It’s not fair!

But God promises justice and fairness

2 Peter 1:1, 4-5; 3:9-10 I [Peter] am writing to you who share the same precious faith we have. This faith was given to you because of the justice and fairness of Jesus Christ, our God and Savior. … He has given us great and precious promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires. … The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. … But the day of the Lord will come.

“It’s not fair!”

Six-year-old Karis banged the front door and stomped into the kitchen. “It’s not fair that the English language is so hard to spell! It’s okay for me because I already know how to read. But it’s ridiculously hard for the kids who are just learning. Who decided the f sound should be written with a gh?!”

Sent to me by Karis when she was in college.

Ten-year-old Karis wept into her pillow. “It’s not fair that so much money is being spent on me, just to keep me alive! What about the children who starve not because they can’t eat, like me, but because they don’t have food? Can’t we ask the insurance company to buy food for them instead of paying my hospital bill?”

Twelve-year-old Karis, once she was stabilized from her immediate crisis, greeted me from her hospital bed with tears running down her cheeks. “It’s not fair that you canceled our family vacation! Take the other kids and go! I’ll be fine here. I can’t bear causing them disappointment AGAIN!”

Sixteen-year-old Karis, after passing out at school from dehydration, glared at me defiantly. “I refuse to return to Hospital Einstein. It’s not fair to pay for a five-star hospital when my Brazilian friends have to go to Hospital Grajaú! Take me to Hospital Grajaú!” (This story is in Karis: All I See Is Grace.)

It’s not fair … true. The world is not fair. We have a zillion blessings others don’t have. But our Lord Jesus will return and set everything right. It’s a promise as dependable as God’s immutable integrity. It’s the solid hope we have as we mourn the corruption around us. (Whoa, Peter—are you sure you didn’t visit 2022 when you wrote chapter two?)

As I read Peter’s brief second letter, I keep remembering that these are his last recorded words. I sense his urgency, after years and years of walking with Jesus, to communicate with us, warn us, encourage us, remind us what really matters. Jesus could come back any moment! How do you want to be found when he does?

We are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth he has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness. So, dear friends, while you are waiting for these things to happen, make every effort to be found living peaceful lives that are pure and blameless in his sight (2 Peter 3:13-14).

Don’t you long to see the blooms and fruit?

But God’s righteousness will be like a garden in early spring 

Isaiah 61:11 The Sovereign Lord will show his justice to the nations of the world. Everyone will praise him! His righteousness will be like a garden in early spring, with plants springing up everywhere.

Crocuses by our front steps last spring

It’s a gorgeous sunny day in Pittsburgh, so I’m not surprised to read that Punxsutawney Phil has seen his shadow and predicts six more weeks of winter. In fact, along with a wide swath of middle and northeast America, a winter storm warning flashes on my screen for tomorrow and Friday, while United warns me our flight to Houston Friday may be cancelled. What a wise groundhog! Haha. To be fair, Phil has only been right 40% of the time since he began making weather predictions in 1887. (Yes—according to Groundhog Day lore, this very same huge groundhog has been alive and prophesying since the 19th century!)

Though spring may (or may not) take a little longer to show itself this year, we know it will come. Once again, we’ll be able to walk out the doors of our homes without the fuss of snow boots, hats and scarves, heavy coats and thick gloves. Our cars will no longer slide on the ice. We’ll no longer fight the temptation to huddle up at home instead of going out to exercise when the temperatures are in the teens. We’ll no longer lament the beautiful snow turning dirty and icky from traffic and snowplows.

Instead, multi-hued crocuses, snowdrops and hyacinths will pop their heads through the snow and perfume the warming air. We know this will happen in our city.

So, reading much-loved Isaiah 61 this morning, I was struck by the verse quoted above, and the word “will” repeated three times: The Lord will show his justice to the world. Everyone will praise him. His righteousness will be like a garden in early spring.

The plants springing up everywhere will come from seeds and bulbs planted before the winter, I muse. They will be stronger, their blooms brighter, because winter gave their roots time to grow deep. Suddenly I don’t mind the idea of six more weeks of winter. I want my perennials to have time to grow stronger before they pour their resources into blooms and fruit.

