The Joy of the Lord

10 Then he said unto them, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the LORD is your strength. (Neh. 8:10)

I heard something today that disturbed me. I sat outside and smelled the night air and pondered it. What I heard is that this verse, particularly the last phrase, is used to rebuke those who are downhearted, gloomy or weeping.

I have heard this phrase. It seems to be a frequent guest lodging itself in annoying praise tunes. The idea is this:

Dance, be happy, rejoice, laugh – because God has commanded you to be full of joy in the Lord. Otherwise you will be weak and pitiful.

What bothered me is this – what about all of the times when God’s beloved people wept, or cried out to him? What about God keeping our tears in his bottle?

What about those times when violence and hatred assail our soul and we are trapped?

Or what about those times when we are bowed down by sin, crushed by the knowledge that we have offended a holy God?

That is actually the context of this verse. The people of Israel were mourning over their sins, and Nehemiah was giving them comfort.

Was he comforting by adding another commandment – be joyful!

Knowing that scripture never contradicts itself this is like an itch. I mull. I sit on the porch in quiet and think it over.

And then it occurs to me. It was like a light, a flash of joy and a thought so profound and wonderful that it doesn’t seem quite real!

What if the one with joy isn’t me? But God himself?

The word “of” can mean a variety of things. It can mean here that Israel’s joy in the Lord is their strength. OR it can mean that God’s joy in Israel is their strength.

In the context, there can be only one interpretation that fits. Israel, although convicted by the law, is told to stop weeping, get out the food, eat and drink and give generously to those who have nothing.

Why? Because even though they have sinned before God, God takes great joy in them. The joy is the Lord’s for Israel, not Israel’s for the Lord! And this changes everything.

Rather than being a command to Israel, it is a motive for OUR joy. In Christ, God’s anger is taken away. He rejoices over us. He even sings over us. He delights in us.

THIS is our strength. God’s joy in his people.

If we look within to see our joy in God and try to work some up so that God doesn’t zap us, we will never succeed. How can we rejoice? How can we love, if we view God as a harsh lawgiver ready to stomp us down any moment?

The answer is that we cannot. We can only rejoice when we fully understand that God delights in his people. The joy of the Lord is our strength.

Meditate on that. Think about how God delights in you. You are acceptable, loved, wanted, desired. Yes, your sins are many. But God’s grace is far greater.

Yes, the pain is real and the tears are real. But God isn’t in heaven scoffing at you for weeping at his harsh providence. He is holding your hand; walking with you. He is leading you to quiet pastures because he actually WANTS to. He loves you freely, not from compulsion – but that love means that he actually delights in you.

Do you know those parents that tell their kids, “I love you, but I sure don’t like you very much right now.”

And you see the child just crumple. How painful it is to not be wanted, to not be delighted in. We were created to be delighted in.

And yet in the cursed world, we are very used to the door slams, the unfriending on Social Media, the booting out of the inner circle – Jesus even said that they would throw his people out of the synagogues.

But being an outcast isn’t who you are before God. You are accepted and loved.

The joy that comes from the Lord, freely given to his people, is their strength.

Amen!

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Filed under Gospel, Hope, Love

The Meaning of Christmas

From the archives.

My Only Comfort

It’s inevitable this time of year.  People seem obsessed with “putting Christ back into Christmas”.  They seem to mean by this that we should put Nativity scenes up instead of Christmas trees, and that we should rant incessantly about spelling the holiday “Christmas” instead of “xmas”. Soon we will be asked to share memes if we agree that Jesus is the reason for the season.

Even now, perhaps there are some that are concerned that I might be taking too light a view on changing Christmas to “xmas”.  No, I’m not. “X” is simply a Greek chi, and for 2,000 years it has stood for the name “Christ.” Everyone relax.

I agree that at many times the holiday seems overdone, vain and aesthetically offensive. Christians are not immune to this charge.  There are only so many times that you can hear “Jingle Bell Rock” or “Mary did you know?”

On…

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Clothed with dignity

I’ve been thinking about clothing lately.

In my bible studies and in my preaching, I seem to come across this idea frequently. It bears some meditation.

“Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry And bring the homeless poor into the house; When you see the naked, to cover him; And not to hide yourself from your own flesh? (Isa. 58:7)

`I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ (Matt. 25:36)

These are the practical outworking of love, according to the Bible. A person who is born again by the spirit has been given new eyes and a new heart, and this new heart sees their neighbor differently than before. It is what is means to be united to Christ – to be more and more conformed to his image.

So when we say, “To be like Christ is to clothe the naked”, what do we mean? Of course, there are many other things mentioned – feeding the hungry, providing for your own relatives, comforting the lonely and downhearted, and so on, as well as other duties summarized in God’s law. But this is a blog, and I would just like to leave you with a couple of thoughts on just one word picture: What does it mean to clothe the naked?

The obvious is to provide clothing to those who are too poor to afford any. But I think it goes deeper.

Nakedness is always viewed as shameful in the scripture. It is exposure to the contempt and ridicule of others. To be naked is to be shamed, helpless, exposed.

In fact, in the Hebrew language, to be stripped naked is the same word used for being “exiled”. One who was captured and sent away was first stripped naked.

When one is stripped naked, they are no longer clothed with dignity and honor. They are no longer men or women to be respected, but slaves to be mocked.

Slaves were sold naked on the auction block. The clothed people who were the “masters” wanted to see their potential “property”.

In other words, to be naked is to no longer be viewed as an image-bearer of God, with dignity and honor. It is rather to be exposed to the leers and contempt of those who are clothed.

The first thing that we need to see is this – Jesus was stripped naked before he was nailed to the cross. He was stripped naked so that we might be clothed with his righteousness.

He was the fulfillment of the sign of the skins in the Garden of Eden. Right after the fall, God clothed Adam and Eve with the skin of an animal, pointing to the day when their shame and nakedness would be covered by the Sacrifice that God would provide.

Jesus was that sacrifice. He bore our shame. He bore the ridicule of the “clothed ones” so that I might be His forever, without shame, without sin, without nakedness. And he did this because of the “great love with which he loved us.”

We are now one step closer to seeing what it means to be like Christ in clothing the naked.

As far as we know, Jesus never donated coats to goodwill. He was poor his entire life and only had one garment. But he clothed all of his people with righteousness, holiness, wisdom, acceptance, belonging – the richest clothes imaginable.

To walk in his footsteps is to do as he did: View each person you meet as an image-bearer of God, worthy of dignity and honor. It will only come as the outflowing of a heart that is born again.

If God has provided richly in material things, then certainly give coats and clothing to the poor. Be generous with your charity. This is most certainly commanded in many places in the Scripture. But Christian love goes deeper, and “clothing the naked” applies whether you have money or not.

It means to be consciously aware of those around you – each one is worthy of dignity, whether they know it or not. Treat everyone you meet as worthy of your respect and dignity.

I will use one example that I heard from someone years ago, that I have not been able to forget.

First, from the perspective of the “church lady”.

A young woman, perhaps 18 or 19, enters the church and sits in the back row. Everyone sees her walk in. She is wearing an extremely short skirt and high heels. Her midriff is bare. Her cleavage is showing. She isn’t wearing makeup. She sneaks in the back and sits down.

The men leer at her. The church lady, out of the goodness of her heart, draws her to the side and explains to her that her outfit is making the men lust, and they can’t worship with her dressed like that.

She leaves the service and never returns. What happened?

What happened was that the congregation did not “clothe the naked” as Jesus clothed us.

Let’s look at the same scenario from the point of view of the young woman.

A young woman is sexually assaulted over and over again by her mother’s boyfriend. No one has ever been kind to her. No one has ever viewed her as anything other than an object to be used and discarded.

She runs away from home at age 13. While on the streets, hungry and cold, a young man comes to her rescue. He brings her home and begins to groom her. It is the only life she knows. By the time she is 14, she is turning tricks to keep her new “boyfriend” from throwing her out or hurting her badly.

When she turns 18, she hears a preacher on the radio speak about Jesus and how he forgives sin, how he came to rescue those who were lost, and how he seeks and saves…she works up every bit of courage she can muster, puts on her very best outfit, and braves the church…

And she is told that the men, who profess to follow Jesus, are lusting after her and she needs to put on more clothes.

Where can she be safe, if not the church of Jesus Christ? Her worst nightmare has come true, that even God views her as an object to be used and discarded.

