Casey Anthony: Seeking justice or vengeance?

The two most vilified words in the America today are Casey Anthony.  They spark rage, frustration, shock, horror.  And why not?  They have become synonymous with the tragic death of a little child, probably just like the one Jesus placed on His knee as He taught those around Him about the Kingdom of Heaven.  Many people believe that Ms. Anthony was the murderer, if not at least a cause in her daughter’s death.  People look at her and believe that SHE should die, just like that little girl.  One woman in Texas even followed another woman who looked like Casey Anthony and crashed into her car, injuring the look-alike.  We exclaim that justice should be done, and “an eye for an eye,” and cry foul when the ends do not meet our expectations.  We want JUSTICE, we say!

Is that true, though?  Do we seek justice for Caylee, and punishment for the accused?  Is justice even the right world for it?  Justice is the “adminstration of what is just” from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary.  It is the result of the actions of a judge.  And who is the judge for Casey Anthony?  Are we?

Vengeance, on the other hand, is “punishment inflicted in retaliation for an injury or offense” (same source).  Which one sounds more like us?

What has Casey Anthony done to us?  Has she inflicted an injury to us?  Or do we just find her offensive?  Maybe that is it.  We see the death of a child as an offense because it is so close to us.  We all have children like Caylee in our lives.  Little ones who are our sons or daughters, nephews, nieces, or children of our friends or family.  We seek an outlet for our anger and we point to the one who SHOULD HAVE CARED FOR THE CHILD!  That much is true.  However, we are not the judges of Casey Anthony.  And our anger is not just.  It is a sin.  We have sinned against Casey Anthony when we call for her head and spit venom on her.

Romans 14:10, “Why do you pass judgment on your brother?  Or you, why do you despise your brother?  For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.”

And two chapters earlier, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.'”

Let God be the judge of man, and Casey Anthony.  He knows what is in her heart.  And if she seeks the forgiveness of the Lord for her sins, whatever they may be, He will grant it to her.  And He will grant the same to you, even when you sin in anger against your neighbor.  Pull out Luther’s Small Catechism and read the Fifth and Ninth Commandments and their meanings.  Seek the Lord and the forgiveness He brings in the Gospel.  Remember that it applies to all, no matter the sin or the stain.  Thanks be to God.

When putting your feet up is a bad thing…

Having gotten justifiably indignant earlier today about a conversation I had regarding the Lord’s Supper, I was all prepared to write a post of the efficacy of the Sacrament.  I was reading in Luther’s Large Catechism when I came across an interesting passage, and felt the need to share.  So I figured I’d let my head cool a little while discussing a different topic.  But, never fret, we will have discussion on The Sacrament of the Altar soon, for it is a topic that requires regular treatment.  But I digress…

Luther says in his Large Catechism, in Part V:  The Sacrament of the Altar:

“Therefore, the Sacrament is given as a daily pasture and sustenance, that faith may refresh and strengthen itself [Psalm 23:1-3] so that it will not to fall back in such a battle, but become ever stronger and stronger.  The new life must be guided so that it continually increases and progresses.  But it must suffer much opposition.  For the devil is such a furious enemy.  When he sees that we oppose him and attack the old man, and that he cannot topple us over by force, he prowls and moves about on all sides [1 Peter 5:8]  He tries every trick and does not stop until he finally wears us out, so that we either renounce our faith or throw up our hands and put up our feet, becoming indifferent or impatient. Now to this purpose the comfort of the Sacrament is given when the heart feels that the burden is becoming too heavy, so that it may gain here new power and refreshment.” – Concordia:  The Lutheran Confessions, ed. Paul Timothy McCain.

It is this phrase “throw up our hands and put up our feet, becoming indifferent or impatient” that caught my eye the most.  How true is this when thinking about service for the Church?!  How many times have we all felt this way?  We are put off by the slowness of our congregations, or the lack of “getting things done,” and we choose to ignore the problem.  Or we walk away and say to ourselves, “Let somebody else worry about it, I’m done!”  We become agitated or aggrieved by our congregation’s actions, the decision at a Voters’ Meeting, or upset about the discussion with members of a Board on which we serve.

