grace, grace, grace (in this day of ungrace)

There is a largely missing note in the give and take among so many Christians today concerning the upcoming election, a note which is both prominent and even preeminent in scripture through the gospel. That missing note is grace.

There is no doubt that grace can be misconstrued and cheapened into something less than the grace of God found in scripture. The heart of grace is a gift which includes forgiveness of sin and new life. Grace involves a righteousness at work in our lives, to save us from our sins, from ourselves in our own error and lostness, and from the evil of the world. It is a grace active like that in all of God’s people in Jesus, that same grace offered to everyone in and through Jesus.

This grace is scandalous in that it continues at work in our lives, remaining with us. And scandalous because it is at work in others, yes in the ones whose glaring faults we see, perhaps experiencing something of the brunt of them, ourselves.

It is a grace which meets us where we are, but doesn’t leave us there, at work in our lives to make us together like the Savior. A necessarily painful work, since we too often resist it; painful enough at times, even when we don’t. Grace doesn’t let us get away with what is wrong, or evil. Any such “grace” is not from God, being perhaps some religious substitute, aptly called “cheap grace,” which actually amounts to no real grace at all.

We in Jesus need to show the world something quite different, even in the midst of our differences, we might say especially in the midst of them. We need to show the world a different face, a face which loves and accepts each other completely, in spite of what differences we might have concerning the upcoming election and concerning the politics of this world in general. We actually need to see beyond such differences to what unites us, which by the way, is itself political since it takes in all of life, but that’s another subject. We need to focus on the gospel: the good news of God’s grace which unites us in and through Jesus. Our unity is in him, and nothing less. Certainly not in how we look at the politics of this world, as important in its place as that is.

Grace, grace, grace. That’s what we need especially in this day, and all the heat on every side concerning this election. Whether we fully understand our need for that, or its importance, let’s err on the side of grace: the grace of God that is in and through Jesus.

Read and study scripture with “grace” in mind, and read Philip Yancey on grace, especially his book, What’s So Amazing About Grace?.

the inevitable attacks from the enemy, and the inevitable victory from the Lord

Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done. You too should be on your guard against him, because he strongly opposed our message.

At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

2 Timothy 4:14-18

There is no doubt that we are in intense spiritual warfare, as followers of Christ. Satan and his minions are at war on all kinds of fronts in this world. Christ has come and triumphed through the cross, by his death and resurrection. But we are left on earth with the battle continuing to rage, until the Lord comes back, and settles the score through his once for all sacrifice for us, and for the world.

Until then, it can get plenty hot. While I can try to give a general description of what it’s like, suffice it to say that there does seem to be enough variation in it, to make the details different. But with that comes the well rounded work the Lord can do, as a result. But the experience isn’t fun.

But we have God’s full promise in Christ that God will see us through. We must be willing to become battle-hardened, but in a way that’s not of this world, but of the world to come. So that out of that we can become more and more like Christ, and that together, as his body on earth, the church. That is to be our goal, as we seek to hold steady and true to “the faithful witness,” Jesus himself (Revelation 1:5). With the promise that we will be brought safely into God’s heavenly kingdom, that indeed all things will be made right and new, to the honor and glory of God’s good name.

 

to tell the truth

To Tell the Truth was a popular American television show which featured three people all claiming to be a certain person, of course only one of them being that person. It was interesting how hard it was for the contestants along with the television audience to guess who the real ___ ___ was. Truth telling, as Scot McKnight points out in at least one of his books, is so very basic to following Christ, and is surely underrated. Not that we don’t think it’s important, but that we don’t think much about it, maybe because we rather take it for granted, and maybe also because we rationalize some of it away at times.

Somewhere recently I read that if something seems too good to be true, that’s because it is. In our society we’re meant to present ourselves in public, a good example of that, when one has a job interview. They are supposed to “sell themselves,” giving all the appearance of having it all together. Not that there can’t be positive job interviews in which one presents just why they might do well in the job they’re applying for. And then look at our political campaigns. What if there would be an election between candidates who were really honest and simply running as public servants? Maybe it would be quite boring to many, but it would have the potential of having substance, and the style would surely be much better, because these candidates could be real.

It’s interesting to me how impressed people might at least act toward me when they first meet me (“first impressions”), and later become disillusioned when they get to know the real me. Which is why I don’t care at all any more about first impressions I might make on others, except that I don’t want to be a stumbling block, but rather, a witness for the gospel. They want some ideal, but when they get to know the real Ted Gossard, they end up disillusioned, and rightfully so, because their image has been broken.

