be on the side of mercy, God’s side

Mercy triumphs over judgment.

James 2

There is plenty of evil in the world. It can be found most anywhere, even in our own hearts at times. We long for justice against evildoing and evildoers. And for those who have been victimized, hopefully some kind of reparation that could be done. And if we’re of a Christian persuasion, we should want no less than restorative justice when that is possible. That the one doing evil will be held accountable, but also exhorted and encouraged, yes helped to do better, so that they can go back into society and live productive lives.

Mercy, especially in this broken existence, needs to be the watchword, indeed the passion for us who follow Christ. Just as we have freely received mercy from his hand, we’re to extend that mercy to others. The mercy of the gospel, yes, but also the mercy that comes from the gospel, or we could say is a part of it.

Lest we forget, we’re all in need of mercy everyday, and in a sense at every moment, since none of us in ourselves is worthy to stand before God being stained because of our sin. And we actually prove ourselves unworthy everyday by attitudes and corresponding actions, even if they’re only words under our breath. Unworthy of God’s mercy, justly judged to have fallen short.

But that’s an essential part of the Christian message, the heart of the gospel, that in Jesus there is always mercy and forgiveness extended to us, and to others. We are to accept that mercy for ourselves, and then live out this gospel by extending it to others, so that they can see that our faith is not about judging them, but extending mercy to them when they are undeserving. And of course mercy is not just about showing love at random to everyone. It is purposefully showing the same love to the undeserving that we ourselves receive through Christ.

Does this mean that others aren’t held accountable? Of course not. We all are. Mercy always takes seriously the sin that is being forgiven, or in love, covered over (1 Peter 4). We may need to gently confront or come along side those who are sinning (Galatians 6), or for those who do not know the Lord, we may simply need to show them the way of Jesus, which was love for his enemies, a pathway in which we’re to walk and live in our following of him. The way of the gospel. Not easy, but a picture of the good news in Jesus in which we live, so that others might see and believe, in and through him.

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the challenges of life

If you live long enough, whether rich or poor, you’ll sooner or later acknowledge that life itself is challenging on nearly every level. It is not automatic, unrelenting bliss, like some might imagine especially when they’re younger.

And just turn the pages of the Bible, and you’ll find trouble on nearly every page. Sometimes due to adverse circumstances, and more often due to what scripture calls the world, the flesh, and the devil.

It simply helps us when we realize this, and can help our focus. And actually I find again and again that trouble is what comes before faith. Salvation itself is a concept that talks about being saved or delivered from something, in scripture, from sin, death, and evil (and/or, the evil one). The consequences of sin can be the beginning of faith. And that’s both on a personal as well as cosmic level. We reap what we have sown, but that can cause us to call on the Lord, and enter into a life we wouldn’t have had otherwise. And we live in what from scripture we can rightly call a fallen world (“the fall” in Genesis 3), but what I prefer to call a broken world. The old creation was never meant to be the end all, but more like a window, as well as the stage in which a new world begins to emerge, destined someday in and through Christ to take over the old world.

Salvation is deliverance from, but also deliverance to. We are saved for God and God’s glory, and also for our good. And we are saved into a new world in the midst of the old, which while it can have some impact for good on the old, is the anticipation and even the beginning of the entirely new world to come in Jesus. So that the challenge of life involves living in an old world which by nature can’t fulfill what only the new world in and through Jesus can. See the book of Ecclesiastes for a good look at the attempt to make this old world the end all, and how, even when things are going well, it’s not.

So God won’t let us rest in this life. And actually, that’s a blessing since this life is not an end in itself, anyhow. For those who think they’ve arrived in this life, they either have their reward, or they’re in danger of losing out in what is truly life, the eternal life in Jesus, which is really about all that is promised in him.

