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.

nothing less than sinners

My friend who is a professor-scholar-pastor, Allan R. Bevere wrote a a helpful piece on how we are sinners, not merely people who are essentially good, but who make mistakes here and there. Yes, we can call them mistakes, but when we do so, we may be giving short shrift, or even giving the lie to the biblical witness that we are sinners indeed. Sin is not even a word which fits into the world’s vocabulary. We simply need more knowledge, more enlightenment, then we’ll do what is good and right, whatever that means, of course by the standards we set. Even the idea of evil, as strange as that may seem given the horrific acts and even systems which remain and enslave as well as destroy people, still, evil is a bit of a taboo word as well, and certainly sin.

I suppose it reminds too many people of perhaps a bad experience they’ve had at the hands of religion. Sadly enough, sin knows no boundaries and infects us all, so that we’re all in need of change, in Christian terms forgiveness and cleansing, and that, ongoing.

To admit the possibility of a concept like sin, is to acknowledge something of a standard of what’s right and wrong, good and bad. We would do well to work at rehabilitating prisoners, but we have prisons for good reason. Some people have broken what are considered boundaries which cannot be crossed, such as the taking of a life. Those might be considered extremes, but consider Jesus’s teaching: If one is angry with their brother and sister they are in danger of harboring murder in their hearts (Matthew 5:21-26). John tells us that anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer in their hearts (1 John 3:15).

One might as well deny the concept of love as in caring about someone else (not just love because of what one can get out of it) and doing so in self-sacrificial ways. We all need help in that way, more than that, each other’s love along the way.

We have the pattern in Jesus Christ, the one who laid down his life for us and for the world. The one who brings us into the one love from which all genuine love comes from through creation and new creation: the love of the Trinity: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The cross was no accident. We in Jesus have to go through nothing less than death into new, resurrection life.

Let’s gladly accept the reality of our sin, so that we can even more gladly accept the life-changing power of God’s salvation in and through Jesus.

Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent

Today on the church calendar is Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent. Lent is the period from this day to Holy Saturday, the day before Easter. It is a time of preparation for remembering Jesus’ suffering and death and celebrating his resurrection. Penitence, meaning a sorrow over our sin, and repentance, which includes confession along with renunciation and forsaking of sin, is to mark this time. This is a time to especially focus on our sins, asking God to search us so that our darkness might be exposed by God’s light, so that we might confess our sins and receive both cleansing and forgiveness. And through that live differently. In doing so, we’re seeking to honor our Lord by responding in whole hearted faith to what he has done for us in his death on the cross. So that we might be enabled to rejoice completely in his resurrection, as we share in his resurrection life even now.

Ash Wednesday is also a day of remembering our mortality. We are dust, and to dust we will return (Genesis 3:19).

The priest or pastor takes ashes which are watered down (perhaps with holy water or olive oil), and marks the sign of the cross on the participants. The ashes are previously blessed by the priest or deacon for the purpose which they serve to draw us to confession of sin and the salvation of the cross of Christ. As well as reminding us of our mortality.

idols in the heart

Some of the elders of Israel came to me and sat down in front of me. Then the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, these men have set up idols in their hearts and put wicked stumbling blocks before their faces. Should I let them inquire of me at all? Therefore speak to them and tell them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: When any of the Israelites set up idols in their hearts and put a wicked stumbling block before their faces and then go to a prophet, I the Lord will answer them myself in keeping with their great idolatry. I will do this to recapture the hearts of the people of Israel, who have all deserted me for their idols.’

“Therefore say to the people of Israel, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Repent! Turn from your idols and renounce all your detestable practices!

Ezekiel 14

John Calvin was only echoing what scripture says when he referred aptly to the propensity for us to set up idols in our hearts. And I mean Christians, followers of Jesus, even worshipers of God.

Of course true worship most certainly excludes such. Worship is a proper response to God’s revelation of himself in and through Jesus. It is dependent on the Spirit who helps us not only see the truth, but align ourselves with it.

But as there has always been, there are plenty of idols in the land. An idol, simply put is anything which either sets itself up, or is set up in place of God. And in our society and culture there are idols aplenty.

