Justified Journal

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Category: Trials/suffering

a season of death

Three people from my church have died in the past month.  One of my co-workers lost a close relative two days ago.  My neighbor, who is a wonderful person and a Christian, is dying.

I am grateful that my church follows the calendar of Christ’s life.  I am grateful that we talk about Jesus’ death and resurrection every week.  I am grateful that the gospel accounts are weighted toward the last week of Jesus’ life (especially Mark who devoted six of sixteen chapters on it).

Why am I grateful?  Because the culture I live in lives in denial about death.  Even some other Christian churches seem to side-step the issue, preferring a glorious performance over the grounded truth.

It’s the way of the world.

On the other hand, death is enough.  Romans 5:12 states,

“Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned … ”

We stand condemned.  The consequence of our sinfulness is death.  However,

18 So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. 19For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. 20The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Jesus has no desire to see you or me die.  Yet, there is no chariot of fire coming to pick people up and take them home.  Instead, we get the ignoble burial that everyone else gets.  It’s final, sobering, and a buzz-kill.

But, when we continue reading the second portion of this chapter from Romans, Paul writes about the reign of grace.  And, not grace as a word only, but real grace.  The forgiving kind.  The dying kind.  The sacrificial lamb kind.

This only took place one time.  It was on a cross outside Jerusalem.  The righteous God-man was crucified for all sinful men.  Completely.

His death was not the end, though.  In the midst of this dying, God the Father poured out His wrath on His own Son.  Not because Jesus was so bad, but because we are so evil.  Why did God do this?

Because God loves you.  And, He loves me.

Death does not have the final word.  You and I can rest assured by hearing the words of Jesus, “It is finished“.  We can bet on these words.  Our death will actually be the birth of resurrection into an eternal dominion of peace, joy and total love.  Hope fulfilled.   And … the Glory of God.  Forever and ever.

Amen.

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Tentatio

Francis Holl, Jesus is Tempted by Satan in the Wilderness, Command This Stone That It be Made Bread

“I did not learn my theology all at once, but had to search constantly
deeper and deeper for it. My temptations did that for me, for no one
can understand Holy Scripture without practice and temptations.
This is what the enthusiasts and sects lack. They don’t have the right critic, the devil, who is the best teacher of theology. If we don’t have
that kind of devil, then we become nothing but speculative
theologians, who do nothing but walk around in our own thoughts
and speculate with our reason alone as to whether things should be
like this, or like that”

-Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, 54:50

What is the purpose of the Holy Spirit?  Many people in church believe that the Holy Spirit is the one who gives you the warm and fuzzy feelings of God’s presence.  He is the one who unlocks your ability to be completely open in worship.  The Holy Spirit is all about your feelings.

These ideas of the Holy Spirit are in contrast to the art and the quote from Luther above.  In the artwork, we find Jesus being sent into the desert after His baptism; after the Father says He is “well-pleased” with Jesus; after the Holy Spirit descends on Him like a dove.

Matthew tells us, “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (4:1).  In fact, Jesus was sent to the desert for 40 days, and then tempted by the devil.  Why would the Spirit do such a thing?

And, then, we read the above quote from Luther, who Kleinig quotes, “In a
lecture on Psalm 5:11, from around 1520, he [Luther] asserted, rather bluntly, that a theologian was not made by ‘understanding, reading or speculating,’
but by ‘living, no rather by dying and being damned'” (John W. Kleinig, Oratio, Meditatio, Tentatio: What Makes A Theologian?, 2).

Wow!  First, We learned of Oratio, or speaking the Word.  Then, we learned of meditatio, or ruminating on the Word.  But this last one seems to be the opposite of what we would expect.  Where is the praise?  Where is the comfort?  Where is the blessing?  In short, where is the GLORY?

Are we Christians living under the false belief that the Holy Spirit will lead us to “safe harbors” all the time?  Are we ignoring the Scripture in favor of feelings?  Are we wishful thinkers who would rather believe that God is going to give us a happy life than the one Jesus suffered through?

Or, are we suffering so much now that we seek an alternate experience to the difficulties of life?  Maybe we long for heaven on earth.  Maybe we long for ecstasy.  Maybe we long for glory.

Instead, God leads Jesus (and us, metaphorically, perhaps exactly) to a cross.  God leads Him into temptation and trial.  God leads Him into suffering.