“Be sober-minded; be watchful.  Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”  Luther mentions this verse specifically.  But what if the lion is not roaring and gnashing his teeth?  Instead, what if he is just slowing, quietly, chewing our leg off?  (Happy metaphor, I know…)  Seriously, though, why must Satan always seek to tear us limb from limb, when he can softly extinguish our faith with the breath of indifference and unattentiveness, like blowing out a candle?

This is why faithful attendance on Sunday morning is so important.  The burning flame of faith can only be brightened and strengthened by God’s Word, and the Holy Spirit working through the Word.  Regularly receiving the Lord’s Supper strengthens faith and forgives sins.  It builds us up to fight off the devil’s efforts, whether like the lion or the wind.  It keeps us steadfast in our faith so that indifference or impatience cannot take root.  Isn’t it interesting that the thing which makes the membership of a church function most successfully (faith) is the thing the church comes together to build in the membership, through the power of that which built the church in the first place (God and His Word)?  Let that one soak in for a while…

Waiting for God…Oh?

Here is an email I wrote many years ago to some friends of mine as a devotion.  It’s amazing to look back on it now and realize that God works in His own ways at his own times (some of those times may not be here, yet, either).  You may also notice that the beginning of the email is the title of this blog (I’ll save that story for another time).

Dear Christian Friends,

There are many things that I want in this world. A loving, caring, beautiful family that I can take care of. A fulfilling, uplifting job as a pastor in the Lord’s church. World peace. Things like that. And I want them NOW. As you can tell, I, like many of us, have a problem with being impatient. I swear that God seriously doesn’t have a watch that works. And it’s not that I don’t get what I need when I need it. Matthew 6:25ff is very true. God does provide. It’s just that God has a way of giving me what I need when I have my eyes set on something else I want.

Well, I’ve come to a realization. I’m not ready for what I need when I want it, usually. Oh sure, when I need a home, a friend, or a turkey sandwich on wheat, God’s always got one ready. But the things I think I WANT, that “I can’t live without,” or the things that I need to have soon, I am not ready for.

I want to be a husband and a loving father. Yet, time and again, I fail to realize that I need to spend the time I have preparing to fulfill a job that the Lord wants me to do down the road (1 Peter 1:13). My time is best spent, right now, working on preparing myself to serve Him in love and faithfulness, waiting patiently for the good things that He has in store for me. Romans 8:25, “But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”

Let me give you an example from my own life. I want, and I mean really want, a female companion to share my life with. But, I realize, that God knows that I am not ready to share my life with someone; I am not ready to commit to a lasting relationship, because He has things that I must do and skills I must learn. I am not ready to tackle the problems and stress of marriage. I mean, I’m not ready to tackle the problems and stress of a Monday morning yet. How can I possibly be ready for marriage? But, I know that God and I will work together to see fit that I have the tool and knowledge to deal with sharing EVERYTHING with another human being. My purpose right now is to live a God-centered life, to make Him and His plan my number one concern, to take care of my problems, struggles, and stumbling blocks, before I can move into new responsibilities. The good things will come, that I am sure of. Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”

Even later in life, I have a job to do. God wants me to spread His love to the nations (Matthew 28:19-20). He wants me to love Him and my family and friends and brothers and sisters in Christ. I need to make sure that my mind is not cluttered with overzealous plans and desires when my one focus should be on Him. Now, I’m not saying that you can’t think about what you would like in this world, but what I am saying is make sure that what you want doesn’t get in the way of the Lord and your devotion to Him.

Remember, make God and His plan for you your focus right now. Let Him be your guide, and He will help you, love you, and give you all that you need. He has given gifts to you to use in this life, and you need to remember to learn them so that you can use them when He fulfills your wants and needs.

Jeremiah 29:11-13, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all of your heart.'”

