Many are the Troubles of the Righteous

I recently sat down to do devotions. I had skipped a few days and had been tempted to fall into the mindset, “it’s not that helpful to read the Bible every day.” Note that this generally happens when I haven’t done devotions in a few days. Well that morning, every passage was speaking to me. 

First, Psalms 34:19, 22: “Many are the troubles of the righteous but the Lord will deliver him out of them all. The Lord ransoms the life of his servants and none will be punished who trust in Him.”

Hold up. I thought only wicked people had troubles, or people with not enough faith. If you listened to my recent podcast with Fr. Ken Tanner, then you heard us discuss this troubling tendency in our minds as Western Christians. Calamity is too often treated as a matter of punishment. Just last night, my wife and I were talking about our own tendency to look for a reason in our own life when times are difficult. The question, which is also dealt with extensively in the soon-to-be film-adapted Silence by Shusaka Endo, is “what have I done to deserve this?” 

But the scripture says, “many are the troubles of the righteous…” and “…none will be punished who trust in him.” and, elsewhere, “There is now, therefore, no condemnation in Christ Jesus.” So why do we think that difficulties or tragedies in life are somehow punishments? Is God the impartial judge handing out cruel and unusual punishments to those he supposedly loves? Well maybe a misunderstanding of the Cross has distorted our view of God.

We often use judicial or economic language to metaphorize the cross: “It’s like if you were going to be condemned to death for your crimes, but the son of the judge jumped up and said, ‘I will die for him.’ And the judge said, ‘oh perfect, let me take out my wrath on you. As long as I have someone to kill for this crime, I will be satisfied'” Wait what? That’s kind of terrible. How should we feel about a God like that? 

Instead, we should look at the cross like this: We turned from God. God never gave up on us, but sent prophets and eventually his son to turn us back to him. Except that we could not accept God’s redeeming work but had to take out our guilt and anger on those who came to reconcile us. We continually persecuted and killed his prophets in our attempt to alleviate our own guilt and have our own way. So, Jesus took on himself all of our anger and hate and fear(the iniquities of us all) and gave himself up for us in perfect union with the Father. So the Father watched and wept as we put all of our sin onto him who knew no sin. It was not the Father’s wrath that was appeased that day, but our own wrath was absorbed by love and forgiven by grace. The Father somehow thought it was worth the sacrifice of his son to gain us. We were the pearl of great price and he went and sold all he had and bought that pearl. 

Yet we think that God is doling out punishment on us for our sin or our lack of faith. We think that our negative circumstances are due to our failures to live up to the impossible standard of perfection. In a similar mistake of ego, we think that our success is due to our great faith and works. Again, scripture says, “Many are the troubles of the righteous but the Lord will deliver him out of them all.” 

That’s the story of redemption. So when we fall, when times are hard, when we think that God has forsaken us, we can turn to the cross and know that God loves us, God is not mad at us, and God will never leave us or forsake us.

We are Called to Bring Redemption

A study of Isaiah 42:1-9 and 61:1-4
“Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights;In these passages Isaiah writes of the Messiah. He calls out against injustice and idolatry throughout the book, but the answer to these devastations is found in the passages about Messiah. No matter how dark the path of Israel, no matter how much evil is seen in the world, Isaiah brings the prophetic call for Messiah to the forefront. While Jesus was on earth he claimed Isaiah’s Messianic prophecies for himself. Now that Jesus has gone before us as the first fruit of the New Creation, we have been called the body of Christ. We, the universal Church, have inherited the annointing of Jesus and are called to the fulfillment of his redemption. We are now the servants in whom God delights. Wherever you are, whatever you have done, when God accepts you into his family he rewrites your identity and causes you to be a delightful servant. Our identity is no longer predicated on what we have done, but, instead, it is wholly found in what He has called us.

I have put my Spirit upon him;

No longer is this only true of Christ, at Pentecost this became the true of His Church. We are given the Holy Spirit even as Christ walked in the Spirit of God. You haven’t raised the dead or performed works of healing or received specific guidance for your life? Well then you haven’t yet experienced the fullness of the Spirit in you. In all likelihood, none of us has experienced the fullest manifestation of the Spirit, but we will; the same Spirit is in you that raised Christ from the dead! 

he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.