We can do better. Of course this young woman is a sinner. She would be hard around the edges. She has learned how to survive in ways that would cause us the flinch.

But Jesus clothes the naked.

“When you found me naked, you clothed me”, Jesus said. You didn’t mock me. You didn’t condescend to me. You didn’t lust after me. You didn’t clothe me with shame.

You didn’t tell me that I was not acceptable, not wanted, not worth dignity and love.

What you did was you clothed me. You treated me with kindness and honor. You heard me. You saw me. You treated me as if I were valuable, worth saving. You treated me as if I were a lost coin, rejoicing that I was found.

Of course, if you view the body of an 18 or 19 year old as an object to be lusted after, no matter how they are dressed, you have far deeper problems and I would suggest you fly to your redeemer yourself before YOUR nakedness is exposed, but that is another blog for another day.

As the body of Christ, should we not learn to view people as HE viewed people while he walked on this earth?

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Peopling is hard

My brain sometimes behaves like an 8 year old. It hides behind things and jumps out at me in the hopes of messing me up. One of its favorite tricks is to blend words that people say to me in new and unique ways so that all I am hearing is gibberish.

As an interesting example, when I was a child, a minister friend of my father’s would greet me with “What’s new?” My brain scramble would hear, “What snew?”

“What snew?” I have no idea what to say to that. Like my brain just jumped out at me and said, “Gotcha!” and all I could do is go, “waaaaaaaahhhhh” but that doesn’t contribute anything at all to the conversation. I would function enough to know that simply going waaaahhhh would get me sent away, so I just gaped.

Since that brain scramble wasn’t enough, my brain decided to disconnect the circuitry that responds to anything. After rejecting waaaaaaaaahhhhhhh as inadequate for the situation, I would say nothing and just wait for something to load….

“Snew…” “snew.” *file not found. critical error. abort immediately.

From the perspective of the adults around me, I’m just a drooling imbecile. But my brain runs Vista and frequently shuts down.

As I got a bit older, I started to just say, “What?” Or, more politely, “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that.” Or perhaps “pardon me?”

But then he would just say, “What snew?” again, which isn’t exactly helpful.

How many times does one say, “What?” before one just gives up and says the first thing that pops into his mind?

“What snew

“What?

“What snew?

“I purpled a thing and I can’t dog anymore.

Peopling is exhausting sometimes.

Of course, as an adult, I am far more understanding of the gaping child. Look at it from his perspective: he is sitting there minding his own business. His mind is pondering. His unicorns are unicorning and his purpling is purpler than ever before. He is thinking through the mysteries of self and why I am me and you are you and what is the dogness of the dog and then some giant man shouts at you…

“What snew?”

That’s just too much input. Critical error. This is going to take some time to boot up.

I need a nap now. This, mom, is why I just would give up and go to bed at 9:30.

If I’m gaping at you, or my words are not the expected response, please be assured that I am really trying. Also please be aware that I might just need a nap.

Jesus said to deal with your neighbor as you would have them deal with you. We all have a basic need to be understood. God created us to know and to be known.

But we teach our kids to be silent, to conform, to be just like everyone else. In fact, our whole education model is based upon making the children conform. No wonder anxiety and depression and ADHD are rampant. God didn’t create us to conform. He created us to commune! We aren’t borg. We are image-bearers of God.

But we have had generations of teaching children “Sit still. Answer the adults. Be respectful. Regurgitate your lessons properly. Don’t fidget in church. Don’t embarrass your parents by being different…”

Let’s try a different strategy. Let’s try communing with our children instead of making them conform. Listen to them. Provide a safe space for them to thrive. Let them be themselves, with all of their glorious coloring.

“I think that those who would try to make you feel less than who you are…that’s the great evil” (Fred Rogers).

Let’s stop the “I turned out just fine” model and learn from the past.

And when a child is staring with an open gaping mouth, maybe give him a break. Things that come easily to you might not come easily to everyone else, and that is OK. All of us have our own glorious purpling.

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9 things for November 10

I’m teaching piano to the grandkids. Last week, I gave one an assignment to practice. We worked on it, and he was ready. Today, he came to the piano, sat down. Looked at the music. Looked at the keyboard and said, “Am I supposed to press the keys?” This doesn’t bode well.