And then I wonder what God may be growing inside me through the “winter” of Covid. No, I don’t want it to last one second longer! But, as long as it’s with us, I’m asking the Lord to grow my emotional and spiritual roots deep. To surprise me with “plants springing up everywhere” when we’re through and out the other side of this long trial, and all the others the world faces now.

What good seeds have been planted in your life—their blooms and fruit not yet visible? Can you picture their roots growing strong in this season of “winter” around the world, no matter the external and internal weather where you live? Don’t you long to see the Lord’s justice and righteousness?

What is my part?

God of justice, fill us up, send us out.

But God’s grace builds us up

Acts 20:28-32 [Paul saying goodbye to the Ephesian elders] So guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock—his church, purchased with his own blood—over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as elders. … Even some men from your own group will rise up and distort the truth in order to draw a following. Watch out! … And now I entrust you to God and the message of his grace that is able to build you up and give you an inheritance with all those he has set apart for himself.

At the end of his teary farewell to beloved friends, Paul returns to the topic of grace—my favorite subject, my deepest longing.

Grace builds up. I want to tell you my experience at the writer’s conference listening to two different keynote addresses.

The first, to open the conference, earnestly described how terrible America is today, and who he thinks is at fault for the mess we’re in, with political references that made me think of Romans 13:7 (“Give respect and honor to those who are in authority”) only by contrast. What have I gotten myself into? I wondered.

So, I felt anxious when I saw the topic of the closing-day keynote was “Our Voice in a Hostile Culture.” If it’s more of the same, I can’t listen to it, I thought. I don’t want to leave this conference feeling upset and disappointed with the event leaders who have been so kind to me.

As I listened, though, I found myself in tears. The speaker called us to Kingdom values. We are citizens of Heaven first, and we serve a King whose nature is love, and justice, and righteousness, and mercy. We are to represent him. Our voice is to be characterized by grace:

“In all things, become love—so that if anyone thinks of love, they think of you. In all things, all the time, become love. Patiently listen. Hear what people have to say. Treat them with respect. Look for what you have in common, the ways you can connect. Have an attitude of grace. Practice grace. Pray into it. Offer vision and hope. Be compassionate. Our lives are to be a lovely fragrance attracting people to the King whose grace we ourselves have experienced …”

In the flood of comments in the chat (we were on Zoom), one person wrote, “This talk has been worth the whole price of the conference.” I agree. Of all the thousands of words I listened to over three intense days, these are the words that most impacted and encouraged me. The words that will continue to challenge me.

Lord, teach me grace. Remind me constantly of your grace in my life. Please show me today how to build up those whose lives touch mine.

Shutterstock: sun ok

But God struck him down

Acts 12:18-24 [After killing James, imprisoning Peter, and killing the guards after an angel freed Peter] Now Herod was very angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon … He put on his royal robes, sat on his throne, and made a speech to them. The people gave him a great ovation, shouting, “It’s the voice of a god, not of a man!” Instantly, an angel of the Lord struck Herod with a sickness, because he accepted the people’s worship instead of giving the glory to God. … So he died. Meanwhile, the word of God continued to spread, and there were many new believers.

I’ve laughed at Rhoda and the believers who prayed for Peter to be released from jail and then said “It’s impossible” when God did what they asked. But the context for that amusing scene is anything but funny. Their local Judean king was willing to do anything, even kill people, to feed his own ego. This is the same Herod who killed John the Baptist to entertain a drunken crowd.

Thinking of how much God dislikes arrogance, abuse and tyranny, I wonder how he views situations like Venezuela, where the suffering goes on and on. Our friends there constantly challenge us with their belief that God is working through their suffering. They speak more about being found faithful as they reach out in love to those around them than about ending the pain. I am humbled by their faith and service and perspective.

It’s clear from this story that God sees what’s going on in our world. That’s as true today as it was two thousand years ago. But he doesn’t act according to our limited wisdom. He sees everything, without bias or favoritism. Once again today, I’m invited to trust him.

Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe. For our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:28-29). George MacDonald, the man who most inspired C.S. Lewis, said in response to verse 29, this consuming fire is essential love, burning out of us all idolatry so we can see and love him in truth. “Love loves unto purity … He doesn’t put on a mask. He puts on a face.”

Lord, burn out of me all that loves comfort and safety more than you. I want to see your face.