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"God's Real Promise of Righteousness and Justice"

Presented on The Lutheran Hour on January 8, 2017
By Rev. Dr. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker
Copyright 2022 Lutheran Hour Ministries

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Text: Isaiah 42:1-9

Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed. Hallelujah! Amen!

Let me say a name and see what you think. Ready? Michael Phelps.

Michael Phelps. If you're like me, one of the reactions might simply be, "Wow." At the Rio Olympics last summer, Michael Phelps capped off his swimming career by winning five additional gold medals and one silver medal. His victories made him the most decorated Olympian of all time. He started his Olympic swimming career at fifteen years of age. Over the course of five Olympic Games, he won a total of 28 medals, 23 of them gold. His final victory came at 31 years of age with a gold medal victory in the 4x100 meter relay.

It's simply amazing. It really is.

At 6'4", 164 pounds, Michael Phelps consumes 12,000 calories a day when he's in training. He swims 80,000 meters each week-that's about 50 miles of training every seven days. Each day, he trains between five to six hours.

Do you think Michael Phelps is an overachiever? I'd say so, but sports are not the only place that you'll find over-achieving human beings. The list of overachieving people, that list can go on and on, right? I mean there can be over-achievers in the areas of industry, finance, technology, architecture, music, film, medicine, and so much more. In every field, there are a select few who are the best of the best. They're on the magazine covers, known by their peers, they serve as experts on TV news shows, and, at times, they make a good living with some very high salaries.

But let me ask you this: are these gifted and high achieving individuals, are they without problems? Do they go through each day with no adversity, no difficulty? You know better, don't you? Even the best of the best struggle with challenges just like all of us do. They wrestle with grief. They get trapped by addictions. They fly off the handle in anger, they feel wounded by others, they hold grudges, they struggle through broken relationships, and have their share of worries just like you and just like me.

And what about normal people; people who set no records, who don't appear in magazines, who don't even understand how to change the settings on their phones let alone understand the technology inside? Most of us are regular people. Life is normal. It's not always that exciting and it can be pretty difficult. I wouldn't say we're underachievers, but we're not devouring 12,000 calories a day to fuel multi-hour workouts and we're not scouring the universe to detect the latest interstellar developments. We're trying to avoid extra calories. We're working to keep our eyes open when the days grow long and tiresome. Maybe we call ourselves regular achievers; but for us too, life isn't a walk in the park either.

Overachievers or regular achievers, God's Word tells us that even our best is not enough for the big things in life; that we sinful human beings have no end to struggle and pain because of our sinfulness. There's a name for that kind of life; it's one hanging by a thread. In Isaiah, chapter 42, he calls us "bruised reeds" and "faintly burning wicks."

Maybe you can relate to that. I know I can. A bruised reed is the broken and bent stem of a plant in the wetlands. There is damage that makes the survival of that reed touch and go. If wind blows on it again, if an animal steps on it again, the reed is crushed.

So I want to ask you today, are you a bruised reed? Heartbroken too many times, hurt by a past that was unkind, maybe cast aside in your weakness, or wounded by the twists and turns of life? Are you a bruised reed?

Or, perhaps, you're a faintly burning wick. You know what that is-barely an ember, ready to go out, feeling too weary to face another day. You're battered by illness or just unable to rise from the ashes of your own limited energy and ability. A faintly burning wick can get snuffed out by one more pressure situation, one more failed effort to do better, or one more demand of energy you just don't have. Are you a faintly burning wick?

James Bain was. When James was 18-years-old, he walked home from a friend's party down the street from where he lived in Bartow, Florida. It was 10:30 p.m. After watching television with his sister, he fell asleep on the couch. At midnight, two police officers knocked on the door and said they wanted to take him in for questioning. Bain went along, thinking he would clear up any misunderstanding. But Jim Bain's life was about to change. A 9-year-old boy had been abducted, abused, and victimized that night. He identified the criminal as "Jimmy," and described the assailant. The boy's uncle was a principal where James Bain attended high school and he thought immediately of James Bain. The confusion and injustice snowballed from there. Evidence was muddled. Eyewitnesses to Bain's whereabouts weren't considered. It was 1974. DNA testing wasn't even available then; so an innocent James Bain was sentenced to life in prison.

It would be 35 years before advocates heard his voice and intervened on his behalf. DNA testing proved that James Bain was imprisoned unjustly. At 53 years of age, just before Christmas, James Bain walked out of prison a free man. He used a cell phone for the first time in his life to call his mother with the good news.

James Bain was a bruised reed and a faintly burning wick. He was freed just in time. Finally, people listened, people helped, and righteousness and justice made their way into his life. Help came along at the right time.

