bracing grace

We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God;with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you. We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us. As a fair exchange—I speak as to my children—open wide your hearts also.

2 Corinthians 6 (see the entire book)

When God’s grace is normally spoken of, it seems like it’s primarily about forgiveness and the new life we receive in Christ. And that’s certainly true and foundational to our faith. But grace is multifaceted in scripture. Grace includes as well the wherewithal, the ability to get up after one has been knocked down, maybe nearly knocked out.

I’ve certainly experienced that myself, probably a good many times. It’s when you think and feel that all is lost, or you’ve crossed a line of no return, and usually tied to some fear. However you might be impacted, God’s grace to us in Christ will eventually help us get back on our feet again and stand firm, even while remembering the occasion along with the reasons for bringing us down. And for the most part, even to forget such times.

God’s grace to God’s children helps us live responsibly and like God’s children. And as such, more and more in the maturity of Christ. Something I’ve noticed, something certainly needed. In and through Jesus.

 

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“we shall overcome”: Martin Luther King Jr. Day

We Shall Overcome” was a beautiful anthem of the American Civil Rights Movement. It was sung by the African-Americans of that time, and those who stood with them in their cause for justice in equal rights in the United States. It was more than a push back against the Jim Crow laws of the south (not to mention the segregation in the north), but a stand in saying, “We will accept, and take no more of this.” Rosa Parks was a key person in getting the movement started, and there was no more prominent leader in it, in fact he is considered the leader of that movement, today, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The song expresses a stand rooted in God’s image within all humanity. That we are made for relationship and love, and an understanding that we are in this life together. And that we all have our part in it, both in relationships, and in vocation. And it’s a song of commitment to overcome injustice together, but not in a violent way, but with a commitment to nonviolence. Martin Luther King Jr. was impacted both by the life and example of Mahatma Gandhi, and preeminently by Jesus himself who taught his followers to love their enemies and turn the other cheek. King over and over again preached and spoke in these terms, and with the words of Jesus. And he and many others put those words into practice again and again.

We do need to stand up for what is right, particularly when it affects others. And we who in the United States live to this day in a privileged condition, especially compared with our African-American sisters and brothers need to be sensitive to how we might play in that ourselves without realizing it, as well as develop sensitivity to how society itself is bent in this direction. How we are all, each and everyone impacted by prejudice in prejudging others through some stereotypes, instead of really getting to know them, and becoming aware of their difficulties and plight.

And we need to remember what was done to them: They were stolen from their nations in Africa, and forced to be slaves with no possibility of freedom, at least not under the normal circumstances. And to this day are discriminated against in the criminal justice system, and before that, all of this lending itself to the fallout which would occur with any of us. And a deep wounding which can only be healed through much time, leaving its scars behind.

As in all things, and as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. knew and preached, the one hope for all humankind and against all evil is found in the gospel of Christ. Through that good news we are reconciled to God and to each other. Sin is dealt with, and all the injustice with it through the atoning sacrificial death of Christ on the cross, the resurrection bringing the new life of love into the here and now, to break all the chains of injustice, and bring in nothing less than the freedom of God’s children.

We are all in this together. Today I celebrate and remember the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and of all those who stood with him in love against the hate of that time. And remember that though some most significant changes came through that movement, we have not yet arrived to the place where we fully love and accept each other, and have the best interest of the others in our hearts. We’re not there yet.

Laws of the land can help and actually are crucial against corrupt systems, but what is especially needed is the change of hearts through the gospel, and an acclimation toward justice which we find in scripture fulfilled in the gospel, as well as in other places where this ethic is taught on earth through God’s image within all humankind. But there is no place where it is so thoroughly taught with the hope of being fully realized as in the gospel of Christ, to begin in the church.

This is an essential part of the heart of our calling as witnesses of Christ and the good news in him. Something we wish to carry on in the love and compassion of Christ, in and through him.

complete forgiveness and ongoing forgiveness

“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
    and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
    and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”

Hebrews 12:5b-6

There is the question posed by teachers how one could be forgiven again when they’re already forgiven. There is more than one example of the former from Jesus, but here is the one from the Lord’s/Our Father Prayer with some words that follow. Followed by a passage in the letter to the Ephesians that makes the latter point.

And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors…

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Matthew 6:12,14-15

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Ephesians 4:32

It’s not like we haven’t been forgiven through Christ’s death on the cross, because we most certainly have (Hebrews 10). It’s the reality that we live in relationships which need ongoing attention and repair at times. And it’s not like the relationship is at all in danger of being lost. A wayward child forever remains the child of his parent. But the relationship for all practical purposes might be completely lost if parent and child separates and communion is lost. A good parent’s heart is grieved; for that matter, it can be the other way around, the heart of a child broken over a difficult parent.

