Justified Journal

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Category: Trials/suffering

Lay your burdens upon Him

Bitterness is an expression of pain.  People who feel bitter have been wounded at some point in their lives.  When they talk about their bitter feelings, it may sound ugly and hateful.

I read a series of threads on this issue, and almost all of them recommended staying away from such people.  But, what are you to do if you have to counsel a person with this issue?

The complexity can be daunting.  Allow them to spew out their bitterness (as long as it’s not directed at you); it can be therapeutic.  Every once in a while, you can sympathize with a statement that you find true.  You can also say, “I can understand how you felt/feel!”.  If something has clearly happened to them that was someone else’s fault, you can acknowledge that, too (this is a little tricky because perceptions are not always reality).  It is a good idea to assume the positive about others instead of the negative, and a counselor can be drawn into the negativity.

After that individual has exhausted their bitter expression, and they appear more relaxed, they might be receptive to the gospel.  It depends who they are.

If they enjoy ‘wallowing’ in the bitter feelings, it may be a source of their identity, meaning and purpose in life.  In truth, all humans have a penchant to enjoy negative feelings.  If this is the case, you won’t make much ground in counseling such people.  All you can do is love them and pray for them.  In my church, I can continue to feed them communion and tell them that Christ is their mercy.

If they seem open to your input, then you have an opportunity to tell them … the gospel.  I think some counselors want such people to alter their behavior without addressing the emotional issues.  This is a mistake.  To give a law, command or demand is to add a wound to a wounded person.  This is the ministry of death.

Instead, the opened person wants to hear that they have not been treated well.  The wound they have is real.  The savior they have is a real savior for real wounds.  In fact, the Greek word in the New Testament for ‘save’ is also ‘heal’.  He alone is the great physician.

Sometimes, he uses human hands, like psychologists or psychiatrists to treat ‘soul wounds’.  At other times, we can bear each other’s wounds and take them in ‘pair prayer’ to the Lord.  It might take a while to overcome, but it is only the Gospel of the Christ wounded for us that will heal those wounded by the world.  Starting over is only possible at the hands of the Re-creator, Jesus Christ.

This is the ministry of reconciliation.

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Acts of Desperation

Throughout the Bible, you can read about people in desperate circumstances.  They don’t have access to social security.  They don’t have personal armed guards.  They don’t have lawyers.  When they fall into desperate circumstances, they have two options.

The first option is to attempts self-rescue.  This might entail lying, hiding or even cheating.  It may also require the person to convince others to participate in the same behavior.  Alternately, the person may choose to run.

Abraham and Sarah lied to Pharoah and King Abimilech.  They claimed to be brother and sister when they were actually husband and wife.  Genesis 26 repeats the storyline but changes the actors to Isaac and Rebekah.  They lied like this to protect the men from being killed and their wives taken away.

Jacob also attempts self-rescue when his brother Esau comes out to meet him.  Jacob had stolen Esau’s birthright years earlier, but Esau was very angry when it happened.  So, Jacob’s servants tell him that Esau is coming with four hundred men.  Jacob’s reaction is seen in Genesis 33: “1Jacob looked up and there was Esau, coming with his four hundred men; so he divided the children among Leah, Rachel and the two maidservants. 2He put the maidservants and their children in front, Leah and her children next, and Rachel and Joseph in the rear.”

These examples prove that even the patriarchs were men who sometimes lacked faith in the face of desperate situations.  They turned to culturally-accepted ways of surviving.

The second option in desperate circumstances is to follow the more desperate route of seeking God’s rescue.  It doesn’t depend on cunning, skill, strength or superior numbers.  Instead, it seeks out God’s mercy; desperately.

Some examples of this second option are people who were truly weak, alone, unwise, powerless and vulnerable.  The widow of Zarepath is one:

7Some time later the brook dried up because there had been no rain in the land. 8Then the word of the Lord came to him: 9“Go at once to Zarephath of Sidon and stay there. I have commanded a widow in that place to supply you with food.” 10So he went to Zarephath. When he came to the town gate, a widow was there gathering sticks. He called to her and asked, “Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?” 11As she was going to get it, he called, “And bring me, please, a piece of bread.”

12“As surely as the Lord your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die.”

– 1 Kings 17

The story continues:

13Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small cake of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. 14For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord gives rain on the land.’”

This comes from a man who was just fed by the most unlikely of means; ravens (see 1 Kings 17:4-6).