Jeffrey Ware notes, “Tentatio (sufferings and temptation) is a form of spiritual attack which drives the believer away from the internalized self to the external word.  Tentatio is not a goal.  It is not the highest rung on a spiritual ladder to heaven.  It is God’s way of turning self-seeking men back to the word and therefore back to himself” (in A Lutheran Perspective on Lectio Divina).

As Peter writes, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12).  Why?  Because it is the way that God drives us back to the Scripture.  It is the way He drives us to depend on this Word.  It is the way He gets us to look more closely, more deeply into that Word to find Christ, the suffering servant.

And it is a strange spirituality, because, in the midst of trial and temptation, we often find the deepest fellowship and peace with God.  It is the paradox of the Christian life.  Isn’t this appropriate as we walk through this lenten season?

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.

Double dipping

Since my first daughter was very little, she liked to dip things into ketchup (catsup) or ranch dressing.  It really didn’t matter what the food was.  Even if we put teriyaki chicken on the table, she would say, “ketchup!”

You and I aren’t much different; think of your favorite spinach dip, or nacho cheese dip.  Sometimes, the food we eat is simply a “delivery method” for the condiment.

If the dip is really good, you might wait until everyone looks away at the party and dip that baby carrot into the ranch dip after you’ve already gnawed on it.  Our society frowns on double dipping, though.  It has a negative connotation.  It’s kind of a germ issue.

In truth, though, we live in a ‘germy world’.  Staph is everywhere, bacteria grows in places that are apparently clean.  Even when I am careful not to touch public handles and doorknobs, I come into contact with strains of things that make me sick.  And, inevitably, it gets passed on to those around me.

Sin is like that in a way.  When Adam and Eve made their choice, they chose against the will of God.  They chose sin, and became infected with a life-threatening disease.  More than that, they were guaranteed to die.  Without the proper medication, they were doomed for all eternity.

Their offspring were also doomed, because we inherited the infection of utter sinfulness.  Now, we have no choice, but to sin.

Into this dark situation, the Son of God and Light of the World provides another option.  It took His entering into this world and becoming sin for us to set us free from the Law of sin and death (Law is best understood as “rule”).  But, His death on the cross is not merely historical, static fact.  It was an intercession that continues to this day.  The following passage illustrates this;

Romans 8

31What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;

we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”l

37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,m neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This passage is pure gospel for those who are persecuted, ill, suffering, dying, poverty-ridden, or undergoing various trials.  It also identifies what kind of Jesus we have; a double dipper.

Although He fulfilled the Law and died for our sin as intercessor, He so identified with our continued need that He intercedes for us continually.  Our living Christ, our living King, comes before the Father and talks to Him on our behalf.

Is there a greater love possible?  And He is active in other ways, too.  He comes to us in our water baptism.  He comes to us through the communion table.  He comes to us in the hearing of the Word and the rightly divided Law and Gospel preaching of the pastor.

Jesus doesn’t merely double dip as an intercessor.  He lives as our intercession.  For now and forever.

Amen

Mom’s wisdom

The other day, I was discussing some of the ups and downs of my career with my mom.  As a parent, I can worry about how I will provide for my my family and how I will prepare for the future, whatever that brings.  Now, although my mom goes to a different church than I do, she has the same Bible readings every Sunday.  She listened to my concerns and repeated the story of Jesus calling out Peter to walk on the water.

As Peter saw Jesus and heard his voice, he came out of the boat and began to walk toward Him.  Then, however, he looked around at the wind, and began to sink.  He cried out for the Lord to save him, which He did.

My mom’s comment was that it’s easy for us to look at the circumstances of our lives and become disturbed.  The focus of our faith is The Savior, Jesus Christ.  He is in the midst of this with us.

Her words truly encouraged me.

It also caused me to look more closely at this passage.  The conditions were not the best for the disciples in the boat:

22 “Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but the boat by this time was a long way  from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. 25 And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea” (Matthew 14, ESV)

I have seen a magician try to replicate walking on water, but he is only able to do so in a pool which is far more shallow and calm than a raging sea.  He used lucite boxes to cross from one end to the other, but he had to be very careful to find his steps.

Jesus is walking on a raging, wind-beaten sea that is punishing the boat the disciples are in.  Jesus Christ is in the midst of a storm, and yet, He calmly walks on the water.  What can we say, but “My Lord and My God”!?  His action defies human explanation:

26 “But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid’.”

Can you imagine some guy walking on the water in the middle of the terrible storm depicted in “The Perfect Storm”?  You would think something you ate has somehow affected your mental clarity.  You would think that someone is projecting an image onto the ocean.  You wouldn’t believe, you would think you were deceived.

