Grass vs Cedars

Scripture Focus: Psalm 92.4-7, 12-13
For you make me glad by your deeds, Lord;
I sing for joy at what your hands have done.
How great are your works, Lord,
how profound your thoughts!
Senseless people do not know,
fools do not understand,
that though the wicked spring up like grass
and all evildoers flourish,
they will be destroyed forever.

12 The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, 
they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; 
13 planted in the house of the LORD, 
they will flourish in the courts of our God. 

Reflection: Destiny of Grass vs Cedars
By John Tillman

There are purposes for the flourishing of the wicked and one of them is that one day the world will see them fall. 

The success of the wicked is like grass that will spring up and then be destroyed. There are purposes for suffering and lowliness and one of them is that one day the world will see the humble exalted. The righteous are not likened to grass but to a “cedar of Lebanon” planted in God’s house. The cedar and the grass may seem a similar height when they sprout, but the cedar’s growth and longevity are much different. 

The psalmist recognizes that wickedness will often flourish in this world. So should we. The writer sees through the illusion that worldly power and success indicate heavenly endorsement. So should we. Whether prospering or suffering, thriving or failing, surviving or dying, gains in this world are meaningless.

The psalmist testifies that senseless people, fools, do not understand this. So we should ask God for wisdom, and he will answer us with understanding.

We should cry out to God to deal with the wicked according to his justice, but let us not wish for a tit-for-tat God. If we got what we deserved, all would be destroyed.

We should praise God for what he has done, but not only for seeing the wicked brought low. We should praise him that despite our wickedness we can be raised up in the righteousness of Christ. 

It is only in emptying ourselves in confession that we can be filled with his righteousness. There is joy and love that God has for us in Christ Jesus. 

The wicked will fall because they will not kneel before Christ. When we fall to our knees in repentance, there is strength to lift us up, carrying us to sanctification. Our arms are too short to grasp what we need but Christ is the arm of the Lord. This powerful arm, bared before the nations, is never too short to save

With the psalmist, may we sing for joy at what his hands have done, working righteousness, showing mercy, and being with us in suffering.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
You are my hiding place…you surround me with shoults of deliverance. — Psalm 32.8

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 41  (Listen – 4:40)
Psalm 92-93 (Listen – 2:09)

Read more about Emptiness Filled by Love :: Worldwide Prayer
Compassionate God, we are sinners in need of forgiveness. The emptiness within us can only be filled by your love.

Read more about The Thriving Tree
Our path to salvation and restoration follows the steps of the suffering, crucified servant, Jesus.

A Prayer for Crisis—Guided Prayer

Scripture Focus: Psalm 89.46-49
46 How long, LORD? Will you hide yourself forever? 
How long will your wrath burn like fire? 
47 Remember how fleeting is my life. 
For what futility you have created all humanity! 
48 Who can live and not see death, 
or who can escape the power of the grave? 
49 Lord, where is your former great love, 
which in your faithfulness you swore to David?

Reflection: A Prayer for Crisis—Guided Prayer
By John Tillman

Scholars are divided on whether Psalm 89 was written by the same “Ethan the Ezrahite” who was a contemporary of David or whether it was written later by a contemporary of Ezekiel and other exiles. Regardless of when it was written, it shows us a helpful and repeatable pattern of prayer for those in suffering, doubt, frustration, or crisis.

The psalm contains three distinct movements of thought. In the first section, the psalmist praises the power of God over the cosmos. From the highest court of the heavens, he rules over things seen and unseen.

In the second movement, the writer describes God’s vision and purpose for humanity. The Lord promises an intimate, fatherly, guiding relationship. David stands in as a symbol for both the nation of Israel and for the role of Jesus who will be the “Son of David” to whom those longing for deliverance will call. (Mark 10.46-52)

In the third, the writer laments the sin of his people and that God seems to be abandoning them to suffering and allowing his purposes for them to fail. Despite this lament, or perhaps because of it, the writer ends with a challenging view of hope. The psalmist trusts that God will save, that wrongs will be forgiven, and justice will be done. 

