Justified Journal

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Category: Forgiveness

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses.”

Statue of Liberty National Monument, Ellis Isl...

Statue of Liberty National Monument, Ellis Island and Liberty Island, Manhattan, in New York County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This message of compassion toward immigrants to the United States can be found at the base of the Statue of Liberty in New York City.  It bears a striking resemblance to a statement Jesus made as recorded in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

Emma Lazarus wrote the poem “The New Colossus” and donated it for the building of the pedestal for the statue of Liberty.  Her family had been immigrants from Portugal and were Sephardic Jews.  The complete poem reads thus:

“The New Colossus”

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

-Emma Lazarus, 1883
As I continue working with immigrants from all over the world, I am moved by stories of escape from political persecution, poverty, lack of opportunity and religious persecution.  Many of my recent students are Christians who have left Syria to escape the violence that has killed many of their own.
When they arrive in the United States, they come to a land of peace.  They come to a land of hope and promise.  They come to a land of freedom and liberty.  That’s not to say the U.S. doesn’t have it’s issues, but it’s a far cry from the everyday stresses of survival that they have had to live with.  Most people are grateful to come here.
After Jesus spoke about the Judgment of the cities of Israel who rejected Him, He offered this,
28 “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Christian, is your soul burdened by the guilt, shame and hopelessness your pastor has heaped upon you?  Have the “biblical principles” told you that you need to be “squeaky clean” in order to come to God?  Do you fear that, despite all of your best efforts to hold to the demands of the the law, you are falling behind and cannot make up the ground?  Do you feel hopelessness, despair, and defeat?
Then, Christ welcomes you to come to Him.  He doesn’t ask that you clean yourself up, because that is His job.  He simply wants you to come.  It wasn’t ever-cleaning Martha who did the right thing by sitting at the feet of Jesus, but Mary who gave up on her own effort to please God and see that Jesus pleased God for her.
Jesus welcome you now by saying, “Come to me…”  He doesn’t say this to the perfectionistic, self-absorbed, self-righteous, self-cleaning and holier than thou church member.  He says this to those who see their failures, weaknesses and willful sinfulness.  He says this to those who despair of their own ability to keep the “application points” their pastor gives them every week.  Jesus says this to you and me.
And, He continues to say this.  “Come to me …. and I will give you rest”.  This rest is not just for the now.  It’s not just in this place, but He has gone before you to set up a place in Heaven for you to live with Him forever in eternal peace, rest and glory.
The welcome mat is laid out for us, and that welcome mat is the broken body of Jesus given for you.
Now and forever,
Amen

The cultural re-definition of sin

English: This is the top left photo of File:Wa...

English: This is the top left photo of File:Washington for Jesus 1980.jpg uploaded by User:SoftAnswer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was bound to happen.  In a culture that rejects God (and therefore, objective right and wrong), man has taken on the role of god.  Whether it is the anti-theist camp, environmental saviors, or “breast milk is the best milk” crowd, someone is out to judge your actions.  This proves that there are no true relativists when it comes to morality.

I have read and heard these judgements in various forms.  Health-obsessed people judging overweight Christians for having potlucks.  A man in a park judging me vocally for giving a duck a french fry.  In these cases, and others I have heard about, people have assumed godhood and the right to judge and condemn others based on whatever modern attitude prevails.

But before I get to far in the cultural analysis, it is important to note that judgmental attitudes can be found everywhere.  It is not simply a modern movement.  In fact, it might be fair to say that Christians in the U.S. have had their fair share to play in creating judgmental and condemning attitudes.

Judgment and condemnation of others has existed throughout human history.  The Pharisees condemned Jesus for eating with “sinners”.  Judaizers in the early church judged gentile believers, thus prompting Paul to defend the gentiles in the book of Galatians.  In the early church, rich Christians judged their poor brothers, prompting James to write the book named for him.

Ultimately, both Jews and gentiles judged condemned and executed God in the person of Jesus Christ.

There is a place for judgment.  In fact, both Galatians and James are written to utterly destroy the false judgments of Christians criticizing one another.  But, what is the point of the judgment of judges?  Both Paul and James were inspired by the Holy Spirit to write scathing condemnations of other believers.  The end goal was to bring these judgmental people back into the church with a more humble attitude and a recognition of their utter need of Christ for forgiveness.

John 7:

16Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me. 17Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. 18Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him. 19Has not Moses given you the law? Yet not one of you keeps the law. Why are you trying to kill me?”

20You are demon-possessed,” the crowd answered. “Who is trying to kill you?”

