Psalm 81

My text for today is Psalm 94 ...

My secondary text for today is the Southwest Times Record ...
(July 11, 2004, edition)

In Psalm 94, the Psalmist refers to "evildoers." The term seems a bit dramatic. The President used the term after 9/11 and has received some criticism. Evildoers? That would seem to describe characters like Doctor Octopus or Darth Vader!

But all it takes is a daily recap of the headlines to remind us that there is evil in the world - and there certainly are evildoers in Sudan, the Middle East, Arkansas, and Fort Smith.

Like the Psalmist, we are disturbed by such evil because of the arrogant and foolish attitude of people who seem unconcerned with the ugliness of their deeds. We feel restless and angry when we see innocents - our loved ones, even - oppressed by such evil and no one seems to notice.

Christians, women and children, are being slaughtered and tortured by military in the Sudan and the government there is not held accountable by the U.N. or other nations. This goes one around the world, but even here within America we witness the impact of evil and the harm of innocents ...

Even in our own neighborhoods young men and women sucked into a life of conflict, drug abuse, and conflict settle arguments with gunfire. They boast about killing. They threaten the lives of everyone around them, and they seem proud about it. And they threaten our loved ones too.

Last week 18-year-old Amelio Romero was killed on the street in what seems to be related to a recent series of shootings. ( Sounds like just another story of violence - I tried to dismiss it as such, until I realized that it took place in Dick and Mary Broyles neighborhood. (
I know them. They are members of this church. I love them. And I am tired of those I love being threatened.

I think I know why people want revenge. I admit that I would support drastic action to fix the problems of our neighborhood. And I confess that in my own mind and heart I have ideas about how we can end the problem - but my ideas are really worthless. They simply involve bringing out a bigger club than your enemy wields, which leads to more violence and more oppression which creates even more arrogance.
I thank the Lord for his discipline and his instructions, for they cause me to realize that if I try to straighten out the mess I am part of the mess! I am not qualified to dispense justice because I am unjust myself. I meditate on the teaching of Jesus - the anger that I feel in my heart towards others - even the evildoers - is the seed to murder.

And even though we know we are unqualified to take matters into our own hands, we have to ask if there is something that can be done. We have to ask can we do anything at all.
Psalm 94 shows us that something can - and is - being done. And it points us in the direction we should go to do something:

When our anxious hearts pray, "How long, O LORD? How long will the wicked be allowed to gloat?" We might also raise the question the Psalmist raises, "Who will protect me from the wicked? Who will stand up for me against evildoers?"

The creator of eyes and ears sees and hears what is going on. It may seem to us that a response from God is slow in coming, (and we will address this in the weeks ahead as we hear the word of God for the last days in 2 Peter) - but even if final judgment seems delayed, God's help is ever-near. We have relief through troubled times even as a pit is being dug for the wicked.

Yesterday I was exploring rock cliffs and caves. When you come down the side of the mountain that falls off steeply, moving is a sort of series of intentional slipping and sliding. Your feet never really hold on to anything because everything beneath you (pebbles, dirt, leaves) slips. But you rest when you come to a flat surface - like a large rock.

God is our Rock - our place of refuge in the slippage of an evil world. When we are in danger of falling, we can cry out and the unfailing love of God supports us. When we are distressed and our hearts and minds grow restless, we are encouraged to know that God renews our hope and cheer. The Psalmist doesn't just look forward to this - he has experienced it.

Nothing gets by our heavenly Father. He takes care of us - and only he is qualified to deal with those who are foolish in their wickedness ...

Some weeks ago I experienced everything the Psalmist is saying just walking to our van in a parking lot. All of us were leaving the store and suddenly two high-powered, souped-up cars came roaring toward us. My first thought was for the safety of my family, so I commanded my children to get to the van quickly. My second thought was outrage at the arrogance of these reckless fools - and I confess I did a stupid thing - I yelled at them. I did not curse them. I just yelled at them to slow down. But they had already turned and were probably off to terrorize some other parking lot. My third thought was for my children and the example I set for them - Daddy is always saying, "Don't yell at each other." And of course the boys are stirred up at this point: "Who were those guys? Are you going after them? Are they coming back?" And my fourth thought was how the arrogance of evil and my inappropriate reaction had injected just a little anxiety into my sons' world. So I tried to restore hope and cheer, "It's alright, those are just some reckless fools who are driving dangerously. You just sit down and be good and let me handle anything that comes along." And my five-year-old son expressed the idea of the Psalmist quite well to his older brother. "Okay, let's be good and let Daddy fight the fools."

God will make the sins of evil people fall back upon them. He will destroy them for their sins. The LORD our God will destroy them.
Our Father in heaven will fight the fools. God will take care of this, not us. The Psalmist expresses a confidence that God will deal with the foolish, arrogant evildoers. Their own sins will fall back on them. This confidence is not only expressed at the end of the Psalm, but also in the beginning when he addresses the God of vengeance. It is an old teaching in Israel - vengeance is mine says the Lord (Deuteronomy 32:35). "Let me handle it," says God. (And remember that we are not qualified!) The old teaching is found also in the New Testament. ...

Romans 12:16-21 - Do not think that you are wiser than you really are. Do not pay anyone back evil for evil, but, focus your thoughts on what is right in the sight of all people. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live in peace with all people. Do not take revenge, dear friends, but leave room for God's wrath. For it is written, "Vengeance belongs to me. I will pay them back, declares the Lord." But "if your enemy is hungry, feed him. For if he is thirsty, give him a drink. If you do this, you will pile burning coals on his head." Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.

If our Father is going to handle the evildoers then the best thing we can do is be good! And this means more than staying out of trouble - it means conquering evil with good.

That's what Dick and Mary Broyles are doing in their neighborhood. Dick told me that the young man, Romero, knew he was in trouble and had been in hiding. When he came back to town, he told his mother the first thing he needed to do: "I need to see Mary - she will pray for me." And the Broyles will continue to pray for the young people and families in their neighborhood. They are not going to be conquered by evil, they are going to do good and let God deal with the evil once and for all.

Now that's the sort of fight I want to be part of. I am thinking about ways I can pray for my neighborhood - to do good and try to be a blessing in a cursed world. Why don't you pray about some ways you can be good. Perhaps we can do a lot together.

There's a lot of evil in the world - why can't there be just as much good?

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 11 July 2004

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