Simple errands can sometimes be aggravating if we let them. Maybe you’ve had an experience like this: while driving through my community recently, I ended up behind a minivan that was driving well below the speed limit (or at least well below how fast I wanted to go) and seemed unsure of where they were going. I ended up closer to their rear bumper than I should have been and thought that when I got home, I’d complain about drivers in the neighborhood to whoever would listen. When the van finally turned right, apparently figuring out where they were going, I also remember thinking that the family in the van might end up talking about the annoying car that tailed them, having no concern that maybe they didn’t live there and had to drive slowly while they figured it out. This is a lot of aggravation for what should be a non-event, but at the time…
Somehow at that moment, Romans 12:18 popped into my head, which says: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” My first response was something like “God, what’s that got to do with this?” But as I regained speed toward whatever errand I was in such a hurry to finish, I thought “God, which part of this problem depends on me?” Hmm. The tailgating was definitely unnecessary, and gosh, I might have really wanted to let the van know to get out of the way, but politely, without resorting to honking the horn. Also, the idea of complaining about bad drivers when I got home depended on me…but what if the other family got frustrated about being tailed? Is that my fault? Well, if I had slowed down and been patient, that wouldn’t be a problem either.
When I got home, I didn’t share the story of the cautiously-driving minivan with anyone. I hope the people in the van didn’t vent on Facebook about the rude tailgater. Since then, I’ve been slightly better at being patient with slow drivers, because more depends on me than I often want to think. Sometimes I’m too focused on what others are doing wrong.
“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”
Yesterday I re-posted a story of King Jehoiakim’s attempts to destroy the prophet Jeremiah’s words with fire, as recorded in Jeremiah 36:20-25 (which survived). I decided to share it again based on two events: 1) a comment I saw on Facebook yesterday lamenting that owning a Bible could be made illegal, and 2) Facebook’s reminder to me in “Memories” that two years ago to the day I had posted this:
“To any religious person who is dismayed at “their side” being shut down by social media: Name one of Gods accomplishments that required Twitter or Facebook. The Holy Spirit is the original (and best) social network. Listen to Him. Post to Him. Wait for Him. The Answer lies there. He remains online for eternity and He has a plan.”
Resistance to spreading God’s word is as old as time. Consider the Old Testament story of Elijah, who prophesied during the reign of Israel’s evil king Ahab and his wife Jezebel. According to Who’s Who in the Bible, “Jezebel devoted herself to bringing the worship of Baal and his consort Asherah to Israel. She employed 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophetesses of Asherah (1 Kings 18:19), and persecuted the prophets of the Lord, including Elijah (1 Kings 19:1-9).” Many prophets were killed.
Elijah despaired, as written in 1 Kings 19:10 – “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.”
Apostles also struggled to stay strong, including Paul. When he was frustrated at resistance and lack of progress in Corinth, “the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.”
When Paul needed an example to encourage others to persist, he used Elijah’s story in Romans 11:2 – “God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? ‘Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.’ But what is God’s reply to him? ‘I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.’”
Therefore, our hope is not in social networks where we can share God’s message, or in the benevolence of the programmers of algorithms that choose who sees what we post, or in the regulators and legislators who monitor the public square, or in the founding political documents that give us rights. But:
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” – Isaiah 55:10-11
Social networks, algorithms, regulators and government are not our enemy, but our enemy is the one who tries to convince us we need these things more than we need the God who made them and who made us all. His word will accomplish its purpose, and we have Elijah’s and Paul’s words and actions as evidence.
God’s word withstands the fire. Always.
 Gardner, Paul D., editor. The Complete Who’s Who in the Bible. (1995)  Acts 18:9-10
The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah faced immense opposition, and in Jeremiah 36:20-25 is recorded an interesting story of King Jehoiakim’s attempts to destroy the prophet’s words, and by extension, God’s words. The king was unable to get his hands on Jeremiah, whose allies helped him to hide, so the king takes a different approach:
“So they went into the court to the king, having put the scroll in the chamber of Elishama the secretary, and they reported all the words to the king. Then the king sent Jehudi to get the scroll, and he took it from the chamber of Elishama the secretary. And Jehudi read it to the king and all the officials who stood beside the king. It was the ninth month, and the king was sitting in the winter house, and there was a fire burning in the fire pot before him. As Jehudi read three or four columns, the king would cut them off with a knife and throw them into the fire in the fire pot, until the entire scroll was consumed in the fire that was in the fire pot. Yet neither the king nor any of his servants who heard all these words was afraid, nor did they tear their garments. Even when Elnathan and Delaiah and Gemariah urged the king not to burn the scroll, he would not listen to them.”
