move forward where you are with what you’ve got (but remember, it’s all grace)

Whether you’re young or old, it’s important to make the most out of life, not for yourself, but for others. But as we bless others, we ourselves are blessed (Proverbs 11:25).

One of the most inspiring stories I’ve ever heard was Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s telling of Michael Faraday’s life. And how Faraday’s biggest breakthrough discovery was after sustaining a most significant head injury. We can think all or much is largely lost due to this or that ranging from lack of or actual lost opportunities. Even failure. But we need to grab what God gives us and remain and move forward in that.

And in Jesus we know it’s all grace. God gives us grace, all we need to carry on through thick and thin, come what may. In and through Jesus.

change is part of life

If you’re a human being, than you’re in for change. You might say it’s in our genes. Hopefully change for good as we grow into adulthood, although each stage of life is special in itself. And not for good in that we inevitably age and eventually will die.

Change in other ways is good or not so good. Probably something of a mixture of both in most of us. We might be gaining ground in something, possibly a breakthrough here and there, only to find ourselves not doing so well in something else. Sometimes real failure might be the back door to something good.

We often look at life in terms of success and failure. But God sees beyond our small sense and appreciation of things. God has made us hard wired for so much more beyond whatever actual failure and imagined or real success in our lives. We might and indeed will actually revert back into old ways now and then, hopefully nothing damaging to ourselves or others. But even in them God can and will teach us if only we have a heart to listen. Ears to hear along with the heart to change comes from God’s grace and working. God is out to change us into no less than the image and likeness of his Son. The good change which is happening, and is to come. In and through Jesus.

 

to the undeserving: all of us

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

Ephesians 2:1-7

How we translate Ephesians 2:3b is debated. It is literally “we were by nature, children of wrath” (see link above for different translations and here for all of them on Bible Gateway).

Children of wrath is a Semitic idiom which may mean either “people characterized by wrath” or “people destined for wrath.”

NET Bible note

Even though it could mean that we’re by nature, wrathful, I think both the immediate context, and the biblical context as a whole warrants the NIV‘s translation above. We’re indeed by nature deserving of God’s wrath because of our sin and wickedness. Wrath one might say is shorthand for God’s judgment. God’s anger can be involved, but oftentimes wrath in Scripture is in the context of God’s judgment. This meaning is brought out in at least many English Bible translations which try to provide clarity on what would be ambiguous to the reader, probably particularly where it seems there is sufficient clarity. Of course that can be swayed by theological understanding. The Bible translation sponsored by Mainline Protestantism which attempts to do this, the Common English Bible (CEB) translates this similarly:

All of you used to do whatever felt good and whatever you thought you wanted so that you were children headed for punishment just like everyone else.

But thankfully it doesn’t stop there. To see how well that thought follows, click the (CEB) link just above, which is especially clear.

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

Ephesians 2:4-7

God’s love we can say cancels out God’s judgment or more accurately taking it on God’s self (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) through Christ and the cross. There’s no other way according to Scripture’s consistent testimony throughout, completed in the gospel.

So yes, to the undeserving, all of us: God’s gift of love in forgiveness of sins and eternal life is made available as a gift to receive by faith. In and through Jesus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

struggling to receive God’s peace

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:4-9

If you take this passage seriously, then you have to acknowledge that it’s not easy to receive God’s peace. Certainly in answer to the prayers of others, we might find ourselves experiencing it. But from this passage it comes through believing prayer, reflection on what is good and true, and imitation of Christ, and specifically those who follow him. Far from automatic, or from being easy, for that matter.

God’s peace experienced is a sense of well being with the assurance that no matter what, somehow all will be well. At least a sure confidence in God through it all.

I love the experience, but I don’t see knowing in Scripture primarily in terms of experience. The feelings come and go, but faith remains the same. Faith by nature means trust and trust involves a dependence which means “hands off.” And yet there is our part, as we see in the above passage.

I often find in a given matter, it’s not without at least some struggle and prayer and time before I get a sense of peace one way or another. God is faithful and God wants us to find his peace always, through it all. By faith in and through Jesus.

love in this life is in part, too

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

1 Corinthians 13:12

This passage from Paul makes clear the primacy and permanence of love, that when the gifts are no longer needed, that’s what will remain. I think both from Scripture and clearly seen in experience, love in this life is in part as well.

Not that we don’t experience something of the fullness of God’s love shed in our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5). We do experience something of the fullness of God’s love in Jesus by the Spirit, no doubt. But it is intermittent. Like our knowledge we receive by faith, it seems in part. Maybe there are notable exceptions among those with a special disposition, or some are more given to this experience than others. I’ve been in that ocean of love a few times, but most of the time I have lived only in trickles or dew drops of it most every day, though there have been dry spells. Though I think that dryness is often due to our hearts being hard, and not soft enough to receive God’s love. Somehow we are off on our own schemes, whatever, essentially in idolatry, and don’t need God. There is also “the dark night of the soul,” which might be entirely something else.

I also think that even as we sincerely seek to keep close accounts with God, and walk humbly with him in this life, love is still partial, in part. We have that grace in our hearts to want to love, to actually love, and to receive that same love of God from others. So through Christ we definitely have the capacity to sincerely love. It’s just that in this life it seems that it’s something we fail at again and again, and something we have to cultivate and work on.

That seems clear in Paul’s description of love, or at least is suggestive that way to me:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Then Paul adds:

Love never fails.

1 Corinthians 13:8

That’s in contrast to prophecy, tongues, and knowledge as in the gift of knowledge by the Spirit, that to end when it’s no longer needed. So love is what’s needed in everything, all else having its place in this life, but nothing without that love.

But back to the list quoted above in verses 4 through 7: I think this is to evaluate ourselves, our lives, to understand how we’re to live especially in our relationships with each other as Christians, but also with others. God will make all of this real to us, but it’s not like we’re going to do any of it perfectly in this life. I think it’s in part a reminder of what this love in essence is as to how we’re to live it out.

Quite real, but not fully realized in this life. As we look forward to its full realization when “we shall see face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:12). In and through Jesus.

 

 

the primacy of love

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:8-13

The story goes that late in Aquina’s life he had an experience and said that his writings were worthless. Of course that wasn’t the case. But evidently he picked up something of what Paul was referring to here. He had something of a seeing or new sense of the God who is love.

We have revelation from God in Scripture, Christ and the gospel. We shouldn’t discount what God has given us in terms of truth. These words from Paul are in the midst of a letter. Paul certainly had plenty of knowledge from God and he had to make that clear to this very church. But here we read that it’s worthless if not motivated by love, specifically God’s love in Christ given by the Spirit.

To know that our knowledge is limited is an important, essential part of knowing. Whatever knowledge we have is completely a gift from God. And it’s in terms of love. The love of God in Christ is what’s behind the gift of knowledge along with all the other gifts. And the gifts are given primarily for the good of others.

What edifies others is love, but it’s a love that is joined to truth. Knowledge by itself puffs one up with pride. It’s always and forever to be motivated by love. And you can’t separate love from truth and still actually love. Love doesn’t delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth.

Perhaps what this is saying to me right now more than anything is that I need to humbly hold to whatever gift I might have, as well as receive from the gift of others, doing that in love. Love it the point of all. Too often, I’m afraid we think of what we know as absolute and complete, an end in itself. Love is needed to inform and form what knowledge we have. And love helps us to hold to what gift and knowledge we have with the utmost humility. Knowing it is in part; we never have it all in this life. The gifts are given to us all by God out of his love and meant to be helpful to ourselves and to each other in that same love. In and through Jesus.

Mark 7:1-23

The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)

So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”

He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:

“‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’

You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”

And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)— then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”

Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”

After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)

He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”

Mark 7:1-23

devotion to closeness to God

Their leader will be one of their own;
their ruler will arise from among them.
I will bring him near and he will come close to me—
for who is he who will devote himself
to be close to me?’
declares the Lord.

Jeremiah 30:21

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.

Hebrews 10:19-22

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

James 4:7-10

The NET Bible note says Jeremiah 30:21 is a rhetorical question with a “no” answer expected. That is not clear in the NIV nor the KJV, perhaps more “literal” in English from the Hebrew, but clearer in other English translations. No one would dare seek to draw near to the God of Israel on their own. Hebrews 10 makes it clear that the way has now been open to all of God’s people through the blood, the once for all sacrifice of Jesus in his death on the cross. We in Jesus are a “holy” and “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:5,9), and “made…to be…priests to serve…God” (Revelation 1:6).

