I’ve been thinking about God’s judgment and wrath lately. Maybe I’ve been thinking about this because I’ve been watching a documentary on Netflix called “The Keepers.” It’s a gruesome story about startling acts of injustice surrounding the murder of a nun back in the 60’s. It’s a case in which the perpetrators of both murder and sexual abuse were not brought to justice.
A belief in God’s judgment and wrath is one of those beliefs that all Christians everywhere have always believed. Besides being one of the most basic assertions of the Bible, this belief appears in the Apostles’ Creed: “He will come again to judge the living and the dead.” In fact, I don’t just believe in God’s judgment and wrath, I rejoice in it. Why? I’m glad you asked. Here’s why…
I rejoice in it because judgment and justice go together. Christians talk a lot about justice these days, but very little about God’s judgment. We all desire justice. Life isn’t fair, but for some reason, we think it should be fair. Though life isn’t fair now, Scripture still points to a day when wrongs will be righted and justice will be served. That’s why the idea of God’s judgment brings comfort. To those who suffer at the hands of the unjust, it is comforting to hold on to the promise that one day all will be made right. This upside-down, evil world will not go on like this forever. God will execute justice. He will put an end to all that is wrong with the world, including terrorism, famine, disease, human trafficking, and so on. Psalm 96:13 declares, “Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for he comes, he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his faithfulness.” The psalmist clearly celebrates judgment as good news. Take away the idea of judgment, and you rob Christianity of any hope of satisfying our longing for justice, a longing built into us by God.
Judgment also demonstrates God’s love. God is not bipolar—part wrathful and part loving. Love is his essential attribute, but this love is not like the sentimental love we think of today. God’s love is holy and even jealous. The wrath of God is based on his love. When we do away with the notion of God as Judge, we’re left with a sappy, sanitized deity whom we can easily manage. But the evil of our world is much too serious for us to view God as a kind grandpa. The Bible’s picture of God is much more satisfying. He is angry because he is love. He looks at the world and sees the trafficking of innocent women and children, the destructive sale of drugs, the atrocities in Syria, and out of his love for us he is rightfully angry. The god who is truly scary is not the wrathful God of the Bible, but the god who shrugs his shoulders to evil, ignoring it in the name of “love.” What kind of love is this? A god who is never angered at sin and who lets evil go by unpunished is not worthy of worship. A judgment-less god isn’t too loving; he’s not loving enough.
Larry King used to ask Christians if they believed Jesus was the only way to God; he also asked them about the murderer who trusts Christ: Does he get off the hook? The idea that a criminal could go free is astounding, but God has acted in a way that upholds justice and bestows grace at the same time. There is hope for rebels who desire justice and yet don’t want to suffer. We see justice and mercy most clearly in the cross of Jesus Christ. The cross of Christ satisfied justice. His judgment against evil was poured out upon his only Son on the cross. Justice and mercy are not at war with one another; they meet at the cross. And we can find both judgment and mercy as good news once we recognize our guilt in light of God’s holiness, and then bask in forgiveness in light of God’s grace.
At a confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill this week Sen. Bernie Sanders pressed a Christian nominee for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget about his beliefs on this subject. “Do you think that people who are not Christians are condemned?” Sanders kept asking. Sanders clearly believes that thinking like that has no place in a government official. But Bernie Sanders, and others like him, simply fail to understand that a god who does not judge is neither a god of justice or of love — both attributes that even Bernie would claim to be committed to.
We had all five of our grandchildren together last week for several days five—kids from seven years old down to six months. Three of them live in Kentucky so this was the first time we have had them all together. It was so fun. We even bought a bounce house and set it up in our backyard. Of course, our house was a bit of a disaster zone and we were exhausted when they all went home, but I can’t think of anything I’d rather do than spend time with my children and grandchildren.
But sometimes I look at those kids and I think what they’ll have to face during their lifetime. I think how things have changed in my own lifetime and how the rate of change is accelerating. I think of the trouble our world is in, on so many different fronts. Besides just the everyday challenges of life, I wonder how these kids will get through it all. I could worry about that to the point of despair, but then I remember something the psalmist said about God in Psalm 100:5b, “For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.”
Psalm 100 is a worship psalm. At the start of this psalm the writer broadens our horizons by calling “all the earth” to shout for joy to the Lord. Here, he does something similar—he lengthens our view, reminding us that his steadfast love and faithfulness continues through “all generations.” Despite all the change and all the escalation of bad in our world, there’s hope because his steadfast love and faithfulness is not just true and real for me and my generation, but it will endure through all generations. God’s love and faithfulness are not like an hourglass that gets turned over and only has enough sand in it to last a few years. God’s love and faithfulness remain inexhaustible over time. The world will never get to a place where his love and faithfulness are not available. It will never run out because God will never change. That is good news, not just for me, but for my children and grandchildren!
Recently our family experienced a little crisis that has taught me something about the way God works in our lives.