Her total desperation was met by a man with a promise and it’s fulfillment:

15She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. 16For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah.

She had no hope, but receives a miracle.  They were going to “eat … and die”, now they will eat and live.  They had run out of resources.  Now their resources were limitless.  She had no faith, but God was faithful.

Elijah in this passage was a shadow of the Savior to come.

“Do not trust in princes, In mortal man, in whom there is no salvation.” – Psalm 146:3. Instead, put your trust in the immortal man, the King of all whose name means “Yahweh is salvation”.  He is the promise fulfilled.  He is hope realized.  His kingdom has come.  His “social security” is not dependent on filling out forms.  All you need to do is … “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7).  The more desperate you are, the better, because HIS strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9).  Jesus’ desperate weakness resulted in making us children who are perfected through desperate circumstances by calling on His holy name.

 

 

“Please show me your glory”

Moses wanted to see God’s glory (see Exodus 33).  He wanted to experience the “otherness” of God.  It wasn’t enough for him to hear God’s voice, have real conversation with Him, and be lead through the desert by Him.

No, he wanted to have his temporal eyes exposed to the eternal God.

And, God was willing to do this.  He was going to show Moses something that would scare the hair off his head.  He was going to show him His glory.

But God wasn’t going to show what Moses actually wanted, because Moses would have been incinerated by the full vision of God’s glory.  Instead, Yahweh states,

English: Cleft in the rock known as High Place...

English: Cleft in the rock known as High Place High Place lies below Towan Head and is the only land within square Sw8063. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

20 “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” 21And the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, 22and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”

Moses was about to see the posteriora Dei, or God’s backside.

We want to see God’s glory too.  We will do the silliest things to “see” this.  Trans-like states, repetitive chants, eastern style meditation have all crept into the Christian church in an attempt to see the invisible God.

Unsatisfied with the Word in the Word (Christ in the Scriptures), man turns to himself to find an alternate route that is more satisfying to our fleshly nature.  We would rather do this than have to look at God’s backside.  That would be much too insulting.

But, in fact, God does tell Christians to look at His backside.  What else is Jesus on the Cross?  Is that the Glorious God we want, or the ignoble, defeated, bloodied sacrifice that God puts in our face?

Certainly there will come a time when we see His glory (whether we are Christians or not).  And, the work of His death brings a guarantee of resurrection for those who believe and are baptized, which means we will enter into a heaven full of God’s glory.

But we must travel through a veil of tears to get there.  Jesus promises that the servants are not greater than the master, and the suffering He underwent is the path for His children.

That is not to say that God won’t work many wonderful things here.  That is not to say we shouldn’t pray with confidence.  It is to say that God’s glory is hidden in His humiliation before our eyes.  This is crucifying in itself.  It sounds like  a contradiction to our reason.

And that is … exactly the point.

To God be the glory, forever and ever.  Amen

boldness in prayer

Christ in Gethsemane (Christus in Gethsemane),...

Christ in Gethsemane (Christus in Gethsemane), oil painting by Heinrich Ferdinand Hofmann (Heinrich Hofmann). The original is at the Riverside Church (Riverside Church, New York City). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1 Peter 5:7

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you

I like to fish.  I like the quiet, the outdoors, but I really like to catch something.  It’s an achievement.  And, to do it well, you have to learn how to cast.

My father taught me to cast.  He used different methods, and he was always careful, because he didn’t want his fishing line to get caught in trees behind him.  He wanted to place that hook in just the right location.

Sometimes, we are tempted to think of prayer in the same way.  We have to create the right atmosphere, come with correct intentions, and deliver a well-spoken request to God our Father.  And, it’s true that proper reverence has its place with the living, All-mighty God of the universe.

But it’s equally true that integrity, “being real” with God also has its place.

The worries of this life grow the older you get.  Some of these are like a gentle hum in the back of our minds.  We are aware of them sometimes, but we can handle the background noise.

Other worries are more pressing.  They take center stage and we get worn down with concern.  In fact, we become spiritually strangled by the trials of life and the worry generated as a reaction to this.

In my church, we reflect on our sins at the beginning of the service.  We think about ways that we might have injured others.  We never take the time to consider the worries of this life that burden our hearts.  Yet, this is exactly what we see happen over and over again in the Scripture.

David pours out his heart before God in the Psalms.  Daniel prays for three weeks, multiple times a day, before Yahweh.  Jesus sweats tears of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane in prayer.