If your theology requires that you be served, whether at home or anywhere else, it isn’t of Christ. He didn’t come to be served, but to serve. He calls us to imitate him specifically in that area. It isn’t about authority and power. It’s about service and love. Put on the apron. Quit subjecting others to your whims.

The occupation of mocking others for being “stupid” is not something I can get behind. I used to join in easily, but then I was convicted. People make mistakes. People have different gifts. People sometimes don’t see what others see as obvious. Calling another “stupid” merely exposes one’s own pride and desperation.

Rahab’s father, mother and entire family were brought into her house, under her “umbrella of protection” and were saved because of her faith. God delights in turning the norms of a patriarchal society on its head. This merits some mulling over. He didn’t tell her to go to her father’s house. He told her father to go to her house.

The scripture teaches that riches and poverty do not come by chance, but by the hand of our heavenly Father. We have no idea what drives some into poverty while some prosper. Riches are a matter of “dumb luck” more often than not. Can we honestly say that the world’s richest people are smarter and harder working than others? Or were they rather “at the right place at the right time”.

I don’t say this out of envy, for I have no desire to be wealthy. It is not my goal. I say this so that we will stop considering wealth as the measure of a person. Success on earth and success with God are entirely different things.

Because, as I said, God delights in turning the norms of the patriarchy upside down. He delights in those who fear him, not those who know how to squeeze a buck or make fortunes. Will he who made the gold and diamonds be impressed with the one who knows how to collect them?

The album “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” has many delights and deserves it’s place as one of the greatest. I am awestruck every time I hear “I’ve Seen That Movie Too.”

Be thankful in prosperity and don’t forget to share. Be patient in adversity and don’t forget to rejoice that your name is written in heaven. And for what is future, have good confidence in your heavenly father, that nothing can remove you from his almighty hand.

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Image-bearers

27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. (Gen. 1:27)

Sometimes I use this blog as an opportunity to jot down an idea while it is mulling. It is sort of an invitation to mull right along with me.

I have over the past few months been meditating on the doctrine of eternal generation. This is the doctrine that God the Father is begetting the Son in an unfathomable, eternal act. This act of begetting does not have a before, after, or future, but takes place in eternity without any change in the nature of God.

Simply, this means that it is of God’s essence to fellowship, to love, and to overflow with goodness. This goodness flows into creation and God created man to share in the love and fellowship of the Trinity. It was fitting, then, that men and women be created in the image of God, to share in that fellowship as much as creatures are able to.

So…mull on that a bit…

Of course, man fell. And that corrupted everything. Jesus came into the world to restore what was destroyed in the fall.

In other words, he came to bring us back into the fellowship of love that we were created to take a part in.

25 O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee: but I have known thee, and these have known that thou hast sent me.
26 And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them. (Jn. 17:25-26)

OK. Moving on.

Let’s take this to the next step. If the essence of God is eternal communion and love (which the doctrine of eternal generation teaches), then sin is far greater than we can imagine, for it breaks the fellowship with God. We are born alienated and strangers to that fellowship.

This is what the church meant when it taught the “T” in “TULIP” – total depravity. Man cannot climb back into God’s graces because man is fallen in the totality of his being.

But according to scripture, even though it teaches that “all have sinned and have come short of the glory of God”, sin is not the essence of who men and women are. Essentially, they are image-bearers of God. Therefore, they are redeemable, for when sin is taken away, the image of God remains and is restored.

So here is what I am mulling – what if we viewed human beings as essentially image-bearers of God rather than essentially as sinners?

Think about that. How much would change in your thinking?

Even in the law, a criminal was not to be tortured and beaten to a pulp because of the image-bearing that was essentially there. He was not to be despised (Deut. 25:3)

When we view people as primarily sinners, we cannot see anything worth redeeming in them.

We must then shun music and art and fashion and poetry for fear that we will somehow be tainted by “sinners”.

And, worse, we cannot see beyond our senses, to the inherent dignity and worth of every man, woman and child as reflecting their heavenly Father, whether they remain in their sins or are redeemed by Christ.

And so we must ask ourselves, “How much is a little girl worth?”

“How much is a little boy worth?”