As I was getting ready to drive home from my gym I saw a text from my wife telling me to call her right away. So I called and she was quite alarmed because as she and our daughter sat in the backyard our 21-month-old grandson walked into the house and locked the door. They had no way to get into the house, and although at first they heard him crying, after a few more minutes he went silent. They couldn’t even locate him through the windows. So they called me and I told them to call 9-1-1. By the time I got to the house the fire truck had come, busted down a door, and found our grandson sitting in the dark garage. Of course, he was quite happy to be set free into the wide expanse of his backyard!
I think that’s how we sometimes think the Christian life is supposed to work. When we get stuck somewhere, all we have to do is shoot a 9-1-1 prayer up to God and He’ll hear our cry and unlock the door to all the blessings we desire. Sometimes He does that. But the older I get the more I realize the Christian life doesn’t always work that way. So often He doesn’t break down the door right away — like when a marriage doesn’t heal, or when rebellious kids still rebel, or when a friendship continues to go south, or when a financial situation gets worse, or when loneliness intensifies and depression deepens.
Sometimes what God does instead of breaking the door down and setting us free is He climbs through a small window into our dark room. He doesn’t let us out. Instead, He sits down on the garage floor and says, “Come sit with me! I want to meet you right here.” He seems to think that climbing into the garage to be with me matters more than letting me out to play. We don’t always see it that way. “If you love me, you’ll break down the door!” But, the choice is ours. Either we can keep asking Him to give us what we think will make us happy — to escape our dark garage and run to the backyard of blessings — or we can accept His invitation to sit with Him for awhile in darkness, and seize the opportunity to know Him better and represent Him well in this even darker world.
Mother’s Day is this Sunday, May 14. I’m so blessed to be surrounded by wonderful examples of motherhood in my family. I had a fantastic stay-at-home mom who died when I was only 33 years old. I still miss her. My wife is an amazing and devoted mother and grandmother. My two daughters have followed in her footsteps and embrace their calling as mothers with grace and joy. Needless to say, we’ll be celebrating Mother’s Day at my house — big time!
But Mother’s Day is one of those events in which the church has not always known what to do with. Originally, there was a Sunday in the year set aside to celebrate the Church as mother of the faithful. Somehow that got confused with Mother’s Day. Then Hallmark got involved and the rest is history. The Mother’s Day we celebrate today just doesn’t have much spiritual pedigree.
Others factors complicate the matter. Many people had mothers who were far from ideal. Still others have lost their mother. And, let’s face it, not every woman is a mother. There are those who are single, either by choice or because they haven’t found the right person yet. And there are those women who have decided not to have children, or can’t have children. Mother’s Day can mean a lot of hurt for all of these women. To have children handing out flowers at church only to those women who have biological children can add insult to injury.
So if Mother’s Day is to be celebrated it needs to be done with lots of sensitivity. Still, I believe it is so important to celebrate and honor mothers, even at church. Here are three reasons we should all celebrate motherhood.
First, the Bible celebrates motherhood. One of the Ten Commandments tells us to honor both our father and mother. Proverbs 31 says of a godly wife and mother, “Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her.” As Jesus was suffering on the cross He was worried about His mom and who was going to take care of her after He was gone. He made plans for her provision. He put one of His disciples in charge of taking care of her (John 19:26-27). From Genesis to Revelation, motherhood is seen as an honorable vocation.
Second, mothers generally exemplify some amazing characteristics. It takes a lot of courage to be a mother. I’ve been there when all three of my children were born. There is no way I could handle what my wife did three times! It also takes commitment. The last thing anyone wants to do is threaten an infant in front of its mother. Mothers put their children first. Mothers deeply care about their children from the moment of conception. Their concern shows itself in both hope and worry. While a father may overlook a child because of work, a football game, or even a round of golf, nothing will make a mother forget her children.
Third, mothers live with a difficult tension in modern society. There are some mothers who work outside the home, either by choice or by necessity, and feel guilty for not staying home. Other mothers stay at home and feel guilty for not working. Any guilt that working or stay-at-home mothers have is a result of a society that peddles the idea that mothers can have it all. They can’t, and they often must make hard choices that usually result in them feeling like they have sacrificed either spending time with their kids by working or their own career by not working.
Celebrating Mother’s Day can be an important reminder in the midst of these tensions that motherhood in and of itself is a high calling by all means worth celebrating.
They all ate and were satisfied… Luke 9:17
A few days ago, Lynn and I and two other couples drove up to San Francisco and had dinner at an amazing restaurant. The food and atmosphere were out of this world, but the community around the table was even more memorable. Three couples sharing life, love and good food — it doesn’t get any better than that.
What is it about sharing a meal that unites us? Food has a knack for bringing people together, forging bonds and creating conversation. It’s a centerpiece of holiday celebrations. It’s how neighbors welcome new folks into their community. In the dining room, families share traditions. In restaurants, relationships and romance blossom. And in many homes, the kitchen is hailed as one of the most important spaces to meet.