We in and through Jesus are forgiven already, so that we shouldn’t be in fear of condemnation or eternal punishment. But in the immediate life in which we now live, when all is not entirely healed and we still can and do sin, ongoing forgiveness in a kind of family setting is not only desirable, but even necessary. We might simply forgive apart from confession, though for the good of the other, confession might be helpful and formative for them.

We are forgiven in Jesus, and through that forgiveness we can forgive others. And know the ongoing family love of God in both giving and receiving ongoing forgiveness as needed day to day in and through Jesus.

 

 

a breakthrough into trust

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord and shun evil.
This will bring health to your body
and nourishment to your bones.

Proverbs 3

If you know me well, then you would know I’ve had a struggle most all of my Christian life over trusting in God completely. Actually I would have not thought so during most of that time. I would have rationalized, or misunderstood my struggle as doing what I have to do to be responsible to fulfill my duty. Of course I’m not talking about perfect trust, which surely won’t be arrived at in this life. But a substantial trust, by which one really does cast one’s cares and life, and indeed all of life with the cares and concerns over others on the Lord.

For me it was over a matter that in no way I could fix, and seemed a point of danger. Either I could continue my own way and do what would be difficult to do, and in the end probably not foolproof (what is in this life?), or I could do what makes no sense to me.

The real tipping point for me was the experience of a debilitating fear which all but crushed me. Actually I had learned over the years, over the decades even, to go on with that, even though it most certainly hampered me. And a number of times in answer to prayer it was overcome through the Lord’s grace. But that is where I essentially lived.

A key verse in all of this for me is found in 1 John 4:

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

This is a beautiful passage, and should be seen in context along with other passages in scripture which make it clear that being God’s children and living in fear are not compatible. Of course I don’t mean the fear of the Lord which is the beginning of knowledge: a right appreciation for who God is in his otherness. But that’s never separated from the love God is, either, though that love is not accepted by us in our sin.

But for years and years I struggled off and on, and to some degree mostly on over this sense of dread. I knew in my head one thing, but my heart failed to follow. So during short experiences when my heart did know something of that rest, it was exhilarating, and indeed intoxicating. But then would come the inevitable descent back into “reality,” and the ongoing struggle of all of that.

Am I home free now on this issue? No. I don’t think so. Ask me a year from now, if I’m still around and the Lord tarries. A time ago I seemed to enter into this breakthrough, but then fell back through some voice in my head which seemed to be my own mind. In carefully evaluating it, it was accusatory in nature, a sure sign that it was not from God. I descended into something which seemed all the worse.

Finally in desperation I was crying out to God. And a thought came to me: What if I simply trust God by letting God lead me. And such leading would be in a peace, a sense of what I should and should not do. As I recall I went to bed with that thought on my mind, woke up and yesterday morning wrote this post, went to work, and gradually seemed to enter into this rest. And by God’s grace I’ve remained in that place of imperfectly fully trusting in God, and not in myself. By the way, the Proverbs 3:5-6 passage quoted above came to me with a renewed emphasis a couple years or so back, as if God wanted to impress me with the importance of that passage for me. I included what follows because to so trust God even helps me physically, certainly impacting the emotions for good.

Does that mean I’m on top of the world now, and not down? No, no way. I’ve already experienced being down over an issue in the world and most importantly in the church. And I’ll be down at times over my own problems, as well. And does this mean that it’s now automatic, that I will continue on in this new way? No, absolutely not. I must continue to trust with the new challenges that come, big and small. And learn to walk in this way more and more. With others in and through Jesus.

 

being willing to take second fiddle and serve

A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. You are those who have stood by me in my trials. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

Luke 22

I have never seen this connection before, and I like how the NIV in its paragraph divisions, brings all of this together in one paragraph. During the Last Supper, of all places, after Jesus told them that one of them was about to betray him, they began to argue with each other over which of them was considered to be greatest.

Jesus pointed to himself as the one who took the place assigned to servants; the more important, or considered greater people, sitting at the tables, being served. But that, because they had stood by him in his trials, he would give them a kingdom in which they’ll sit down and eat and drink, as well as sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

The ways of the world easily rub off on us. We need to take care that we neither lord it over others, or expect them to serve us. Instead we need to appeal to them, and serve them. We especially need to be sensitive to those who have been hurt, and who might easily misunderstand our actions and words. But we also need to be open to the need for rough edges to be taken off of us.