Anything can become an idol so that most often the things people idolize are well and good in their proper place, or at least elements of them. Whereas the good out of place becomes evil.

Idolatry, as we can see from the text, leads to evil deeds. We become like the god we serve (as it says in the psalms). Usually that’s a mixture of good and bad, which in the end doesn’t add up. But is deceptive, nonetheless. It always seems good to be devoted to something and do well by it. But we must beware lest that devotion stifles our devotion to God. We can end up being double minded, not serving God, or having the faith needed to serve him.

We must be careful here, because what may easily become an object of idolatry for myself, by grace may not be so at all to another. The idols referred to in Ezekiel were set up in their hearts, in other words, it was a heart issue. So that we must beware of making a list of idols. Some things may be much more prone to becoming idolatrous than others, but again, much is dependent on the take of each individual, or people group.

The best antidote against idolatry is the reception of grace in and through Jesus, so that we might learn to worship God acceptably with reverent awe. Sometimes we must take drastic measures ourselves to get rid of the root in our hearts bearing the poisonous fruit. But that will do no good unless it is replaced with the worship of God in our hearts and lives. With the readiness to receive needed forgiveness and ongoing cleansing through regular confession of our sins.

 

trying to understand the tricks of the devil

in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.

2 Corinthians 2

We live in a world in which evil dwells. Evil. Yes, evil. One of the many reasons I don’t subscribe to our modernist secular worldview which like any other such paradigm in vogue, affects us all, even if simply in our reactions to it, although it’s impossible for some of the “world” not to get into us since we are bent to sin as well as in Jesus to righteousness.

While other factors must be considered (psychological, sociological, etc.), I believe without a doubt —even though the evil of these are happily well hidden in our modernist mindset and world— in a spirit world of both good and evil. In the world on the one side is God in Christ by the Spirit accompanied with created spirit beings called angels, who do God’s bidding. On the other side, but not equal at all even to the angels they oppose are fallen spirit beings who once were angels but are now called demons, whose leader is the chief demon or spirit being:  Satan, also called the devil. These beings are well known in many areas of the world, but are well hidden for the most part, where we live. Even though they continue their evil work, in some ways better in the concealment.

My goal in life is to along with others in the church understand the ways of the Lord better, what God’s will is in and through Jesus, and to focus on our Lord. And in so doing to follow his way along with the people of faith, the family of God.

In this present life, we are up against and in opposition to the world, the flesh and the devil. And there’s one source of victory over that, only one. The gospel and Jesus Christ, or the gospel/good news which is Jesus Christ in his person, life, works, teaching, death for our sins and resurrection for new life, his ascension to the Father’s right hand at the supreme place of power with the promise of his return when salvation will at long last be forever complete. Nothing else holds water or is in line with God’s will apart from that.

And so, necessarily we have to face the evil, often hidden but breaking out here and there all the time. The secular academy wants to deny such evil unless it directly affects them. But we in Jesus must learn to see through the deceit of Satan, to recognize something of his work, and in and through Jesus, to stand in opposition against it.

God gives us the strength, especially in our weakness and God gives us the light or insight, especially in our darkness and ignorance. God gives us what we need both individually in our circumstances and especially through the church, through others. Including angels. We have to be humble in knowing our dependence on God at every turn, while at the same time refusing to back down or run from the spiritual evil which can assault us. Even while we try to be wise as to what is good and not good in how we work that out in word and deed. A tall order. And no set formula. Something in which we live and receive the insight needed within the context of life.

Our Lord Jesus is now present with us by the Spirit. God is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Jesus is our Emmanuel, God-with-us.

And so we go on, knowing we’re in a spiritual battle to the end in this life. Sometimes it is obvious and we catch all too good a glimpse of its ugliness. At other times, in fact a good share of the time in our society (though often we ought to know better), we only have inklings of the evil splashed throughout. We do well to learn to see through what might appear to be good, but in fact at heart is evil. And much more.

And we must remember that some of the evil can indeed be us, or in us. So that the light of God in Jesus is necessary to expose the evil not only out there, but in here, in we ourselves, so that we can confess our sins and receive God’s forgiveness and cleansing in and through Jesus.