Christ began the process of redemption. He began to bring justice to the nations when he took on himself the iniquities of us all. He modeled a humility and trust that can only be represented by a lamb being lead to the slaughter. He did not cry aloud, he was gentle and meek. He was the paradox of absolute power and authority surrendered even unto death. By his very acts of submission he gained the name above every name. We are far too often concerned with being heard. Especially in our pain we feel the need to shout it from the rooftops. Social media shows us our desire to be heard in all things and Facebook is filled with cries for attention. But God will not break a bruised reed and will maintain a faintly burning wick. It’s not our power that gets us through the times when we are beaten and down. It is God’s life-preserving grace that walks us gently through the times when we feel all used up. He provides for us the oil that does not run out. He faithfully brings forth justice. We are not called to cry injustice at the slightest insult, but to be instruments of God’s plan to rid the world of injustice. Not a plan that calls out with fury, but a plan that involves sacrifing ourselves for others, a plan that is based on the ultimate condemnation of injustice found in Jesus laying down his life for his enemies and calling out for their forgiveness as they crucified him. 

He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law.This is where we know that ours is a supernatural calling. We know that there is nothing in nature that does not grow faint, we know that not one of us can go through life without being discouraged, but the God of the universe does not faint or grow weary and he will bear us through into the calling of justice on earth. The beauty of Isaiah’s poetry always calls us to earthly restoration. The dry lands will become springs of living water… Isaiah is not concerned with a Heaven that has specific entry requirements and will someday save us from the bad world. Isaiah talks of a time when that Heaven comes to earth in the glorious restoration of all Creation. Jesus is the first fruits of that and is calling us to a ministry of bringing Heaven to our world. 

Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it: “I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols. Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them.”This is our call! God who created all that is, who gives us our very breath, who enlivens our spirits, is calling us. His call is in righteousness, but, just in case you were tempted to think that this was a call to live under an impossible Law, he will take us by the hand and keep us. Now to him who is able to keep us from stumbling… He will give us as a promise for the people and a light to the nations. We will be the beacon, and the hands and feet of the Lord’s purpose on earth. His purpose to give sight to the blind, set captives free, bring light to those in darkness. God is concerned with actually healing physical blindness and God wants real prisoners freed. God wants to end slavery and release those held in injustice. However, there is more to this imagery. God also wants to heal spiritual blindness and set free people from spiritual prisons. Remember the story of the paralytic lowered through the roof in front of Jesus. He said, “Your sins are forgiven you.” He said this first because his first concern is with our spiritual lameness. He also brought physical healing, but as an outward representation of the spiritual healing. In this calling we may be tempted to give the glory of our call to others. We can worship money or power or medicine or other spiritual practices or powerful ministers, but it is God who redeems the earth. His glory he gives to no other, except us as we walk in his purposes. For we are called to move from glory to glory. As his body on earth, we are coheirs with Christ. These are the new things being declared. There is nothing new under the sun is a truth outside of relationship with the Almighty Creator of all things. We are called to walk in new things, in even greater things than Jesus did as an individual on earth. He now does greater things through the multitude of members of his body.

All of this can be read in the call that Jesus read for himself in the synagogue. We can read this about ourselves, about the body of believers:

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified. They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.”

‭ It’s fascinating that Jesus did not even read “and the day of vengeance of our God.” Jesus stopped before the first sentence was over. Jesus edited Scripture because he knew that, in the hardness of their hearts, the listeners would read all sorts of bad theology into that phrase. Israel thought that God’s vengeance would be the vanquishing of their earthly enemies. They did not understand that we fight not against flesh and blood; God’s vengeance is against the spiritual forces of wickedness. God is against no man, he is drawing all men to himself and vanquishing the enemies of man which are death, jealousy, strife, pride, hatred, and all evil. We are proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor over every situation. We are not called to condemn cities or peoples. We are called to comfort those who mourn, cloth them with garments of praise and give them the oil of gladness. We are called to raise up oaks of righteousness for God’s glory. We are called to build up ruined cities and redeem generational sin and depravity. No more are we to call down fire on Sodom and Gomorrah, we are called instead to bring the fire of the Holy Spirit into the cities that they may be raised up and rebuilt in the glory of the Kingdom. This act is inseparably tied to the clothing of those without clothes, the feeding of the hungry, the healing of the blind, and the setting free of captives. If these are not your church’s ministries, physically and metaphorically, then you are not participating in God’s plan of redemption. If you are more concerned with condemning the sinner than setting them free with love and clothing them in garments, then you may have missed Jesus’ ministry. 