I’m afraid that the world sometimes rubs off more on us, than our way in Christ rubbing off on the people of the world. We end up imitating what we admire. We need to learn to see the beauty of Jesus, and come to value that. And then see everything else in that light. Certainly that’s the way of humility and service. And in God’s grace by the Spirit, Jesus himself can live in us and help us. In fact, because of that, we can become more like him.

That is the key, but at the same time we need to be aware, and when need be repent and become like the little children of the Father in the kingdom, loving and serving each other, and the world, in God’s love, in and through Jesus.

no condemnation, or corresponding fear for those in Christ Jesus

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Romans 8:1-4

I believe strongly that it not only doesn’t hurt to go back to some level one gospel truths. All biblical truth in a way, is gospel truth, since in one way or another it’s related to the gospel. But when you start looking at such truth in scripture, you do best to read all of it in context. This is like music albums, when certain symphony or classical pieces are on the recording. Those are nice to have, perhaps especially for those who don’t have an appreciation of classical music. Maybe akin to precious promise books, which have certain verses and passages from scripture. I have two such albums I especially like, one supposedly for morning, and another for going to sleep at night. We all return to certain verses or passages again and again. But it’s best to along with that, look and listen to the entire thing, if we want to gain a keen eye and ear, so that we can better process and appreciate every part. Such is the case with one of the great passages of scripture, itself like a mountain, or beautiful place, Romans 8.

Let me preface these thoughts then to point out that to gain the best appreciation of Romans 8, we need to consider all of this great book. And then to understand the book of Romans best, we do well to be working through the entire Bible. All of that is a project which takes time, to be sure. But even if we haven’t done much there, it’s so good to look at one short passage, maybe even a verse, and then look at a paragraph out from that in whatever translation of scripture you use. And from there a whole section, since most translations nowadays incorporate headings.

The beginning of the Romans 8 masterpiece states that those in Christ Jesus have no condemnation from God based on the cross of Christ; his death taking care of the sinfulness of our flesh, our sin– the work of the Spirit in our life, corresponding to that. We can think we know these things already, but it’s important to keep meditating on them, and actually life itself along with our own propensities will make it essential for us to do so, if we want to keep growing, and going on with the Lord.

The end of this important section of this great peak in scripture is related to the beginning. Since there’s no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, there’s no fear of that, either, because such are indeed God’s children, the Spirit bearing witness to our spirit of that reality, as we live in dependence on that Spirit, and do not live according to the flesh, which means the myriad of ways people live apart from the Spirit in the way of this world.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Romans 8:12-17

Again, to really appreciate this fully, we need to read it more fully in its context. But suffice it to say here that we are simply different people in Christ, because God is our Father, and the Spirit helps us to live out that reality. And front and center here, condemnation and the fear is therefore never to be accepted by us.

Romans 8 stands on its own as a tremendous piece that we need to get into our eyes and ears, into our hearts, and into our bones. Into the very warp and woof of our lives. All of this in and through Jesus.

beauty in brokenness

Our society doesn’t embrace brokenness. Somehow it needs to be fixed, and the sooner the better. The leading candidate of one party for the upcoming presidential election is popular in part because he would not only never acknowledge such, but doesn’t believe in it. But Jesus did. Even if some of us, and even some churches might to some extent get caught up in something of an unbroken superiority complex.

Give me the real, the human, the honest and suffering person, and there you will find someone who not only can be helped, but who more often than not enters into a beauty that is beyond them. Simply to be honest and reject all masks is beauty enough. There is a person I know who is up there in years, and supposedly has the cognitive ability of a two or three year old, and while I may not doubt that, I think assessing this person is more complicated than that. And even though she may not be pretty to look at, as the world sees it, I find her to be one of the most beautiful people I know, because she radiates and lives in the childlikeness which the Lord holds dear. “Except you change, and become like little children, you will never enter into the kingdom of heaven.” And in our brokenness and humility, something of the greatest of all beauty can begin to break through: the beauty of the Lord.

Part of the difficulty in this condition is that although we’re close to being in rhyme with heaven, we are also close to being in rhyme with hell (Michael Card). I can find myself there a number of times everyday. Pushed onto that side for whatever reason. So that I realize I need more of the Lord’s work in me to overcome that. Perhaps too little in my eyes, and at least largely hidden from others most of the time, but important in God’s eyes, and as we learn to see more and more with God’s eyes, it becomes more important in our eyes as well.

Yes, we need a broken and contrite, humbled, penitent heart, because we indeed are broken. The ones most broken are those who don’t believe they are. But brokenness can be beautiful, when before the Lord we acknowledge such, and his beauty begins to be seen through forgiveness and cleansing, and even in the midst of our struggle and weakness and even failure. It is certainly not us we want others to see, but only the Lord.