We must realize what we’re in, what we’re up against, and the great salvation that is now ours in and through Jesus our Lord, the way of the cross in death and resurrection in and through him.

picking up the broken pieces

It does no good to dwell on the past and to say over and over again, “If only…” The past is the past, water under the bridge or over the dam. We can only gather up the broken pieces by prayer and waiting on God. It takes time. If it’s over the loss of a loved one, we need to go through a grieving process which will never look the same in given situations, even if having some of the same general characteristics. If it’s due to a moral failure, some sort of great sin, then we need to confess that sin in repentance before God and when necessary to others we’ve hurt as well. Under the guidance and care of our local church, submitting to their leadership and the discipline there. God does not despise a broken and contrite heart.

Although we have our part and we need to be engaged in it, strictly speaking only God can pick up the broken pieces, put them back together again and make us new or renew us in and through Jesus. We can’t do it ourselves. And yet we must be engaged in faith and patience to receive what God has promised us in and through Jesus: forgiveness, cleansing and restoration even in this life, though the scars will remain and things will be different afterward.

We can rest assured no matter what has taken place, the evil in the form of a good number of things, or the sin into which we had fallen, that God is at work in every detail for good. Yes, even in the evil and even in our sin. We can’t figure out how, and it’s especially hard when we’re in the midst of it. We can be lost, even tormented and can end up hurting ourselves and others when we try to fix things ourselves. We are involved in the process, but it is God alone who does the ongoing transformative work in and through Jesus.

We must submit to God and let him take care of it. Instead of whining and imagining something different, we need to walk through it with our Lord. Trusting in him that there will be a good outcome for our good and blessing along with the good and blessing of others, for his glory.

the power of the cross

When we pray, when we think, when we live—do we do so with the thought in mind, the truth of the power of the cross of Jesus Christ? I know when I think of the power of the cross, I think maybe of some clips from movies in which a priest holds a cross or crucifix up into the face of darkness and evil. It is as if the crucifix or cross has power of its own, although the power it would have is derived from the actual cross and death of Christ some 2,000 years ago.

We face evil and we struggle with sin. There is one place we should look: to the cross itself, an empty cross left by a risen, ascended, reigning Lord, but nevertheless effective because of what happened on that cross.

…Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.

“…Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.

I sometimes quote scriptural passages, but not like this. And I rarely reference what thoughts I share, even though I hope they are faithful to scripture, its story and teaching. But the grounding we need to know the power of the cross certainly needs to be from the witness of scripture itself. We see from these passages that Jesus by his death destroyed death, that by that death he destroyed the one who holds its power—the devil, and also judges the world and drives out its prince—again, the devil—while drawing all people to himself.

It seems to me that little do I understand or know the power of the cross. Although through faith in Christ I certainly know something of that. Through that cross we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins, as well as cleansing by his blood. And through that cross in the power of Christ’s resurrection, we are to live a new life.

So when the devil or his cohorts send another evil attack, or we’re beset with another struggle over one thing or another, we need to turn anew and afresh to God by looking to Jesus and his death for us on the cross. There is more to be said from scripture on this, but this is not a bad place to start.

the perfect love which casts out fear

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 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.

What is the perfect love which casts out fear? From the text and context it is clear: God’s love found in the God who is love. It is relational to its core. One could well argue theologically that God being love hints to the triunity of God: the Father, the Son and the Spirit living in communal love. And that humans in and through Jesus are taken up into that same love, experiencing it with God and with each other.

The problem stated in the text is the fear that comes with a sense of punishment. It is a dread of condemnation. In the letter we read that Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and we read how we are to deal with sins in our lives. As well as the teaching that our lives are not to be characterized by sin, but rather by righteousness. Sometimes we might feel trapped by sin in our own lives, or at least just as likely, that we are cornered for some reason in a no-win situation. We may well be off the mark in our thinking, but on the other hand, we may know full well that we are undeserving, that we do fall short. We really can’t be the judges of ourselves, only God can judge and convict us by his Spirit through his Word. I struggle with this concept because though I believe it is true, and that God is the one who searches and knows us through and through, I also don’t think we need to wait for some big conviction from God when we know we’ve done wrong. We need to confess it to God, and to the offended person, and go on, knowing we’re forgiven in and through Christ.