21Jesus said to them, “I did one miracle, and you are all amazed. 22Yet, because Moses gave you circumcision (though actually it did not come from Moses, but from the patriarchs), you circumcise a boy on the Sabbath. 23Now if a boy can be circumcised on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses may not be broken, why are you angry with me for healing a man’s whole body on the Sabbath? 24Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.” [emphases mine]

When confronted by religious people who judged and condemned Jesus, Jesus points out their sin.  The fundamentalists who condemned people over and over again without reflecting on the fact that judgment doesn’t bring about repentance are now the brunt of the anti-theist movement (for good reason).

Romans 2:

1You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. 2Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. 3So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? 4Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? [this was written to Christians]

And where do we see God’s kindness?  In God’s total judgment of human sin by pouring out all His wrath upon Jesus.  He has died for our judgmental attitudes.  In fact, He has died for all judgment.  He, Himself, is the mercy of God for Christians, anti-theists, environmental saviors and the “breast milk is the best milk” crowd.  Now and forever.  Amen.

Feeling lost?

Luke 19:

8But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

9Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”

Even … lost Christians

9th inning, two out, down three runs

SVG drawing of a baseball bat.

SVG drawing of a baseball bat. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s that time of year again.  Baseball is in full stride and my team is doing well.  The other day, though, they got beat pretty bad.  If you looked at the seats in the last hour of the game, they were emptying out.

Game over; mercifully.

The disciples had a more disappointing 9th inning, when Jesus went to His death via the crucifix.  Perhaps they hoped for some last-minute reprieve from Pontius Pilate.  Or, maybe they thought Jesus would put on His running shoes and take off for Egypt.  Instead, time ran out, Jesus died, and the game was over.

Funny thing about God, though.  He loves hopeless, utterly hopeless situations.  He wants to wait until hope is lost, faith is a mere cooling ember, and everyone has left the stadium.

It’s actually the best time to go back and see what will happen.

You see, while everyone was talking about “how good Jesus was” and how disappointed they felt, and they were beginning to mourn, God was resurrecting Jesus.  The lights were out (in the tomb) the door (stone) was closed, and everyone was back home.

But the light of the world was about to show them the Glory of God.

He didn’t listen to the game being called at the end of the 9th.  Instead, God made a tenth inning.  An eternal tenth.  A tenth inning in which He began the victory over not just the world, but the flesh and the Devil as well.

With just one small piece of wood, Jesus hit the home run of all home runs, bringing all the stranded base runners out of condemnation to the home plate of eternal grace and salvation.  He crushed our enemies like a deep ball to left field.

And people are still running home on that hit.

May God give us the strength and courage to proclaim the greatest victory in the history of humanity to all people, Amen.

 

Going to bat for a friend

Mark 2:
1And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them. 3And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. 4And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. 5And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 6Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7“Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 8And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? 9Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? 10But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— 11“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” 12And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”

Some people have a lot of friends, and some have only a few.  The question is, how many are willing to do anything for you?  The men in the story above ripped through a roof to get their friend healed by Jesus.  What an effort!

First, they had to carry him over to the house Jesus was at.  Then they had to get him on the roof.  Next, they had to tear open a hole big enough to let this man through (I guess they never learned about respecting their neighbors’ property 😉 ).  Then, they lowered him down on ropes in front of Jesus.
Their actions were a demonstration that they believed Jesus had the ability to heal their friend.

There are times in our lives when we have lost hope, confidence, or feel depressed.  The best friends are the one who are able to re-orient your mind by saying something to you that addresses your need perfectly.
Maybe, they surprise you with a thought that you hadn’t considered before.  It turns your perception of reality upside down.  You cannot help but smile to think of it.  Your load has been lightened, no, it has been taken away.

These men probably tried everything to get their friend healed.  They probably talked with him and encouraged him.

But, the words he and his friends really wanted to hear were, “You are healed”.
Instead, Jesus interrupts their thinking pattern.  He addresses a totally different issue.  He tells this paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven”.  In one phrase, Jesus declares Himself to be God, declares the man to be a son of the kingdom of God, and declares this man is forgiven and will be in heaven on the last day.
That wasn’t what anyone expected.  Some were offended.  Some were amazed.  God’s forgiveness is the greatest healing.  It is the healing of the soul.  It is resurrection from the dead.  It is the guarantee of eternal life with Him.

But, Jesus didn’t stop there.  The minor issue was this man’s healing.  And Jesus does this by command for action.  The man walks away, healed. Twice.