And that is just a glimpse of the kind of help that comes to you today. Life, on its own terms, isn't going to give you relief. The system will not be kind to you. Your schedule will not decide to let you rest. The onward march of years will not make life easier. But there is One Who comes along at the right time, Who brings righteousness and justice to you. His Name is Jesus.

Beautiful words in Isaiah, chapter 42, describe Him: "Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit on him;" says the Lord, "he will bring 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. He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law" (Isaiah 42:1-4).

When Jesus suffered for our weakness and sin, when He bled and died in our place, He took our darkness, our failure, our pain upon Himself. He even became sin so that we might become the righteousness of God as the Scripture says in 2 Corinthians 5. In Christ, you are a new creation; the old is gone the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17). Because of Jesus' death and resurrection, your flawed DNA doesn't tell the accurate story anymore. You are now redeemed, you're restored, you're forgiven, you're made brand new. You are declared innocent through the saving work of Jesus Christ. And He will walk with you to care for you each and every day.

Isaiah went on to say: "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 I keep you'" (Isaiah 42:5-6).

Jesus Christ takes you by the hand today. He will not let you go. You have a Savior Who is real, Who is present, and alive. The Word of God is living and active, the Bible says. Jesus comes to you today with His promise of hope, His promise of life, and rescue. In baptism, the Spirit of your Savior lives in you to renew you. In the Lord's Supper, Jesus is present as you eat the bread and drink the wine. He takes you by the hand. He is not just a wish or a dream; He is your real Savior, present with you, bringing you help and salvation. By faith in Jesus Christ, any bruised reed or faintly burning wick receives help and strength. Your Savior takes you by the hand and He keeps you.

For James Bain, it was Melissa Montle who took him by the hand. Melissa was an attorney for the Innocence Project in Florida. In spite of obstacles, complications, and objections from one official after another, Melissa stuck with James' case. After finding out that James' trial transcripts were accidentally destroyed, Melissa searched and found the stenographer's notes. She filed appeals. Her organization offered to pay for DNA testing. And, finally, the efforts paid off.

Folks, if you think about her tenacity, Jesus is even more. He is that kind of Savior and more. He doesn't give up. He digs in. He pursues you. He is dedicated to your freedom and salvation. He knows you can't save yourself or solve the impossible problems you face. So He steps in with compassion and with expert help only God can give. Jesus' death and resurrection gives you justice you could never imagine. Your God of grace gives you righteousness that is a complete gift. By grace, through faith in Jesus Christ, your life is brand new in Him. And that changes everything.

When you are blessed with real righteousness and justice, your life changes. When you finally realize that the mercy and love of God is what makes life worth living, that's when things can be different. Did you know that that's what happened to Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps? In September of 2014, Phelps was at an all-time low. He was trying to mute his pain with drugs and alcohol. He had been arrested for drunk driving twice. After his second arrest for drunk driving, Phelps thought to himself, "This is the end of my life. How many times will I mess up? Maybe the world would be better off without me."

That's when his long-time Christian friend and National Football League star Ray Lewis, he stepped in. Lewis reached out to a bruised reed and a faintly burning wick. He called Phelps and said, "This is the time when we fight. This is when real character shows up. Don't shut down. If you shut down, we all lose." Lewis persuaded Phelps to enter a rehab clinic and gave him a book that help changed his life. Phelps read Rick Warren's "Purpose Driven Life," the Word of God did amazing things and that life-giving work began to transform Phelps and give him hope. Jesus is the One Who really stepped in. He didn't break this bruised reed. He didn't snuff out this faintly burning wick. Compassionately, miraculously, graciously, Jesus rescued Michael Phelps. You may have noticed his newfound sense of joy and contentment as you watched the Rio Olympic Games.

That can be your new life today too. You don't have to be famous to show the people around you that bruised reeds and faintly burning wicks have lasting hope in Jesus. As a matter of fact, that is your purpose as God's rescued and redeemed children. God goes on to say in Isaiah 42, "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 their dungeons and the prison those who sit in darkness" (Isaiah 42:6-7). You're here to shine the light of Jesus into the dark world of bruised reeds and faintly burning wicks. You're here to set people free from their prisons of despair.

That gives you new purpose for this New Year, doesn't it? I know the world is a tough place but you and I are not simply in a position to moan and groan about the lack of righteousness and justice in this world. We're here to bring the real promise of righteousness and justice from Jesus Christ. While the fullness of that blessing will not be complete this side of heaven; let me say this to you, you have a new approach, a new approach to all the bruised reeds and faintly burning wicks all around you.