So I take courage in the reality that if there’s trouble, that’s not in itself a necessary enemy of faith, but it can be the beginning of it, as well as a significant growing point for it. Let’s see our troubles, which by themselves are not good, as means to what is good, to draw us nearer to God, and God’s will and gift in Jesus. Even as we give all that is broken and really has no explanation, to him. As we await God’s full salvation to come in Jesus.

the bad days

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

Ephesians 6:10-20

There are good days and pretty good days, not bad, and then there are the bad days, hopefully not too many. Actually the passage quoted above may well be referring to the time in which we live, simply because we face the onslaught of the enemy. I know there are plenty of believers in Christ nowadays who chalk up the notion of the devil and demons to simply evil in general. When you consider everything, there’s something going on which defies an easy dismissal or explanation. Which is why in a world which denies truth, the word evil is still used, pointing, I think to something more beyond the relativism so prevalent. And to our personal lives, some days there seems to be an uncanny sense of an ongoing struggle and darkness at work, which casts a shadow on all that is good, so that we have trouble seeing the good. The Apostle Paul (click the link above) had no difficulty describing precisely what he believed is going on.

Scripture is rich with many places in which the person of faith is struggling, and all but left for dead in their mind, even with a sense of being abandoned by God. See especially the psalms to find plenty of that, and elsewhere.

As we’ve said before, and it is worth repeating, to be forewarned is to be forearmed. To know the problem, and what one faces is half the battle. The rest of it is to take up what God gives us in Christ and the gospel, and learn to stand in the midst of it all. Interpreting the spiritual warfare passage linked above as something for this present evil time when evil is so prevalent and active in the world is probably the best explanation, or sense of the passage. The thought the NIV gets across, that there may especially be a day that is evil, is also appropriate. But even with the NIV rendering, we are told to always be ready, so that everyday we are learning to live in the mighty strength of God, taking up the armor of God in and through Christ and the gospel.

Every day has a certain struggle to it, but bad days do come. And they go. And in the midst of it all, we need to remember the resources provided for us. And approach it as those who not only can face evil, but resist it. Knowing in the end it will someday be done away with forever. In the meantime we can be prepared for the day of evil in and through Jesus.

for Memorial Day

Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

Romans 13

Today we remember those who laid down their lives in service to our nation. We honor their sacrifice. And we pray for those who continue to serve, as well as for all who put their lives at risk for the protection of others. And for the nations of the world: for peace, especially in those places where conflict continues and evil is very near. And we look forward to the coming of the Prince of Peace.

God’s judgment as good news

In the Bible, judgment mostly comes across as good news, or at least that’s a large swath of its teaching. One sees that over and over again in the psalms: God is going to root out the wicked and destroy them, maybe even in a way which not only brings them shame, but actually causes them to seek his face, whatever that might possibly mean in the hidden scheme of things. The backdrop of this is God’s care for the poor, the oppressed, the bereaved, as well as for his people. The day of God’s judgment, called the day of the Lord (LORD, or Yahweh in the First/Old Testament) is coming.

In the Bible, judgment always precedes salvation. We all end up being judged in some way, but God in Jesus takes the judgment for sin on himself by suffering death, even at the hands of sinners, and through that death providing the way for forgiveness and eternal life for all who believe. When Jesus returns, he will rid the earth of all evil to bring in the full salvation, somehow all of this being a new creation in the fullness of the kingdom of God.

We were raised on the version of God’s judgment as something to fear and even be ashamed of. How could a loving God pour out judgment on the earth? Admittedly some of the lines and passages in the prophets show a passion on this which seems extreme. Though one has to remember the nature of prophetic writing, how exaggeration to make a point is accepted, and not to be taken strictly literally. We in this culture with any knowledge of Christian history remember Jonathan Edwards’s famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Heaven and hell once dominated the American Christian theological landscape in the Christian understanding within the churches. At least it was a dominant theme.

But we do much better to let that recede, and what actually is in the wave of biblical teaching appear. It may not appeal to the world, or to those coming up with some kind of new theology, but it will deal forthrightly with things as they are by a God who is completely good and pure love. As we remember the salvation provided in Jesus from all of the destruction to come, to bring us into the goodness of God’s judgment, both for ourselves individually and for the world in and through Jesus.

in what are our thoughts steeped, and what follows?

