Justice will be done

Recently, I came to meet the vicar at St. Stephens for our regular Tuesday afternoon Church_of_St_Stephenmeeting. As I walked up, there was a man sitting on the steps smoking a cigarette who I’d just met briefly two weeks before. I sat down and we got to talking about God, life and his struggles.

He’s not sure if he believes in God.  Said, “I guess I’d call myself agnostic” and the primary reason he gave was that the world is so evil. There is so much trouble – wars, pollution, abuse of men against women, the list goes on and on.  He couldn’t accept that if there was a God who was all powerful – why hadn’t he stopped the evil in the world? So therefore, the all powerful God of the bible probably doesn’t exist or at least is not an active player in this world.

Habakkuk, the prophet, would differ in this analysis of the problem of evil.

In the book of Habakkuk, we find a dialog between the prophet and God.  In Habakkuk - smallchapter 2, God answers the question, “What about evil?” Habakkuk understands that God is using evil men to punish his people, but is that the end?  God says no – the day will come with those evil men will face the consequences for their sins. There will be a day of reckoning.

Verse 6 of Habakkuk 2  states “Shall not all these take up their taunt against him, with scoffing,”

Who are the all these? They are the people in verse 5 which reads: “He gathers for himself all nations and collects as his own all peoples.”  The “all these” are the victims of oppression; those who have been gathered up for the purposes of evil men.

What follows in chapter 2 are the words of the oppressed people who will rise up and taunt their oppressors.  These victims go on to say are 5 “woes” against their oppressors. Notice in verse 6, 9, 12, 15 and 19. The English word “woe” is not one we normally use. It comes from the cry that people have at a funeral when the emotional pain of death is released in a verbal outburst.  In the Bible, it is often used by the prophets to call upon God to bring judgement on evil deeds.

When we acknowledge the reality of evil, not just theoretically but with real people, we are led to call for the judgement of God out of compassion just like the prophet Habakkuk.  We should pray for the end of the abuse of women and children. We should pray for the end of modern day slavery.  We should pray for the end of war, poverty, racism and any other degrading of human beings made in God’s image.

Evil is real. And this reality leads us to call upon God to bring judgement upon the oppressors. Our timing may not be God’s timing but evil will not rule in the end.

Justice will be done.  The victims will not be silent forever.

The Dirty Shirt

This is a retelling of a story I heard Jack Miller (founder of  World Harvest Mission) tell in the late 80’s:

Once upon a time, there was a young boy who wanted to impress his father. So one day, while his father was at work, he decided to wash his Dad’s favorite white shirt by hand.  It was one of those fancy shirts which couldn’t go into the washing machine. He worked hard whiteshirton it with soap and water and then laid it outside to dry.

Only one problem – the boy laid the white shirt on the family’s old, rusty wheelbarrow.

When the father came home, the boy rushed to grab the shirt and show him. “Look Dad, I washed your favorite white shirt!” And it did look good on the front. But the back was another matter.

It was covered in rust stains. The boy had tried hard and the shirt even looked good in his eyes, but the father knew that the shirt was worthless. The father took the boy into his arms and said, “Thank you for your work, you are my son and I will love you anyways and always.”

We are often like this child presenting God with our efforts to please him. “Look God, I’m following all your rules – I’m going to church; I’m giving some money; I’m helping my neighbor who’s in need.” But the reality is that our efforts are like the child who has just ruined his father’s favorite shirt. They don’t move God to love us more.

“So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.” Galatians 2:16b

At the end of verse 16 – “by works of the law no one will be justified” – that is – “by doing good work no one will earn God’s love” The boy didn’t earn his father’s love by doing the laundry – his washing efforts were actually worthless. No – the father loved his son anyways and always.

The Heavenly Father loves his children anyways and always. Despite the mess we make of our lives, God will love you anyways and always if you are his child. And that is the key – being a child of God

And we become children of God by faith in the finished work of Jesus, as Paul writes in Galatians:

“So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” Gal 2:26-27

Children want to please their father not to earn the father’s love but to express gratitude for the love he has already shown them.  Quit trying to earn the love of the Father.  In Christ, we have that completely.

 

Saturday Night Tea

 

This is a guest post from New City’s apprentice, Christoph Boss, who’s joined us from Germany for a year.  You can read his blog here (FYI – most post are in German)

It’s pretty cold this Saturday night at the end of March. It’s 9 pm and we are just getting ready for the Saturday Night Tea. The table outside the church entrance is already set up. A large urn of hot water for tea is standing next to a lamp which sends warm rays of light into the darkness of this very cold spring night. The table cloth is moving with the brisk wind and we are having trouble to keep the business cards of our church on the table which we use to invite people to come to the service the following day. While Constance is trying to get the table cloth back on the table after another attempt of slipping away, I set up the A-frame sign. After I wrote “free tea” in bold capital letters on the boards of the sign I put it on the middle of the pavement so that it is clearly visible to everyone who is passing by.

Half an hour later Constance and I sit next to the table outside the church. We begin to feel the coldness. Our limps start to become numb and clumsy. Not many people are on Uxbridge Road which is quite crowded during the day. The people who pass by tonight are wrapped in their coats and scarfs and don’t really pay attention to us offering free tea. Too great is the longing of being at home or somewhere warm. A bachelorette’s party is coming along. Dressed up, drunk and with tiaras in their hair they tell us excitedly what great work we do for the community. Another 30 minutes pass by without anybody asking for a cup of tea or at least stopping by.

It’s 10.00 pm. Constance and I prepare to wrap up for tonight when Mark (name changed) comes along. He lives a couple of blocks down the road and is on his way to the next supermarket to get some more beer. He is an alcoholic. He sees the free-tea-sign and asks if we still have tea. We offer him a cup of tea and start a little small talk with him. It seems that he must be very lonely because he doesn’t stop talking. He is telling us about his mother and his children and how he ended up living with his mother again after he was left by his second wife and lost his job. We don’t know if everything he is telling us is true but it’s a sad story in any way.

It’s 10.15 pm. Mark is still telling us his life story and totally forgot to buy the beer. The cup in his hand is moving up and down and from side to side causing the tea to splatter all over the place while he is enthusiastically telling his story.

Another person halts in front of the A-frame sign. Slowly the person comes to our table and we can see that the woman is sobbing heavily. After we gave her a cup of tea and asked her to take a seat we ask her what happened to her. She tells us that the electricity provider has turned off the power in her house leaving her in the darkness unable to prepare something to eat or to heat the house. She needs ten pounds more to unlock the power supply to her house. We give her all the money we have on us which is still not enough. At the end of our talk we ask if we can pray for her and she gladly allows us to do that. The tears are gone by the time she leaves and she seems to be a little bit more relaxed. Mark is long gone by then. He remembered to get some beer.

This evening is almost three months ago and we have already experienced much busier days serving tea to more than two people after it got warmer. But the people who normally stop by aren’t the young successful professionals; it’s often the people, long forgotten by the big city they are living in, who ask for a cup of tea and some time to talk.

Thank God for hay fever

The pollen count in London is the highest it’s been in 50 years and that’s not good newsIMG_0758.  I’m really suffering these days with itchy eyes, a sore throat and breathing problems.  This morning I woke at 4:58am needing an inhaler which reminded me of an incident a few years back.

Josephine and I went to dinner  with a couple who live a few doors down from us.   As we talked and ate, my hay fever started kicking in – in a way that I haven’t experienced in years.  My chest became so tight that I had trouble breathing and started coughing in a very distressed way.

As this was happening, I realized that the best thing for me to do was to not talk.  If I tried to talk then the process of pushing air up out of my mouth made me choke and then cough, so I sat there quietly as possible listening to the conversation.

Do you know how hard that was for me!

I was as quiet as possible for the last 30 minutes we sat at the table.   You know what the good news was?  I didn’t gossip, slander or sin with my mouth in any way during those 30 minutes.  My severe hay fever attack shut down my breathing and shut down my mouth.  It also shut down the damage I do with my tongue.

Proverbs 10:19 was confirmed in my mind:

When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.

The reality is that our words are important.  We are either affirming or destroying others.  We can build people up or tear them down.  Honestly, all of us, including myself, do a bit of both.  We encourage others over the dinner table but we also speak words which cut like daggers.

My prayer is that I could grow in grace to hold my tongue at the times when I can breath, not just when I’m suffering a hay fever attack.

May the Lord give us strong lungs, good words and the wisdom to hold our tongues.

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