Almighty and everlasting God, you have given to us your servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of your divine Majesty to worship the Unity: Keep us steadfast in this faith and worship, and bring us at last to see you in your one and eternal glory, O Father; who with the Son and the Holy Spirit live and reign, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Yesterday I was listening to people talking about the news of the week, when I heard someone say confidently in regard to a controversial issue that there is a wrong side of history. I guess especially in political circles, but actually beyond that (doesn’t politics swallow up everything?), this is a popular saying. It may be popular, but that doesn’t make it apt.
Myths come from the stories we tell. The myth may be true or not. We live by them; they can give impetus as well as structure to our lives. And whether or not its basis is sound, it becomes true to us. So that we end up making judgments on a “truth” we take for granted, which may be based on a faulty premise of belief.
Instead of confidently applying such a notion, people ought to pause and step back and really examine what they are saying. “The wrong (or right) side of history” based on what? And just what might be the motivation behind the call?
It would be far better to simply talk about the differences as a matter of fact and sort out from that why they exist. Those who so confidently assert a side of history with equal confidence that they are on the right side of it are every bit as religious in their belief as the people of religion or faith they may be (and often are) ridiculing. For example the naturalists who claim that faith can’t be taken seriously as a truth claim are themselves making a statement of faith when they say that. People need to humbly step back and examine what they are saying. If they are going to be humble and therefore truthful.
Maybe we ought to reject this phrase and notion entirely. Is there an elite out there which knows just where history came from and where it is going, and in the light of that, how we should live? To sort out the morass even in the present of such claims (and counter claims from those who are equally confident), and the mind boggling complexities any serious historical study will uncover in the human enterprise, not to mention all the uncertainties which surround it, leaves us with a certainty that we can’t really be certain. Or at least whatever certainty we might have should be tempered with the knowledge of the limitations inherent in such an endeavor. Read the book of Ecclesiastes with this thought in view (one of my favorite go to books of the Bible, by the way).
We who hold to the faith that is in Jesus do believe there is rhyme and reason that is discovered soley in Jesus and God’s revelation in him. A revelation which ends up being nothing less than good news, which is what gospel means. And we bank our lives on that, indeed life itself, which includes the world. But we do so knowing that there’s so much we don’t know, that we really don’t undertand well or get at all. As Paul stated in 1 Corinthians 13 (NRSV), “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”
If people want to keep this phrase as a way that makes sense of the world for them, they need to admit and explain their basis for such confidence. Just as we ourselves who as the church profess to live in King Jesus will do in terms of God’s will made known in and through him.
The church has indeed often gottten it wrong in many places such as the slavery and racism of recent centuries. We are not foolproof and we ought to be an example in acknowledging that. But neither are we in a hopeless abyss.
God in the Person of the Son did step into history in becoming a human being to take the needed judgment that brings salvation on himself, so that humankind along with all creation can flourish in a God-breathed and ordered existence of love. The beginning of that we have received in the start of this new life. Of which we would say, “Come and see. And taste and follow.”
John Frye wrote a helpful post on sloth from Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung’s book, Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies.
Sloth plain and simple means the failure to love, although there’s much more to consider in that. Of course the true love from which all other created love flows is in view here. It is not the absence of work, in fact a person might work around the clock and yet be slothful to the core. One might work even with love in view, while neglecting love to those closest to them such as their spouse and children. Surely this has been a trap for not a few.
This challenges me, but it encourages me at the same time. Oftentimes I seem to have little heart to do what needs to be done, other than making sure I do what I must do to provide for my wife, to make a living. I can lack heart due to lacking love which is actually a contradiction to the faith, because at the core of the faith is love, God’s love in Jesus by the Spirit at work in and through his people in the world. A love which is especially devoted to others in the faith, but spills out to everyone else, including even one’s enemies. In following the way and indeed the heart of Jesus.
I needed this reminder this morning, something I hope to keep in view. So as to remain in that active love which we receive and give in and through Jesus.
They say first impressions are important, and perhaps I need to take stock and listen, although I do think I go out of my way to give a friendly greeting when meeting someone for the first time. The sad part about that is if that first impression isn’t favorable, then the person who was viewed has to prove otherwise to get out of that bog of judgment. It is such a terrible mistake to think we can look at a person and surmise something of their full measure.