This wasn’t an impulsive, knee-jerk reaction to God’s word, but a deliberate, sustained act of rebellion. This took time, and there’s almost a ceremony to it, as if daring God to stop him. Many Christians today would be outraged if they witnessed something like this. People in positions of authority disrespect God regularly, but imagine if the head of your country burned the Bible publicly on TV, and nobody stopped them, or even objected? Sure, in modern times, people might object on their blog, on social media, or even on smaller TV and radio outlets, but in Jehoiakim’s example, nobody was able to challenge him. He “got away with it.”
This brings up the question of: why does God allow things like this to happen? I’ll suggest a question in response: Would it be a stronger testimony of God’s sovereignty if He had struck King Jehoiakim dead on the spot, or is it a stronger testimony that Jeremiah’s words still exist today all around the world? If the second option is better, the next question is why do we sometimes feel such outrage and lash out (perhaps on our own blog or Facebook page) at such acts? Do we trust God to deal with it, or do we worry that Jehoiakim is right – maybe God doesn’t care?
Part of the scroll Jehoiakim burned may have included these words of Jeremiah about the king himself: “With the burial of a donkey he shall be buried, dragged and dumped beyond the gates of Jerusalem.” And “He shall have none to sit on the throne of David, and his dead body shall be cast out to the heat by day and the frost by night.” Therefore God knew both that justice would be done to Jehoiakim, and also that his burning of the scroll had only symbolic and temporary effect. In contrast, God’s justice and God’s word are eternally immutable and effective. As Isaiah said: “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.”
There’s also another question for us: if God had chosen in His sovereignty to redeem Jehoiakim, would we be angry like Jonah at the repentance of Nineveh, or would we praise God for His profound and measureless grace? The same grace that brought Jeremiah’s words back from the futile fire pot of King Jehoiakim. The grace that was purchased by Christ on the cross.
This word of God will stand as well: “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” – Romans 12:19-21
November 13 is World Kindness Day, which was established in 1998 by the World Kindness Movement. The idea and importance of kindness is of course, much older, as well as the struggle to find real kindness.
The very first book of the Bible, Genesis, has an interesting tale of kindness in the story of Joseph, son of Jacob. His is a long and complicated story, but in Genesis chapter 40 we find him jailed on false charges. In prison with him were two men – a baker and cupbearer – who had also been imprisoned by Pharaoh. Joseph had been wronged by an unjust ruler, and the other two “committed an offense.” All three probably felt resentment toward their government because of what might have been arbitrary treatment.
I think underappreciated verses in the story are Genesis 40:6-7, which read: “When Joseph came to [the baker and cupbearer] in the morning, he saw that they were troubled. So he asked Pharaoh’s officers who were with him in custody in his master’s house, ‘Why are your faces downcast today?’” (emphasis mine)
Note the word “today”. These were men in prison. You’d expect that “downcast” is their default mode, their everyday mood, but Joseph noticed something different about this day. Either Joseph: 1) made the prison a place where people aren’t downcast all the time, and/or 2) noticed and cared about when people are more downcast than usual. He wanted to help the situation right in front of him, even though he had his own share of problems. I thought about this when watching the movie Shawshank Redemption recently and how Andy Dufresne sought to give others hope, especially in the scene involving the record player.
From this act of kindness, stemming from attention to the world around him and being in tune with God’s character of compassion, Joseph learned about the dreams of these other prisoners, which opened the door to his freedom, and later many other blessings.
Joseph was not seeking escape or success or revenge and was therefore focused on the needs of others. Even before his time in prison, Joseph had suffered many wrongs, but he was able to still look outward and keep his eyes open for opportunity to express God’s love to those who need it. God did not owe him any blessing, but Joseph surely was blessed, and later all of Israel shared in it.
In Joseph, we have an example of God’s love in action. Today, many are stressed and downcast and need Jesus, the great comforter. Be kind, not because it’s World Kindness Day, but because “Love is patient and kind” (1 Cor 13:4a). Seek to bless others and you may find escape for your own downcast spirit.
As someone who collected comics years ago, I love the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. The decades of characters and stories created in the comics combine with modern special effects to create the ultimate “popcorn” events. Thor: Ragnarok, released in 2017, was one I really looked forward to since I had read the original Ragnarok story line that culminated in The Mighty Thor issue #353 in March 1985.
