grace accepts

I have to say that there seems a strong propensity to judge others. I see it in some others, though not to say it is absent in me. What is strange about this is the reaction by us who are judged. We then in turn judge the ones who judge us. Again, not to say we being judged never judge others. It just seems some are quite judgmental, not unlike Pharisees during Jesus’ time.

Grace accepts people right where they’re at. Nor does it imagine that it has some sort of discernment that simply writes someone off. Discernment through grace accepts people to help them. Not condemn, or mark them as condemned.

What about those who have judged us? How do we respond? Do we by God’s grace in Jesus forgive them? And do we live out that forgiveness over time, even when they continue to judge us?

This is difficult. They need repentance in grace themselves, as well as we. But our place is to show them love. Maybe appropriately challenging them in love, especially in how we live. Trying to be sure there’s nothing offensive in us must be first priority. We can only begin to see the speck in our brother/sister’s eye, if the plank is removed from our own eye.

Only as we work through the difficulties can there be the kind of community in Jesus that makes a difference in this world. It is in and by community through God’s grace in Jesus, first and foremost, that the world will see the reality that God in love sent Jesus. They need to see the difference that this cross love makes. That they might see and believe, and enter into this grace which accepts, in and through Jesus.

 

imagination

Imagination seems controversial in some circles among evangelical Christians. Granted that Jesus nowhere tells his disciples to sit down and close their eyes, and use their imagination. We don’t read that elsewhere, though I think some of the gifts of the Spirit involve one being open to hear a word, or see a picture from God, looking to God for its interpretation, or meaning.

If we’re thinking of our own imaginations, then yes, that spells trouble. Scripture warns in the Old Testament of prophets who spoke out of their own imaginations, rather than from the Lord. But if God awakens our imagination through his word, and by the Spirit, to think of how something might be, I think that is entirely different.

The vision we have should be something of shalom, and according to God’s revelation given to us in scripture and realized in Jesus. What we imagine for a given situation may not work out that way, but it might surely have an impact on it. In ways we can’t see or imagine.

Of course we should never pretend to have the full picture, or even the right one. What we do have may come in part from our own imaginations. Enter the problem of those who are learning to prophesy, to really hear from God by the Spirit, to speak words into a given situation. There was even a school of the prophets in the Old Testament, I think during Elisha’s time, at least. People surely learning to hear from God so as to be able to speak God’s word. Prophecy in the New Testament is related though a bit different. But enough on that.

Actually I don’t think our human imagination is necessarily evil in and of itself if we submit it to God and to his word. Our own imagination since we are sinners can indeed be evil or skewed, but in Jesus, it would seem that imagination as part of our redeemed humanity can be a tool to help us see another possibility of how life could be in God’s will in Jesus, in a difficult situation.

When we read God’s promises in scripture, we need to be in prayer, asking God for insight as to what their application might be. And we need vision as to how this could bring change. And at least quite often some of the significant change will be in us, in own hearts, and out from that in our lives and actions.

Yes, an imagination in regard to a given situation, but also in regard to the bigger picture in some scenario. We seek to imagine from God God’s will for the here and now. A will we’re to live out together in Jesus in and for the world.

dread and sorrow

What happens when it seems like dread and sorrow overtake us? Dread involves facing uncertainties or challenges we see as daunting and sorrow involves perceived loss. I live in this experience more or less most of the time. Sometimes it can be quite acute. Angst is akin to this, really feeling up against it, up against life.

Our Lord experienced something of this on his way to Golgotha. We see it in the Garden of Gethsemane where he suffered intensely emotionally, even pouring out sweat (perhaps blood?) in his anguish. Jesus entered fully into our experience, and he faced a trial that none of us have to in becoming sin for us, taking the cup of judgment in suffering, in God’s love for the world.

I wish I processed life differently. I do think that in time I will. It’s not like I don’t experience any joy and peace, because I do. It is part of living in a world in which there is suffering. And hopefully in the thought of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, taking up ourselves something of God’s suffering in this world, in our quest to find and live according to the will of God.

When we consider our Lord’s suffering for us during this season of Lent, let’s not forget the intense emotional suffering he went through out of love. For us, for the world, for and in the love of the Father, and by the Spirit. He loved in his suffering to the very end. May we grow together in Jesus in following in his steps.