Even if we can discern just a bit of this or that, that doesn’t at all mean the script of the story is done for that person, especially when they’re young. And they may be this or that when it comes to politics and other key issues, etcetera, but we do well to put the best construction on them, remembering that decades past we were even more a work in progress than we are now, and that work continues to the end.
We do well to find the good in another and emphasize that to ourselves, while praying for anything about them which might concern us. And shrugging off much of the rest.
Jesus reminds us that how we judge others is how we ourselves will be judged (Matthew 7). Do we want to be judged fairly with plenty of grace thrown in not only for good measure, but because we need it? Hopefully not so much because of overt sins, but because of deficiencies which can be blind spots to us, but a glare in others’ eyes. Yes, above all we need to look in the mirror and judge ourselves; we need to look with prayer and discernment at ourselves. Then in grace we might be able to look at another and encourage and help them along the way.
If some thought evangelicalism was in a theological flux a couple of decades or so ago, we could say that is all the more so now. Over periphery matters to be sure, but issues which can well undermine the gospel and our reading of scripture, if we don’t take care.
How do we handle our differences? From my perspective I face those who affirm ordination of those practicing same sex intercourse, of course as long as they’re faithful to one partner, and with that gay marriage. On the other hand I face those who see “Creation Science” as being true to the Genesis account, and my acceptance of evolution as contradictory to that. Just two examples that are hot right now.
Everyone needs to be heard out, that is everyone should have their say. Let everyone make their very best argument, and then hold on to that. In other words try to put the very best construction on both intentions and what is actually said. We help neither ourselves or anyone else by not letting people have their full say as we attempt to understand them as fully and accurately as possible.
Perhaps two words come to the fore now, as I think about our spirit in handling differences, especially among us who are in the family of faith, but beyond that, as well. Forebearance and gentleness. Firmness too, in that, but those two should always be characteristic of us in our disagreements. The NIV 2011 in the Galatians 5 fruit of the Spirit passage interestingly substitutes forebearance for patience. I think that is apt since the patience that is called for is relational in that context. Along with that, gentleness is on the list as well. In Paul’s charge to Timothy (1 Timothy 6) this is evident as well; in conflict or spiritual battle he is to be gentle.
We likely won’t win an argument. But we may well be able to plant the seeds which will reap a harvest of righteousness later. And we need that input from each other. In our disagreements and in all of life.
1 Corinthians 11:17-34 is a passage about the Lord’s supper or meal which the Corinthian church was failing to practice in a way that was fitting or honorable to Christ. In fact, the meal itself, symbolic of the oneness that was theirs in Christ, was instead turned into a debacle in which the rich ate (some even getting drunk) up before the poor arrived late (probably from their work). Paul makes it clear that there was sickness and even death among them, because of the failure by some to recognize the Lord’s body. Referring not so much to the breaking of the bread, but to what that symbolized in their gathering. That they themselves are the body of Christ. Paul said that if they would judge themselves, God would not have to judge them. But that since they failed to, God would, so that in the end they wouldn’t be condemned with the world.
I think it is easy for us to excuse what amounts to out and out sin. We may not allow for a moment what we once excused or rationalized in years past. But sin is sin. And at the heart of sin most often is the failure to love: certainly to love God with our whole heart, mind, soul and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
We need to ask God to search us in this, and to reveal to us what’s not pleasing to him (Psalm 139:23-24; NLT). And we need to judge ourselves in what we ought to know better and know already. We can’t excuse wrong attitudes toward others, particularly toward our brothers and sisters in Christ, and expect to get away with it. God will judge, if we fail to. Sometimes we need to do it together as body, but it is good when each of us takes on themselves to judge themselves. To refuse anything, no matter how justified it may be, that is displeasing to the God and not according to his will in Christ Jesus.
This is Mother Theresa’s version of the “St Francis” Prayer, and it can guide us as we remember those who have lost their lives in service to their country:
Make us worthy Lord to serve others throughout the world,
who live and die in poverty and hunger.
Give them through our hands, this day, their daily bread
and by our understanding love give peace and joy.
Lord, make me a channel of thy peace.
That where there is hatred I may bring love,
That where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness,
That where there is discord, I may bring harmony,
That where there is error I may bring truth,
That where there is doubt I may bring faith,
That where there is despair I may bring hope,
That where there are shadows I may bring light,
That where there is sadness I may bring joy.
Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort than to be comforted,
To understand than to be understood,
To love than to be loved.
For it is by forgetting self that one finds.
It is by forgiving that one is forgiven,
it is by dying that one awakens to eternal life.
O God, who on this day taught the hearts of your faithful people by sending to them the light of your Holy Spirit: Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things, and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
I am rereading Scot McKnight’s book on the meaning of the kingdom of God in scripture, and as has been the case, find myself resonating not only with the book, but with his words something to the effect that he is a Bible guy. In other words, he wants to go back to scripture to figure out what’s up or down. What’s what.
In the case of Scot I not only have no problem with that, but I’m fully on board. His book, The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible, helps us see clearly how to read the Bible for all its worth from the part of its story we find ourselves in. The entire Book and story found in it are part of our story. But not necessarily the part we live in (N. T. Wright, also). For example we no longer sacrifice animals as offerings to God for our sins, or for the other things they signified, since Christ has now taken care of that with the once for all sacrifice of himself (Hebrews).
Some seem to read the Bible as if it all applies today as at any other time. But this is where it gets tricky. The Bible is the inscripturated word of God, but it’s also a human document. We have to read it with both in mind: it’s God’s word, but it’s written to humans in a kind of communication which is simple enough to get at a basic level so as to enter into its meaning for life by faith, but dignifies humans in mirroring the complexity of life. Making us in a certain way dependent on each other, as well as the gift God has given each of us, and ultimately dependent on God himself (God’s self) to get it.
And the process inevitably gets to be messy in that along with minor disagreements, we will have some more major ones. Although as those who are centered in the gospel of Christ, where we agree will far outweight the significance of whatever differences we have. That said, it would be good if we would submit our differences to whatever the church decides. So that our personal bent of interpreting this or that is submitted to the church which may interpret it differently. The church, which is called the pillar and foundation of the truth (1 Timothy 3) in that it is the repository or entity to which the gospel has been entrusted. And in the human sense, the source from God of that good news, even of the written word about and surrounding it.
On divisive issues today such as same sex marriage we end up turning to scripture. And on everything else. And we keep reading and reading more and more of scripture. In its context and out from that into our context and world. As together we seek to live more and more in the truth as it is in Jesus.
But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.
Scripture speaks of a purging which happens throughout the life of the faithful which will be completed at Christ’s return. It is ongoing in this life; no one ever arrives to perfection in the here and now. And from what scripture says as well as what we read in our experience, sadly enough it doesn’t always seems to be occuring in the life of a believer. If such would be the case entirely, I would think that believer is in danger of not keeping the faith. Even when there may be a major problem that the person is not addressing in their life, such as an affair, pornography, greed, etc., if they belong to Christ, God will still be at work not only to bring them around, but in other ways to move them toward the goal of conformity to Christ, I would think, based on both my reading of scripture and experience.
In the passage from Malachi quoted above, the Lord’s’ coming, probably understood in some kind of literal sense of God becoming King once again over his people (and ultimately over the world) would result in a purifying which would leave no sin behind, so that those set apart to God could carry out their service to him and to the people. The beginning of this was fulfilled, I take it, when Jesus came with the announcement that the kingdom of God was near and even in their midst in and through the presence of the King: him. The Lord had indeed returned, though most of God’s people didn’t recognize that. But a remnant did. So begins the process of sanctification, or being set apart and made holy, in the sense of purification from sin in the lives of all who believe and follow.
Purgatory is the first stage of heaven in the teaching of some Christians (including C. S. Lewis) in which original sin is purged or eradicated (taken out), and the process involves fire, figuratively speaking, a spiritual, purging fire. Though I don’t see that as heretical or beyond possibility, I don’t see scriptural warrant for it. Maybe it occurs (as I think Pope Benedict suggested) when we see Christ as he is, the fire in his eyes burning out the evil in us (1 John 3:2; Revelation 1:14).
To know what our experience includes can be half the battle. So that when life seems like a pressure cooker, we don’t have to melt down or escape. But we can remain in there, faithful to the truth and love, to Christ himself. Knowing that this is the way of the Lord in his purifying of us for his service even in this life to his glory.