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

We steep teabags in water (I, strangely enough, in coffee water) to let the leaves soak in the heat for the brew. Day in and day out, what do we soak our thoughts in?

This passage written by the Apostle Paul tells us to be occupied with that which is good and helpful. It clearly seems to include good from any source, though one has to be discerning, and separate the good from the bad. Of course the emphasis would be on God’s special revelation in scripture, while certainly including God’s general revelation which might well include a Greek philosopher like Plato, and any number of writers or people, not Christians themselves. Again, we need discernment. There is actually much good to gather in from sources which are not explicitly Christian.

I think we know the difference from what is good and what is not. Though sometimes we might become somewhat numb to that distinction. There is much that passes for entertainment and information which at best is questionable and at worst is unhelpful and downright demoralizing. What is especially challenging, though, is that which is couched as good, yet would not fit into any of the categories in Paul’s list above. It is one thing to expose the fruitless deeds of darkness (Ephesians 5). But it is quite another thing to fight fire with fire, to essentially enter into that darkness, ourselves. We can become immune to that which is objectionable, and even begin to participate in it ourselves.

Interestingly, Paul follows up the list of what we are to reflect on with the instruction to do not only as he said, but as he did. His example in his life day in and day out was seen by some who were recipients of this letter which we entitle Philippians. Maybe he was seen by all the believers there, and surely especially so by the leaders of the church. That example is passed down from generation to generation, hopefully, and at any rate, the same Spirit who helped Paul and others to live in the Jesus way, is present to help us in becoming followers of our Lord.

So our thoughts, what we dwell on impacts how we live. Not that this passage is actually saying that, though we know from other passages and in life that this is true. What is fundamental for us includes both what we occupy ourselves with, and what examples we follow. Something we need to concern ourselves with as we seek to live with others and in the world in the full will of God.

a thought on Revelation

I just finished going slowly through the book of Revelation. It is quite heavy, but appropriate, when we consider just how heavy the world is, if we pay any attention to the news at all. It is not exactly nice, as appropriate for a bedtime story for children. Yet it addresses real evil, and brings in the true and final salvation for the healing and flourishing of all.

When reading through this book, it’s not like we should just see it as metaphorical, and not really happening. I don’t believe world events will happen precisely as given in the book, because the book is chalk full of symbols, and symbolic imagery. Awesome, world-changing and shaping events will take place, and evil will at a point be purged, but we need to avoid what is surely the crass literalism of the “left behind” approach.

One is struck with just how strongly the Revelation shakes out to be a fulfillment in the sense of ending of the entire Bible, of the First (“Old”) Testament, as well as the Final (“New”) Testament. No one should think they are a faithful Bible reader and student if they don’t take the entire Bible seriously from Genesis through Revelation, of course including everything in between. Some things might not appeal to us, we might not get it, but we need to hang in there, and try to understand, and keep working at it over the long haul, little by little.

Revelation reminds us of many biblical themes, like salvation in the final sense, the kingdom of the world as in the world system, persecution of those who hold to the word of God and the testimony of Jesus, the kingdom of God in King Jesus, the goal of all creation with strong parallels to Genesis, etc.

It is a hard book to read, probably for me  because it hits up against my Modernist Enlightenment influenced sensibilities, and one might even say, Anabaptist tendencies rooted in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). The latter takes evil seriously, and simply takes the way of the Lamb in opposing it. The former cringes at the thought of actual evil (“we can educate it away”), and even more against the notion of judgment. And there’s the broken down systems of justice in our world today, perhaps adding to a cynical view of traditional approaches. Therefore, though a heavy read, Revelation is surely a much needed read for us today.

So if there’s a next time for me to go over Revelation, I hope by God’s grace to be more ready, and hopefully will be able to take more in, so that along with others, we can in faith faithfully endure through Jesus to the very end.