And if we view children as “vipers in diapers”, and as essentially sinners, we have to answer, “Not much…” and our actions reflect that answer.

But as Christians we believe the bible. We believe that men and women are not essentially sinners. Sin came later, a corruption of what was essentially there, which is what makes it so heinous. But it also makes men and women redeemable, which is what Christ’s mission was. To redeem his people from their sins and misery.

If we truly believe that, then the question “How much is a child worth?” has a clear answer.

Worth fighting for. Worth protecting. Worth all of your treasures and gifts to love and protect. Worth your love and your joy and your cherishing.

If we truly believed that, would churches continue to condone and overlook violence against women?

If we truly believed that, would slavery and racism have ever been a thing?

If we believed that, would there have been a genocide of California Indians?

The history of the United States, for all of the good that was there, forgot quite frequently that men and women are essentially image-bearers of God, and God takes how we treat them quite seriously, whether they are still in their sins or not.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son.”

You were all created in honor. Fallen in sin, yes. Unable to free yourselves. Yes.

Sinking in the mud of death and misery? Yes.

But because essentially you are an image-bearer of God, you are worth redemption.

12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, (Jn. 1:12)

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9 things (Oct.16)

All of scripture points to Christ. Even “getting wisdom”, which is the theme of Proverbs, is about coming to Christ, the wisdom of God. The major problem with the church today is that they view Scripture as a “how to” manual, rather than the revelation of Jesus Christ.

If you view the book of Proverbs as an owners manual on successful living, you will miss everything there.

Alexa misheard me and said, “Now playing – music by Britney Spears”. My wife shouted NO!! Then she muttered, “I’m glad she’s free and all, but I still don’t want to hear her.”

The Bible isn’t about sex, kids, marriage, successful finances, health, prosperity, eating, drinking, working, economics, art, how you smell, what you wear – it is about Jesus. Find him, and you will live. Trust in your own ability to “do this, and live” and you will die. When you find Jesus, everything else flows from there.

Paul Washer said that when you become a believer you no longer dress or smell like the world. I have no idea what that means.

Modesty, in the scripture, means not dressing to show off your status or to shame those who are different than you. Not everyone can afford to stay home and homeschool; not everyone can afford a Sunday dress; not everyone can afford a suit and tie. Not everyone has a spouse or kids or votes republican or has money in the bank. Not everyone can live without ever getting public assistance. Not everyone has 10 dollars to spend on the secret Christmas gift exchange. But everyone can find freedom from shame in Christ and should be able to find it in the church. This is what “modesty” means. Don’t dress or act in such a way that would bring shame on your neighbors.

I spent the week nursing my wife back to health. She had surgery on Monday. Because of her Ehlers Danlos, everything take a lot longer to heal than it would on someone else. I starting thinking that everyone’s growth rate, healing rate, grieving rate, learning rate, “getting over things” rate is different and also comes from the Lord. I’m so thankful that he remembers our frailty and never shames us for being slow. Only the hirelings beat the sheep when they lag behind.

If you ever get a chance to hear Anna Netrebko sing, you should take it.

Sometimes progress in sanctification is spending an hour trying to get your printer to work after an update without once calling for fire and brimstone on the head of Bill Gates, or Hewlett and Packard. Success sometimes means measuring in baby steps.

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Nine Things (October 9)

I read recently that almost all canned pumpkin is actually butternut squash. They are so genetically similar that the FDA considers them the same. But the squash generally has more flavor and better texture.

About ten years ago, my wife and I were sitting outside in a shopping center and drinking coffee. Two teenaged boys walked by. One said, “I’m not going to keep my money in the freezer anymore. I just end up stabbing it.” I still don’t have a context to put that in.

Pumpkin spice contains no pumpkin. Or butternut squash.

Diane Langberg’s teaching on power and vulnerability is tremendous. Her statement “power, if it is to be Christlike, must be used to bless others” is one to meditate on for a long time.

Tomorrow’s sermon is on Zechariah 6. While I was thinking on it, it struck me: They put the crown on Joshua’s head. And then they took it off, because it belongs to another – the Branch. The crown isn’t yours. But you partake in that anointing to the extent that you are being conformed to Christ…You’ll need to hear the sermon.

The crown was put in the temple as a memorial – to point forward to the Branch. If we are the temple of the Lord, our task is always to point to Another.

