Wednesday, May 10, 2017

On Justice and Punishment

Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”  She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”  (John 8:10-11, ESV)

I had a somewhat odd thought the other day (not uncommon if you know me at all).  I was thinking of an old Sunday School song and it struck me how theologically incorrect I now find it to be.  The words are simple and harmless enough and, perhaps, you feel like I'm reading too much into it.  But I distinctly hear something in the tone of "Oh Be Careful Little ..." where the refrain tells us about God looking down to say it is in love, but in reality it's a warning that he is looking down and ready to zap us with punishment if our little hands (or feet or ears or whatever) don't straighten up and fly right.  That, my friends, is a message of punishment - the same root word as punitive.  And it couldn't be farther from the truth about God's Justice through Christ.

In my recent studies from Tim Keller's "Encounters with Jesus", I've been reading the chapter he titled "Two Advocates".  The whole book has been a great read, but something in this chapter stuck out even more.  We're fairly used to calling the Holy Spirit an Advocate, but Jesus tells his disciples he is sending another Advocate.  This means that Jesus is the First Advocate and has a distinctly different role for us as he fulfills that duty.

Advocate is a legal term telling us we have clear and authoritative representation.  Our Advocate (the First one, Jesus) sits beside the Father and represents us and our case.  As he does this, he isn't begging for Mercy at all - rather he is claiming Justice.  He can rightly do that because the Law has been fulfilled (Keller points out that the Law is now actually on our side of the scales rather than against us).  As such, we cannot be found guilty and no punishment can be exacted, for that would mean our crimes were paid for twice.  Justice was fulfilled completely and is no longer in question.

That's why I love the passage I noted earlier.  The woman is given Mercy because Justice will be fulfilled by the very one who stands in front of her.  No further punishment will be required - EVER!  And, as a result, he exhorts her to live a life worthy of that gift and know her future is secure.

The Crooked Path is full of twists and turns, rises and ruts, monotony and surprises.  But it is also paved with Justice done once for all time ... and the very thought of punishment ought never to enter my mind as I travel.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Cue Sunrise and Resurrection


Rise again, yes, you will rise again,
My dust, after brief rest!
Immortal life! Immortal life
Will He, who called you, grant you.

To bloom again, you were sown!
The Lord of the Harvest goes
And gathers like sheaves,
Us, who died.

O believe, my heart, believe:
Nothing will be lost to you!
Yours, yes, yours is what you longed for,
Yours what you loved,
What you fought for!

Gustav Mahler (Symphony 2 – Resurrection)

I ran across a blog post by someone I’d never met, nor had I read his work.  The link came to me via a friend and, after reading what John Pletcher wrote in reaction to seeing “Beauty and the Beast” I was prompted to write about our Great Hope.  Given we are past the mid-point in Lent, I thought it was appropriate.  I won’t be able to link this out on my own social networks until after Easter, but I wanted to write while the thoughts were still fresh in my mind.  Thank you, John, for the e-mail exchange and encouragement.

The poem above represents the sum total of choral lyrics for Mahler’s 2nd Symphony.  I had the privilege of participating once and the memory has stuck with me.  I won’t comment or cast any suspicions on Mahler’s intent, but I will say his words and the timing during the symphony provide a truly dynamic experience.  You see, the choir sits silent on stage for about the first 100 minutes (no intermission for the piece).  Then, in very low tones, and usually in German, the lyrics resonate the with the sheer anticipation of a resurrection.  As I read John Pletcher’s piece, recalled the Mahler and reflected on the book I’m teaching from (Keller’s “Encounters with Jesus”), the hope of resurrection swelled within me.

It truly is a “tale as old as time” … in fact, The Story pre-dates time.  It’s an eternal theme that culminates in resurrection and a complete restoration (at least, that’s how I read the end of Revelation).  We are invited to be swept up in the words of the Rabbi who tells Martha and Mary, “I AM the Resurrection”.  This is what he demonstrates to Mary Magdalene when he gently speaks her name, inviting her to believe that he has indeed resurrected.  And it’s all juxtaposed against the crucial angst he felt as he, quite literally, begged the Father to find another way.


Yet, and if the Lenten season reminds us of nothing else it should remind us of this, he completed what we could not do for ourselves.  He resurrected so that we can have a part in the resurrection ourselves.  We can’t earn it or finagle it in any way.  We bring zero – we’re completely dead.  He breathes Life into us so we can sing, as we travel the Crooked Path, “Rise again, yes, rise again!”  That’s where the path is leading for all those who will but travel it willingly.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Life Matters

Then the Lord said, “You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. It came quickly and died quickly.  But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?” (Jonah 4:10-11, NLT)


I’ve been writing this particular post in my head for quite some time and decided I should finally assemble and post it.  The final thoughts started to come together about a month ago when I listened to a message that referenced Jonah’s story.  It’s one that has kind of fascinated me, especially once I got past the flannelgraph version.  

The scene is on a hill overlooking Nineveh.  Jonah has finally done what he’s been asked to do, yet his heart obviously wasn’t in the job.  Or, more accurately, he didn’t have God’s heart for people or the value of life.  He’s mad that God didn’t go nuclear on the city and God confronts him regarding the value of the lives of those people – and the value of life.  Jonah, you see, is quite the bigot and thinks that only the privileged and chosen should be redeemed.  Everyone else can, quite literally, go to hell in a handbasket.

So, amidst the continuous barrage of “fill-in-the-blank lives matter” I started thinking about the whole concept.  I think at the heart of the problem is a human condition that, much like Jonah, fails to recognize that life (not just lives) matters.  Everything else is an extension of that and so, when I don’t value the life in someone else – regardless of their color or creed or whatever – I fail to see life the way God looks at it.  If I really believe he is the Creator and that all human life bears his Image, it ought to make me act and react differently to others.  It ought to help me curb my anger and indifference and realize that, much like those lives in Nineveh, there are people out there who don’t know up from down, left from right or evil from good.  And the LIFE in those people bears the Image of the Almighty.

The Crooked Path is a journey and I will have the opportunity to influence and lift up many people.  Some of them will be the most disenfranchised and dejected people I’ve ever met, and to them I need to pay extra special attention.  It may be that God has placed me there because of the great value he sees in their life and has given me the grand opportunity to help them see their Creator, perhaps for the first time.