 

Scot McKnight on “Jesus and the undeserved cross”

Jesus,
though Son of God,
though Messiah,
though a Galilean benefactor,
though a teacher of wisdom,
though a prophet,
though righteous,
though compassionate and loving,
though a good man,
though a favorite of the people,
though steeped in Israel’s scriptures,
though aware of Israel’s traditions,
though hailed by crowds,
though accompanied by followers,
though in the City of David,
though staring at the seat of justice in Jerusalem,
though examined by the highest of authorities,
though capable of giving profound answers to life’s questions,
though responding to unjust accusations with grace,
though…though…though…all these things and many more…

… Was condemned to capital punishment and unjustly and publicly crucified at Golgotha. He was like an innocent lamb led to a slaughter, and the prophet Isaiah predicted that very thing about the Messiah (Isaiah 52-53). As the sun was eclipsed, so was justice. The darkness of the scene was the darkness of injustice. They chose to put him away, this Lamb of God, with the ultimate punishment: crucifixion.

Crucifixion is the ultimate obscenity.
Crucifixion is the ultimate deterrent.
Crucifixion involves stripping the victim in order to humiliate.
Crucifixion means a body would be picked apart by birds of prey.
Crucifixion sates the sadistic desires of the strong.
Crucifixion is reserved for vile criminals.
Crucifixion is synonymous with shame.
Crucifixion is synonymous with suffocation.
Crucifixion gives a lasting commentary on a person’s life.
Crucifixion means a person is cursed by God.

Scot McKnight, One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow, 185-186.

inward kingdom? yes and no

I read a good booklet yesterday which generally was helpful, yet fell into what I think is the error of seeing only an inward kingdom in Jesus’ coming, now at work among his followers.

First of all, I think I get the drift. Jesus is Lord, and we are to live according to his lordship and kingship in our hearts. That is important, and essential. Indeed from the heart is how we live.

I get the impression though that in people’s minds theologically, what is present today in Jesus is some kind of inward kingdom. Something akin maybe to the invisible church, which I agree with others does not exist in scripture. The church is visible, and God’s kingdom present in Jesus is as well. Even though who empowers it, and indeed makes it what it is- is not seen.

Yes, Jesus must be king of our hearts. But that rule is present not only inwardly, but outwardly within a community, the community of the redeemed. We live out this new rule in the here and now, in tangible, down to earth ways. One example, not lording it over each other like the rulers of the earth, but being servants to all, even as Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

I think this bent plays out in an emphasis again and again on inner piety, which tends to skirt, or underplay outward piety, or good works- which Protestants automatically are suspicious of. Yes, we must work out of a heart of love, but there must indeed be good works. People see our light shine by our good works, and then glorify our Father in heaven.

Our kingdom is not from this world, but it is present in Jesus in and for the world. It is a direct affront to the ways of the world simply by being what it is, by living out that calling from God in Jesus. What we in Jesus are called to, together, in the way of Jesus for the world.

solitude

I have to admit that I tend to dislike any practice that is not communal in orientation. I want to connect with others. I want to be with my wife. I want to have good relationships with others of our church, and those who don’t believe. I am in a sense a social being, and really we all are, since that is an essential part of our humanity. “It is not good for the man to be alone.” In the end in the Revelation there is a city.

And yet there’s another part of me which craves solitude. I really want some space, some aloneness. There is nothing better to me on a normal evening than to be in the living room with Deb, listening to classical music while reading a good book. And second best is when I’m alone doing that.

Jesus was around people nearly all the time. Crowds came. Even when they subsided, he was still busy in ministry to them. And as a Rabbi, he was the Master to followers who lived with him in keeping with that tradition, learning all they could from the totality of his life (see Lois Tverberg’s new book, Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewish Words of Jesus Can Change Your Life).

And yet Jesus himself used to break away with his disciples from the crowds to get some rest and just be together I’m sure, and he would break away from his disciples as well, to meet with his Father in a solitary place.

We need solitude. In the busyness and humdrum of a normal day, I always want to be on the same wavelength of the others I’m working with, but at certain points I don’t mind at all simply being alone. In prayer. Seeking God, or speaking to him and hopefully listening, and reciting the Lord’s/our Father prayer, along with the Jesus Creed, and perhaps just working at being silent in my mind, actually a good idea I rarely practice, I’m afraid.