Years ago, I played the piano at an event of some sort. A woman came up to me and said, “I could listen to you play all day.” Mostpeople would say “Thank you.” That, of course, isn’t me. What I said was “But I can’t play all day.”

Rachmaninoff wanted to meet Stravinsky, but didn’t know how to go about it. Having heard that Stravinsky liked honey, Rach showed up at his house late at night with a jar of honey and no explanation. This is a kind of awkward that resonates deeply with me.

Fried chicken came first. Then someone decided to fry steak the same way that one fried chicken, and the Chicken Fried Steak was born. Then someone decided to fry chicken the way that steak fried like chicken is fried and they called it “Chicken fried chicken.” At some point it should probably stop. It’s just getting silly.

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Victim and victor

Because there are certain types who like to argue over everything, there is a current debate in the Twitterverse over the concept of Christ as a victim.

One celebrity preacher tweets, “Christ was not a victim” and then digs in his heels.

I generally don’t involve myself in the current stupidity on Twitter, but this one strikes close to home.

There is, first of all, a rather unfathomable disdain for “victims”. I have heard “victim mentality” thrown around and I still have no idea what people mean by that.

Are they talking about someone who continues to struggle with trauma after abuse or other criminal activity?

Are they talking about those without power finally getting a voice and speaking out against the wealthy and powerful who have plowed their backs for decades?

I really don’t know. But I know that when they talk about “victim mentality” they spit the word with contempt. This is unfathomable to me.

If anyone could explain to me the “victim mentality” and why it is deserving of contempt, I would be grateful. Is it the desire for justice that is so bothersome? Is it the need for help at times? Is it the lingering affects?

If someone was robbing my home and shot me in the foot, would walking with a limp the rest of my life be a “victim mentality”? Or would it just be my desire to see the one who shot me receive justice? If the one who shot me didn’t receive justice and that made me angry, would that be a “victim mentality?”

If loud bangs after that event cause my adrenaline to spike and me to instinctively seek cover, would that be a “victim mentality”?

If someone asks me where I got my limp and I answer, “Some jackass shot me in the foot” – would that be a “victim mentality”?

Seriously, I don’t get it. What causes such contempt for victims of crimes?

The problem, of course, with contempt for a victim of injustice is that you then have to explain Jesus Christ. Hence, “Jesus was not a victim.”

The justification for this rather inane statement is that Jesus was at no time out of control of the situation. No one took his life from him, he laid it down himself willingly as a sacrifice for sin.

You have no argument from me. That is orthodox theology. But that isn’t what “victim” means.

Victim simply means one who is on the receiving end of a crime or another injustice. It seems to me that in the rush to justify contempt for victims, the celebrity pastor has entered into the territory of gibberish.

Does he really mean to say that Jesus was not a victim of injustice, or a victim of a crime? Victim doesn’t actually mean “Powerless to stop it”.

Jesus is also true God and true man, which I am not. I do not have the ability to remain in control of every situation at all times. I, as a frail human being, am often the victim of crimes or injustices that I am powerless to stop. But the scripture also teaches that Jesus took the form of a servant and is therefore able to empathize with every trial that frail humans endure, except for sin (Heb. 4:15). Being powerless to prevent injustice is not a sin. As true man, it seems to me that he also took upon himself the powerlessness of frailty, in a way we cannot fathom. He was at once victim and victor, and we can’t fathom that any more than we can fathom how he who is life could suffer death.

If they mean by this that Jesus did not sin while he was suffering injustice and being murdered, I have no argument there either. But “victim” doesn’t mean “someone who sins while being victimized”. It simply means one who has suffered from injustice or other crimes.

This is pretty basic Christology. One of my concerns is how quickly evangelicalism jettisons the basics of the Christian faith in order to justify their world view. If the Trinity can become a social playground to battle feminism, then I suppose Christology is also fair game to these people. But they should at least know what is at stake.

If Jesus was not a victim, then we have no salvation.

“Why did he suffer under Pontius Pilate?

“That he, being innocent, might be condemned by the temporal judge, thereby delivering me from the just judgment of God, to which I was exposed.” Heidelberg Catechism #38

But it seems to me that this contempt for “victimhood” has a deeper cause.