Yet, Jesus not only walks to them, but in the midst of their fear, He tells them (as He told Joshua “Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”[Joshua 1:9]) “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid”.  He is feeding their faith even as He is participating in a miraculous event.

Peter reflects this encouragement by acting out on the faith that Jesus imbued him with.  Jesus says to him, “Come”.

Here in the U.S., we are experiencing the ups and downs of an unstable economy.  One day, the stocks are up, the next they’re down.  Experts are telling everyone to “ride out” the economic storm that is hitting.  It’s hard to do, though, especially if you see your retirement is getting decimated.

You might be experiencing the storm of trouble in a relationship, unemployment, the deep doubt of faith, or serious physical illness.  Perhaps a loved one is being tossed this way and that in a difficult situation.

Take heart!  Do not be afraid!  Jesus is already in the middle of the worst part of the storm.  He is in the middle of the worst trouble you can imagine.  Jesus is not afraid of trouble.  He walks right into it, and declares Himself the Lord over it.

Think about it.  What could be more unpredictable than a wind-blown sea?  Would you want to be on the water in a boat?  Even a big boat?  But Jesus beckons Peter to “Come”.  Come into the midst of the wind and waves.  Come into the pain, suffering and death.  Come into life’s failures, trials and difficulties.

This is not the call to create our own problems, but it is the beckoning of a savior who is in the middle of the ones we are entering into, and is not afraid.  In fact, He is Lord over them.  He dominates them.  He is victorious, and reigns, even over the atmospheric conditions.  He is the one saying “come on in in, the water is nice”, even though it looks like it could kill us.

And, even if we, like Peter, become disturbed in the midst of it, and lose faith, Jesus remains faithful to save.  He will never leave you or forsake you.

In the end, the disciples on the boat saw the wind stop as He came into the boat and then worshiped Him.  He displayed a mastery over the weather and the water.

He could end your trials in an instant.  But this Jesus is looking to build and strengthen your faith and mine.  He cannot do this in our comfort, but must work it out in conditions that seem impossible.  Jesus is the living God who calls you and I into difficult conditions to show us that He is not only there to comfort us, but He is the Lord over all.  He declared this at the cross when He said, “It is finished”.  Our God is the Almighty Storm-dominating, Water-walking, Faith-encouraging Savior.  Even now.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,

Amen

P.S. Thanks again, mom

Humanity’s civil war

Years ago, I worked as an instructor in a drug and alcohol rehab center.  All of my students were adults who were going through various stages of recovery.  Many of them had “bottomed out”.  Others were in denial, and still others could see their lives and feel regret and various other forms of pain as if everything was happening on that day.

Some of these people had been abused as children.  They were hurt by parents, boyfriends of their mom, other relatives, and sometimes, strangers.  In order to cope with the suffering that they were not able to defend themselves from, they turned to drugs and alcohol to alleviate some of the pain and replace their current reality.  The stories are painful to hear, but even more painful to relive as they sober up.

All of this pain was inflicted on them by other people.  Adults, whom children should be able to trust had destroyed their innocence and stolen their childhoods.  An unfortunate consequence of their abuse is that they became clear targets for other children who, in their own sinful wickedness, “piled on” the suffering they went through.  These people became doormats for others.

What is the root of this suffering?  Who is the cause of this?  If God is good, why didn’t He protect them?  What is the purpose of such wicked evil destroying the lives of the vulnerable at the hands of others?  Why does this happen?

The first part of the answer lies in creation.  God created man in His own image.  When Satan fell, he took with him all of the vicious hatred of God and applied it to man who was made in God’s image.  He began a war with God.  In every theater of action, he set out to destroy individuals and groups of people.  And one of the ways he accomplishes this goal is by using … other people.

Verbal attacks, like minimization, patronizing, abuse, manipulation, etc. are all weapons he uses to assault the mind of individuals.  He chooses humiliation as a means of injuring and psychologically destroying people.  He does this because he hates people.  And man hates man too.  Look at the 20th century.  The humiliation, minimization and elimination of whole sections of humanity were the strategies of the Devil.

Individuals, full of pride or afraid of their own social standing also partake in the Devil’s work.  They minimize, humiliate, and destroy others without conscience.

We can agree that these  people are evil.  We tell ourselves that we would intervene.  But, in truth, we partake in these behaviours, too.  Minimizing others to get ahead.  Talking about a spouse or child in a way that doesn’t put them in the best light.  Gossiping about our neighbors as a way to socialize.  We become weapons in a human civil war.  And our general is the Devil.

