Justified Journal

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Category: Good news

“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
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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.

The Law self-improvement program

scaled

scaled (Photo credit: wader)

People are using the opportunity of the new year to start a new program.  It might be to lose weight, learn more, become more positive, or even get a better job.  Television is inundated with infomercials for exercise, diet and other programs all aimed at helping you “reach your goals”.

Within the Christian community, many people are already feeling a little overwhelmed with their goal to read the Bible in a year.  It’s a resolution that requires much discipline, effort and time.

Other Christians are thinking more about their “sanctification”.  They are re-doubling their effort to overcome “sins of the flesh”, and other moral failings.  In some cases, this means that they are turning to the objective words of Scripture, especially, the Law.The law I am referring to is not merely those set forth in the Old Testament, but even and especially those commands found in the New.  Many modern evangelicals are directed there by their pastors to find a “Jacob’s Ladder” of rules which will help them in their efforts towards religious self-improvement.

Inevitably, like other resolutions, the one to “work out your sanctification” becomes burdensome.  But the burden is not external failure, it’s internal judgment.  The Law cuts through joints and marrow as mentioned in Hebrews 4:12:

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

A steady diet of rules to follow will lead to starvation of the soul.  In fact, it will lead to bitterness, resentment and hatred toward God.  It is much like the judgment Martin Luther experienced at the hands of Medieval Roman Catholic rules for living the Christian life.

What Luther found (as other Christians have also found who have read his works) was that their is no “self-improving” through Law.  There is only death to be found there.  And the God who has given these laws and commandments has also resolved to fulfill them.  He did this only one time.  He did this by sending His own Son to fulfill them.  It was a resolution that was kept, fulfilled and finished by Jesus alone.  Any other antidote to the problems of ongoing sin rests in our own anthropocentric self-idolatry.

We think we need a “fix”; a repair job for those parts of us which are less becoming.  As Christians, this is actually walking away from the Sanctifier.  It is the rejection of Jesus in favor of self-made religion.  Following the Law for personal sanctification feeds the Old , sinful Adam.  The Adam that Jesus came to drown.

Jesus has drowned him.  And, He continues to drown him as we read Scripture, hear Scripture, are baptized, receive communion and listen as the pastor rightly divides Law from Gospel.

Here, then is the resolution I hope for all Christians this year:  Allow the Good News of Christ’s utter fulfillment of the Law and bestowing His total holiness upon us poor, miserable sinners renew us in the faith once delivered to the saints.  He alone completely fulfilled the resolution to rescue us from our sin.  We cannot and should not attempt to replace Him with our own efforts.

Amen

 

 

Children of promise

English: Hagar and Ishmael in the Wilderness (...

English: Hagar and Ishmael in the Wilderness (Gen. 21:14-20) Русский: Агарь и Измаил в пустыне (Быт. 21:14-20) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Galatians 4:

24These things may be taken figuratively, for the women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. 25Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. 26But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother.

If you’ve read much of the Old Testament from Exodus on, you might get the impression that God is really interested in Israel.  And, you’d be right.  He spent a lot of time making a people His own who had no claim on God whatsoever.  God called them out of Egypt by Grace.

They wandered in the desert and were provided for directly from the hand of the Lord.  Yet, God took the time in the midst of this “transitional period” to give them the Ten Commandments.  Why?  Weren’t they getting along?

But before the ink on the stone had dried (figuratively speaking), they were building a golden calf to worship.  Israel was a nation of … idolaters.

Of course, that is symptomatic of mankind in general.  Israel, like Adam, were the best possible representatives of the human race.  But they couldn’t remain loyal to Yahweh or Moses long enough for them to “finish business”.

As time went by, Israel broke these and many other laws that the Lord gave them.  Time after time, they would be taken by other nations into slavery as punishment.  Eventually, they added more laws to God’s laws so that they wouldn’t get close enough to break the real thing.

It’s like if you told a child, “don’t pick up that vase”.  The real problem is you don’t wan them to drop it, but to make sure this doesn’t happen, you anticipate and give them a command that subverts their intent.

This was the situation with Israel as Christ entered the picture.  The Pharisees asked why the disciples of Jesus broke their rules.  Jesus would respond by asking them why they broke the rules of God.

And so, Israel was at it again, making a golden calf out of man-made laws.  They were worshiping their own obedience, their own morality, their own righteousness.  They became living idols to themselves.

This Pharisaic form of Judaism crept into the church, as well.  Paul, who was a Jew of Jews, absolutely rejects the notion that returning to law will “right” the behavior of the non-Jewish converts to Christianity.  He asserts that the judaizers in the church were sons of Hagar and Ishmael rather that Sarah and Isaac.  Why?

Because they held that their sonship was maintained by their efforts to hold to God’s Law as revealed in the Old Testament.  They had forgotten the foundation of the Ten Commandments which read “I am the Lord your God who brought you up out of Egypt.  They had forgotten that they were not a people before God chose and rescued them.  They had forgotten how He parted the Sea.  They had forgotten how the Israelites were fed by bread from heaven and water from a rock.  They had forgotten that they stood on the mercy of God.

They were children of promise who sold their birthright for the bitter meal of Law-keeping self-idolatry.

But, Paul speaks to the gentile converts and says that they (like Israel) were children of promise.  They were children of old, old Sarah.  They were the last born.  They were not the “seed”, but were children of Ishmael who were transplanted into the stump.  They were adopted by God Himself in Jesus Christ.  They were now sons of the living God.

The laws that they lived under were slavery to every form of gross sin under the sun; temple prostitution, orgies, drunkenness, jealousy, envy, etc.  They were slaves to their desires.  Their gods were their stomachs.

But it was for freedom that Christ had set them free.  Was He setting them free to observe the Pharisaic morality invading the early church?  No, He was setting them free to live in the constant light of God’s mercy, forgiveness and grace distributed through the body and blood of Jesus Christ.  He was setting them free from gross sin, so why would he want them to learn the Pharisaic idolatry of the judaizers?  That is religious sin.

We face this today in the church.  Many would like to enslave you with demands, guilt and manipulation.  These vipers should not think that they will receive one thing from God.  They have become idolators of the worst sort.  They have abandoned Christ and all His mercy.  They have returned to the vomit of self-righteous living.  And they want you to follow along.

I suggest telling them this, “Get behind me Satan!  The Son has set me free.  He has fulfilled all of the Law’s demands and has been fully punished for my sin.  There is no other name on earth or in Heaven by which a man may be saved, including yours.”

The present reality of your resurrection

John 5:

19Therefore Jesus answered and was saying to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner. 20“For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself is doing; and the Father will show Him greater works than these, so that you will marvel. 21“For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes. 22“For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son, 23so that all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.

24“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.

Paul taught that belief comes by hearing in Romans 10:17 (it’s a good idea to read from verse 14 – on).  This passive reception (hearing) produces resurrection.  It is a past-tense event. This means that we are simultaneously resurrected in a temporal life.

Certainly, the resurrection will happen at Christ’s coming, but, our spiritual rebirth has already happened in the hearing of the good news.

 

 

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.

 

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