There is a certain person who refuses to view themselves as a victim, even if they have suffered tremendous injustice. So it seems to me that defining terms might be more helpful than simply spouting sound bites.

So I would offer this:

Jesus is true God and true man. He was the victim of the greatest injustice ever perpetrated upon a human being. As true God he could have stopped it at any time. But instead, as our Mediator, he prayed, “Not my will, but thine be done.” His willingness to obey even on the cross does not change the fact that they took him with wicked hands and nailed him to a cross.

11 Be not far from me; for trouble is near; for there is none to help.
  12 Many bulls have compassed me: strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round.
  13 They gaped upon me with their mouths, as a ravening and a roaring lion.
  14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels.
  15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death.
  16 For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet.
  17 I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me.
  18 They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.
  19 But be not thou far from me, O LORD: O my strength, haste thee to help me.
  (Ps. 22:11-19)

There are many times when men and women are powerless to stop crimes against themselves. Those crimes strike at the heart of our personhood and cause tremendous damage in the soul.

Being powerless against crime does not make you a contemptable, filthy, damaged person. It makes you human in a cursed world. The blood of Abel’s victimhood cried out from the earth, and God heard it.

The severity of the crime against you will determine the level of damage against you. Sometimes you need help climbing out of the pit. Needing help does not make you a contemptable, filthy, damaged person. It makes you a human being.

Jesus rose from the dead on the third day. Our resurrection has not happened yet. Until then, we mourn. Until then, we cry out. We will be afraid, sad, discouraged, anxious, downhearted, fearful and longing for the marriage supper of the lamb. This is what it means to be human.

One more admonition, for those who have read thus far. The gospel is this: “While we were yet without strength, Christ died for the ungodly.”

Modern evangelicalism, on the contrary, is about power and strength. Those with political power and wealth are admired. The only way to “take the country back for Jesus” is through power, money and strength. this is always what makes “Christendom” so contrary to Christianity. Every time the “city on the hill” has been tried, it has failed in an avalanche of oppression, power, money, prestige and politics. There have been no exception, because the kingdom of God is not of this earth.

Christ came for those without strength. He said, “Blessed are the poor.”

Therefore, Paul learned to count all of his earthly advantages as dung that he might know Christ and the power of his resurrection.

For this reason, the apostles endured persecution and injustice. They stopped it when they were able to, but most of the time they were not.

When Paul was beheaded, he was a victim. When Peter was crucified, he was a victim. When Bartholomew was roasted alive, he was a victim.

They were not contemptable and worthless because they did not have the power to stop it, and neither are you.

Evangelicalism today is a movement of strength and self-help. One who is needy is not welcome.

But needing help is not a moral failure. In fact, needing help is the only way that we can come to Christ at all.

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Grief

There is something sneaky about grief. It creeps up behind you while you are weeding the garden or watching the hummingbirds and it bashes you over the head.
Or it sneaks into your pores and hides in the nooks and crannies of the soul only to come out of hiding when you aren’t occupied with anything else.
The song over the speakers in the grocery store. The coffee shop that you used to go to. The street you used to walk down. The hymns you used to sing…

It is so painful and so brutally honest that MostPeople hide from it, bury it, will offer their souls to just make it stop…

But wisdom walks with grief. Wisdom weeps and cries out. Wisdom takes grief out of hiding and turns it this way and that…not to find a solution, but just to grieve.

Grief is the B-side of love. Only those who love much grieve much.
Wisdom sits with grief, not trying to learn, not trying to manage, not trying to overcome – just sits with it…
When we sit with grief, it has a way of pointing us somewhere else. It reminds us that we were not made for this world and this is not how it is supposed to be.
And we are powerless to do anything about it. And so we cry out to a Saviour who hears us, who has conquered death, who walks with us through the dark valleys…
Everything else seems to fade away.
We still eat. We still vote. We still have our opinions about viruses and vaccines. We still have our experiences and personalities.
But suddenly they don’t seem all that important anymore.

Grief is the B-side of love. And when one sits with grief, everything except love is stripped away.
But only if you sit with it without trying to learn anything from it.
Growth comes from the rain of grief coupled with patience.
Take time to grieve.
Every plant has its own pace. Let the rain do its work.

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