The perfect love which drives out fear is to be experienced in our lives fully, because Jesus took the condemnation for our sins upon himself in his death for us. And because God works this love into our hearts and lives by the Spirit. We indeed are to experience it.

Does this experience have to be overwhelming? No, although it is fine if we experience mountain peaks as it were, when God’s love is particularly felt. But most of life is lived in the valleys. It is in those places, even in the lower places where we need to learn to live with a settled sense of God’s perfect love for us in and through Jesus. A love which is not dependent on us, our circumstances, even our faithfulness. At the same time a love in which we are to live in the sense of response which brings change into our lives. As the text says, “made perfect in love.” And notice too that this is communal:

This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus.

The NIV takes the singular masculine pronoun literally translated, “he,” and interprets that to mean Jesus. In context, it could mean Jesus, or God. I might lean toward the interpretation made by the NIV (see also NLT). The point is our identity in this world. God in and through Jesus has identified himself with us, and we are to live as those identified with God in and through Christ. Through Christ judgment is taken care of.

And so we we live as those who are forgiven in Christ in and through his blood, his death, as we walk in the light as he is in the light, and thus experience cleansing from sin and fellowship with each other. This is the perfect love in which fear will not only be diminished, but cast out. A love in which we are to live together in Jesus and for the world.

false accusations

There is plenty to indict us as guilty sinners, no shortage on that. We’ve been caught red handed and we have our secret sins which need confessed so as to be brought out in the open for God’s forgiveness and cleansing in and through Jesus. And we need to be open to the searching God and ready to fall on our faces before him and his searching and ultimately healing light.

False accusations are another story. These are the overly general fuzzies that come our way and level us with condemnation. One thought that often accompanies such is: “I’m no good.” There is often a grain of truth in them, if one can see anything of truth at all. Ordinarily they are distortions which deserve nothing more than to turn away from them and look to the one in whose light is no darkness.

There is no question that we have to come again and again to the cross, to Jesus, who is the atoning sacrifice for our sins. We don’t do well to downplay the sin that is in our lives. We have to keep coming back to Jesus in confession as well as endeavor to walk in the light as he is in the light.

What we can’t accept are the charges leveled against us which have the marks of darkness and condemnation. We in and through Jesus are to receive only God’s light. That light shines in our darkness, but in a way that brings healing love. The other, regardless of its source is to be rejected or ignored. Remember, the devil can quote God’s word, and is willing to speak even through another brother or sister in Jesus, sadly. We have to guard ourselves so that we aren’t the devil’s mouthpiece. And we need discernment to recognize that voice when it speaks, so we can reject it.

Instead we turn to God in and through Jesus to receive his word of love, including a needed revelation of  sin in our lives, to receive God’s forgiveness and cleansing in and through Jesus. Together in Jesus in this for the world.

meditation for Maundy Thursday

The night before Jesus was crucified, he did for his disciples what only the lowest of slaves did when he washed his disciples feet. Of course Peter objected, but Jesus then seemed to apply it in some spiritual sense, that if Peter didn’t submit to this foot washing, he would have no part with Jesus. Peter then bursts forth with the words, “Then Lord, not only my feet, but my hands and my head as well.” But Jesus then pointed out that those who have had a bath only need their feet washed. And that his disciples were clean, though not every one of them.

In washing his disciples feet, Jesus showed them the full extent of his love, or he loved them to the end. And set them an example that as he had done for them, they also were to do for each other.

After predicting his betrayal, Jesus then taught them a new command. They were to love one another. As he had loved them, they were to love each other. That is how the world would know that they were his disciples, if they loved each other in this way.

In all our weakness do we endeavor to live this out? To follow the way of our Savior and Lord in loving each other, even as we carry our cross? We can do so by meditating on Jesus’ example to us. And seeking to live that out in practical ways of service to each other.

Even as we look to the one who in love gave himself for us, and for the world.

A suggested reading for todayJohn 13:1-17, 31b-35