(Caution: Mild movie spoilers follow!!!) The movie’s conclusion is significantly different than the comic version, with a twist that the heroes decide victory lies in not fighting the “Big Bad” of Surtur, a massive fire demon. However, after realizing this, they must convince the Hulk to follow the plan, resulting in one of the funniest exchanges in any of the MCU movies:
Thor: Hulk, no! Just for once in your life, don’t smash! Hulk (in sullen voice): But big monster!
You can watch the 1 1/2 minute scene here:
Hulk logic is simple. Big monster is here. Hulk must smash big monster. That’s the plan.
In Part 1, Jesus was pictured in Psalm 2:4 as being enthroned in heaven, laughing in derision at the rulers of the world who sought to break free from His “bonds” and “cords”. This description of Jesus is a reassuring reminder to us that no worldly kingdom is a threat to Him, and we can trust in His protection. The post ended with a question of whether we also laugh as Jesus does? Do we hold our (and His) enemies in derision?
Peter Smash! Here we began with a Marvel movie scene, because in a way, Thor convincing Hulk that fighting fire with fire wasn’t the answer is like Jesus’ rebuking of Peter for fighting back against the mob that arrested Jesus, and soon delivered Him to be crucified. In John 18:1-11, Judas leads a “band of soldiers and some officers” to arrest Jesus, and Peter (possibly thinking “Big Monster!”) drew his sword and cut off the right ear of one of the high priest’s servants, named Malchus. Jesus says “Peter, no! For once in your life, don’t smash”, or as more accurately rendered in the ESV: “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”
Matthew’s account (26:52-54) adds: “Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?’”
Jesus knows that He can beat any “Big Bad” the world has to offer at any time with an “appeal to my Father”. In Psalm 2:5-9, right after He laughs, the Psalmist writes:
“Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, ‘As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.’ I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
But rescuing His people must come first, and until then final judgment is delayed. Jesus knew when Psalm 2 was written that He would eventually judge all the nations, but He also knew what sort of death He would die to accomplish salvation for His people. Jesus does not laugh because His enemies can be taken lightly – He is fully aware of the evil of the world. His enemies cause real pain and suffering on earth, and He takes each offense personally. But if He decided to spend all of history laughing in heaven, we would all be without hope. Fortunately, He lived among us, and suffered terribly as a servant, knowing “that he had come from God and was going back to God”
At the time of Judas’ betrayal, Jesus had told His disciples multiple times, citing Old Testament prophecy, that His plan required being rejected, suffering, and dying, then rising again, but when the mob came for Jesus, Peter didn’t make the connection. He did not understand the plan, but later he would. We are not alone when we don’t understand God’s will for us. The twelve disciples were constantly out of step with Jesus. When asked to do something against our natural impulse we sometimes drop our shoulders, and our voice becomes sullen like Hulk’s.
But we have hope. Years later, Peter would write about his progress from his early impulsive days in 1 Peter 1:13-15:
“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct.”
The “passions of Peter’s former ignorance”, may include the time Peter cried “big monster!” and cut off someone’s ear. None of us are immune from the same Hulk logic when threatened. But it might also be said that Jesus looked at Peter in derision when he did this. But for the grace of God, there go I.
Peter writes of the implications of understanding Christ’s mission on the cross, that Christ’s followers are part of the plan, as active participants in the mission. He calls the church to be holy, set apart for God’s purposes, to pursue the mission of the church, most succinctly spelled out at the end of Matthew’s gospel: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (28:19-20). In this kingdom, the two most important commandments are: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind”, and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
To answer to the question at the end of Part 1, the prescriptive truth that is like Proverbs 14:21 is love. Love defines how subjects in the kingdom of the One who laughs should behave. A love more thoroughly defined in 1 Corinthians 13 as patient and kind, and not envious, boastful, arrogant or rude. Or, as Peter wrote in 1 Peter 2:1: “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.” Paul adds in Rom 12:14 – “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.”
Jesus laughing in heaven is only a comfort to us if He is our King, and if He is our King, we seek to follow the laws of His kingdom. The laughter of Jesus is not a model for us, but is a source of comfort and strength if we are His. In contrast, the nations, kings and rulers of this world refuse the “bonds” and “cords” of the Lord, which are these laws of love. They make up their own system of “righteousness” by laws, and therefore “the Lord holds them in derision.” Their earthly rules and systems cannot measure up to His righteousness and are at best narratives and at worst tyrannies.