It was not time for proper decorum in these situations.  It was time to recklessly cast prayers to God the Father.  It was time to groan over their situations.  It was time to ask for rescue.

And we are called to do the same.  If the Christian faith means anything at all, prayer is an essential part of the spiritual life.  It is not in the many or beautiful words that we will be heard, but because our prayers are prayed through Jesus that they are unquestioningly heard.

Cast gives me the sense of throwing up all our deepest worries before God.  Throw them hard and wide.  Throw them with abandon.  Throw them knowing that the Holy Spirit intercedes for you (Romans 8).  Throw them knowing that Jesus intercedes for you (Hebrews 7:25).  Throw them knowing you have nothing to lose, except worry.

And expect peace.  A peace that passes all understanding.  And if you don’t get it, wrestle with God for that.  Tell Him it is His promise.  Tell Him it is His responsibility to give you peace.  Tell Him you are His child because of His dearly beloved Son.

At times, we will cast our worries on Him.  Maybe soon, we will cast our praise for seeing us through trials on Him.  Eventually, we will see crowns of Glory being cast before His feet because of the great and awesome work He has done.  To God be the Glory now and forever, Amen

The good work of trials

Hebrews 12:

7Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? 8If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons.

I don’t like trials.  Initially, I respond badlyto them.  I resist them, deny they are happening, and sometimes, get angry.  They really suck.

And the intensity of trials (nowhere to run to escape them) causes us to think they are evil.  They are only present because God’s blessing is absent.  In fact, the reverse is true.

God tells Ananias to lay hands on Paul of Tarsus, a man who had sorely persecuted the church (Acts 9):

13But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he did to Your saints at Jerusalem; 14and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.” 15But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; 16for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake” (Emphasis mine).

Paul, himself, states in Colossians 1:24, “Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church”

What’s the deal, God?  Why are you sending pain into the life of a guy you just converted?  Shouldn’t he become a king or something?

1 Pet. 2 states:

20For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.  21For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps …

So, even we are called to enter into suffering.  But, not purposeless suffering.  It is the means by which God disciplines us into acceptable sons and daughters, properly trained in this life to be princes and princesses ruling in the next.

Our humiliation in this life is the result of sin, but orchestrated for our benefit to train us.

Where is God when we go through trials?  We are pitied, felt sorry for, and spoken of in quiet tones.  In this world, the trials Christians suffer seem shameful, as if God rejected us.  The truth is, the trials we go through is a test of our faith, but a judgment on those who are not counted worthy as sons and daughters to go through these trials.  God does not abandon us during trials (despite feelings and confusion); He is intimately connected to us in them.

We can respond in many ways, but a good close reading of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John will reveal the opposition and difficulties Christ faced on this earth.  Hold fast to Him.   Remember, Jesus Christ, himself, is interceding for you and me.  Pray for yourself.  Pray for me.  We share His name, therefore, we share His sufferings.

Jesus, himself, led a lousy, deprived, short, and, seemingly meaningless life to outward observers.  But all the trials, testing, and temptations led to the ultimate glory to God … The death of the Lamb on the tree.  And without the death, there is no sonship for us whatsoever.  We would be lost for all eternity.  His work is the blessed work of the cross.  It was the epic, total destruction and disarming of the powers of evil.  And, it couldn’t have happened unless Jesus suffered unto death.

So, when people think you’re suffering is bad, sad, or shameful, tell them that it is the very proof that God is your Father. Tell them He has counted you worthy to share in Christ’s sufferings in this life so you can share His glory in the next.

Amen

Everybody’s working for the weekend

 

Some people live for the weekend.  They want to forget about work, go to a bar, and let loose.

Others prefer to work for the weekend.  They are more than happy to either get paid time-and-a-half or just work because they can climb up the corporate ladder.  Work is more than a means to make a living, it is their identity.

This may explain why many people who retire die so soon after their retirement.  Their identity is linked to what they are doing.

In fact, many retirees have “projects”.  Working for charities or starting one create a purpose and meaning to their lives.  They feel valuable.

But, inevitably, people get burned or burned-out.  Despite their best efforts, they are let go when the company down-sizes, or they have put so many hours into their work that they begin to have physical and emotional issues.

They are forced to take “time off”.

Maybe you identify with these people.  Maybe you find yourself on the other end of things, hating your job and wishing you could do something else.  Maybe you have pursued your “calling” but find that it doesn’t pay the rent.