We need continual forgiveness for sin.  One of the sweetest things we can hear is the pastor declaring, “I, as a called and ordained servant of Christ, forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit …”

How can Jesus forgive sins?  How is this possible?

Jesus did more than go to bat for us.  Jesus went to another piece of wood and was crucified on it for us.  Jesus gave His own life to declare to you now, “Son, Daughter, your sins are forgiven”

In His name, Amen.

Jesus is the Gospel

The gospel is not:  a decision to receive, believe, retrieve your own personal Jesus.

The gospel is not: making Him Lord, re-dedicating your life, saying a “sinner’s prayer”

In fact, the Gospel is completely outside of your (or my) activity.

The Gospel is ALL God’s activity through Jesus Christ.

What is ‘Gospel’?  It means ‘Good News’.

It is Jesus dying on the cross for your sin and my sin, and being raised in resurrection, so we can have the gift of resurrection in Him.

What’s the bad news?

First, the world is fallen and it can’t get up

Second, the devil is a fallen angel, not an archaic, pre-logical myth

Third, we have fallen into our coffin, and are bound to a horrible eternal end unless there’s an intervention

In other words, the situation is hopeless.

God loves hopeless situations.

God loves hopeless sinners.

Because Jesus was given as a sacrifice for sin.  He came to seek and save that which was lost.  Jesus came for sinners (including me).

And, He continues to be the good news for us.

When we confess our sin (not a feeling), He is faithful and just to forgive us based on His bloody death.

When we have doubt (by the way, doubt means you have faith to begin with), He remains faithful as a priest before the Father in Heaven.

When we are hungry for good news, we can find it in the promise that God has sent a deliverer in Jesus.  He hasn’t come for “good people”, but for those who have no hope in themselves.

He is hope fulfilled.  Both now and forever.  Amen.

Longing for righteousness

A man goes to see a psychiatrist.  He tells the psychiatrist his problem; “Dr., sometimes I think I am a wigwam, but sometimes I think I am a teepee.”  The psychiatrist smiles and says to the man, “Relax, you’re two tents!”

Sometimes, I feel like this poor patient.  I’ll  admit it’s hard for me to harmonize the fact that I have been made completely and totally righteous by the work of Christ, yet I am not righteous in my every day life.  That is, I try to be a good husband, father, son, citizen, worker and friend, but I find myself falling far short of this.

I want to have more patience and understanding with my family.  I want to honor and respect them properly.  I want to be like Christ.  But, I’m not.

This is not to say that I don’t try.  I think I do an o.k. job of filling these various roles.    And, sometimes, being called righteous by God through Jesus creates a greater sense that I am not righteous.

But, I long to be righteous; truly.

It is the tension of being simultaneously justified and yet a sinner.  Psychology is not enough to fix this kind of broken.  I need a crucifixion and a re-birth.  I want it.  I want Christ to claim me as His project and make me like Him.  Not for self-glory, but that others might be given free grace, mercy and love that their lives would be touched by Jesus through my hands and my words.

I want my daughters to look back on their lives when they are older and bless God for their dad.

Paul writes about righteousness in Romans 10, referring to Deuteronomy 30:

5For Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on law shall live by that righteousness. 6But the righteousness based on faith speaks as follows: “DO NOT SAY IN YOUR HEART, ‘WHO WILL ASCEND INTO HEAVEN?’ (that is, to bring Christ down), 7or ‘WHO WILL DESCEND INTO THE ABYSS?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).” 8But what does it say? “THE WORD IS NEAR YOU, IN YOUR MOUTH AND IN YOUR HEART”—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, 9that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; 10for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. 11For the Scripture says, “WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.”

The above seems like an “if-then” statement.  And, it is.  However, what’s important here is to note that belief is the result of hearing the proclamation of the word.  That “word” is Jesus Christ (see John chapter 1) and Him crucified.

It is also hearing the words of institution as the communion bread and wine is consecrated.  It is hearing the “snap” of the wafer to remember that Christ’s body was broken for all of your and my sin.  It is the hearing of  “the blood of Jesus poured out for the remission of all  of your sins”.  It is hearing the water poured over the infant’s head as the pastor says, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit”.

Righteousness, true righteousness is not produced out of following dictates like do not handle, do not touch, do not taste.  Instead, God tells us that we are truly righteous because of Jesus Christ’s righteous living and righteous dying for us.

And, as Paul writes, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil 1:6).

Please Lord, be faithful to this promise to make us righteous through word and sacrament to the glory of your name, Amen.

 

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