Let us go forth into the world empowered by our call. Let us bring the Kingdom into the lives of those around us, always remembering the call and by whose power we fulfill it. Let us be the body of Christ and walk as he walked. Let us be in constant fellowship with the Spirit we have been given and set people free by that same Spirit. We are called to nothing less than the transformation of the world. It starts with you, Seek ye first the kingdom of God…

Parable of the Wise Man and God’s Plan

 One day in the years before Christ birth God decided to ask the wisest man on earth’s opinion of his plan of redemption. For the sake of this story we shall refer to this wise man as Everyman. So Everyman sat down with God and God began laying out his plan. He would send his only Son to the Israelites. Immediately, the Everyman broke in, “Not the Israelites! The ones who killed your prophets, who stoned your messengers, the stubborn and rebellious people who rejected your revelation no matter how many miracles you did for them?? They are a small and backwards people. They are mere vassals of the Romans Empire and have been conquered by every major empire in the past centuries. Why them?” God smiled and said, “That’s the beauty of it. I chose them regardless of their status in the world, regardless of even their obedience to me. I want the world to know that I am a God who loves unconditionally. In worldly weakness I am strong.” He then proceeded to tell Everyman whom He had chosen to bear his child. Everyman couldn’t believe his ears, “Ok so not only are you sending Him to a lowly people but to a peasant woman who is betrothed to a carpenter? She will be stoned for adultery! Even if she isn’t, she will be an outcast in the mind of anyone who knows her. And sending Him as a baby?! Your son could die of the stress of childbirth. He would be utterly vulnerable and probably without a father once this Joseph guy finds out Mary is pregnant. You should send him full-grown into the house of Herod or the high priest with angels announcing Him to the people of importance so they may welcome Him in power!” God chuckled and replied, “In weakness I am strong. I will indeed announce His birth with angels, but it shall be announced to shepherds on a hillside and an old priest who has been waiting for Him. And for those who have eyes to see, my star shall shine in the sky and lead any who seek that they may find His birthplace. As for Joseph, I shall invite him to participate in my plan and he shall have the choice to put aside his hurt pride and accept Mary in spite of everyone’s disapproval. Mary shall also have a choice in this, my plans always come with invitation. As for surviving childbirth, He shall be born in a manger and the true danger shall be after He is born as the powers of this world seek to put out the Light of the world.” He then proceeded to tell of His son’s ministry, inaugurated by the baptism of John. Everyman was confused, “Why would He need a baptism of repentance if He is going to be perfect? Won’t the pharisees and all the people see Him as a sinner then?” God replied, “My son is the new Adam and He will participate in the repentance of sin for the world. There is no action too humble for Him. He willingly accepts the baptism as an enactment of the story of human redemption and rebirth. I shall speak over Him their and announce Him as my beloved son. This will not be for His benefit, for I will have been teaching Him from His youth about the mystery of His incarnation. This I will say for the people listening, someday they shall know that any who accept my son become sons and daughters of mine.” “Wait,” Everyman said,”He won’t even be born with the knowledge and power that is His birthright?!” “No, He will empty Himself and take on the limitations of man. He will be a child in truth and will learn from the Torah and his parents and from Me as He grows in wisdom and stature and favor with Me and man. And after His baptism He will be tempted and tested in the truths He has learned. The Accuser shall come to Him and question His identity and My identity and He shall have to choose My promises and teachings over the lies of the Accuser. He shall feel a hunger for Me in that time but I shall feel far away to Him and only after this time of testing shall My angels come and minister to Him.” Everyman considered what he heard and was silent for a while. Then he said, “So your son could embrace the Accuser? He could reject you and follow the lies?” “Yes,” God replied. “I don’t understand,” said Everyman. “Ah, the beginning of wisdom,” and God began to tell of His son’s ministry. “Why fishermen? Why a tax collector? Why not any pharisees or priests?” “The hungry and the sick are open to Me, the proud I despise. Some religious leaders will follow him but none shall be in His twelve. If He came and gathered the religious leaders as His select few, then the people would not believe Him when He said He came for the sinners and the broken. The religious elite of Israel reject Me in pursuit of My own laws. How difficult it will be for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of heaven.” Finally, God began to tell of His son’s death. Everyman responded at first with indignation, “I thought you were bringing Your kingdom into this world! You have subverted all that this world teaches as wisdom, now Your son (with whom You are well pleased) should rise up with His followers and overthrow the oppressive kingdoms of this world. He claims to come to set the captives free, why doesn’t He use the fervor and power He has to do so?” “So, you think He should spend His whole life and ministry subverting the world’s ways only to use its way of violence to establish the Kingdom of Peace? The contradiction would be too horrible to imagine. No, My kingdom is not of this world. He shall die. Through His death shall be the fulfillment of all of Scripture. His wounds shall cleanse, He shall bear the iniquities of them all. He shall give Himself over to the powers and ways of the Accuser and, by becoming the scapegoat, the Lamb shall conquer all. He shall take their hate and accusation and they shall look to Him and be saved from it.” Everyman wept. “This is not the end of the story though, Everyman. On the third day, I shall raise Him from the dead. I shall establish My kingdom through the risen life of My son. Those eleven who are left of His chosen few and the women who loved Him shall change the world. No doubt you wonder why He wouldn’t just go about in His risen form and continue in leading those few? My plan is bigger than that. I want My people to establish My kingdom in My power and by My Spirit. They shall make all things new. They shall raise the dead and overthrow the principalities and powers. In their weakness, even in their deaths, the world will be healed and restored. It shall seem to them at times as ridiculous and foolish as My plans do to you, but I have entered into their world as a man and I know their suffering and they shall be more than conquerors through Me. Do not despair, Everyman, ever. All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well. And soon, the end shall come and the new heaven and new Earth shall be established. My bride shall be presented before me blameless and in that day all striving shall cease. There will be no more pain, but faith, hope and love and joy unceasing. This I have promised and this shall be.”