In this New Year, Jesus is made visible through you! I know that's amazing, but it's true. Look around, see the broken, the disenfranchised and the defenseless; they need a Christ person to come alongside them. How about you? There are so many ways that you can be Christ's person for others. Even in that kind of service, you too are blessed because Christ loves you with a resourcing love that can never be exhausted, extinguished, or emptied out.

The real promise of righteousness and justice lives in Jesus Christ and it lives in you by grace through faith for others. That's the new way, a new thing that God accomplishes. That's what He said in Isaiah 42: "I am Yahweh; 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" (vss.8-9).

Now you know. Now you've been blessed. Now you're sent. You've been given the greatest gift to share, one bruised reed and one faintly burning wick to another. Take your stand again as His servant for others. Shine the light that you've been given. Shine His light more brightly. In His Name. Amen.

Action in Ministry for January 8, 2017
Guest: Erin Maurer

ANNOUNCER: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour. Looking for God? Next week Pastor Seltz says, "Look to the Lamb." Now Pastor Seltz shares the real life story of a woman whose painful childhood experiences left her feeling very much like that bruised reed we heard about in today's message.

SELTZ: As God's Word is shared each week here on our program, we can always count on a message of hope because there always is hope in Christ. Sometimes, however, there is a long road of searching before that hope is found especially because of the gritty realities that are part of our life and that's especially true when it comes to overcoming painful childhood experiences. Erin Maurer was a victim of sexual abuse that began when she was only six years old. Not until recently has she discovered real hope and recovery. Erin is with us today in studio and shares with us how you can truly have hope and recovery. Erin, thank you so much for joining us here today.

MAURER: Thank you for having me.

SELTZ: Now this is ... we're talking about overcoming a painful childhood experience and this might not be appropriate for younger listeners. So, parents, you might want to take that into account. Erin, if you can and I hope this isn't too hard, please take us back to that time when you were six years old; how did this nightmare ... how did it begin for you?

MAURER: When I was six, my dad had recently graduated from the Seminary and was a youth pastor at my church. My mom was the bread winner and sometimes she would have to work on Saturdays, so she left me in the care of her best friend, who she assumed was babysitting me and I was playing with her daughter; but, in fact, I was being left alone with her husband.

SELTZ: Wow, and so the abuse began right then, very early. How long did this go on?

MAURER: It went on for several years.

SELTZ: Here's the question; at what point did the truth come out and what were some of the paths of treatment that you began to follow?

MAURER: When I was fourteen, one week we were at church and my dad was giving the message and me and my mom were in the car and she was just trying to figure out what is wrong. What is going on? She just asked me the question that I had been waiting for her to always ask. She said, "Did someone do something to you?" I said, "Yes." She said, "Who?" I said his name. It's like it all made sense to my mom.

SELTZ: They called the police right away too, right?

MAURER: We had an officer in our congregation and my parents reached out to him that day, charges were filed. He was sentenced to ten years and served just shy of three years.

SELTZ: You went on to marry and have children, but through all these therapies and things like that; none of it really seemed to stick or to really give you that sense of hope. But recently you had a breakthrough. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

MAURER: About a year and a half ago, I just really started to connect with the messages that our pastor was giving. He asked, "Why do you guys come each week? What are you doing here if you're not willing to lean in" and in that moment I realized yes you need a counselor; you need to see your doctor; you may need a medication; you may need group therapy; but I was suffering from a spiritual depression. That's the only way I can put it. It was time to let God in.

SELTZ: Sadly, Erin, there are so many who are suffering in silence and we've got this resource. This is for you. It's called Overcoming a Painful Childhood. That can help you begin to take these steps toward healing and forgiveness. We're going to tell you a little bit more about that in a minute but, Erin, let me just ask you this question. What are the greatest lessons, then, that you have learned in this journey?

MAURER: Number one is that God doesn't give up on you; that we all have something whether it's an experience that's similar to mine or it could be something completely different; but that He doesn't give up on you even when you've found yourself that maybe you've given up on Him. He's always there. He loves you. He extends tremendous grace and He'll always be there. Second, I would say how important it is to have a support system when you've experienced something like this and to surround yourself with your family, close friends, your church community, definitely your counselor, because there is going to be times where there is a hiccup and it's very easy to spiral out and to fall back into that place of not wanting to be present with people. You just want to hide because of the shame and the silence. It keeps you in and ...

SELTZ: Because you are never alone. You're never alone, right?

MAURER: Right. Right. Absolutely. Then third, I just think it is so important that parents have an age-appropriate conversation with their kids because this does happen. It happens to one out of every four girls; one out of every five boys. It's always when you have your guard down and you think that you're safe and your family is safe; that someone could possibly prey on your child. It's a conversation that has to take place and it can only benefit you to be proactive.