But, this is not the end of the matter.  God has struck back.  And like a hammer from heaven, the Son of God struck the earth with a righteous judgment of the devil and His works.  He humbled himself to become a man.  He confronted the wicked.  He put the devil in his place.  He reversed sin and cared for those rejected by society.  And He did this while being opposed Himself, in His life on this earth.  At the end, the Devil spoke in the ears of those saying “crucify, crucify”.  To the disciples and all around them, it looked like the Devil had won.  Jesus had been humiliated, minimized and slain on a cross outside of Jerusalem.

Only problem was, the weapon of God’s warfare was the perfect sacrifice made for all sin.  It didn’t look like a weapon.  It wasn’t loud, abusive and destructive in that way.  Instead Christ became the utter destruction of the Devil and all his servants by justifying the ungodly.  God poured out His wrath on Him for all of humanities sin, disarming the Devil and establishing a kingdom which will never fail.

And, it’s here now.  At the baptism of Jesus by John in the Jordan, Jesus was anointed King over all creation.  He rules at the right hand of God the Father.  In His death and resurrection, He takes humiliation, minimization, slander and gossip and turns them into encouragement, forgiveness, support, words of peace, and love.  He heals others through the work of social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, teachers, foster parents, pastors, and even you and me.

We have been called by this gospel into reversing the Devil’ works by intervening in the lives of children and adults who are being mistreated.  God has charged us with the responsibility of loving our neighbors, and has given us His Holy Spirit to make that happen. The weapon of our warfare is the Good News that Christ died for the ungodly.

He has also called us to love our enemies.  He does this because while we are in this world, in this life, there is always hope for repentance (Paul’s conversion, for example).  This Good News is for everyone.  But once Christ comes back, there will be hell to pay.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,

Amen

Suffering as a gift

I’m a dad of two little girls.  One is really little (9 months), and hasn’t started to walk independently yet.  Sometimes, we place her in a “car” and she sits in it and walks with it.  I hate breaking down this car though.  It seems that every time I do it, I pinch my finger.  It’s more of an annoyance than a pain, but I have really hurt myself on it in the past.

It’s not the only object I have hurt myself with.  And, every time I really hurt myself, I have a tendency to want to curse under my breath (it might sneak out now and then 🙂 ).  Getting hurt stinks.

Sometimes, getting hurt is just a consequence of our own actions, or someone elses actions.  I have been thinking about 1 Peter chapter 2 in this regard:

19For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly.

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.

It’s not always easy to sort through what things are self-created and what are not.  We suffer from our own decisions and sinfulness.  It’s important to remember that if we confess our sins, “God who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness”.  We will still suffer the consequences of our own misbehavior, but we are able to look to Christ who died for our sins for forgiveness and healing.

Hebrews 12 describes a different type of suffering which comes from the hand of God:

“MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD,
NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM;
6FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES,
AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES.”

7It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?

8But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.

C.S. Lewis puts it this way in “The Problem of Pain”:

“As Scripture points out, it is bastards who are spoiled: the legitimate sons, who are to carry on the family tradition, are punished” (32)

So, pain from God is a gift?  Is it a blessing? Are we to be thankful for the crosses we are given to bear?

The theologian of glory says “NO”.  The theologian of glory believes that one needs to have greater faith to overcome suffering in this world and “move on” to glory.  We are meant for “greater things”.

The theologian of the cross sees the same suffering and believes that God has counted him worthy to share in the sufferings of Christ to a lesser degree. The strange suffering and persecution are part of God’s plan.

“God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life”.  Paul would call that horse poop (An overly-sentimental view of the Christian life does not take into account the suffering he was subject to).  Paul was shipwrecked twice, stoned, beaten, poor, naked, cursed, threatened, jailed, and, ultimately martyred.  He went through all of this after seeing the risen Christ.

Later, he wrote the letter to the Philippians from prison.  It exudes JOY!!  Why?  Did he get three squares a day and a satellite hookup? It was that God counted him worthy to suffer for the sake of His name.  The “wonderful plan” God had for his life also included a thorn in the flesh that God would not remove.

Job suffered, too, and this was permitted by God.  Think of how long this book of the Bible is.  God wants us to see that suffering is not a curse.  In fact read on in 1 Peter 2:

21Foryou have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps,

22WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH;

23and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously;

24and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.

May God refresh our vision of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice and the wounds which have healed us.  May we see that the sufferings we endure in this life are not suffered alone, but they are the badges of honor God gives to His true and blessed children.

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