See also Proverbs 19:21, Psalm 37, Romans 8 (one of the greatest chapters in the Bible), Philippians 2:12-18, 2 Timothy 2:14-26

The difference between accepted and received…

There was a discussion I used to have with an old coworker who was a non-Lutheran Evangelical (right now my Pastor is screaming “We’re the Evangelicals! They stole our name!”) during which we would discuss the meaning of Ephesians 2:8-9.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

He would say, rather profusely, that a gift is free, to be sure, but you must reach out and take the gift. It is our job, he would argue, to accept the gift that God gives us. And, of course, I would look at him like he had three heads and say, “No, the gift is free. It is given to us and we don’t have to do anything to get it.”

This would go back and forth for a while until our boss would come out of her office and tell us to get back to work. And then, a few weeks later, we would do it all over again. I would say, “Accepting God’s grace is a work,” and he would disagree. You can see how this went on, over and over.

It was only recently that I come to realize the flaw I was missing. His point of view left out the key to the whole discussion. What does “accept” really have to do with this? Nothing, actually.

See, we don’t accept God’s grace. Any good Lutheran will tell you that. We receive it. That’s the real rub of the matter. My coworker’s argument holds water in the human mind if you don’t move the method behind it to the proper place. Even Baptism looks like a work if you don’t take into account the power of God’s Word.

God gives us His grace. In fact, He gives us our faith through hearing His Word. Our salvation comes from the Lord. How wonderful it is to know that we do not have to make ourselves believe, or turn our hearts to God, or feel His Sprirt in order to get the gift of grace. Because, to be honest, I feel like a pretty bad person a lot of the time. I constantly sin. It’s impossible for me to go for any amount of time without doing something against God, others, or myself. The doubt in my own ability is enormous. How can I feel an assurance of my salvation when this is what I have to deal with all the time? And I know I’m not the only one who feels this way.

How glorious it is then that we know God has given to us, by faith, the saving grace of His love. We only need to hear His Word and receive the faith from the Holy Spirit that we are redeemed through Christ.

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”. Romans 5:1-2

By Grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Amen and amen.

One sentence of Law and Gospel

You’ll notice that this post contains the same as the previous post. It had that kind of effect…

As I was listening to Issues, Etc.(shameless name-dropping and gratuitous plug) in the car the other day on podcast, I heard a commercial which included a soundbite from the LCMS President Matthew Harrison. In the audio clip, he says,

“My friends, Jesus comes only for sinners.”

I found myself rewinding and playing the clip over and over again (thank you, iPhone, for the 30 seconds reverse scan feature!), which is what I’m doing now, actually. I kept hearing the phrase in my head for days afterwards. And only just recently did it finally occur to me why I cannot stop thinking about that statement. This is the perfect, one sentence proclamation of Law and Gospel

You may look at the sentence and say, “Where is the Law? It says that Jesus comes!” True, but it also says that Jesus come ONLY for sinners. So, who are the sinners? Is Rev. Harrison talking only of the really horrible, wretched souls? The ones who make our blood boil when they splash on the evening news, or on the news websites? Are we discussing Pharisees and tax collectors, perverts and murderers and thieves? Is this the trash of the Earth whom Jesus comes for, and we are caught up in the net of salvation?

If your answer is “No, we are all sinners” then you are right! (Amazing…it’s like we know we are sinful in our hearts…) We are the sinners! Jesus did not come to save perfect people, of which their are none. Paul says in Romans 3, while speaking about the Law, that “None is righteous, no, not one” and, later, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We are all, as the liturgy for Holy Baptism says, “conceived and born sinful.” When we look to the Word of God to find out who it is that Christ ONLY came to save, we find that we are all part of the wretched, the lost, the really horrible souls.

And yet, we look to the whole sentence to find the answer to that sinfulness. JESUS! “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” says 1 Timothy 1:15. We look to Jesus and find that Gospel, the sweet, everlasting Gospel, which says, quite plainly and clearly, that Christ comes to redeem us from our sins. He comes to this Earth to bring “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” – Romans 3:22

Through simple act of hearing this message from Rev. Harrison are we given the demands of the Law and the message of the Gospel. Praise God for our Lord Christ, who DOES come only for sinners.