Again, thinking back to that piece (can’t recall it): If something is too good to be true, that’s because it is. What is ultimately needed is not for others to know the real me, and it would be better to spare anyone of that. I don’t even know the real me, entirely. Although truth telling remains paramount, and would include one being forthright about one’s weaknesses when that might be appropriate, along with their strengths, hopefully working on the former and thanking God for the gift of the latter. But what is really needed is a focus on the Truth, on Jesus himself. It is not about us, after all, but only about him. God made known in Jesus by the Spirit, the one Truth that is worth believing in entirely, and can change our lives forever.

face to face

Moses knew God face to face in a unique way, and the blessing in the Pentateuch is that the Lord would bless and keep his people and make his face shine on them, and give them peace. And the psalmist wrote that this should be so, so that all the peoples of the earth might come to know God. They would somehow come to see the face of God through God’s face shining on them.

John in one of his letters says that he hoped to appear to the recipients that they might see each other face to face.

I think this is surely a blessing for all of God’s children in and through Jesus. By the Spirit we experience the enduring glory of the new covenant, with a brightness that doesn’t fade as was the case in the old covenant with Moses. God’s glory from face to face times with God would gradually fade away in Moses’s case, but somehow in our case, though it’s not the visible kind, yet it is visible to eyes that can see this glory by the Spirit.

That to say this: I want to be more and more in God’s Presence in Jesus, and I want to be more and more in the presence of others in Jesus, as well as those who are not. We somehow can receive more and more of God’s glory though God’s grace to us in Christ. And we pass on something of that to each other. As well as the world hopefully coming to see something of the face of the Lord, of Jesus even through our faces, especially our faces together, but also our faces apart, individually.

Yes, I need so much more of this face to face blessing from God. And I want to receive it from others in Jesus, the blessing from God which comes through their faces. And we hope that somehow that glory might be seen by others not in Jesus, that they might be grace see and believe and share in that glory with us in and through Jesus.

the importance of sound doctrine

What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.

2 Timothy 1:13-14

Nowadays, it’s not like the need for sound doctrine is scuttled, though I think it often is. It simply is the case that there’s some unsound doctrine as in teaching which is accepted as sound biblical teaching. We have to be on our guard. Especially dangerous is the teaching which comes from churches with an emphasis on a direct knowledge from God, as if they are the purveyors of truth unlike other churches around them. That is a form of gnosticism in the idea that they are the enlightened ones, and the rest of the church is not.

I think the passage quoted above, Paul’s last letter, gets to the heart of the issue. We have to get back to both scripture, and to what the church has taught through the Holy Spirit. Both. We have an unhealthy tendency to appeal to one or the other: either scripture alone, as if it’s in a vaccuum, or the Spirit and experience alone especially as given to certain leaders in the church. When actually we need both together, and discernment from the entire church by the Spirit through the word.

Thankfully within evangelicalism there is an awakening to a new appreciation of the Great Tradition and what the church by the Spirit has taught from scripture through the centuries, especially pertaining to the gospel. The evangelical tradition for all the beating it takes, some of the criticism justified, at least is strong in seeking to promote sound instruction from scripture. They can frankly outdo most of their critics from other church traditions in that regard. But the failure on evangelicalism’s part to make the Lord’s Table the climax and center of a service, is a telling one, inherited from the emphasis which occurred at the Protestant Reformation.

Deb and I left the infant Anglican church plant to take our granddaughter to a church which has programs for kids. I think we’ve found a suitable church now, which is solid in what they believe and teach, even if they don’t agree fully on what the Spirit has given the church through the centuries to believe and practice. I miss the liturgical, the confession of sin, recitation of the Nicene Creed, the broken body and blood of the Lord in the bread and cup. But we do appreciate what is present: a strong emphasis of teaching the word, and hopefully along with that the gospel which is at the heart of the word. That is what we hope for at this present time for our granddaughter.

And I might add, I  believe the church should be engaged in good works to help the poor to get on their feet and to become established through the gospel. Without question this should be an emphasis of every church. Teaching is not enough; practice must follow. Too often Christians depend on the state to do what the state cannot possibly do in the same way the church can and should do. Of course the state should fulfill its responsibility; any good society should look after its own, with safety nets for the poor in helping the poor toward a self-sustaining existence. But only the church through the gospel can help both the rich and the poor and everyone to find the life that is truly life, the eternal life that is in God through Christ.

Sound doctrine matters, and I do appreciate the emphasis of the best of the evangelical tradition in teaching and promoting that, insofar as they understand that. They need to keep working on the other part, to which they are awakening. And never forget to work at helping the poor and needy and oppressed and disabled in and through the name of Jesus. So that they in turn can help others in and through Jesus. Amen.

prayer

O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer