Jesus, Justice and Bruised Reeds

God’s justice is characterized by His preference for mercy.

“Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets; a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory; and in his name the Gentiles will hope.” (Matthew 12:18-21 ESV)

These are the words of the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 42:1-4) that Jesus fulfilled according to the Gospel of Matthew. They are echoed in the baptism of Jesus when the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus in the form of a dove, and a voice from heaven spoke and said: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matt. 3:17)

Of particular note to me is the statement that Jesus came “to proclaim justice to the Gentiles”, and he will “bring justice to victory; and in his name the Gentiles will hope!” For the past two years, I have read through the Bible from start to finish focusing on the theme of justice (among other things).

The theme of justice is everywhere in scripture when you look for it! Justice is particularly embedded in the messianic prophecies and promises. The coming, the life, the death and the resurrection of Jesus is all about righteousness and justice.

I believe that modern Americans have a warped view of what justice means, biblically. We tend to view justice as retributive and punitive. Justice in a popular sense tends to mean people getting their just desserts, but that isn’t what we see in Scripture.

The prophets warned God’s people about two main things: idolatry and failing to do justice. Obeying God’s commands fit more or less into these two broad categories of worshiping God alone and doing right by people.

These are the two great categories of the ten commandments. Thus, the law is summed up this way: love God and love your neighbor.

When God executed judgment on His people in the OT in keeping with the warnings spoken by the prophets, He always did so in hope that His people would turn from their wicked ways. Judgement as a subset of justice was redemptive. It’s aim was to guide people back to right relationship with God and to each other.

Overarching God’s justice is His preference for mercy, because His ultimate desire is for relationship with us. He desires also that we would have healthy relationships with each other (love your neighbor) in the same way. A right relationship with God and with our other human beings (and the world we live in) is the essence of what it means to be righteous and just.

Continue reading “Jesus, Justice and Bruised Reeds”

Justice, Mercy, Sin, Forgiveness, Jonah and the Cross

“Correct me, O Lord, but in justice; not in your anger….

“Correct me, O Lord, but in justice; not in your anger, lest you bring me to nothing.” Jeremiah 10:24 ESV

This is my cry today. At some level it is the cry of everyone, or should be the cry of everyone, because we are sinners. We are saved only by God’s grace.

Sometimes, like today for me, we are keenly aware of our sinfulness. Some days we aren’t.

Though I gave myself to God as my Lord and Savior many years ago, I still find myself climbing onto that throne in my heart and taking back control. I may be mindful and submissive in the morning. By evening, I have taken back that position I promised to God in the morning.

Like a bird caught in a snare, I find myself entangled by the old, sinful threads of my life that tangle easily around my feet. I gave them to God once for all time. Only I find myself going back to them, like a moth to a flame. Then, I must turn to God… once again… and again… and cede control again.

I am 61 years old. I have been a believer for 40 years. I know better.

Shouldn’t I be further along in the process of personal holiness and sanctification? Why am I so weak to deal with these things that have plagued me since I was young?

How many times will I fail? How many times will I repent? How many times will I fall? How many times will God forgive me?

I ask myself. I ask God.

Continue reading “Justice, Mercy, Sin, Forgiveness, Jonah and the Cross”

Why Would God Harden Pharaoh’s Heart? And How Did He Do It?

We are not programmed to obey God so that we are able to love Him.

The Bible is a complex and rich tapestry, but we often fail to see the patterns, let alone the overarching pattern, of it. For me at one time, it was like looking at a tapestry from the wrong side – just a jumble of threads going seemingly everywhere and nowhere, without any discernible design.

At the same time, the Bible is not safe. I found it to be a harsh reflection of me when I read it for the first time. It was dangerous.

It commanded itself to me, but I didn’t always like what I saw or felt. Primarily, I didn’t like what reflected back at me about myself.

I will never forget the day in a world religion class as a college freshman that I read these words:

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

Hebrews 4:12 NIV

I wasn’t a believer then, but I could see it, and it made me feel uncomfortable. Even though the rich meaning of Scripture was veiled to me at the time it reflected back to me and probed my heart to expose the worst aspects of me.

I read in the words of David today in my reading from the Psalms:

“With the merciful you show yourself merciful; with the blameless man you show yourself blameless; with the purified you show yourself pure; and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous. For you save a humble people, but the haughty eyes you bring down.”

Psalm 18:25-27 ESV

God deals with each of us according to our own hearts. We see Him presently “as in a mirror dimly”, Paul says, “but then we shall see Him face to face!” (I Corinthians 13:12 ESV) We see God in this life through our own reflection, which may not always be clear.

We see in Scripture our own hearts mirrored back at us, and we see God as if He were standing over our shoulders looking on. How we respond to what we see and to determines how He reveals Himself to us.

