Justified Journal

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Tag: Henri Nouwen

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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Psalm 19:1:

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David. The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.

Romans 1:20:

For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.

These verses would seem to imply that Scripture is not necessary to know God.  Additionally, it calls into question the need for church, not to mention the sacraments. In fact, any intermediary could be perceived as an obstacle to seeing God for who He is.

But, what is perceived about God?  His Glory, His eternal power, and His divine nature.  Can you and I find comfort in these things?  We might be awed by this creation, feeling very small and insignificant, but not comforted.

The God perceived in nature never leads us to Jesus.  It never leads us to a justifying God.  It never leads us to forgiveness.  For that matter, it never leads us to seeing our sins for what they are.

Where does one learn of these things?  Where does one find salvation from a Glorious, eternally powerful, divine God?  Only in the church where Christ is rightly proclaimed, where the law and Gospel are rightly divided, and where the sacraments are given for you.  Now, that’s Glorious!

Scaffolding the self

 

Extensive scaffolding on a building in downtow...

Extensive scaffolding on a building in downtown Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Human beings make an art form out of self-preservation.  They invest in scaffolding to hold up the corpse of the Old Adam.

 

More often than not, these scaffolds appear ‘religious’.  Re-packaging makes them appear to be new, but they are ancient.  The big three are Morality, Mysticism, and Speculation.  Although they appear to be significantly different, they all operate on the same premise.  They are based in self-effort to reach the Holy.

And, self-effort to reach the Holy is rooted in the Old Adam:

Romans 5:12: ‘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 …’  The strange part of this is that Christians deny that their Old Adam still lives.  In fact, the Old Adam works to preserve itself through the three modes listed above.

Morality, Mysticism and Speculation are all efforts to preserve the sinful self.  The cross is an offense to us not because it crucifies these three, but because it crucifies the self.

And, we are unwilling to die.  It goes against our nature.  We want to preserve that ‘religious’ part of ourselves.  So, we erect one, two or all three of the scaffolds in an effort to prop up the corpse of the Old Adam and loudly proclaim, “I am alive!” when nothing could be more silly or further from the truth.

The Morality scaffold appeals to that part of us that says doing good will result in a happier life.  In fact, there is a kernel of truth to this in our earthly lives.  Morality leads to better relationships, and a ‘clean conscience’.  The downsides, however, are guilt and shame (when you realize that you can’t ‘pull it off’ perfectly) or arrogant pride and judgement of others (hypocrisy).  Scripture is not just interpreted literally, it is interpreted literalistic-ally.

The Mysticism scaffold appeals to that part of us that wants to ‘see God’.  Beneficially, people become more committed to spending one-on-one time with God.  In a busy world, the experience of retreating can be calming and re-invigorating.  The other end of this, though, is that Scripture is a kind of launching point into a ‘cloud of knowing’ (analogous use of Scripture).  Ultimately, it denies the incarnate nature of Christ and Christianity.

The Speculation scaffold presents a very attractive possibility.  It lies within the reason and logic of man.  It is ‘familiar’.  It leads to a greater growth and understanding of the human mind.  It is logical, clear, organized and clean.  Unfortunately, it struggles with reality.  Speculators look at Christ on the Cross and see it as the stained glass through which one can see ‘God as He really is’.  They want to deny that Christ on the Cross is God as He really is … the dying-for-me-God.  Scripture is evaluated through the lens of a certain logic, and massive efforts are made to make it ‘fit’ the human mind.

All of these have long traditions, histories and adherents.  And, it may seem that I am attacking the big three.  The real issue is not the big three, though.  The real issue is the Adam that produced the big three.

This Old Adam wants nothing more than to be left alone by the Jesus who infiltrates our world.  He doesn’t want to see a passive righteousness given to us by a God whose greatest work was His passive death on the cross.  He doesn’t want to hear that God became sin for us.  He doesn’t want to hear that the big three are the beautiful flowers of a plant that is dead.  He doesn’t want to accept forgiveness, because he didn’t ‘earn it’.  In short, the Old Adam wants to maintain control of his own spirituality.  And that, my friends leads to death.

Romans 5:

     15 But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. 16 The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification. 17 For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.

 

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