An early disciple of Jesus named Luke would agree. Scholars have noted that one of the distinctive elements of Luke’s gospel is the emphasis upon meals. It progresses the narrative along, and it provides the setting for major teaching moments in the gospel. On at least eight occasions, Jesus can be seen sitting down to meals with others. In two additional accounts, a meal seems to be implied.
There is a phrase that occurs in Luke’s gospel when Jesus feeds a great crowd of well over 5,000 people: “They all ate and were satisfied…” In fact, this phrase occurs in both Matthew and Mark’s gospel as well. They didn’t have to say that. They could have just said they all ate. But, no, they all ate and were satisfied. Maybe I’m reading into it, but I think more than their stomachs were satisfied. I think their souls were satisfied as well. Can you imagine it? Families and friends sitting out in the fields of Palestine, talking, laughing, playing, and most of all marveling at the miracle of Jesus filling the hungry bellies of thousands of people with just a few loaves and fish.
You might think it wasn’t quite so enjoyable for the twelve disciples. After all, they were tasked with passing out the bread and fish. I’ve spent a bit of time waiting tables, and it’s some of the most demanding work I’ve ever done. But, when all the distribution was finished, the gospel writers are careful to reveal that there were twelve basketfuls of bread left over just for them. I can see the disciples wearily sitting down and having the time of their lives. Imagine the conversation at that meal!
It’s certainly no surprise, then, that Jesus would later institute a meal as the centerpiece of Christian worship with the words, “Take and eat, this is my body.” Followers of Jesus come together to commemorate his death by sharing a simple meal. In those moments, it is true in the most significant way possible that we all eat and are satisfied. But that’s not all, one day we will sit together in heaven and share in another meal — the marriage supper of the lamb!
It was true then, it is true now, and it will be true in the new heavens and the new earth: and they all ate and were satisfied.
I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep
The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
There comes a time when all of us must realize we need help. Perhaps really macho men exist who have enough “true grit” never to shed a tear or cry out in fear. But I suspect that image has far more to do with fantasy than with reality. Of course there have been great men and women who’ve shown us the extent to which the human spirit can face adversity and come through on the other side, but when you read the biographies of many great men and women, it isn’t so much that they didn’t need help, but that when they needed help they found it.
Where do you go when you need help? Perhaps you harbor a secret suspicion it’s not quite Christian or mature to admit you even need help. It was Ben Franklin who said, “God helps those who help themselves.” But the psalmist is crying out, “Help!” This psalm is meant to show us how to find help when we need it. It’s been called The Traveler’s Psalm because it’s often been used to bless those who are going on a journey to assure them of God’s watching care.
One of the pitfalls that often comes on our spiritual journey is being unwilling to ask for help. I love the determination in Franklin’s quote about God helping those who help themselves. But the reality is God doesn’t help those who help themselves. God helps those who know they need help. That’s what the psalmist does — he looks up for help. Counselors tell us this is the most important step to take — to acknowledge there’s something beyond our personal resources that we need help with. The idea we can always fix everything ourself has caused the breakdown of more marriages, the heartbreak of more people, and the disaster of more businesses than any other idea on the face of the planet. Pride might be the first casualty of failure, but pride is also failure’s common cause. “Pride goes before destruction…”
But if it’s important to admit we all need help from time to time, then it’s also important we go to the right place to find help. The psalmist lifts up his eyes to the mountains and asks, “Where does my help come from?” There’s a natural tendency for all of us to glance skyward when we need assistance. The psalmist looks up to the mountains. But he doesn’t stop at the mountains. The mountains don’t offer the solution; they point to the solution. The help isn’t in the mountains; it is found in God, who made the mountains; in fact, he’s the maker of heaven and earth.
In one sense you may think this is just saying, when you need help, ask God. But telling someone to “just trust God,” can be painfully trite; like a plaster applied to a hemorrhage. This psalm does far more than offer simplistic answers. It says this God is the maker of everything. So when you say, “Trust God,” you’re referencing the rock-solid Creator of heaven and earth, of all reality.
The psalm goes on to say he’s not only our Creator, but he’s the one who watches over us in every circumstance. The psalmist draws a vivid picture. Often our imagination needs to be reframed when we need help; we need to be able to see how God can help and picture that real help is possible. So the psalm says, “God is your watcher.” The word for “watch over” runs through the rest of the psalm. The idea is God is keeping you, he’s watching over you, he’s looking after you. The picture is of God standing guard, eyes open, never sleeping — a powerful image.
One of the difficulties of trusting God enough to ask him for help is we can’t see him. But what if he sees us? We must live by faith, not by sight. But not God; he sees. Like a parent who says to a child who’s afraid to go to sleep, “Don’t worry. I’ll stay in the room tonight and watch over you.” God says, “I’m watching over you. I’m keeping you.” We can sleep because God does not. We can travel because God knows the way. We can take another step forward because God will not let our foot slip. He’s constantly watching, caring, keeping.