As I read through Exodus in my daily reading, I read the passage in which God told Moses he would harden Pharaoh’s heart. Moses would do miraculous things in front of Pharaoh, but Pharaoh would not be moved by them. (Exodus 4:21)

This seems odd at first blush that God would do that. How can we blame Pharaoh for his hard heart if God hardened it? Why would God even do that?

Continue reading “Why Would God Harden Pharaoh’s Heart? And How Did He Do It?”

The Counter Culture of Gentleness in an Angry World


The Bible verse of the day today in the YouVersion app is from Proverbs 15:1:

“A soft [gentle] answer turns away wrath.[1]

I try to read Scripture every day. I have a reading plan (reading through the Bible chronologically this year), and I usually read the Scripture of the day. Every once in a while, the Scripture I am reading for the day comes up that day in another context.

Today is Sunday, and the sermon I listened to today by Jeff Frazier at Chapelstreet Church in Batavia, IL was about the misconception that we should not judge. I would post the message (because it’s a good one), but it isn’t on the Internet yet for viewing. The message was somewhat along the lines of an article I wrote, 8 Important Points About Judging and Judgment.

Keys points are that God didn’t tell us to judge; he told us to judge others with the same measure we judge ourselves; we need to take the logs out of our own eyes before we can take the specks out of our brothers’ eyes; we are not instructed to judge the world (God is their judge), but we are to judge those in the church; we need each other’s righteous judgment and gentle help in dealing with sin (speaking the truth in love to one another).

Jeff said something about removing specks from brothers’ eyes that I hadn’t thought about before. I note that we must be close to our brothers to remove specks from their eyes, and that requires close, intimate relationship. He added that we don’t go about removing objects in our loved ones’ eyes with a screwdriver and a pliers! We do it gently, carefully with a delicate touch.

The real take away for me in his message, and the reason that I write is not about relationships in the body of Christ among the brothers and sisters in the faith, but our relationship to the world with people who do not subscribe to the faith. This is where he used the statement in proverbs – a gentle answer turns away wrath – and it couldn’t be more relevant to the times.

Continue reading “The Counter Culture of Gentleness in an Angry World”

Give Me Neither Poverty nor Riches

Lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the Lord ?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God

“Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die: Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me….”



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Proverbs 30:7-9

I read this short passage in Proverbs in my early years as a follower of Christ. It might have been in college after I gave my life and my heart to the Lordship and salvation of Jesus Christ, or it might have been in the few years that followed. I remember praying these things to God earnestly, and I have remembered these words and my prayer ever since.

During my late 20’s and through my 30’s, I struggled through many difficult years with a young and growing family. I didn’t realize how much this prayer would mean for me. At the age of 28, married for 3 years and with 2 children, I was restless. We had no debt, but we lived hand to mouth. I felt God leading me (I believed) to law school, but I was also focused on what I needed to do to increase my income so that we were not one bad circumstance away from the poorhouse.

I believe God did lead me to go to law school, but I also let worry, and sometimes even fear,  creep in and sit at the threshold to my heart. Those three years of law school were very difficult. We had a third child at the end of my first year. The pressure of the work, of the necessity not to fail, of going into a hole financially, of an uncertain future and more was a very great burden. The pressures and the worry and fear overtook me.

I let those weeds grow up and choke the spiritual life in me. I didn’t maintain the discipline of regularly reading Scripture or daily prayer. My prayers were Hail Mary’s thrown up in the midst of the weariness and pressures of my life at that time. Even going to church was filled with tensions of herding three rambunctious boys into a car on Sunday mornings amid the whining, squabbling and desire simply to take a break. it became more of a duty that something I looked forward to.

Three more children, and new pressures and tensions as a new lawyer, struggling under the load of debt, and many, many activities threatened to snuff out the spiritual life in me. The worry, fear, busyness and lack of discipline on my part to take time out on a regular basis to sit before my God, listening for His voice, waiting on Him, being renewed by Him was a recipe for spiritual death.

In addition to praying the prayer of Proverbs 30:7-9, I prayed desperately to God before those days of tension, worry and fear not to let me slip ever from His hands. I didn’t pray that because I saw anything in my own heart that caused concern, but I had seen enough other people who seemed to have had it all spiritually together at one point walk (or slip) away into spiritual darkness.

It puzzled me then (in the joy of being a new Christian), and the inability to understand it at the time added to my concern that I might be no different than they. After all, everyone of us sins and falls short. There is nothing new under the sun. Though I had fully embraced Christ, and even left family and home and all that was familiar to me, to follow Him, Scripture gave me pause not to be so confident.

 As I look back, I see that I was right to pray those prayers. Not that I count any advantage to being right. Rather, I have learned that Scripture is full of wisdom to which we would well to pay attention. Above all, though, God is faithful! Continue reading “Give Me Neither Poverty nor Riches”