Some Thoughts on the Nature of Sin: Freedom

michelangelo_-_the_creation_of_man1

Last post I detailed my thoughts on how sin and goodness work in our lives, how sin bends our souls and we are all crooked. The post before that talked about how sin affects every one of us because of the Fall. This week is the best yet. What is Christianity’s unique solution to what is wrong in the world? Jesus. So here is a basic outline of God’s redemptive plan for this broken world He loves so much.

While we were dead in our sins, God sent Jesus to be sin and to nail our sin to the cross. Through this death and resurrection, Christ defeated sin and offered us a way of new life. This new life is given freely to us with the forgiveness of sins and the freedom from the slavery of sin. Jesus bought our lives by his death from the slavery of sin. By His resurrection He made the way for us to rise to new life and live free from sin.

Because every command of God is motivated by His character, the new life is not about avoiding sin, but about becoming more and more of the person whose character reflects the love of God (the result being sinlessness). Before Christ, we are marred images of God and we cannot help but sin by our very nature. As new creations in Christ, we are being straightened out or transformed into the type of people who cannot sin by their very nature.

Let me clarify, I believe that man can do good without being Christian. I believe the Bible teaches that the law of God is written on our hearts, represented in nature, and is a part of our nature as broken images of God. People like Aristotle have developed the idea of virtue, that goodness is like working a muscle, the more you do it the more it becomes a part of you and a habit. In this we can all make choices that are good or sinful and these will be reflected in who we are. But without Christ, we would still be slaves to sin who would eventually become so twisted and broken by sin that we would die (and continue into eternity walking away from Love and all goodness, i.e. hell).

With Christ, we are being transformed into His image and will walk through death into eternal life. This process takes a lot of surrender, a lot of self-discipline, and yet is wholly born out by Christ’s work in us. As Christians, we can participate with Him in changing us or we can resist this process. The consequences of resisting that process include suffering. By God’s grace, our suffering of the consequences of sin leads to further obedience and life. Let me emphasize this point: suffering is NOT God’s punishment for sin, but the natural consequence of sin. God does not prevent suffering because that would be an invasion of our freewill, but instead sends the Rescuer to change us into ambassadors of compassion and transformation in this world.

So if sin is a lifestyle contrary to the nature of God which leads away from life, joy, and peace and into death, brokenness, and fear then why would it not be loving to speak the truth about sin? It is absolutely loving to encourage people to live towards standards of right and wrong. This must be done with love, humility, and discernment: see my post on ToleranceBut let us continue to dialogue with each other and the world about what is right, because life and death are in the balance.

A hymn printed in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer and called Christ our Passover summarizes some of these concepts by mashing together verses from 1 Corinthians and Romans:

Alleluia.
Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us;
therefore let us keep the feast,

Not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil,
but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Alleluia.

Christ being raised from the dead will never die again;
death no longer has dominion over him.

The death that he died, he died to sin, once for all;
but the life he lives, he lives to God.

So also consider yourselves dead to sin,
and alive to God in Jesus Christ our Lord. Alleluia.

Christ has been raised from the dead,
the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

For since by a man came death,
by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.

For as in Adam all die,
so also in Christ shall all be made alive. Alleluia.