SELTZ: Well, Erin, this is a story, I've got to tell you, it's hard to hear. I don't like hearing this. By the way, for those of you out there listening; God hates that this stuff happens and, in fact, that's one of the things He's even trying to find ways to bring you back to Himself so that He can heal amidst all these different things. But I know there are many listening today, right, who have had this same pain and they are searching for something to give them hope. I just thank you for sharing the work that God has done in your life because you've given a lot of hope to them.

MAURER: Thank you.

SELTZ: That's our Action In Ministry segment today; to bless, to empower, and to strengthen your life in Christ for others.

ANNOUNCER: And for your free copy of the booklet, Overcoming a Painful Childhood, go to and click on Action In Ministry or call 1-855-john316. That's 1-855-564-6316.

LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for January 8, 2017
Topic: How Can I Make a Positive Difference in the World?

ANNOUNCER: Now Pastor Gregory Seltz responds to questions. I'm Mark Eischer and today a listener asks, "When the New Year comes around, we think about purpose. I don't want to sit on the sidelines, but sometimes I am overwhelmed by all my problems and needs. How can I make a positive difference in the world?"

SELTZ: Mark, what I love about this question is that desire to make a positive difference in the world and it is something that folks are saying the new generation thinks about more than previous generations. I hope that's true. There is a sincere desire among a lot of people today to want to bless the world.

ANNOUNCER: I like how you said that: "to bless the world." That makes us think about God's promise to Abraham when He said: "I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing ... in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Genesis 12:2, 3 ESV).

SELTZ: That's the way to make a positive difference in the world. We are here to bless people. Blessings come from God. It is His gracious work in our lives. If you bless the world, you do make a positive difference.

ANNOUNCER: The opposite of blessing is cursing. We see a lot of that going on nowadays.

SELTZ: And I know you're not just referring to the way people talk. There was a good attitude about that in previous years. One of our Presidents said it this way, "Ask not what your country can do for you ...

ANNOUNCER: "... but what you can do for your country."

SELTZ: Indeed. In fact we need that attitude for country and for neighbor. Take care of your own and serve others in His Name and truth. Being Christ's person, you may be a person who invents the most revolutionary and life-changing product in the world, but be careful that your attitude doesn't get in the way of it being a blessing. You may be a religious person, as religious as it gets, a brilliant scholar of Biblical doctrine, but if you lash out critically at others merely to be right or to win arguments, you're not really blessing anybody.

ANNOUNCER: How would you then guide our listener in being a more positive influence in the world?

SELTZ: It starts with knowing where you stand and it continues with knowing where to look. Let me explain. Ephesians, chapter two tells us that we were dead in our sins and failures. We couldn't make ourselves alive. But because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, by His grace, we are raised with Him to new life. Where do we stand? Think about that ... where do we stand; in God's grace. Where do we look? We look to God's Word for truth and we look to our neighbor to serve ... it's really just that simple.

ANNOUNCER: By looking to God's grace, it puts us in a position of humility because we're not taking any credit for who we are. We thank God for His gift of life through Jesus.

SELTZ: That gift, then, conditions our hearts to be humble instead of prideful.

ANOUNCER: And we then face the world not in arrogance, but with that same humble servant spirit that Jesus displayed.

SELTZ: And that's the spirit of humility to the truths of the Bible and the needs of our neighbor. It's just so important to see things that way to make a positive difference in the world.

ANNOUNCER: And we then look to God for the works He has prepared in advance for us to do. It seems to me that this is the way to answer that question about handling one's ambition.

SELTZ: That's right. If making a difference in the world means you just want to make a name for yourself or be famous, it's not really blessing the world. But if you prayerfully seek God's direction, you give Him glory; you lift up His Name as you do the works He's prepared for you. It may be that you become famous and are given a huge platform again to shine the light of Jesus Christ.

ANNOUNCER: Or it may be that you make the world a better place by showing Jesus' love to that small circle of family and friends.

SELTZ: Either way, you're blessing people and you're transforming the world in your corner of influence.

ANNOUNCER: One more word of Scripture here that this brings to mind; Jesus' words in Matthew, chapter 5. He says, "You are the light of the world ... Let your light then shine before others so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (vss. 14, 16).

SELTZ: That's how you make a positive difference that lasts. You let the light of Jesus Christ shine through you to others. You bless people with the blessing you've been given in Christ. That love and that light; that's what goes viral. You can count on it.

ANNOUNCER: Thank you, Pastor Seltz. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.

Music Selections for this program:

"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.

"To Jordan Came the Christ, Our Lord" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)

"O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)

Change Their World. Change Yours. This changes everything.

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