Love When Bad Things Happen Jesus’ laughing is precisely what enables us not to hold people in derision, and to not mock and laugh at them. It is a key to achieving the “Us for Them” ethic described in an earlier post. Jesus laughing tells us that there is no monster scary enough to make His plan to love the wrong answer. Whatever your circumstance, “Love God”, “Love your neighbor” and “Love your enemies” apply to it.
To illustrate this, consider Jesus’ prophetic speech in Mark 13:5-23 from the framework of descriptive vs. prescriptive truth. I paraphrase and categorize some of the points below:
Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’
See that no one leads you astray
You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, and nation will rise against nation
Do not be alarmed
Earthquakes and famines in various locations
Be on your guard
You will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake
Bear witness before them and do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say
Brother will deliver brother over to death and you will be hated by all
False christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders
Be on guard
To Jesus, none of the things in the descriptive column are new information. All were included in the plan. The actions He recommends are not new information either. The “Prescriptive” column means keep doing what you were doing before these bad things happened – Love God, love your neighbor. Even if your neighbor is “bad”.
False christs and prophets will cry “But big monster!” and offer to save us. But the true Christ calmly says “be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand”. (Mark 13:23). The false prophet takes the descriptive of evil in the world and creates their own false prescriptive. They recommend an incomplete and inaccurate narrative as an ultimate solution. Their own Babel which God must “come down” from heaven to even see (Genesis 11:5). The true Christ comes down from heaven and demonstrates how to create a true ladder all the way back to heaven, offering forgiveness to all, even those who refuse to accept it or practice love. He will be thoroughly and eternally glorified by manifesting His kingdom as the only eternal kingdom, ruled by love.
God doesn’t turn our Muerte into Morty by having us laugh at him and beat him up with a stroller (although that might be fun). He doesn’t tell us to Smash! Every time we try to follow the plans of the world to fight the battles of God’s kingdom, we are testifying that the world’s kingdoms are greater than His. Our rage will be futile and our plotting will be in vain.
Witness to the Cross Note that the presence of false prophets, national rivalry, and natural disaster provide an opportune backdrop for proclaiming the superior kingdom of God in Christ, where none of these things will occur! We testify to the imagined utopias of the world – which are all at best narratives and at worst tyrannies – that the real utopia is one where people love so much that they are willing to die for specific others, not one where the “Pax Romana” is illusory and pointing that out is a crime. Jesus even died for the tax collector Zacchaeus, described by his Jewish peers as a traitor and cheat, a representative of a secular enemy power. Everyone He died for was once His enemy, and His sacrifice enables a paradigm shift from “Us vs Them” to “Us for Them”.
In our ability to do this, we all lie somewhere between the impulsive Hulk, the Peter of Matthew 26, the Peter of his New Testament letters, and Jesus’ obedience on the cross. We each are a narrative of our own “intricate matrix of beliefs, at different levels of truth and of conviction on every possible topic.” We all cry “But big monster!” at different things, at different times, and for different reasons, but Jesus guarantees our destination is holiness when we follow Him. Jesus cares about His people more than he cares about all the kingdoms of the world, and “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 5:10.
But His blessing is not granted under all types of persecution. Persecution is not evidence of righteousness, but a result of it. Christians are not blessed when persecuted for unrighteousness, which sadly they often are. They are blessed when persecution comes from testifying to, and striving to live, a righteousness that is unachievable by any earthly kingdom. Jesus did this on the cross, and we do it by bearing the cross He assigns us. When we do this, His kingdom comes, because his will is being done on earth as it is in heaven. Logically, earthly kingdoms do not like this.
Therefore, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” (1 Peter 4:12-14)
Don’t accept the cross anyone other than Christ assigns to you – it may crush you. The specific work God assigns for you is enough and comes with His power. Our cross will not kill our soul; it will enable us to truly live.
For the last enemy to be defeated is Muerte. Which means death.
Next post: a “minor’ prophet finds peace
Post Script To close out the discussion of Psalm 2, the last verses (10-12) describe the Psalmist pleading with the kings and rulers:
“Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.”
Finally, as Paul urges us in 1 Timothy 2:1-2, we should pray for our rulers to God, who is sovereign over the nations: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”
 See John 13:3, and a previous post about this idea.  Mark 8:31, Luke 9:22 and elsewhere  As in Matthew 16:23, where Jesus refers to Peter as Satan for saying suffering was not necessary for our Lord.  From Matthew 22:37 and 39 “Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner, but blessed is he who is generous to the poor”  1 Corinthians 13:4-5  Adapted from Matthew 6:10  1 Corinthians 15:26