In any of these cases, a person’s self-esteem can be affected.  Disillusionment is not just a five-syllable word, it’s the reality of everyday life.  It’s felt more strongly in a culture where we see hip-hop stars making seven or eight figure salaries.

It’s as if the world is “not right”.

And, that’s right.  The world is not right.  It is rare to find people who are completely happy with every facet of their job.  It is rare to find that healthy person who has balanced life and career.  It is rare to find work that is fulfilling and financially secure (even if you’re very talented).

So, what are we to do if things are not going as expected?  There has to be someone to blame.

We may be afraid to admit it, but that someone is God.  If I have the degree, the experience and the personality, it must be some situational force preventing my success.  It must be God.

So, people go one of two ways: 1. Get religion (get God on your side), or, 2. Become an atheist (get rid of the problem).  It’s the natural outflow of the human heart.

And both of these are efforts at overcoming the reality that things are not right in the world.  Work is unsatisfactory, so I am going to work at fixing it.

We’ve been trying to do this since the building of the tower of Babel.

Human effort and work will never succeed in fulfilling our deepest need for identity and fulfillment.

Consider Genesis 3:17-19:

“Cursed is the ground because of you;

In [f]toil you will eat of it

All the days of your life.

18 “Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you;

And you will eat the [g]plants of the field;

19 By the sweat of your face

You will eat bread,

Till you return to the ground,

Because from it you were taken;

For you are dust,

And to dust you shall return.”

Wow, what a buzz-kill!  On the other hand, dissatisfaction with work has been a common theme throughout human existence.  We share a human link with Adam.

So, if the world is not right, and we can’t get complete satisfaction from our work, how are we supposed to have value and an identity?

All of that is answered in the work of God through Jesus.  2 Corinthians 5:17 answers this way:

17 Therefore if anyone is in Christ, [a]he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.

The ultimate worker, the Son of God, was both the creator of all creation (see John chapter 1) and the re-creator.  In Him alone, does our life have meaning.  In Him alone will we find our identity.  In Him alone will we find value and worth.  Not because we worked so hard at “getting religion” but that He worked Himself to death … on a cross outside of Jerusalem about 2,000 years ago.

And, He’s still working for you and me.  Bring your worries to Him.  Bring your complaints about your job to Him.  Bring your hopes and dreams to Him.  Tell Him about your burn-out, your boredom, your lack of enthusiasm, your workaholism, your successes, your failures, and your frustrations.  He’s not there to condemn you.  He’s there to listen, hear, and take all of it before the heavenly Father who makes all things new … through Jesus Christ alone.

To the glory of God, Amen.

 

Shaken, not stirred

I live in earthquake country.  I have been through so many earthquakes that I sometimes act a little too casually when they hit.  Instead of panicking, I walk to the “safe part” of a building to wait it out.

Strong earthquakes are another story, though.

When they hit, I move more quickly and hope that it won’t last much longer.  Then, I try to reach my family to make sure they’re o.k.

The author of Hebrews tells us that God will shake both the earth and the heavens (Hebrews 12, ESV):

26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.

In the heart of this terrifying threat is a hopeful promise, there are things that cannot be shaken, but will remain.

Earlier in the chapter, the author writes about the discipline of God’s children.  He doesn’t allow us to be spoiled and arrogant.  He uses physical ailments, sickness, persecution, and other trials to drive us back to His word.

It is His means of purifying the faith of His children.  It is also the evidence of His presence in our lives (along with scripture and the sacraments).

The pain and suffering He sends are like a cross that we must bear.  And some will actually be killed for the very faith they have.

But this isn’t God’s wrath.

That comes later, when He will shake the heavens and the earth.

It is the promise of a “hellish” day which everyone will witness.  It is the fulfillment of the “Mount Sinai” experience of ancient Israel.  God will be seen as a “consuming fire”.

For those who have been put through the trials and suffering meant to drive them to faith, they will remain secure on “Mount Zion”.  That is, of course, if they remain believing in the one who secured their salvation in the first place, Jesus.

Who is Jesus?  “… the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).

Through Him, we are, ” … the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven” (12:23).  And, as the author writes at the end of the chapter, “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken …” (12:28).

Jesus is our Mount Zion.  He is the temple that will not be shaken.  He is the foundation upon which our faith is both founded and perfected, now and forever.

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