So the way that was once made open through only designated ones necessarily year after year is now made open to all through Christ’s fulfillment in his atoning sacrifice. Not that “Old Testament” people couldn’t draw near to God who were not priests. They could do so only through the sacrificial system when possible, of course through faith. Enoch would be a prime example before the law was given (Genesis 5:21-24), and David (Psalm 15) and Daniel afterward (Daniel 9-12).

The passage in James quoted above makes it clear that this must be both in attitude and action. We’re told of the need for ongoing repentance, keeping short accounts with God. As well as simply taking the time to come near to God. This must become a priority, maybe we should say the priority of our lives.

I have more or less tried to do something like this over the years. I would in theory seek to be doing this all day. I did have a few special times, one I can remember early on in particular, “a date with God” as I called it, of drawing near to God. But special times each day were not a part of my life such as what evangelicals call “personal devotions.” I thought I would more than less be seeking to do that all day. I think at least to some extent this was a mistake. It is better to err on the side of making sure one has that “quiet time” with God. I used to listen regularly to God’s word being read. And now open my little Bible off and on throughout the day. But there needs to be those special times in prayer and in the word, not just thinking we can do that as we run throughout our day. But God will honor our attempt to do that even in the midst of the rush of life. Yet we need those times in silence before God.

Then hopefully as a pastor friend, Marvin Williams reminded me, we’ll have the scent of Christ on us, and be enabled by the Spirit to lead others to him. In and through Jesus.

a cheerful malcontent

George Will calls Barry Goldwater, “the cheerful malcontent” (see his recent book). I have found something of hope in that for me. For whatever reasons, not likely all good, I find myself to be something of a contrarian. I have liked to ask questions, questioning what is commonly accepted hopefully not for the sake of being contrary, but simply because I wondered. That is where we need some loving mentors to help us, maybe taking us under their wings for a time not to script us- getting us to think the same way they do, but in helping us learn to do it well ourselves with the unique gift and insight God gives us.

In my case, I’ve been more or less a malcontent for years, though not just that, thankfully. But what I take as a drop of wisdom, mentioned above makes me want to be a cheerful malcontent, and I seem to have a peace from God to enter into just that. Not grinding, or insisting that I’m always right when I know better than that. I am never spot on on anything, much less right in everything.

It’s not an easy road to be a malcontent. It can color our character, who we are, and make us dismal to be around even for loved ones, along with acquaintances and even friends, though hopefully we have a friend who stays with us through thick and thin, and we with them (Proverbs 18:24). And it can make us unlikable even to ourselves.

In the way of Jesus, to be a malcontent is always with the promise from God that through Jesus and some Day once for all, God will make everything right. That is certainly a tall order, but part of the “hope” that is ours as Christians, meaning the anticipation of what we look forward to. Even as we hope for something better in this life as well as the next for everyone. In and through Jesus.

*When it comes to American politics, I’m a registered Independent. In no way should this post be seen as an endorsement of any particular political persuasion.

other things matter, but not without love

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13

We need always to be reminded that our faith is one of love. There’s more to it than that; it’s not “all you need is love.” Love is not really love in its fullness, separate from truth. Truth and love are joined together in Scripture (see 2 John). So we need to hold to God’s word in Scripture which ultimately points us to Jesus and the good news in him.

It’s a struggle, seeking to live in the truth and in love in this life. But in Jesus that’s what we’re called to, where we have to live and remain. Which means working through the hard places beginning with our own attitudes and actions, and in our relationships with others. In the context here with each other as believers, Christ’s body.

I like the list of what love is, what it doesn’t do, and what it does. We need it, to check ourselves, because at best our love is imperfect. The kind of love spoken of here is certainly a gift from God to us in and through Christ by the Spirit. But it’s also something we must work on in developing what we have been given into the warp and woof, the very step of our lives.

If everything we do isn’t informed and formed with this love, it has no value. To the extent it does, it’s a blessing to others, and to ourselves as well.

I want to live in this love far more. To love those who I at times struggle to like, at least what they’re doing. And to love the ones I naturally love with this kind of love. A love that is joined to the truth as it is in Jesus.