A Prayer for Crisis — Guided Prayer
Praise God for who he is and acknowledge him as the king and creator of all. He is more than just the source of all life but the source of all joy, love, and justice.

Review for yourself the assurances we have in his promises to us. That we will be made like him. That we will suffer, but with him and in his power. That we will be forgiven. That we will be his images, his sons and daughters, representing him.

Express to him your doubts and fears. Tell him what you don’t believe and ask him to help you believe. (Mark 9.23-24) Tell him how you feel without fear of rejection. Tell him what you fear without being shamed.

Praise him that he is the Lord, forever. Eternal life is not just in the future. It is now. Abundant life is not just pie in the sky. He is with us now. Praise him that he is with us forever.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
The heaven of heavens is the Lord’s, but he entrusted the earth to its peoples. — Psalm 115.16

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

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 38  (Listen – 4:23)
Psalm 89 (Listen – 5:29)

Read more about Forgiveness to Soften the Hardened—Worldwide Prayer
There is no level of spiritual achievement or growth at which one is not susceptible to hardening of the heart and the spirit.

Read more about Meditation in Spiritual Rhythm
A few hundred years ago, meditation was not considered radical or strange, but simply a prudent, practical, and effective Christian discipline.

Kiss of Righteousness and Peace—Guided Prayer

Scripture Focus: Psalm 85.10
Love and faithfulness meet together;
righteousness and peace kiss each other.

Reflection: Kiss of Righteousness and Peace—Guided Prayer
By John Tillman

When love and faithfulness meet, righteousness and peace kiss each other. But before that happens in today’s psalm, there is confession and justice, mercy and redemption.

Today, we repeat this meditative prayer based on Psalm 85. Confession, justice, mercy, redemption, righteousness, and peace are just as vitally needed today as they were two years ago. 

Psalmists were familiar with sinful leaders and scandals. Like today, horrendous consequences were paid by the people for the poor leadership of kings and high officials. Sheep always suffer for the sins of shepherds, but yesterday’s passage was also clear that the sheep are not innocent and too often turn on each other.

May we bring righteousness and peace together in our lives and communities.

The Kiss of Righteousness and Peace
We cannot reach the kiss of righteousness and peace without passing through wrath and anger via forgiveness.
You, Lord, forgave the iniquity of your people
and covered all their sins.
You set aside all your wrath
and turned from your fierce anger.
We waste no energy on denial. We will not rise in anger when accused.
On our knees in humility, we thank you for your forgiveness.
Restore us again, God our Savior,
and put away your displeasure toward us.
Will you be angry with us forever?
Will you prolong your anger through all generations?
Every generation blames others.
The old blame the young.
The young blame the old.
And young and old, turn together,
to blame those long dead and those not yet born.
By your watch, Lord, generations are meaningless.
A ticking of the second hand of God.
We will deny no longer the sins of the past.
We will decry no longer the sins of the future.
They are all ours. The blame is on us.
We confess now that there is no “other” generation to blame.
Will you not revive us again,
that your people may rejoice in you?
Show us your unfailing love, Lord,
and grant us your salvation.
We are like Lazarus, lain dead in the grave.
You let him die in his sickness,
So that he could be raised.
Raise us, Lord. Bring us back to life.
Love and faithfulness meet together;
righteousness and peace kiss each other.
Righteousness goes before him
and prepares the way for his steps.
May we meet with you and you with us.
May our steps follow in your righteousness.
May we bring your kiss of peace to our world.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Come now and see the works of God, how wonderful he is in his doing toward all people. — Psalm 66.4

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

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 35  (Listen – 2:21) 
Psalm 85 (Listen – 1:25)

This Weekend’s Readings
Ezekiel 36  (Listen – 6:40), Psalm 86 (Listen – 1:39)
Ezekiel 37  (Listen – 5:07), Psalm 87-88 (Listen – 2:45)

Read More about Praising Christ’s Righteousness
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.