I admit though that I’m not really good at practicing solitude, as Christians have for centuries. I am thankful that our church encourages this practice, and especially our Pastor Sharon, who exemplifies it  quite well for us. So I hope to grow in it, so as to really walk with God in all of life. Together with others, that people may see Jesus in and through us.

grace brings a society

On Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed blog there is a series of posts going through the book of another blogging friend who like Scot is a professor and New Testament scholar, Daniel Kirk. This book looks like an excellent read.

Today there is a post on the gospel being inherently social. Yes, amen to that! We need to hear this message in the highly individualistic and privatistic culture in which we live.

There is no doubt that individuals have a relationship with God through Jesus which is personal. God loves each of his children in a special way. We all have a personal identity. This is important and we can’t lose sight of it.

And yet over and over again we find scripture concerned about one’s group identity, or community. The culture of scripture is closer to much more of the world today, than to the United States where I live. It was family oriented not only by design, but by necessity. And it wasn’t much about individual freedom or rights, but responsibility within the family, and from that, living well according to the norms of one’s people. Which in those days meant a union with others which if broken, was gravely serious.

Not so in our day. We break and divide over any number of things. We Protestants are known for our divisions. The political divide in the United States today seems as deep and wide as ever in U.S. history.

But the gospel brings with it a new society oriented in grace, which at its heart is inclusive of all. This becomes the priority, not only this gospel of Jesus, but also the results of it, a kingdom community consisting of all who would follow Jesus from across deep divides. Bringing together people who before were not only at odds, but out and out enemies. And introducing a new dynamic by the Spirit of a body which in love works together from its head, Christ, to care for each other, and be a witness of him to and for the world. Showing a new society in the way of Jesus, indeed a new humanity, bent in love on God and others. Being about “us” in God’s kingdom in Jesus, not about “me.” In the good will of God in Jesus.

giving up something for Lent

Today is Ash Wednesday, our church having a service tonight to begin Lent, symbolizing what our Lord has done for us in his death on the cross, and our repentance with ashes. I am a late comer to keeping (loosely) the church calendar year, but I think the more the better for me on that.

At the same time it is still a bit of a head scratcher to me when people talk about giving up something for Lent. Especially when they share what it might be. Seemingly meaningless, at least to my ears. Perhaps chocolate, or something else which seems trivial.

It’s interesting that the time of Lent stretching to Easter incorporates 40 church days, 46 overall on the calendar. It is thought that to rid one’s self of an old habit and start a new, takes around six weeks, or 40 days.

Actually Lent is to be a time of reflection on our Lord and his sacrifice of love for us and for the world. And a renewal of our commitment in faith to follow him. That renewal for us inevitably in this world involves ongoing repentance. So whatever one might choose to give up if one decides to keep this tradition, needs to be in that spirit and understanding.

There are certain sins which beset many of us, sins which we may easily fall into or may even have us in their grip. They may seem small and nagging, yet all sin looms large when it comes to real life, and the impact on it. Often they are sins which in one way or another violate love. And in a sense all sins do. I think here of love to God first, and then love to our neighbor as ourselves.

We could list sins. Some are noted today, even considered unavoidable by many. And then others are accepted with the idea that everyone does it. And then others are oh so subtle. They may even be couched with some good intentions. Or there may be good along with what is not good.

The question being, are we following our Lord truly in what we are doing? And if not, then we should repent of it, seek the Lord so as to follow him afresh, looking for no less than a change of heart along with practice.

And we need to occupy ourselves with something new in place of the old.   Just the thought of how we are following Jesus is a good one for this. It will end up something in terms of love and obedience to him and his commands. There ought to be in our hearts a desire to want to please him. This is not just a religious practice, but one of commitment and devotion to God in God’s love to us in Jesus.

Of course this is all grace. If one makes a commitment, but fails along the way, that is an opportunity then and there to repent and go on. Perhaps what you gave up is only temporary, so that you can strengthen your focus on our Lord. That is of course well and good, also.

I think I know what I’ll give up, starting today. In my case I may be able to go back to it, but it can become a sin to me. Part of the change God is working in me. As along with others in Jesus we follow on in this life in the way of the cross as those who by the Spirit begin to share in his resurrection with the hope of the full resurrection to come.

prayer for Ash Wednesday

Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; 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