Read More about Battered with Love :: Worldwide Prayer
Oh Lord…You battered me with love, you assaulted me with mercy,
You pierced me through with compassion
and turned my sorrows into peace.

Hearing the Groans of the Prisoners

Scripture Focus: Ezekiel 31.10-12, 18
10 “ ‘Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: Because the great cedar towered over the thick foliage, and because it was proud of its height, 11 I gave it into the hands of the ruler of the nations, for him to deal with according to its wickedness. I cast it aside, 12 and the most ruthless of foreign nations cut it down and left it.

18 “ ‘Which of the trees of Eden can be compared with you in splendor and majesty? Yet you, too, will be brought down with the trees of Eden to the earth below

Psalm 79.10-13
10 Why should the nations say, 
“Where is their God?” 
Before our eyes, make known among the nations 
that you avenge the outpoured blood of your servants. 
11 May the groans of the prisoners come before you; 
with your strong arm preserve those condemned to die. 
12 Pay back into the laps of our neighbors seven times 
the contempt they have hurled at you, Lord. 
13 Then we your people, the sheep of your pasture, 
will praise you forever; 
from generation to generation 
we will proclaim your praise.

Reflection: Hearing the Groans of the Prisoners
By John Tillman

The psalmist, living under Babylonian exile, begs God to hear the “groans of the prisoners.” This is more than a reference to the writer’s own groaning. The poet is referencing the groans which caused God to “come down” (Exodus 3.7-9) to aid his people when they were oppressed by Egypt.

There are examples in scripture of both physical and spiritual salvation but typically they are connected or blended together. Moses’ liberation of the Jews from Egypt is the most iconic example of physical salvation and is the archetype biblical writers look to as a metaphor for spiritual salvation.

The ultimate example of God “coming down” is the incarnation of Jesus. We may think of Christ’s first advent as primarily about spiritual salvation, however, Mary is inspired by the Holy Spirit to sing of oppressors being toppled and the lowly being comforted. (Luke 1.52-53

Physical salvation is always top of mind for the persecuted and God’s wrath only sounds harsh to those who have rarely suffered. But God has more than physical suffering in mind and more sufferers than just his people in his heart.

Our readings from Ezekiel reference Egypt more directly as next on the list in Ezekiel’s long list of prophecies, judgments, and laments for other nations. These passages demonstrate that God is concerned with, and has dominion over, all nations, expressing wonder at their successes and anger at the harm they bring to others.

Why does God address these other nations? Why does God lament their falls and attempt to teach other nations by the example of their punishment?

Ezekiel realizes, and so must we, that all humans are not only under God’s dominion but God’s affection. God will not only visit judgment on them for evil but visit them in compassion during their oppression. Time and time again, God condemns through the prophets the same things—greed, pride, abuse of power. 

He is not just “our” God. He hears the cries of all those oppressed by their rulers. He judges all rulers and leaders who conduct themselves with pride and irresponsibility.

God is hearing the groans of those who are prisoners. Are we?

Who is suffering that we have ignored? God hears them.
Who is crying out that we would silence? God hears them.

Pray this week, that we would hear the groans…not seeking to be consoled as to console. (Prayer of St. Francis)

*Music: Prayer of St. Francis — Sarah McLachlan

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Be seated on your lofty throne, O Most High; O Lord, judge the nations. — Psalm 7.8

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

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 31  (Listen – 3:31) 
Psalm 79 (Listen – 1:50)

Read more about Freedom for Prisoners
Sin is our crime, our addiction, and our prison. Yet Jesus comes to free us nonetheless.

Read more about From Slavery to Service—Worldwide Prayer
May we leave behind our slavery and enter his service becoming thankful workers for peace.

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